THEOLOGICAL STUDIES

The Christian View of Tithing

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INTRODUCTION

Normally when a person introduces the topic of tithing, he defends the tithe. I don't feel like doing this at this point because upon deeper reflection tithing is not a matter of finances. I have tithed when I made only $100 a week and I tithe now when I make much more than $100 a week. I have tithed when I was out of a job, and I tithe now when I have a job. It is never a matter of finances; it is purely a matter of the heart.

This should not surprise us because Jesus claimed that this very thing was true: "Where a man's treasure is, there will his heart be also" (Matt. 6:21). The Christian who claims that he has a rich and growing relationship with Jesus Christ and yet does not tithe is deluding himself. What you do with your money is an indicator of your heart relationship with Christ. (It is not the only indicator; however, it is an indicator. Your wallet reflects your priorities.)

It is also true though you can change your heart towards Jesus by giving Jesus your finances. Notice that Jesus says that a man's heart will be where his treasure is, not only that his heart is where his treasure is. Too many times we wait for a feeling to emerge before we do what we need to do. For example, I try to get the feeling of love before I show that person love. Many times the exact opposite is what is needed. After I have started showing that person love, then I start feeling love for that person. In the same way, although I may not feel like giving my finances to Christ, once I do, I discover that my attitude towards giving changes.

Once somebody told me that revival comes with tithing. That took me by surprise until I read closely the Malachi passage (3:7-12, especially verses 7-8) and also some of the passages involving major revivals/spiritual awakenings in the OT. According to Malachi the Jews had turned away from God. How had they turned away from God? By robbing Him of the tithe. In the same way, He urged them to turn to Him spiritually by rendering to Him the tithe. The truth is that you'll only go so far in your relationship with Jesus Christ if you don't tithe. It is that significant.


DEFINITION OF THE TITHE

The word "tithe" literally means 10%, just like a half means 50% and a third, 33 1/3%. This needs to be pointed out because sometimes you hear people say, "Start tithing 2% and then 3% and try to work up to 10%." That's just as absurd as giving a person a glass of milk that's only 33 1/3% full and then telling him it's half full. That's just absurd.

Someone may well say though: "It might help somebody though to tithe if they start out with 2% instead of the 10%." No, it won't. Why? Because God promises to bless the tithe. God doesn't promise to bless the 2% tithe. When God doesn't bless it, then people quit giving. They continue then to miss out on what God has for them through the tithe. God promises to bless the tithe and only the tithe. To teach somebody otherwise is to defraud them of the blessings God has for them through the tithe.

What kind of blessings are we talking about? I believe there are financial blessings, which shall be discussed later. More importantly I feel like there are spiritual blessings. There is a deep satisfaction and joy knowing that I am doing with my money exactly what God wants me to do. That particular joy does not come any other way.


DEFENSE OF THE TITHE

It's Not Legalistic

The main objection to the tithe is the claim that it is legalistic. The truth though is that the tithe is not legalistic. It is not legalistic, first, because the person who introduced God's people to the tithe was Abraham, the man of faith in the OT. He was the very antithesis of legalism; in fact he lived 430 years BEFORE the Law (and legalism) was even given. For him (the father of the faith--Rom. 4:11 and Gal. 3:6-9) tithing was the way to express to God his belief that God owned all things, including everything Abraham owned. If he, the OT man of faith, practiced tithing, then how much more should we who claim that we have faith in God. If you can find another way from the Bible to express this principle, then you need to share it. To destroy the only expression of this principle seems rather risky.

The next way we know that tithing is from God and that it is not legalistic is that God blesses it. God does not bless legalism; the legalistic person experiences wrath: "for the Law [legalism] brings about wrath" (Rom. 4:15). Too many people can attest to the blessings which come from tithing for it to be legalistic (Mal. 3:7-12).

I for one have been truly blessed because of the tithe. Thirty years ago this year God impressed upon me His desire that I tithe. Since then Jesus has blessed me in ways that only He could bless me with. In the past 14 years alone I have been to Boston/New England 4x; England 2x; Italy once; Scotland once; France once; Israel 2 times; Belize and Mexico; and Canada twice. God has blessed me with a wonderful home, 2 good vehicles, a great neighborhood, clothes, food, and entertainment. Yes, I work hard; however, these blessings are way beyond my material means (especially the trips). Whenever we've needed a good car, God has blessed us with one. God blessed us with a Mercury Mountaineer at half its original price. Whenever it seems like I needed a new coat or ties, either I have the money to buy them or else somebody happens to give them to me.

