Understanding the true-meaning of tithing.
The Old and New Testament discuss tithing. Tithing is a simple concept; we are to give a tenth of our earnings to God. We are to return to God a portion of what He has given to us. However, even though tithing is simple to understand, many Christians struggle with the concept. There are a wide variety of interpretations of what tithing means, and how we’re to fulfill the command God gave to us. To some Christians, tithing can be a joyful experience, while others find it burdensome. Some see tithing as part of their faith journey, while others find it discouraging. Tithing provides peace to some, while others find it a stressful experience.
We all react differently to tithing. And depending on our individual understanding of tithing, it directly impacts the amount of money we’re willing to contribute. In fact, confusion surrounding tithing is the predominate reason most Christians limit their giving to 2% of their income; far less than the 10% that is mentioned in the Bible. So a simple concept has become vastly over complicated. But, through the teachings of Jesus Christ, we will learn the true meaning of tithing, how it can be attainable, and how it can be a joyful experience to be nurtured over time.
For most of us tithing is difficult because, when our personal money is involved, we naturally heighten our defensive posture through skepticism. We’ve all been there when someone asks for money. Some of the first questions that go through our mind is “What are they going to do with it?” or “They’ll use the money for some personal gain.” or “They’re just asking for more money to waste on senseless acts.” Whether these perceptions are based facts or not, these thoughts run through our mind.
With the prevalent dishonesty in our society, we become concerned that others may take advantage of our act of giving. Is our church or our favorite charity using scripture as a means to solicit money for a self-serving act? For example, could the church be using scripture as a subtle form of coercion to guilt us into giving money so a pastor can generate a high salary? Or what if we’re concerned that our church will waste the money that we’ve worked so hard to earn? And on the flip side, it is uncomfortable for a pastor to surface the discussion of tithing because they are fearful they may be perceived as only being concerned about their own monetary self-preservation. And to be honest, in a way, tithing to a church is self-serving. The preacher encourages donations so that the church will have enough money to pay his or her salary. Well, that is understandable, after all, if people do not give to the church, then how can the church pay a preacher, pay electric bills, or do outreach? In addition, what if our church mismanages money, are we really called to give 10% and watch the money wasted or sit in a bank account collecting interest? God calls us to be stewards of our resources. Are we really to give 10% without concern on how our money is going to be used for God’s service?
Then there is the question of why is 10% such a hard fast rule? Why not 15%, or 5%? Why isn’t tithing based on what a person can afford? Consider a family who earns $500,000 every year. Is this family only to give $50,000 which leaves them $450,000 to live on for the year? Isn’t this family with this high of an income only giving out of abundance? And what if we give 10% reluctantly, are we really giving it from the goodness of our heart as God expects? If we are giving it reluctantly, then maybe we shouldn’t be giving it at all. Or maybe tithing makes us feel good, as if we’re paying for our salvation. We know that our salvation cannot be purchased through good works. So if we’re giving with the expectation that we’re meeting a goal set by God, this is not the correct reason to practice tithing either.
There are many books written and web sites which discuss the topic of tithing that address questions such as those included in this article. The questions raised earlier, along with many other questions, demonstrates tithing is more complex than originally thought. But maybe this confusion is because we humans have warped the true-meaning of tithing. We’ve warped a command given to us by God and the result is confusion and mostly failure.
There are many good reasons for tithing, and then there are many good reasons for not tithing. Now when I say there are good reasons for not tithing, I am not advocating that there are good reasons for not giving. I am simply saying there are good reasons that 10% doesn’t seem to fit scripture, and this not because scripture is wrong, it is because tithing is misinterpreted by many. In Matthew 18:22, Jesus said that we are to forgive seven times seventy. Are we really to surmise that Matthew 18:22 is advocating that we are to limit our forgiving to 490 times? We know the answer to this question is no; we are to forgive always. So are we to take the 10% rule literally? Probably not.
To address this confusion, we need to understand that tithing is less about 10% and more about the act of giving. I don’t feel we’re to be worrying about 10% because I don’t believe God really cares about numbers or amount of money. There is something more going on here beyond the numeric 10%. By invoking numbers, we humans tend to use it as a tool to guilt ourselves, or others, into giving. Guilt is not the pathway to anything, including our willingness to give (remember, for it to be freely given as God commands, then guilt cannot be any part of the reason for giving). Guilt is very temporary regarding giving. We know we cannot guilt someone, including ourselves, into faith in Christ, so we should not expect guilt to be a pathway toward gracious giving. Why is giving difficult? Because it plays on our human emotion of greed, and greed is a very powerful motivator to avoid giving. The less we give, the more we have for ourselves to spend on things for ourselves. So the 10% goal, although admirable, becomes a barrier to gracious giving.
We need to understand that the number 10 in the Bible is symbolic of completeness, the fullness of God’s rule over our lives. There are 10 commandments (complete law), 10 plagues (complete judgement), the words, “God said” is mentioned 10 times in Genesis 1 (complete power of God). So tithing, as it relates to God’s command, is not about a 10th of our income, it’s about our complete sacrifice towards God. We should drop the “numbers” and take on the concept of complete giving when discussing tithing. God’s complete rule over our lives, including our wealth and our resources.
The Widow’s Two Mites
“Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites,[j] which make a quadrans. So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.””
We can specifically see Jesus reinforce the concept of complete giving in Mark 12:41-44, “for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.” This verse has to do with those who stopped by to donate to the church. In this one verse, Jesus said all those who came to give, gave out of abundance (partial sacrifice), but the old lady gave perfectly, she gave everything. She gave completely (again, remember 10 represents completeness). Also, in Matthew 19:21 states, “Jesus said to him [the rich man], “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” When the rich man asked Jesus how he could be perfect, Jesus responded with two challenges: First, please note that Jesus did not challenge the rich man to give 10% of all of his possessions, instead, Jesus challenged the rich man to sell everything (100%) of his possessions. The second challenge to the rich man was to follow Christ (sacrifice his life). So once again, unless we give everything, including the service of our lives, we are not perfected!
And what about Jesus saying, “…it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven.” I suspect when most of us read that portion of scripture, our self-pride kicks in and we feel the “rich man” refers to someone else, like the super wealthy, or the person in our church who is more well-off than ourselves. Before we convince ourselves that the rich man is referring to someone else, please consider the challenge to the rich man. Jesus challenged the rich man to give it all away. Which type of person do you feel would, without reservation, give all their possessions away? A poor man or a rich man? Interesting question and I suspect all of us, regardless of our wealth status, would shutter at the thought of giving everything we have away; I believe all of us would walk away from Christ just like the rich man. This challenge by Jesus is somewhat amusing, because Jesus catches all of us in the exact trap the rich man was caught up in. We justify our unwillingness to completely give. Our unwillingness to completely give is less about our net wealth, and more about our individual greed and our lack of total faith in God. Jesus’ challenge tells us that if we give based on partial giving, then we’re not giving perfectly. The old lady, who gave all she had, had no concern for the 10% rule when she gave 100% of her livelihood away; she managed to give perfectly. The point is simply this: Jesus did not endorse a literal 10% rule as perfect giving.
As I was writing this, I thought about Jesus, and I asked myself, “How much money did Jesus give?” Is there anything in the New Testament that addresses Jesus giving to the poor? Did Jesus, at any time, hand money to a poor person? The answer, of course, is no. Jesus at no point took money from the purse and gave money to the poor. Now some may state, “Jesus probably gave money to the poor”, but if He did, which I don’t think He did, it certainly is not mentioned, nor did Jesus use it as a lesson worth being documented by the writers of the Bible. I am going with the assumption that Jesus did not give money to the poor. In fact, only we humans would degrade Jesus to surmise that He was involved in money. If the mission is to save souls, and Jesus is God who came to save the souls of all mankind, do you really think that Jesus needed to accomplish this mission though the act of giving money?
Through Jesus’ demonstration of not giving money leads us to realize that giving is not limited to the concept of money. Going back to the number ten being completeness, Jesus gave 100% of who He was to save mankind; Jesus gave completely of who He was to save us. Jesus total faith and trust in His father, our God, was demonstrated through His actions. No amount of money could demonstrate His Love for us like His action of sacrificing His own life; far more valuable than human money. So Jesus followed the law, just like the old lady followed the law. In fact, if you read Mark 12:44 again, we can see that the old lady is the representation of the type of giving Jesus was called to do, and what we’re called to do. An old lady who had nothing to give but her livelihood (definition: “a means of securing the necessities of life.”) represents complete giving, everything, our money and our life. Jesus gave up His human livelihood, His ultimate sacrifice, to save mankind. What is a human soul worth? It’s worth everything in the eyes of God.
I invite you to read Matthew 6 in your Bible. This is a wonderful resource which tells us that we are to give based on our Love, Faith and Trust in God. Jesus challenges us to realize that money is not important, that our Love, Faith and Trust in God is all we need. We are to serve God through our actions, and yes, giving of our resources based on our Love of God. We are to have complete faith and trust in Him to provide for our needs, instead of relying on our money.
“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.”
We are to see tithing as an experience instead of a concept, by doing so, we break down the barriers that hinders our ability to graciously give; we become more free to express ourselves by seeing tithing as a means to worship God. We are not to burden ourselves with guilt, or toil trying to meet a goal, or worry what will happen if we give too much, or too little, we are only to give as our heart calls us to give. Just as we give to our child, or our spouse, or our brother or sister, we are to give to others until the need is fulfilled. We are to give to others as an expression of our Love of God. Giving becomes a symbol of our growing trust in God that He will continue to provide for us. Know this, just as our faith increases over time, so is our giving to increase over time. And as our faith journey is ongoing, our giving of resources is to be perfected over time. Tithing is not a concept or goal, tithing is an expression of our love of God, a way of worshiping Him, and this is to be foremost in our minds. As we plant a seed in dirt, provide water over time, watching and nurturing that plant as it grows, we are to do the same with our resources. We are to give as a worship offering to God, nurturing our soul, so that we will eventually bear the fruit of our giving.