Tithing can be a tough topic because it’s connected to our relationship with money. And that can be a very sensitive subject. And for some of us our finances are straining our families and ruining marriages, creating stressed out parents and insecure kids, so I want to be sensitive to those who are feeling that sting. If you are in that situation, please hear this, Jesus loves you, He is not after what you can give him, he doesn’t size people up to see how they can help advance his cause, he wants you to receive His love and follow him. He has invited you into fellowship with the Father and Holy Spirit and longs to do good things in your life, regardless of your finances.
Before we talk about tithing, we have to talk about money. Sometimes we get a negative vibe about money in the church or avoid it altogether. But that’s not biblical. The fact is that scripture talks about money and wealth a lot with a basically positive attitude! We see there is nothing wrong with earning, saving, and spending money, we can even use it to build a home and fill it with beauty. The Message translation of Proverbs 24:3-4 says “It takes wisdom to build a house, and understanding to set it on a firm foundation; It takes knowledge to furnish its rooms with fine furniture and beautiful draperies.” Many of these examples paint a picture of wisely handled wealth being a blessing that God gives his creation. It’s the insatiable love or desire of money and the foolish stewarding of it that puts the human heart on the path of destruction. Raymond Ortlund, Jr says this about the book of Genesis “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). God has packed into this world vast potentialities for wealth creation. The wheat fields of the American Midwest, the breadbasket of the world-God made that. The gold and silver and gems hidden in the earth-God made that. God put gold, fine gold, in the world before sin ever came along (vv.11,12). And interestingly, it also says the gold was not evenly distributed all around but was located in one place, the land of Havilah. So God created a world in which some people would have more financial opportunity than others. Why? So they could share with others and become more like God himself, the ultimate sharer.” The idea of sharing with others is at the heart of tithing. We are sharing with our beloved pastors and their families, we are sharing with each other and our surrounding community, and we are sharing with the hungry, naked, orphans, widows and uneducated in our neighborhoods and beyond. We see that God made it all and lets us enjoy it and share it! Tithing is a part of learning to live in community, we belong to God and to our brothers and sisters in Christ as well. We have a responsibility to one another and the world around us. Maybe if we started calling it sharing it would give a more warm and fuzzy feeling!
Now let’s listen into a dialogue between Jesus and the ever so popular Pharisees to get an idea of what Jesus desires in our tithe. Matthew 23:23 says “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.” Let’s give credit where credit is due, the Pharisees (the religious types of that day) at least got the tithe amounts right. But Jesus wasn’t about to let them off the hook there. It seems like the tithe was just the starting point and that we should be growing from there. But it does seem pretty clear that tithing is a Christian responsibility and that justice, mercy and faithfulness must be at the core.
The discipline of tithing gets murky because we have become so accustomed to extreme excess and a highly individualistic culture and our thinking is a little foggy on needs verses an ungodly hunger for more. As Christians, we should not be unwilling to share with our church. God has a mission in this world and He uses the generosity of His people to accomplish that holy work. Whether it is time, talents or treasure, the Christian disciple must be a giver.
Years ago when my husband and I were newly married and just out of college, we had a baby, one income and no money. But we tithed. Over the last 12 years, we’ve seen God’s faithfulness as we give and we continue to learn about the goodness of tithing. Last week, we encountered God’s grace in this area yet again and I think it’s honoring to God to share it. A couple of weeks ago, my husband looked back over our year end giving and realized we hadn’t given what we thought. Between our three kids and my husband and I, I am pretty sure we were sick every single weekend in 2015, so we missed a lot of church and unintentionally fell behind on our tithing and that didn’t feel good. Not because of guilt but because by God’s grace we have come to know Jesus more and more and we want to be a part of His work in this world. He knew we needed to give a larger tithe to God that week to make it right. So we obeyed first, which felt good but the joy and wisdom came after the act of obedience. Asah Shamah, we will do, then we will understand. We gave, not expecting anything in return. The following week, we learned that we would be receiving a bit of a financial blessing. It was 5x the amount we gave. It was completely unexpected. Unearned. Undeserved. It was grace. It wasn’t a life changing amount of money or anything like that but the grace of it felt like a million bucks! Malachi 3:10 says “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 do not believe we should give to receive but these words are a lovely reminder that we can trust God to do good to us when we follow His way of living. While we do not give to get, we do serve an extravagantly generous God, we simply cannot out give such a prodigal God, He will outdo us every time!
Clearly, that experience doesn’t happen every time. We need to develop a steadfastness to our giving and an understanding that we don’t always see the blessing right away. From my experience, tithing is more about God preparing our hearts for the blessing of his glorious spiritual riches. So we open our resources in humility and trust and as we let the things of this world take their rightful place in our hearts, God has room to give us the wonderful gift of Himself.
Do you feel burdened by the desire for more wealth? If you do, remember that living sacrificially is freeing not enslaving. As soon as we release that check, we are saying money has no power over me and my desires do not control me, I am bringing those things into submission to Christ.
Like any other spiritual discipline, tithing is about growing closer to Jesus and knowing God more intimately. Jesus invites us into sweet communion with the Father and Holy Spirit. But with this new family, we are entrusted with new responsibilities. I know tithing can feel like a bit of a housekeeping task but I’m learning to look at it as more of an invitation into a different kind of life, a deeper life, a truer life, a life more firmly rooted in our Heavenly Father. We serve a generous God and as Christ followers we need to be a recklessly generous people.