Faithful Stewardship, Part 2
Tithing is a topic that many Christians today would rather avoid. However, it is an important topic that I believe has been abused on two extremes. First, there are those on one extreme who preach a prosperity Gospel and take money from individuals under false pretenses. These individuals act as though God only cares about our temporal needs. Sometimes, they will argue that God NEEDS you to give money to THEIR ministry in order to bless you. These are con-men, plain and simple. God does not need your money. God also cares about both our temporal and our eternal needs, but knows that the eternal is far more significant than the temporal. Do not be deceived by those who preach the false prosperity Gospel.
The second group that abuses this are those who deny that we should be giving anything to the local church. These individuals, in my experience, typically do not understand that the church needs resources to keep its doors open. The church has a light bill just like everyone else, and that has to be paid each month, along with salaries for the staff and any expenses related to the ministry. If enough people do not give to the church, they should not be surprised if the church has to shutter its doors.
There is also a third group that I think is in error, but typically not because of an abuse of the text. It is typically, in my view, a misunderstanding of what Paul has written. This third group believes that we should give to the church, but that it should be whatever we have decided to give in our hearts. If someone decides to give one dollar, then give one dollar. If someone decides to give a million dollars, then give a million dollars. While I believe that this group is sincere in their beliefs, I believe that they have misunderstood Scripture. This also appears to be a bad philosophy, since the human heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). Let's start by looking at Scripture as a whole, and then work our way to the passage where this idea is drawn.
Tithing is giving the first and the best to God. We see this principle laid out in Scripture. In Genesis 4:1-5, we read that Cain and Abel both brought an offering to God. However, if we read carefully, we read that, while Abel brought the first and the best offering he could bring, Cain only brought an offering. In other words, Cain appears to have brought whatever he decided to bring, while Abel offered the first and the best to God. We are told that God respected Abel's offering, but not Cain's. Why? My view is that it was in regards to how the offering was presented. Abel offered the first and the best, giving it to God rather than keeping it for himself. Cain did not follow suit, but rather offered less than the best--the leftovers. I think that, at minimum, this lays down a principle that what we offer to God should be the first and the best.
Throughout the Torah, we see the constant command for God's people to tithe. There are also commands to bring offerings to God, indicating that there is a difference between the tithe and the offering. This becomes significant to a point I will make later in this post.
In Malachi 3:8, God makes it clear through the prophet Malachi that to withhold tithes from him is to rob him. God has commanded that we give the tithe to him, and to withhold that from him is essentially robbery. Thus, it is important for us to pay attention and get this right. God has demanded the first and the best, and has told us to bring it to him. We should be obedient in this.
Some individuals today will argue that we should give what we have determined in our hearts to give, rather than giving a tithe of the first ten percent of our income. The argument goes something like this: Paul commanded the Church at Corinth to give what they had determined in their hearts, thus showing that the Gentile Church is not bound by the command to tithe. This is often based on a misunderstanding of what Paul was saying in 2 Corinthians 9:7. The context of this passage provides some insight into what Paul meant. It is important to remember that, during this time, Paul was taking up a collection for the Church in Judea (Acts 11:27-30). He was doing this because a prophet named Agabus had predicted a severe famine throughout the land of Judea, which happened during the reign of Claudius, whose reign ended roughly around the time that Paul wrote 2 Corinthians. It is likely that, even if the famine had already started when Paul wrote 2 Corinthians, that the Judean Church was likely still recovering from it. In any case, we cannot take this passage as a nullification of the command to tithe.
Some of my readers may be asking, "What personal benefit will I get from tithing?" First, I want to point out that personal benefit is not the reason we should obey God. Not that there is not benefit in obeying God, but that this should not be the primary reason why we do. Obedience should be based on who God is, not what he will give us if we obey him. However, I would like to point out that there is a benefit in obeying God's command to tithe. Let me point out a couple of them:
First, tithing releases the hold that money has on us. We live in a very consumeristic culture, where the motto of many is "Whoever dies with the most toys wins." We are always striving for more. In the process, we easily make money into an idol. Giving to God before we use any of these resources for ourselves reminds us that it was God who gave us the ability to earn a living in the first place. It is a recognition that God is the one who gives you the resources that you have (1 Corinthians 4:7). In short, it helps us to avoid making money an idol.
Second, tithing ensures that ministry expenses are met. Far too many people believe that ministry is just done for an hour on Sundays. I can testify that this is not the case. It is not uncommon for pastors to work 60 or even 70 hour work weeks attempting to take care of everything their congregations need. In addition to sermon prep (which takes approximately 15 hours, on average, according to the statistics), a pastor is busy vising shut-ins, making hospital visits, counseling individuals (both during scheduled and unscheduled appointments), performing weddings, preaching at funerals, and taking care of the various other needs and ministries of the church. Scripture is consistent with the message that a pastor should give 100% to their pastor, and most pastors do. However, Scripture also makes it clear that a congregation should take care of its pastor (1 Timothy 5:18). There are also the other expenses that the Church requires. If everyone were tithing consistently, I suspect that the Church would have a far more profound influence in the world than it does. As it stands, far too many Christians expect ministry to magically happen at the wave of a hand. It simply does not.
The bottom line is this: Tithing is biblical. Tithing is beneficial. Tithing is one way we honor God. Anything we place as more important than God is an idol. If it is difficult to give the first and the best portion of your income to God, then it may be time to reconsider whether or not you have made money an idol.