Thirty years on, and many miles traveled, I've grown in the grace of giving. I've not arrived by any means, but giving is a journey I take with cheerfulness and expectancy, because it's been marked by many milestones of God's faithfulness.
I'm not a prosperity preacher. Jesus didn't die to make me rich and God's blessing on my life does't hinge on me giving Him money. It hinges on Jesus. And yet, Jesus Himself was uncompromising in His claims on my money. "You cannot love both God and money." In the words of John Mayer, giving has become for me an act of heartbreak warfare. Every time I give to God it is in act of breaking up with an illicit lover called money. It's a gesture of fierce loyalty to a faithful Lover.
Show me your credit card statement and I'll tell you whom your heart adores.
So what has been the key to keeping a platonic relationship with money, you ask? I know you're asking the question. Ready for it?
There. I said it. I'm aware that the tithe has become a dirty word for many, but talking of 10, would you give me 10 minutes of your precious time to try and redeem it? I want to tell you my philosophy, theology and testimony of the tithe.
Many people argue with the percentage of the tithe, but before we get to that, I want to say that tithe is not just about percentage. It's about priority. And priority giving is a big idea in Scripture. I'm all too well aware of my slack, selfish nature, and I've found that planned priority giving ensures that my needs and wants - which are always there - don't mess with my generosity. Giving is like exercise; so easy to let it slip, but when you do it, you wander how you ever lived without it. I never forget to spend but I easily forget to give. Priority giving is God's means of grace to us to keep our hearts loving God and free from the love of money. Priority giving goes beyond tithing.
God's first command about the planned priority of generosity was to do with the poor. When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the fatherless, the widow and the alien. I am the LORD your God. Lev 23:22 God told His people to sow in squares and reap in circles for the sake of the fatherless, the widow, and the foreigner. In this case, farmers were to be willing to make less profit for the sake of poor. Paul echoes this idea in 2 Corinthians 9 when he calls the church in Corinth to set aside money as first fruits for the poor every week.
And then there was a command for planned priority for the sake of the Levites, who didn't have land, because they were serving in the temple full-time. This was called the tithe. Some scholars say that under the law it became as much as 23%, but when Abraham first implemented it, it was 10%. "Okay, I hear you say. I get priority. But 10%? Isn’t that Old Testament?"Isn’t it the law?
Didn't Jesus and Paul abolish it? Isn't that too much? "
Let's look at these objections briefly in a theology of tithing, beginning with Jesus, looking backwards to Abraham and forwards to Paul.
Jesus taught it.
We need to start with Jesus. Jesus is not only the Supreme Theme of the Bible, He is it’s Supreme Interpreter. This is why God said at the Transfiguration, “This is my Son, whom I love, listen to Him.” Jesus not only fulfilled the law and the Prophets, He had authority to revise them.
He did this in 3 ways. He removed some parts. ‘You have heard it say, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, but I say ‘if your neighbor strikes you turn the other cheek.' He raised some parts. “You have heard it said, ‘do not commit adultery, but I say ‘if you so much as look at a woman lustfully you have committed adultery with her.”He balanced some parts. “"Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.” Matt 23:23
Jesus could have removed the tithe or raised it, but he balanced it. In other words, "Do it, but don’t neglect justice and the love of God. Be sure your tithing is not from dishonest gain and make sure it is done out of worship to God." This is vital. Jesus taught the tithe.
Abraham practiced it.
Tithing started before the Law and extended beyond the Law. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that tithing started before the law, carried on through the Law, and continues after the Law.
Hebrews 6:20 -7:4 Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. …and see how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils! And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take the tithes from the people, that is from their brothers, though these also are descended from Abraham. But this man, who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises.
So the writer to the Hebrews is arguing that the tithe was Abrahamic before it became Mosaic, that it started before the law, and because Jesus is a high priest forever in the order of this mysterious priestly king Melchizedek, it continues after the law. We still break bread and drink wine with Jesus, and we still tithe to Jesus, and there is still great blessing, in different ways, from both.
The blessing is one of provision, but also one of possession. It is a reminder to us every month that God is the possessor of heaven and earth. God is the Landlord and I am the renter.
So the tithe is like dynamite, blasting us free from being possessed by our possessions.
Paul affirmed it
1 Cor 9:8 For it is written in the law of Moses, ”You shall not muzzle the ox when he treads out grain…13 Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the Gospel should get their living from the Gospel.
This is Paul, who spoke often and powerfully about how the Gospel sets us free from a righteousness that is from the Law! However, in this case, Paul affirms a helpful principle from the Law with the words, "in the same way." Like Jesus, Paul does not remove it, applying it as a principle in the New Testament to make sure that those who preach the Gospel have a right to get their living from it just like the Levites under the Law. (Although Paul himself didn't exercise that right!)
So, priority and percentage are God’s way of making sure the mission goes on. It is God's way of providing regularly for people who preach the Gospel full-time. Research show us that Christians who do not tithe because they are under grace not under law generally give less than 3% to their church. I would say to this, that being under grace should empower us to more not less giving.
Finally, it's important to have a philosophy and theology of tithing, but you're probably asking, "How does that work for you?" For a start, I don't have a mansion or a bunch of money stashed away. But as I've said, tithing has kept my wife and I loving God more than money, which is treasure indeed. Beyond that, it's the one thing we do every month that would make no sense unless Jesus was alive and looking out for us. It keeps us in a place of radical faith. It's not the only giving we practice, but it is the most sizable regular giving we practice, and it has enabled us to sow thousands of dollars into the local church over decades, which has enabled thousands of people to find and follow Jesus. This too, is treasure indeed.
And then there is a testimony of God's financial provision, so detailed, that I would need another blog to share it all with you. Suffice to say that stretches of lack have been punctuated with such colossal milestones of blessing that we have been left breathless at God's attentive faithfulness to us.
We serve and lead a very generous church. But if you haven't begun a journey in the grace of giving I invite you to take a walk with me down Tenth Avenue and see what God will do. Go on. I dare you.