The sixth Essential in the Christian life (see my previous posts for the first five) is giving.
Before I go further, let me offer a disclaimer. I am not currently employed by a church, though I have been most of my life. And that employment did not make me rich financially. In fact, it left me in quite the opposite condition. When I was employed by the church, I challenged people to give, and if they felt that challenge came from self-interest, to simply give to another church–we would forward the check with no questions asked. This challenge allowed a number of people to get past their “all they want is your money” attitude and take a real look at the role giving plays in the Christian life.
So, first, let’s establish a few truths:
- Jesus NEVER encouraged people to gather material wealth. In fact, He always warned us against it (Matthew 19:24).
- Christians ARE commanded to give–intentionally (1 Corinthians 16:2) and with a good attitude (“hilariously”) in scripture (2 Corinthians 9:7).
- Christians ARE NOT commanded to tithe. The tithe was part of the Old Testament law, and Christians are not “legally” bound by it. BUT…
- The first Christians were Jews and they continued to tithe. Not only did they tithe to the temple, but they also gave on top of that to the church. AND they gave on top of that to specific “fund raising” efforts, such as famine relief in Israel. So, for the early Christians, the tithe was the “low bar”, not the “high bar” we seem to think it is.
- There are only three reasons for Christians to NOT at least tithe: Ignorance, Selfishness or Fear. Ignorance is the fault of those of us tasked with teaching. Many of us are afraid to teach openly about giving because we don’t want to be seen as materialistic or greedy. So, we have to repent and change that. Selfishness sets in when we say we don’t have enough to tithe and pay our bills–bills we rack up because we want a certain lifestyle. Fear is when we are afraid if we do tithe (10% of the gross of the top–what the Old Testament calls “first fruits” because most of the offering was agricultural) we won’t have enough left for our own needs (or wants–which puts us back to selfishness). I think most of us would agree that living a life of ignorance, selfishness or fear is not what we want–and it certainly isn’t what God wants for us.
- Giving (at least the tithe) is, paradoxically, for us. No, I’m not saying if you give $1000 God will give you $2000 back–I know for a fact that is not true. But God is not interested in our wealth, contrary to many popular teachers. God is interested in growing us from the inside out–developing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and, in the end, giving us righteousness and peace (Hebrews 12:11). When we give, we recognize all that we have comes from God. We recognize that there are priorities higher than our own. And we learn to submit our fear and selfishness to God. We change. We learn and we grown. And, in the end, most of us derive a great deal of joy from the very act of giving.
- FINALLY, tithing or giving above the tithe is worship. In the Old Testament it was the core of the worship Israel offered to God. It should be for us today. Somehow we have gotten the idea in the church that giving is “business” and should be minimized in the worship service–if not completely removed. So we see many churches simply putting boxes in the lobby or the back of the worship service for people to place their tithes and offerings so they don’t take up “worship” time. I believe this has led us to the problem we have today. We don’t recognize giving as worship. I recommend churches give this significant time in the worship service. We should celebrate what God has given, and our opportunity to give back. We should celebrate what God will do with what we have given. We should GIVE the offering together as a body, and never “take” or “collect” the offering.
Tithing isn’t about how much we give–it is a percentage, and Jesus Himself pointed out that a very small gift can be much greater than a large one in some circumstances. It is about being faithful to God. And unless we give faithfully, we will not grow and be healthy spiritually. So, if you are giving faithfully (at least a tithe), keep it up, and take joy in what God has allowed. But, if you are a Christian and you are not tithing, start today. Live a life free of ignorance, selfishness and fear. We cannot have two masters–cannot serve God and money (Matthew 6:24).