08 October, 2008

Tithing

The two responses I've had to my last post indicate that I need to clarify my position on tithing. Thank you to those who responded! You challenged me to evaluate tithing from a strictly biblical perspective.

As a child, I learned about giving. My parents often gave me quarters to put in the offering box. (Why? I'm not sure.) The children's ministry in my church once did a skit about tithing. One of my teachers dressed up as a Hebrew woman, put some oranges in a basket, prayed that God would use them for his glory, and left them on a shelf. This left a big impact on me, because it was the first time I associated tithing with glorifying God. I remember distinctly getting $2 from somewhere (probably a gift-I was about 4) and deciding I would give it to God. So I dressed up as a Hebrew girl, put my $2 in a basket, prayed that God would use it for his glory, and left it on my dresser for weeks. I expected them to disappear. Nothing happened. I put them in the offering box at church, figuring it was more convenient for God to use them there. God still hasn't taken my tithes directly from me.

I couldn't think of any verses relating to tithing off the top of my head. That was embarrassing. The closest thing I could remember was the spiritual gift of giving (which I've prayed to receive). So I searched in my concordance for "tithe." There were 35 verses containing the word.

Tithing is first mentioned when Moses talked to God on Mt. Sinai. People were supposed to give gifts to God, and quite a few gifts are mentioned. The only quantitative value mentioned, however, is a tenth of seeds, fruit, and animals. All these gifts (not just the tithe) were given to the Levites, because they served in the Temple. The Levites were supposed to tithe on the tithes they collected. However, tithes also went to travelers, orphans, and widows.

Then there's the "Robbing God" passage, which seems to be a popular source of ideas on tithing.

Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.
This makes sense from personal experience and other testimonies. My parents have gone through periods of tithing and not tithing, and God was faithful to provide in either situation. But, according to my father, my family was blessed to not just "get by" but give sacrificially when tithing. However, I don't think God will only bless those who tithe. That's ridiculous; it ignores the grace that God continually pours on us, whether we acknowledge him or not. But it is a wonderful opportunity for God to prove his faithfulness and use us as tools for his will. Don't you want to be part of God's plan? I do! I think tithing can be one way that we participate in God's will.

Tithing is not supposed to be a burden. Jesus hated legalism, and said so with pretty strong language.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!"
But I would argue that, if you find tithing to be a burden, your wallet is not at fault. Your heart is. I do not know anyone who is destitute. I've never met anyone who is destitute, even the panhandlers that line the streets of my city. This is fodder for another blog post, but none of them have ever taken my offer of a free lunch after I refuse to give them money. I am not destitute, despite being what most classify as a "poor college student." I don't know any poor college students. If you're in college, which is an incredible privilege, you are not poor. Granted, you probably have a huge financial responsibility, but the fact that you were able to take on that responsibility indicates some amount of resources. If God has indicated that, by going to college, you are giving sacrificially, great! He hasn't given me that desire, but I'm not going to rule it out as a possibility for others.

The Bible doesn't reference a group of people who should not tithe. Even in the New Testament, Jesus encouraged his disciples (most of whom did not have jobs) to give sacrificially, and praised a woman who gave every financial asset she had.
And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
Financial assets are not the only thing that God commands us to give. He commands us to give him everything. What's the difference between tithing and sacrificial giving? To tithe means to give 10% of one's income, but does sacrificial giving encompass that? Cain and Abel offered the fruits of their labor to God, which I'm sure was not easy to do, considering their working and living conditions.

Tithing is mentioned in the New Testament as something that Jews did, in a mostly legalistic sense. Jesus never commanded us to tithe in the New Testament. However, in Hebrews 7 (interesting chapter...go read it!), tithing is mentioned as part of the Law, which could not provide perfection.
Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? [...] For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. [...] For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.
So, then, I think we're called to a standard above and beyond a simple tithe in the same way that Jesus went above and beyond the standards of Levitical priesthood. Ever heard The Sheep And The Goats by Keith Green? It references the Final Judgment in Matthew 25. That kind of giving is far beyond tithing, and is motivated by love, not duty.

