Some things in life just come instinctively, like breathing, loving pizza, and prayer. Other things just need to be disciplined into life like flossing, taking empty pizza boxes to the trash, and (dramatic breath) giving. You would think that giving should be instinctual for the followers of Jesus, but then you’d think that about new moms and breast feeding too. God didn’t hard-wire every critically important human activity. Giving as a Jesus-follower is something that needs to be taught and learned. I once heard about a woman who was new to the whole church thing. She had figured out that giving was an important activity for a God-worshiper, but no one had ever taught her how to go about it. Left to figure it out on her own, she decided that since she was in worship about the same amount of time as going to a movie, she would use the movie theater as her standard of giving. So what she put in the offering plate each Sunday was equivalent to a movie ticket and a tub of popcorn. At least she was giving something, right?! But what a sad statement that she had to invent her own standard of what to give when God’s way of giving is easily accessible.
Let’s just get it out of the way right now – you know, the whole “ten percent thing”. If you have been around church for any length of time you have at least heard of “tithing”, and you understand that it really isn’t church speak for giving on a regular basis; whether you want to admit it or not, you know that it means giving ten percent of your living back to God.
Resistance to tithing comes down to three basic reasons:
1. “Jesus never mentioned tithing”:
- Technically true, if you mean Jesus did not explicitly teach the disciples or the crowds to tithe. Jesus did mention tithing to the Pharisees once however, in Matthew 23:23. Jesus didn’t condemn them because they were too meticulous in their tithing, but because they missed the big picture. If Jesus was about to set up a new standard for giving back to God, this would have been a great opportunity to comment on the absurdity of tithing even the mint from their herb garden. Instead, it may be inferred that he endorsed their meticulous tithing ethic.
- Trying to make a case for something from what Jesus or the New Testament doesn’t say is notoriously shaky. Jesus didn’t have to teach about God’s standard of tithing, because his audience was steeped in it. See for example Matthew 22:15-22 where Jesus’ opponents try to trap him about paying taxes to Caesar; Jesus asks for the coin and says give to God what is God’s, and to Caesar what is Caesar’s. They understood what was God’s – ten percent. The question was about what was due to Caesar (observe that we know what we owe the IRS, we just dispute what we owe God).
- One final thought. Tithing has been the “gold standard” for giving as an expression of gratitude and allegiance for millennium – the standard in most cultures throughout history, not just for Judeo/Christian people.
2. “The New Testament doesn’t mention tithing. Instead it says there is a new standard that you owe God everything, your entire life in all its aspects, not merely ten percent. Therefore, whatever you give back to God simply represents the whole – the exact percentage doesn’t matter.”
- True. Very true – The New Testament is very clear that your entire life, in all its details of every day walking around, should be offered to God. It’s right here in Romans 12.1.
- However, see the second and third bullet points above.
- If the biblical and historical standard of gratitude and allegiance has always been ten percent, why would you choose to give less as an act of submission and obedience (did you know that the average giving for mainline Christians is two to three percent)?
3. “I can’t afford it.” I now lean back in my wing back chair, light a cigar and say in my best Sigmund Freud voice, ”Ah ha! zer goot. Now ve are getting some vhere.” Isn’t that why we like objection number two? Metaphorically schlepping our bodies down as some metaphorical offering is easy on the budget! But here’s the secret – ten percent represents a significantly large commitment on purpose; it begins to represent sacrifice.
When God first outlined his financial expectations for his people (Numbers 18:26-28, Deuteronomy 14:22-29 for example), what kind of people where the Israelites? They weren’t people who got pay checks, or stock revenues – they were invested in things like goats and wheat. They couldn’t “afford” that ten percent any more than you. What was at stake was avoiding starvation, not simply keeping their Netflix subscription! One goat out of ten made a real difference. But that’s what God asks from his people, because it’s enough to make you gulp and wonder, just a little, “how can I afford this?”
And that is the whole point. Giving is about trusting God.
That’s where manna logic comes in. Read Exodus 16 for the story of how God set up the manna system. The Israelites were told to go out every day (except Sabbath day) and pick up a couple quarts of this mysterious stuff. They weren’t supposed to keep any overnight, except on Sabbath eve. That one night, the manna would stay good so that they could have a day of rest on the Sabbath. Because it was common sense to save some for tomorrow just in case God forgot, they tried to save some that first day and all the leftovers got really nasty. But, when they picked up twice as much that Friday, it carried over real well.
Why did God set it up that way? Because God wanted the Israelites to trust that he would give them everything they needed, one day at a time. God had things covered today, and they had to trust that he would cover them again tomorrow. That’s manna logic.
Manna logic is in the Lord’s Prayer: “give us our daily bread”. It is the foundation for Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount: “…don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘what will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear? … your heavenly Father already knows all your need” (read Matthew 6:25-33).
So: God expects you to give ten percent, and you can trust God to provide you with all you will need today; if we extend manna logic a little, that means God will also give you what you need to give. You’d think there would be a Bible verse – oh wait, there is! Take a look at 2 Corinthians 9:10-11: “This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. He gives you something you can then give away…so that you can be generous in every way” (The Message).
See how easy that is? You have enough today, including enough to tithe. There is no need to worry if you will be able to tithe a month from now, because by the time that day comes, you will have enough. Jesus-followers need a new mind set about giving. Tithing is not an act of charity that comes out of surplus; it is not a financial decision. Tithing is an act of obedience, a decision to act on what you believe is true about God. If you don’t believe that you can afford to tithe, perhaps you need to evaluate what you are affording instead. Look at Malachi 3:8-11 to see how serious God is about tithing.
But don’t lose heart, because now comes the fun part!
The Tithe Party
Deuteronomy 14:22-29 is fascinating because it instructs the Israelites to use their tithe not only to take care of the Levites (religious professionals who had no land), but also to put together a big celebration feast with buffet tables and open bar in God’s presence. That’s how they were to show God reverence – By having a great big national party with their tithe! Really? Why would God instruct them to do that?
I think that they could throw a tithe party because God had come through and provided more than they needed that year – and they knew God would do it again next year. It expressed their freedom from need. They were free to blow some of their hard earned produce and cash on some frivolity, because of what God had provided them, and how God would continue to provide. The tithe party was a time of rejoicing over what God had given them, instead of griping about what they didn’t have.
In Scripture, tithing expresses joy and gratitude. It isn’t an oppressive burden; it isn’t a teeth-clenching duty. Giving back to God can be a response of laughter: “God you have set me free from worrying about the things I need, because you give me what I need, day in and day out. Thank you! Here – I don’t need this 10%, it’s yours!” Giving is part of how we celebrate – we give gifts on birthdays, at Christmas and Easter, at weddings. So when God-worshipers give their tithe to God, it is a celebration that God has provided day in and day out – that God has given everything necessary to be generous. Tithing is really a response of laughter! Joyful laughter, because God has set you free from worrying about material things, so that you can be generous.
In the words of the old Nike commercial, “just do it”. Bite the bullet and write that check for ten percent (start with ten percent of “net” if you need to), then sit back and watch how God will take care of you tomorrow. Learning to give is really pretty simple.