WHAT’S THIS BUSINESS ABOUT TITHING?

 Newsletter Volume XXXIII Number 2 – Mid Fall 2012

by Canon Mark A. Pearson

 

It’s that time of year when churches ask their members for financial pledges for the upcoming year.  The Bible has some quite specific instructions on how we are to approach our financial giving.

 

Unfortunately not all churches or Christians guide their actions accordingly.   Many churches hold an “every member canvas” as “fund raising” to balance the church’s budget and pay the bills.  Many church members calculate what they think they can afford to give, apart from the instructions in the Word of God.  What does God say about financial giving to the Church?

 

Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me.  But you say, “How are we robbing thee?” In your tithes and offerings…. Bring the full tithes into the storehouse…; 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 an overflowing blessing.  —Malachi 3:8-10

 

The Bible states, if you are not tithing you are robbing God. Straightforward, isn’t it?  Yet, people will still try to wiggle out of God’s clear commandment.  How?  Listen to the comments I have heard over the years:

 

“A tithe is whatever I choose to give to the Church.”  Over the years numbers of people have said to me some variant of, “I give $5 a week to the Church.  That is my tithe.”

 

Such a statement reminds me of Humpty Dumpty’s remark in Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll:

 

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

 

Of course that’s both silly and irresponsible.  A car is not a refrigerator no matter how earnestly you claim that.  A tithe is, by definition, ten percent.  Ten.

 

“My charitable giving, including what I give to the Church, totals ten percent.  Therefore, I’m in compliance.”

 

No. The biblical quote is tithes and offerings.  The tithe belongs to the Church.  What you give to other charitable organizations such as the Cancer Fund, or the Boy Scouts, and  to other Christian ministries such as missions or your regional Christian-based Pregnancy Care Center or us here at Institute for Christian Renewal are offerings.  They do not count towards your tithe.  The tithe obligation needs to be satisfied first before you make these offerings to worthy causes.

 

“Tithing is Old Testament and Jesus freed us from such legalistic rules.”

 

But what did Jesus actually teach?  Look at Luke 11:42:

 

“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”  (emphasis added)

 

It’s clear from the passage Jesus is taking the Pharisees to task because, although they are quite strict about tithing (even giving 10 percent of the items they grow in the garden), they miss the big picture — justice and love.

 

Some people conclude that Jesus is saying, “The whole point of religion is justice and love.  That’s all I am asking of you.”  But that’s not what He said.  Read that Bible passage again.  He certainly commanded the Pharisees (and us) to act right in those areas, but He added “without neglecting the others.”  What He said was justice and love and tithing.  As with so many things, Jesus did not abolish what was taught in the Old Testament.   He did not abolish tithing as ten percent of your income to the Church.

 

In fact, in approving of the Pharisee’s tithing of their garden harvest, Jesus is telling us we are to tithe, not just on our take home pay, but on our entire gross income (our wages before the government gets its hooks into it, not our take home pay), on interest in our investments, social security and pension checks — everything.  Dr. Mary and I calculate what it would cost to buy the vegetables and fruit from our garden and small orchard, and tithe on that amount also.

 

“All the Church wants is my money.”  We sometimes hear that as a reason for not obeying God regarding our giving.  But when someone speaks this way they are saying the Church is “them” not “us.”  Note that people who speak this way have placed themselves on the fringes.  Had they come closer to the center of Christian discipleship (which involves active Church participation) they would see that the Church does so many wonderful things which honor God and help others. They don’t just want your money!

 

“I can’t afford to tithe!  I have too many expenses.”  The fact is, you cannot afford not to tithe.  That passage from the book of Malachi with which this article began, points out that God, far from wanting to strip you of your resources, wants to bless you, but you have to cooperate and do your part.

 

Your finances are out of whack (not enough income relative to your expenses) because you have been managing your money.  You’ve obviously not been doing a very good job of it.  Fire your money manager (yourself) and submit to the wisdom of another money manager (God). And what is the first piece of money management guidance He gives you?  Tithe!

“Trust me,” God is Saying

God, your new money manager, has amply demonstrated how much He loves you and has your best interests at heart.  Is there anything in the Biblical record, in your experience, or in the testimony of others that even hints God commands things that are not good for us?  Oh, those commands may be difficult to achieve, and they may go against your baser instincts, but is there ever a case when what God told you to do was bad for you?  Of course not!

God, your new money manager, in telling you to tithe is doing so not because He needs the money (He doesn’t! He owns “the cattle on a thousand hills” — Psalm 50:10) but because He wants you to do well.  You won’t probably get rich, but you will not have financial problems again, if you do it His way.  He said He will pour down for you an overflowing blessing (Malachi 3:10).

It’s not a matter of trust to write God a check out of what we can afford.  It is a matter of trust to tithe first and then watch Him work to make things come out right at the end of the month.

In part God does this by adjusting how we spend our money.  A friend of mine was amazed when he added up how much money he spent each month (money he claimed he didn’t have nearly enough of) on going through the drive-up coffee window each morning and afternoon.  We all know people who have money troubles who fritter away a lot of money on things they really don’t need.   No, God is not saying we have to give up everything except basic food, shelter and clothing.  We are, however, when we are not meeting our financial obligations, including our obligation to Him, to cut way back.  Are you really saying it’s okay to spend money on an expensive fancy hair treatment, yet claim financial problems as an excuse not to tithe?

In part God does this by honoring our obedience and faith by working supernaturally.  Several of my friends have tried something lately: they decided to take  God  at  His  word.  They  knew  roughly  what  they’d  be  taking  in from all sources during the month ahead (yes, including the financial value of vegetables from their garden, or their equivalent).  They wrote checks to their churches for one-tenth of that amount.  They listened to wisdom (directly from God and from wise friends who know about money management) about eliminating or cutting back expenditures that were not necessary.  And then they waited to see what God would do.

In virtually every case their finances balanced by the end of the month.  In those cases when things didn’t, the finances did balance within a few months. How? In some cases an unexpected insurance settlement, an inheritance or overtime money presented itself.  (But, of course, this does not happen every month!)  In a greater number of cases they couldn’t figure it out.  Some of them, good with numbers, “did the math,” and still could not figure out how God did it; but He did.

In this God is saying, “Trust me.”  Trust is a mere theory (or even self-delusion) until it is acted on.  God is saying to each of us, “Do what I tell you even if you don’t understand it or like it.  Do not act with financial foolishness and expect me to bail you out., but do pay your tithe and then trust me go to work for you.”

The issue  really isn’t money.  It’s about trusting God more deeply.  Because money is one of the most important issues in our lives, we should not be surprised this is where God will take a stand.  If we can trust Him with our money, we’ve learned a great lesson, we have grown considerably in our faith, and we can be far more effectively used to His honor and glory.

So, we shouldn’t be asking, “Should I tithe?” or fighting God with excuses and rationalizations.  Instead, we should be saying, “Please God, tell me more about it. I need financial stability in my life and Your way is the best.  And, as I learn to trust you, I know I’ll be growing closer to You.”  You can’t afford not to tithe.  +

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