What’s up with this “tithing” stuff?

tithethis is reeeaaally personal today.  hang in there.  we’ll get to march madness soon enough.

tithe.  it’s an old english term that means ten percent. tithe.  it’s a church term that means god…and preachers…expect you to put ten percent of your income in the offering plate every sunday.  or else.

back in the day,  i learned that giving my weekly tithe was what i needed to do. honestly, i’m glad i learned to do it.  i’m glad that wanda and i have always shared that same perspective.  

but don’t miss this.  through the years, ten percent has never really been our goal.  it’s always been like a starting point.  a place where our giving begins and moves on from.  for the most part, ten percent has been what we have always given to the general budget for the ministry of our church family.  other giving has always been above and beyond that.

for us, the ten percent starting point is never negotiated.  it is never questioned.  it’s never lowered.  it is never up for debate.  it just is.

do i think god requires it?  nope.  do i think that jesus would want me to give ten percent?  i honestly don’t think he thinks about it.  does it make me better than others?  hardly.  is god pleased when i give it?  i suppose, but it doesn’t occur to me to think about it.  will i be punished if i don’t give it?  please…

so why do i do it?

i suppose the primary reason i started giving ten percent to the general budget of my church family was out of legalism.  i can’t say i’m real proud of that, but it’s probably the truth.

i grew up in a church that always preached the tithe.  it was taught regularly and the inference was that god established it as a law in the old testament and jesus did nothing to abolish the old testament laws…so we should be expected to do at least as much as new testament disciples.  ten percent (the tithe) was the standard of excellence in discipleship.  it was the apparent benchmark of spiritual maturity.

hey.  it’s what i was taught and it was what i believed.  i come from an era that trusted authority and leadership in the church in a completely different way than we experience now.  i had a high respect for my parents and for the people who were in positions of influence…especially church influence…in my my life.  my parents modeled the giving of ten percent and taught me to do the same.  when i began to grow up, make money, get married, and live on my own, i followed their example.

now, honestly, i live such a completely different kind of life from my youth, it’s almost hard to remember.  my reasons for giving are much deeper, much stronger, much broader.  life is not as simple as it used to be.  i am not as simple as i used to be.  but frankly, the foundation is still there.  interesting…

i have almost a love-hate affair with the ten percent.  looking back, without being taught the discipline, i don’t know if i ever would have developed the habit of giving that i have in my life right now.  and without that regular pattern of giving, i don’t know if i would have ever experienced the grace to truly trust god to not only provide for every need, but to give above and beyond the ten percent with freedom and joy.

i guess the “hate” part comes from the inference that it is still a requirement from god.  and worse yet, a bar that all believers are to somehow shoot for.  giving ten percent is a time-honored tradition of the church and a sound financial practice (just ask your tax guy).  i’m not arguing this point.  it’s just that the tithe,   according  to scripture, is a little different than the tradition that has been passed down.

the children of israel were required to tithe.  in fact, they were required to give multiple tithes…as much as 23% percent and even beyond.  it was similar to our system of taxation.  it was not a matter of the heart…and it wasn’t a matter of choice.  it was demanded and there was a consequence if the demand was not met.

when jesus arrived on the scene, the jewish requirements for tithing were still in place.  but jesus brought a redefining of jewish legal requirement:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  Matthew 5:17

historically, the church has emphasized that jesus did not abolish the tithe.  but my problem with this is how the church has gone about picking and choosing which of the laws we are still going to conveniently require and which of the laws we are going to let slide.  and if we’re going to require them, why aren’t we really requiring them?  ah, law…so much more to say.

let me make this clear.  if you believe the ultimate goal set before you is to give ten percent of your income to the local church, somebody has sold you a lemon!  if you think that god is somehow pleased when you let go of a percentage of your money, it’s time for a fresh perspective.  jesus did not come to abolish the law of tithing.  i think he came to explode it!

that’s why you’ll never hear me make reference to “tithing”.

jesus came to give us all a brand new take on what it means to know that god is the creator and owner of everything, including every dime we think belongs to us…and what it means to live underneath the his lordship…and what it means to seek the kingdom of god first…and what it means to put our money where we say our hearts are.

the real question is not what percentage i put in the offering plate, but what percentage stays in my bank account.

what do you think?

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2 thoughts on “What’s up with this “tithing” stuff?

  1. Just returned from St Louis and am catching up on your blog. biblically for me it always centered on generosity and the attitude of the person giving. generousity is difficult in our culture when consumerism is running rampant and we are constantly told we are “less than” when we don’t own certain things. I know it’s something I have to constantly struggle with: I win some of those battles and lose more than I care to admit. i think it is also refreshing to recognize being generous does not begin and end at the local church (from North Point’s building you can tell that 🙂 ).

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