This matter can be a turnoff, guilt trip, or legalistic compulsion. Consider the pressures and mixed messages on this highly personal and controversial topic. ♦
The topic of tithing makes many people uncomfortable. From the pulpit to the pew it’s a subject that evokes widespread opinions and stances. There’s alot to debate. There’s the “tithe” (10%) validity issue, i.e., is it even valid in the New Testament or was it simply an Old Testament law? There’s the freewill “offerings” issue (see 1 Corinthians 16 and Acts 2 and 4). Does this replace the tithe or does it mean I’ve got to give 10% and then some? And what about the question of giving based on gross income vs. net income? And then it all further gets complicated (or more attractive) when you consider if a contribution is eligible for a tax deduction.
While certainly unintended, the whole matter can be a turnoff, a guilt trip, or a legalistic compulsion that drives one to believe they’re scoring favors with God (or their pastor) or drawing curses upon themselves.
Ever struggle with the above? Welcome to the club.
Actually Not a Struggle for Most
The truth is that just 30%-50% of all church members in the US give any financial support to their church. Or perhaps put more dramatically: 50%-70% give absolutely no support. Of those that do give something, less than 5% give a tithe or 10% of their incomes. Actually 80% of Mormons tithe. 100% of Old Testament Israel tithed. Not a great report for evangelical Christianity.
It’s not that difficult to understand why. The ongoing surrender of a non-trivial portion of one’s hard-earned income or yield from our work is an exercise involving discipline, wisdom, sacrifice, submission and devotion to a spiritual purpose. It doesn’t make sense otherwise. Compulsion and manipulation only makes it worse. God’s realm/kingdom economy is not meant to operate like the IRS. Combined with a natural propensity to preserve our own capital for our own self-directed if not outright selfish purposes, apparently confusing scriptural mixed messages, wrong-emphasis teaching on the matter, and sordid evidence of financial abuse, there are plenty of reasons to apparently justify keeping our wallets and purses tightly held.
Old vs. New Testament Giving
So what does the Bible really say? Actually the 10% tithe is scriptural and predates Moses/Hebrew Law in the Old Testament. In Genesis 14, Abraham gave the mysterious Christ-figure King Melchizedek a tithe after receiving a blessing: Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything. In Genesis 28, Jacob promises God “And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you” after his visionary dream and God’s blessing. The precedent of offerings to God is set early. When read carefully you’ll find even the brotherly and deadly fight between Cain and Abel in Genesis 4 had something to do with first-fruits, the heart of giving, and the insidious input of corruption. To add to the mix, later in Proverbs there’s more than a strong hint at prosperous blessings:
“Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the first-fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.” – Proverbs 3:9–10
The New Testament has Jesus himself referring to tithing in his harsh comments (no, it’s not hate speech) to the hypocritical Pharisees in Matthew 23. The context of the chastisement in verses 23-24 is obedient tithing without “justice, mercy and faithfulness.” The point is that outward appearance and actions should reflect true inward heart reality.
There is no specific mandate in the Biblical instructions to the 1st century New Church to give 10% of one’s income. Instead, the New Testament gives guidance as follows:
– On the first day of every week, each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn, so that collections need not be taken when I come.” – 1 Corinthians 16:2
– Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. – 2 Corinthians 9:7
– There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. – Acts 4:34-35
The implication here is to continue with a practice of non-legalistic, unforced, non-trivial giving to pastors and Church community that springs wholeheartedly from a loving and thankful heart.
An Appropriate Growth Journey
I personally have grown into becoming a grateful and free giver of a full tithe. God’s infinite patience and grace granted room for development in both my wife and I to become willing and cheerful, non-trivial givers. The challenge is now in prayerful, Spirit-led guidance as to where the money goes. We feel no compulsion but rather full freedom and gratefulness. It is off the top gross and matters not whether it’s tax-deductible. It’s taken a lifetime but God has changed our selfish hearts and recast our perspective. As is the case in God’s kingdom, with it comes a peace beyond understanding.
What is your true perspective on tithing?
“But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand . . . and now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you.” – 1 Chronicles 29:14, 17