Earlier this week, one of my Facebook (and real-life) friends posted about a jaw-dropping story involving the Florida-based Greater Mount Moriah Primitive Baptist Church. The church is under fire for sending the equivalent of a collections notice to members who have not been paying their tithes. As you can imagine, the story created a hotbed of contention, even drawing me, your brave and intrepid hero, into the conversation. That discussion, and the idea of tithing in general, is the motivation for this post.
Tithing has always been a serious and complicated issue for me. It’s something that far too many churches over-emphasize. Honestly though, that’s not even really my issue. After all, although salvation through Christ doesn’t cost a dime, running a church ain’t free. So that’s why you’ll never hear me argue against the importance of surrendering ourselves — our money, our time, our work — to God. Where I take issue is when many of us fail to completely consider all of the Biblical perspectives about tithing. We hear one or two verses (particularly Malachi 3:8-10. You know, the whole robbing God passage?) and immediately we’re hooked. Rather than understanding the passage, we don’t bother trying to read between the lines to understand the full context of the Bible. Tithing is supposed to be our way of blessing and honoring God; our way of blessing God directly from our joy. But, all too often, the church fails to see it that way.
Tithing was a principle first introduced in the Old Testament Law. I think this is a very crucial point. No matter how you slice it, the commandment to tithe was specifically given to Israel, not to the body of Christ. In the Baptist faith, there is something significant about God’s direct commandments. For example, sin did not enter the world until Adam ate of the forbidden fruit; even though Eve was the one who originally ate from that tree. Why do you think that was? I think it was because God gave the commandment specifically to Adam, not Eve. We’ve come to personify Eve with being the ‘beginning of’ or the ‘prelude to’ destruction, but NOT the destruction itself. That was all Adam’s doing. I think that tithing is no different. The specific directive to give 10% of your earnings as an offering was given to Israel though the Law, not to the later Church. To suggest that the Church is required to follow the same legalistic system of sacrifice as the Israelites signifies a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of Jesus and his ministry, in my opinion.
Nowhere in the New Testament will you find passages that assign a certain percentage of our income toward tithes. Now, I’ll admit, Paul does urge us in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 to set aside a portion of our income so that we can support the church. But here’s the catch: Christians should not feel obligated to do so. We should give as we are able to do so, specifically “in keeping with our income.” I think this means giving more or less than the infamous 10%, based on the ability of that giver, coupled with the needs of that church.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I think that the ‘10% rule’ established under the law is a great benchmark for us to use as believers. It shows that we happily contribute to God’s kingdom without being weighed down by our doubts, fears, and financial strains. That being the case, I’m not against the body of Christ taking that amount and inheriting it as our goal. But, this does not mean that we are required to govern ourselves by that amount. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 9:7 that we should not give with trepidation or in response to pressure. Simply put, we shouldn’t give reluctantly or out of necessity, but rather out of joy and cheerfullness.
Well, this is all fine and dandy, Andre. But you haven’t answered the question: How much should I give?
I hate to admit it, but I don’t have the answer to this one. But I do know that, as Christians, we should make it our goal to diligently pray, seeking after God’s wisdom…especially as it relates to how we should tithe. James 1:5 tells us that we should ask God for wisdom so that we can understand what He wants us to do. If we ask, I believe He will glady guide our hearts and won’t resent us for how we give. So, if you’re struggling with your tithing (and, trust me, I’m as guilty as the next person), ask God for wisdom and see what happens.