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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Tithing....Mandatory or Optional

I am a part of a clergy discussion group on Facebook that is utilized for pastors, preachers, and lay leaders to pose questions for discussion to help increase our knowledge and understanding about God, salvation, Christian living principles, practical ministry helps, etc.

Most of the questions and responses are very beneficial and affords us the opportunity to learn from one another as well as see things from a different perspective.

I’ve decided to take some questions, comments, suggestions, and post my response on my blog. Others discussions I will respond with the group on Facebook. The purpose of me blogging my response is not to bash anyone’s ideas or theology but to respond according to what Scripture teaches on a particular issue in a more thorough way.

In recent weeks there has been much discussion on the topic of tithes/offerings. Should believers tithe? Should tithing be mandatory? Should leaders be required to tithe? And so many questions and concerns.

I want to post my response to this question that was directed towards the group…

“What does your church teach about tithes and offerings? Manditory or optional?

I teach the tithe as a standard practice of Christian living just like every other biblical principle given in Scripture. The issue for many believers however, is whether or not tithing is relevant for us today? The tithe was never the standard of Old Testament generosity, nor is it the standard of Christian generosity today. Tithing may be a helpful guideline as we strive to develop a lifestyle of even greater giving, but it was and is possible to tithe faithfully while neglecting true, biblical generosity (as Jesus pointed out to the Pharisees; see note on Matthew 23:23). First, a close look at the Old Testament and other ancient Jewish evidence shows that the tithe (as a mandatory gift equaling a tenth of one’s income) only applied to crops and animals from the promised land, not to all income in any time and place. Moreover, 10 percent was never “the standard,” for there were three tithes (two every year, one every three years) and many other offerings and gifts that were also part of Jewish life. In the Old Testament and today, God usually requires far more from his people than the 10 percent we typically assume.

However, the NT teaches a radical generosity. The idea tends to strike us as strange, but only because of our modern, secular assumptions about money. In the Bible, giving away large parts of one’s income is quite realistic. John the Baptist taught that the man with two tunics should share with the man who has none (Luke 3:11). Zacchaeus the tax collector, when he converted to faith in Jesus, thought it fitting to give half of all he owned to the poor (Luke 19:1-10). Jesus praised a certain widow in the temple who gave away the last pennies she had to live on (Luke 21:1-4). The first Christians in the Jerusalem church willingly sold their own possessions to give to those in need (Acts 2:45). They were normal people, just like us. The only difference is that the life-changing power of the gospel had made its way even into their personal finances. And the same is possible for us, as well—though it is important to note we are not directly commanded to give all away, as the rich young ruler was. Above all, we should remember that Jesus promises that we cannot out-give him. Whatever we do for his sake, he will take care of us and reward us. If we give away a fortune for Jesus’ sake and earn a lower living standard, social status and health care, he may not give it back all in this life; but we do have the promise that our blessings soon will be eternal and that we can “store up treasure in heaven” rather than on earth precisely by doing such acts for the poor. And we may just find ourselves “reaping generously as we have sown generously ... having all that [we] need, [so that we] will abound in every good work ... rich in every way so that [we] can be generous on every occasion” (2 Corinthians 9:6, 8, 11).

In short, the tithe of a tenth is a good starting point for generous sacrificial giving is the teaching for NT believers.

But, there are still so many questions about the principle of tithing that many of us need an answer. So, I want to address a few questions regarding tithing and a Christian’s responsibility:

If I choose to tithe, does God expect more than a tithe from me? For most Christians the answer is a resounding “yes.” The Old Testament sets forth a system of tithes (10 percent offerings). For this reason, many Christians conclude that by giving 10 percent, they fulfill God’s requirement and are absolved of further responsibility. But interestingly, the tithe is mentioned only rarely in the New Testament, not because God expects less from the majority of us, but because far more is possible.

If I am not required to tithe, am I free to give whatever I want?
Yes, but this doesn’t mean we give whatever we wish, no questions asked. The apostle Paul did say, “Each one should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

Will God really “throw open the floodgates of heaven” if I start to tithe?
Perhaps. But we must recognize that this oft-quoted passage (Malachi 3:10) was written not as a blanket promise to Christians in all times and all places, but to a very specific group of people in history—the impoverished, insecure Israelites living in the land after their return from exile in Babylon. Many “health-and-wealth” teachers today misuse this passage to guarantee that God will give us prosperity in this life if we only start to tithe, especially to their ministries. (Other pastors use this passage less controversially as an encouragement to people who hesitate to give.) But do these same teachers also promise that God will send us into exile in Babylon if we don’t tithe? Such promises tend to ignore the context of Malachi 3, which is tied intimately to life in the promised land of Israel after the people returned from exile. Interestingly, God requires more here than just tithe (Malachi 3:5): He requires his people to be generous in mercy and justice.

Should I tithe on my gross or net income? I answer this question with another question, which do you want God to bless.

Why should you give? We might ask instead, “Why should we not give?” We often assume that money exists for our own benefit, rather than for God or others. Pastor Andy Stanley tells a story about a little boy who was scolded by his mother because he refused to share his lunch with a classmate who had brought no lunch to school that day. The ironic point, Stanley says, is that we expect our children to know that possessions are for sharing, yet when it comes to our own affairs, we act as if possessions are for keeping. First, we should give because it is a reasonable response to all God has done. Because God has shown such great mercy to his people by sending Christ to suffer in our place, it is fitting that we should offer ourselves as sacrifices to him (Romans 12:1) and specifically in part by giving our money (2 Corinthians 8:8-9). Generous giving is an act of Christian worship. Second, we should give to show the genuineness of our Christian confession. Many people say they know Jesus, but those who really know him show it by their lives, especially by their generosity (Matthew 25:31-46). Third, we should give because the Lord Jesus (Luke 12:33) and his apostles (2 Corinthians 8:7) command us to give. Christian giving is certainly much more than a duty, but the biblical commands are unavoidable. Fourth, if specific instruction from the Scriptures were not enough, we should give because God promises to reward us for doing so (Luke 12:33). As it turns out, to give is not to throw money away, but rather to invest it for a staggering return. The Bible is certainly not lacking for reasons that we should give. Why would we not give?

What is sacrificial giving, and why is it important? Sacrificial giving is the kind that is done at great personal cost to the giver. In other words, give until it hurts. It doesn’t cost you anything it won’t mean anything to you.

Why should I be a generous giver? Jesus measured generosity by a radically new standard: the condition of the giver’s heart. The apostle Paul said that even the most lavish donations are empty acts in God’s sight if the giver’s heart is hardened toward him (1 Corinthians 13:3). So a truly generous giver is, first of all, a person who has been reconciled to God through faith in Christ, whose perfect life and sacrificial death can generously free any person from sin. Once this gospel works its way deep into that person’s heart and mind, the stage is set for a new person to emerge: a generous giver.

The bible speaks about money matters in such way that the measure of a person’s maturity is measured by their generosity (or their continued sacrificial investing) in kingdom business.

I believe tithing is a Christian principle to be practiced by every believer.