So, why do I tithe? 10% is not a magical number. It is, however, a historical benchmark that I find useful to evaluate just what, exactly, I ought to give my church. Ideally, I would tithe from every pay check consistently because it serves as a reminder of my financial priorities. When God calls me to go above and beyond that, I pray that my heart is willing and ready to follow his calling. I won't judge others because they don't tithe, but I do think it is important that Christians make it a priority to honor God with their finances and give when he leads them to.

If I am wrong, please tell me how! If you're struggling with giving sacrificially, please talk to someone about it! If you have repented of your sins and are seeking to love God with all your heart, your soul, your mind, and your strength, it is important to put your money where your mouth is.

7 comments:

Russell Earl Kelly, PHD said...

OT tithing was only a benchmark for farmers and herdsmen who lived inside Israel and the increase came as a miracle of God.

OT tithes cound not come from outside Israel or from Gentiles. The poor, carpenters, fishermen and tentmakers did not qualify as tithe-payers.

NT giving is freewill, sacrificial, generous, joyful. not by commandment or percentage and motivated by love for God and lost souls.

According 2 Cor 8:12-14 many should give more than 10% but that is no grounds to condemn those who cannot do so.

www.tithing-russkelly.com

Hannah said...

*chuckles*
Remind me to tell you about my experience with tithing this last week. Irony...

Good post. One thing--Abraham tithed to Melchizedek. :) So it was before Sinai.

Laedelas Greenleaf said...

Hannah, do you have a reference for the Abraham tithe? 'Cos I couldn't find it...I'm just curious :-)

Do tell! Hopefully we'll have some time to chat next Sunday!

joyful said...

Genesis 14:17-20 - the reference to Abraham's tithe is in v.20

joyful said...

or really, vs18-20 is the part about Melchizedek.

Laedelas Greenleaf said...

Thanks, Heather! I was searching for "tithe," not "tenth." Oops.

Clear Ambassador said...

First, let me say that both your posts were excellent. I think your heart--as I understood it from your first post and saw it more didactically laid out in your second one--is great.
[Full disclosure: My view of tithing is just like yours: a historical benchmark that originated from God and provides a handy guide to evaluate how well my treasure is where my heart is supposed to be.]

My fundamental response to questions and comments about tithing is "Why not?"
Why not?
Why not give 10% or more?
There may be a good reason, and that's fine: God's salvation and love NEVER depend on our actions (like Rae said). But why not strive to get there if it's tough? And if it's not tough, why on earth not give 10% or more? Seriously! That's a small fraction, and the money is all God's, so you're actually "keeping" 90% of His money (though just because we don't give it as tithe doesn't mean we autonomously spend it as we wish. It should all be under His command).

I think our response to a 10% tithe is a vivid indicator of our heart. I really hope that the vigor of the 2 responses to your first post were motivated by a genuine concern that you were drifting from salvation-by-faith-alone, and not defenses against God reaching into our pocketbooks. The last paragraph of PhD's comment is the core of it. Taking that as the truth that it is, I then ask... Why not give 10%? :-) And if you're freaking out about that, what's going on in your heart? I CAN'T SAY, and I'm not saying.

Sounds like God "pushed a button," and tithing has become like shutting off the TV, or not hitting the snooze so you can have time for a quiet time, or responding kindly when a sibling jabs you verbally, or a million other practical acts that we do that carry out God's lordship and our submission to that with our lives.

I honestly revel in the objectiveness of that 10% mark. I look forward to giving God the opportunity to physically demonstrate His faithfulness and promise-keeping as I give 10% or more all my life, whether it's a fraction I never miss, or it feels like I'm giving away everything I have to live on.

P.S. We adjust our lifestyles to our income, so if you always tithe and take that out as the first part of your budget, as you go on in life you'll be better able to give that much consistently.