The subject of money is usually touchy for most people. For those involved with a local church, it can get downright divisive. The idea of tithing, the giving of 10% of your income to the church, sparks many a debate.
I truly understand the difficulty that the concept of giving money causes so many. I had plenty of reservations about it at the beginning of my life of faith. With a sheepish grin these days I can recall my questioning of the first church leader who brought this subject up to my wife and me. “Who decided on 10%,” I self-righteously asked. It seemed like a random choice to me until this person gently explained that the word tithe means 10%.
Also, we were having trouble enough making ends meet. As I have written of before, my riotous life as an active alcoholic had brought us just past the point of financial disaster. Now that my life was becoming livable again through sobriety, I was concentrating on paying off the large debts I had incurred while now trying to properly take care of my family. There didn’t appear to be anything left over to give away to anyone, let alone a church.
Since those early days as a Christian, what tithing is (and isn’t) has become quite clear to me. Some of the things it is not are: an attempt to curry favor with the Almighty. You do not have to give a specific amount before you can expect God to bless you. As a matter of fact, the greatest blessings I have received have had nothing to do with finances.
Tithing also is not simply a ‘box’ to be checked as if it were some way to pay for your salvation (Indulgences went out a long time ago). I encourage folks who have a church body they call home to support it both monetarily and with an investment of their time. Ministry just doesn’t happen; things need to be paid for, the building(s) kept up and teaching resources bought, to name just a few. These must be accompanied with the donation of time, less any thing the church purchases for kingdom work collect the dust of not being used.
What tithing is: An ongoing opportunity to be obedient to God, and not in a 10% kind of way, either. Being joyfully willing to give 10% (or whatever amount) off the top is the key. As time goes on, I realize how much I have because of God’s redeeming love for me. With this deeper understanding/appreciation of who God is and what He has done for me, I desire less of the shiny things of this world. Those things are merely distractions that want to keep my attention from God.
The key to becoming a joyful tither, at least in my experience, is to comprehend what it is that God is looking for from us in this regard. The Old Testament is full of examples of the Israelite’s bringing the ‘first fruits’ of their crops as a gift to God. I didn’t have any sense of what this meant at the start. As I said, when first considering this idea I looked for left over money after all the bills were paid. That is the opposite of first fruits. I have learned, over time, that God wants my giving to be off the top because I recognize everything I have or earn comes from Him in the first place.
That’s all well and good, you might be thinking, but what about my bills. Don’t I have to pay them? The answer is of course yes. I never recommend someone give to a church instead of paying their heat and electric bill. What I do recommend to folks I have this discussion with is to honestly look at the way they are spending their discretionary money.
Here’s how things changed for me once I did this: After I had read the verses from God’s word that were suggested about tithing, I felt my heart begin to change about giving in general. It no longer looked like a fool’s game to me, but yet I still couldn’t see how I was going to be able to give anything. Though I was beginning to see what the meaning was of giving back to God, the bottom line of the household budget still didn’t reconcile to giving any percentage of our earnings away.
It was at this point in my life when I heard yet another teaching about tithing. This one was different, however. Oh, it still used Malachi 3:6-11 to make its biblical case for giving back to God, but this speaker brought the entire issue to a personal level for me. I heard him ask, ‘What is it you spend your disposable income on?’ For the first time, as that sank in, I began to see my spending was conformed to my ideals, not God’s.
After all, I made all my monthly payments plus the penalty and interest that accrued from my destructive drinking. Both the IRS and the State of New York were quite insistent that I pay all the back taxes I owed. God blessed me/us with a good paying job that enabled me to eventually come clean with both those government agencies.
So what was I spending my money on? Why was there still nothing to give to the church I now called home? It took and honest look at my expenditures to reveal the painful truth.
What I discovered was that while I was being good with our money, my personal concerns and comforts were still in the forefront of my mind. The bills were being paid on time because I was working so hard to do it. From this self-centered approach came a slightly trickier one; my kids and wife (and I) deserved take out dinners 2 or 3 times a week. Have I mentioned I was still smoking cigarettes at this time? I certainly needed them to keep going at the wonderful new pace I was working.
As I began to ponder these things, I realized that I had placed them in an ‘untouchable’ category in our budget as if they were fixed expenses. It was easy to do, as life was becoming such a joy to live and these types of things seemed to make everyone happier still. Yet I discovered that at the heart of the issue was still my lingering selfishness. This was my money I was working hard for and I would spend it on these ‘necessities’ before I would give money to church.
I came to realize that walking out this faith I was professing to have would require some changes on my part; primarily that I truly start thinking of others before myself (Philippians 2:3-4). Doing this allowed me to get to the place where I could, cautiously, begin to tithe. Next time I will share some of the many blessings God has poured out on us because of our faithful lives that have included tithing to the local church.
Thanks for reading. I would love to hear your thoughts about tithing.