Monday, January 09, 2006

the heart of the matter

You must give 10 percent. Is this the teaching of the New Testament? It is clearly taught in the Old Testament.

Let me be very clear! I'm not suggesting we try and give less. I am not saying that tithing is unbiblical. I do it and I recommend it. Instead, I want to take a fresh look at the "New Testament's" tough-yet-fair starting place for giving.

Please know that I have always given, and will continue to give "at least" 10 percent of my income as my guideline for obedience. But the more I study the New Testament, the more I see a different standard. It deals, not so much with amounts, as it does the heart.

Jesus' teaching on tithing is limited to two comments. One was to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:23 also recorded in Luke 11:42, where Jesus criticized them for tithing but not practicing justice, mercy, and faithfulness. Jesus did not suggest that the Pharisees stop tithing. Instead, He attacked a self-righteous heart motivation for tithing.

Jesus also mentions tithing in Luke 18:12 where He mimics a Pharisee, saying, "I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get." Once again, He does not speak against tithing but rather says that self-righteous activities do not add up to pleasing God.

Peter, Paul, and James don't even mention tithing in their letters. So, if the New Testament is silent on tithing as the "guideline", does it offer another?

It may be tucked away in Luke 21:1-4, the familiar story of Jesus observing "the rich" and a "poor widow" putting their gifts into the treasury. Jesus said the widow "put in more than all" the rich givers even though she gave only "two very small copper coins." Why? Because "she gave out of her poverty" whereas the rich gave "out of their surplus". Jesus blesses giving that is sacrificial and from the heart, no matter what the amount. If we give "only" out of surplus, we may be missing the point.

If 10 percent is the "only" goal in giving, then consider what happens to someone I know who earns $1200 per month, or $14,400 per year. To tithe, he would give $120 each month, leaving $1080 to live on. His rent for an extremely modest apartment is $650 per month. It's tough to raise two kids on that income with or without tithing. This person, like all of us, is commanded to give sacrificially. But for him, giving even $80 a month "might" be a sacrificial gift. Will God bless him if he tithes? Yes! I have seen Him do it over and over for those who do. I’m just saying that a "full tithe" may not be his starting point for God to bless him. It also would not be his stopping point as he grows in his giving. Growing in generosity is the point, right?

Another friend earns $250,000 yearly. Like the other person, he is a growing believer who wants to honor Christ in his giving. If he gave 10 percent of his income, that would leave $225,000 for living expenses.Do you see my point? Is my $250,000 friend "off the hook" if he tithes? No. Most of us would say he could do more and should do more. By the way, I know he does. But many more well-to-do Christians don't.

C.S. Lewis put it well when he said, "I'm afraid biblical charity is more than merely giving away that which we could afford to do without anyway." I agree and I believe Jesus does as well.
Paul had opportunity to teach giving 10 percent, and as a former Pharisee we would have expected him to. But in 1 Cor. 16:1-4, "about the collection for God's people" at Jerusalem, he does not mention tithing. Instead, he commands believers to set aside gifts "in keeping with their income" on the first day of every week.

Paul is even more insistent on heart-felt sacrificial giving in 2 Cor. 8:3 when he encourages the Corinthians to emulate the Macedonians who gave "as much as they were able, and even beyond." In 2 Cor. 8:7, he exhorts the Corinthians to "excel" in giving. Again, instead of setting up tithing as the standard, Paul, like Jesus, seems to have a broader, more far-reaching standard in mind.

So, if the New Testament does not focus on the 10 as a prescribed fixed percentage, then how much? I say, give "out of your heart," not merely your surplus. And grow or "excel" in your generosity throughout your entire life. I believe this pleases God.

-Today’s thoughts adapted from an article in Discipleship Journal

No comments: