That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; Holding forth the word of life...
Philippians 2:15-16a

Friday, January 14, 2011

You Want Me to Give How Much?!

I was reading an online discussion the other day about tithing.  Most Christians "know" that we are supposed to tithe 10% of our income to the church... or are we?  Some of the comments I read pointed out the fact that tithing was an Old Testament law, and nothing is mentioned of it in the New Testament.  The first part of that statement is correct.  Tithing was a requirement of the Jewish law in the Old Testament, BUT it is indeed mentioned in the New Testament as well: at least 7 times.

Basically, the gist of the discussion was that as Christians living in the age of grace we are no longer under bondage to the law; therefore, tithing is no longer a "requirement" for us like it was for Israel.  

That got me thinking.  I've been taught my whole life that Christians are supposed to give 10% of their income to the church.  I've heard many sermons on tithing from all the famous passages that deal with the subject: Malachi 3, II Corinthians 9:7, Luke 6:38, Acts 4 & 5, etc.  I've heard (and I'm sure you have too), that God blesses those who give.  The tithe is the Lord's, it was never ours to begin with.  We should honour the Lord with our finances and He will honour us.  Etc. etc. etc.  So, the question is, if we are not under the law, and therefore don't have to give 10%, then what are we supposed to do?  Do we not give at all?  Do we just give what we like?  What's the standard?  Did Jesus address this when He was on earth?  What did He have to say about giving?

Money is often a touchy subject.  I'm not sure why.  I have no problem talking about money.  Whether it's how much I make, or how much I spend, I really don't care if people know.  I guess it's a touch subject because our society measures the success of an individual based on their financial status.  If you have lots of money you're important.  God doesn't think that way, so I don't think it should bother Christians to talk about money.  Many believers have left churches because they feel offended that the church is asking for money all the time.  Personally, I think leaving a church for that reason is just immature.  It's true a church can go overboard in asking for money.  I saw a youtube clip recently of a popular pastor in the States practically demanding that his church members fill out automatic withdrawal slips, so the church could access bank accounts whenever it wanted ...needed.  To me that's extreme and very controlling... almost cultish.  However, if the church is to survive, it needs money.  That's just a simple fact of life.  There's no way around it.  So, all these Christians getting bent out of shape because their church asks them to tithe is just foolish.  AND saying that tithing was only Old Testament is a very weak excuse to get out of giving.  

Ok, so if tithing was only for the Jews, what is our example as Christians in the age of grace for giving?  I have a feeling that those who use the OT excuse aren't going to like this one :).

We have several examples of giving in the New Testament.  Jesus Himself spoke about the tithe.  Luke 11:42, But woe unto you Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgement and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. (See Matt 23:23 for the parallel passage).  If you're like me, the first time reading this verse it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, so what is Jesus really saying?  Is He saying to stop tithing and focus on judgement and love?  No, actually He's saying what the Pharisees tithed was a good thing.  The "these ought ye to have done" is speaking about the tithes they were paying.  Jesus is saying tithe, but don't forget that you need to judge righteously (discern) and show the love of God.  The Pharisees had the tithe part down, but their hearts were focused on the outward action without and inward love and discernment.  Jesus says tithing is a good thing.

Another example we have of giving is in Acts 4 and 5.  At the end of Acts 4 we find the Christians in the early church at Jerusalem selling all that they had and laying down the money at the apostles feet.  Think about that for a second (or a minute, or 10 minutes).  We are still part of the church started in the book of Acts.  They were Christians under grace, and we are Christians under grace.  How much did they give?  Ten percent?  NO!  They gave ALL.  Whew, that sure blows the whole excuse of no tithing in the New Testament in the other direction.  It's true, tithing is not a New Testament principle.  The New Testament principle is to give all.  This is introduced by Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  The whole purpose of this sermon is Jesus is showing the Jews the new way.  He is showing them grace.  He uses the example of adultery and instead of saying it's okay, He actually takes it a step further than the law and says adultery starts with a thought, even before the action has taken place.  He says that instead of an eye for and eye, we are to turn the other cheek.  He says that when someone asks you to carry something for a mile, that we are to carry it for two miles.  Jesus standard for the Christian under grace as opposed to the Jew under the law is to do more.  Jesus didn't come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.  Jesus didn't come to give us licence (many Christians think this is exactly what grace is), but He came to give us liberty to obey Him.  The way of Jesus is always to go above and beyond what is expected.  

So, if the OT principle is to give 10%, the NT principle is to give more than that.  Here's the thing.  While I can recall many sermons speaking about giving our tithe, I don't recall very many (if any) admonishing us to give more than 10%.  Yet, that is exactly what the Bible commands.  However, the NT leaves the choice up to the individual of how much they will give.  Go back to Acts.

At the end of Acts 4 we have the Christians laying their gifts at the apostles feet.    Barnabas in particular sold a piece of land and gave all the money to the apostles.  Now, the Bible doesn't say that he sold the land where his house was, or that he sold everything he had.  It says he had land, and he sold it.  My personal opinion is that Barnabas still had a house to live in after he sold his land.  I think he sold a portion of his land and gave all the proceeds from that sale to the apostles.  This money was being used to meet the needs of the poor people in the church.  It doesn't make a whole lot of sense for Barnabas to sell everything he has to give money to the poor and make himself one of those poor.  Anyhow, that's just my opinion.  In Acts 5 we have Ananias and Sapphira.  I'm sure you are familiar with the story.  They sold a possession too. It doesn't say it was land.  It could have been, or maybe it was a valuable piece of jewelry or something like that.  Who knows?  But it did have worth, and they agreed to keep a portion of the sale.  The problem with that was not that they didn't give all the money to Peter, it was that the lied about what they had sold the possession for.  See, there was no set requirement for what people were to give.  That was between them and the Lord.  Barnabas choose to give all the money from his sale.  Ananias and Sapphira choose just to give some, which would have been entirely okay of they hadn't lied about it.

God always give us the choice of whether or not we will obey Him.  He gives us the command or principle in Scripture, then it's up to us to decide what we are going to do with it.  God doesn't make us into Christian "robots."  Today, we are still left with that choice.  The church has needs.  I'm not just talking about maintaining a building and paying a pastor, even though these are essential.  People in the church have needs.  Needs need to be met by money.  God has blessed us greatly in this country.  We have good jobs, warm houses, cars, food on the table, and material possessions beyond the basic needs of humanity.  My overflowing closet proves that one!  God has given us SO much, so that we might use it for Him.  God loves the local church.  It is His bride.  He wants to see it grow.  He wants to see more souls saved, and He gave us Christians finances to help in these endeavours.  When we hoard our money and refuse to give it to the church we are robbing God.  It's up to each of us how much we are going to give to our local church, but I wonder how many of us would be willing to be "Acts" Christians or a "Barnabas" and give all?  

This has been something God has been challenging me with recently.  We can all do more.  Not because we want to be seen or recognized as big givers, or because we have too, but because we have a desire and passion in our heart to please God, and to further His work!  The challenge is what can I do without in order to give more to the Lord?  What can I sell like those Christians in Acts did and give to the Lord?  Did God bless them?  Absolutely!  I don't know about you, but I like blessings :).  



    This is the website the a Baptist theologian, Dr Russell Earl Kelly. He wrote a book called: "Should the Church Teach Tithing, A Theologian's Conclusions about a Taboo Doctrine."