Most of us make the wrong assumption that if God is going to bless us, He is going to do it a particular way. For example, we tithe; therefore, we believe that God is going to bless us by giving us a raise at work. That's not necessarily true. God is not limited in blessing you through only your work. I was in 2 situations in which the church I was serving felt like it could not afford to give its staff a raise, or else it could give only a minimal raise. Those 2 years God gave Nancy and me through alternate channels the biggest raises of our lives: maybe a debt was forgiven or an inheritance bestowed. Just be open to the way God wishes to bless you through the tithe.

Why does God want to bless us through the tithe? Because it is so undeniable and concrete. Too often whenever God blesses us, we can explain it away and even take the credit for it ourselves: "I got this job because I am such a hard worker" or "I really developed this class because I am such a good teacher." When God starts blessing you through the tithe though, you know that He and He alone could have done this. He WANTS to show Himself great towards you.


It Is NT

Some claim that the tithe is an OT concept and was done away with when Christ came, just like He did away with the rest of the OT when He came. First of all, Jesus did not do away with the OT. Instead, He helped people understand the nature and purpose of the OT; He never did away with it (Matt. 5:17-18). Second, when Jesus does mention the tithe, He endorses it; He does not criticize it: "These things [the tithe] you ought to have done without neglecting the former [showing mercy]" (Matt. 23:23).

Why didn't the NT make a bigger deal out of the tithe? Because Jesus carping about the tithe would be like preaching to the choir. Have you noticed that Jesus never preached against homosexuality? Does that mean He endorsed the gay life-style? He didn't have to tell the Jews (His audience) to reject homosexuality because they had already rejected it (based upon the OT). It was not until Christianity encountered the pagan world which endorsed homosexuality that Christianity had to preach against it (ROMANS 1:26-27). The same applies with the tithe. Jesus had more important things to preach about than the tithe since they were already practicing it. (Jesus though did spend a lot of time preaching about a person's attitude towards money--see the second half of Matt. 6.)


YOU CAN GIVE THE TITHE EITHER VOLUNTARILY OR INVOLUNTARILY

The truth is that the Christian pays the tithe whether he wants to or not. The Christian just gets to choose which way he gives it--either voluntarily or involuntarily. The beauty about voluntarily giving the tithe is that you get to enjoy giving it. You get the joy that comes with putting the tithe in the offering plate or with writing the check for the tithe.

Malachi and Haggai express this very same sentiment. According to Malachi (3:11) God will rebuke the destroyer and keep him from taking away your tithe if you give it to God. In other words, the rebuker does take away the tithe from the Christian who does not tithe. Of the man who refuses to honor God with his money, Haggai says that person will feel like he has holes in his purse. You put the money in the purse, and yet it keeps disappearing (Haggai 1:6).

I don't think any story which illustrates this principle tops the one told by Gerry Winn. She said that she and her husband Shorty were committed tithers. They had raised enough money to remodel one of their rooms. They painted it, put in new curtains, and installed a new A/C window unit. A few days later thay decided to visit their daughter at Baylor University on a Sunday. Since they didn't go to church, they decided to use the tithe money to pay for their meal out. Hey, they were free in the Lord to do with their money whatever they wanted. When they got home, they went into their newly remodeled room and turned on the A/C unit. Fire shot out from it and licked the curtains which went up in flames. They quickly extinquished the flames. The cost of the second renovation? The exact cost of their tithe, the exact amount they had spent on their outing.

Now if this was the only case something like this happened, you could dismiss it. God taught me this principle even before I had read Malachi 3. I was making $100 a week, giving $10 each Sunday to the church I was attending. I felt though that I needed to save as much money for school as possible; so one Sunday I quit tithing. The next day I went to work and was informed my hours had been cut. Instead of making $100 a week, I was now going to make $90. I started laughing. It didn't take a rocket scientist to know what happened. I started giving them $9 a week to the church. At the needed time, I had plenty of money. (Too many Christians can attest though to this same kind of thing happening in their lives when they dishonored the tithe for this all to be a coincidence.)

If you are not a tither, ask yourself the question: "Do you find it hard to hold onto your money? Does it always seem like you are either just making it or that you just don't know what happens to your money?" It's because you are involuntarily giving the tithe.


YOU DO HAVE ENOUGH MONEY TO TITHE

Some people claim that they will start tithing whenever they have enough money. Those people will never tithe. Why? Because tithing is a matter of faith, not finances. God blesses faith, not sight. Lance and Damara Watkins demonstrate this principle. Lance and Damara used to come to SS only sporadically. It was hard for them. They both worked, and they had 2 little children. They decided they would attend SS regularly whenever they started having more time.

One Easter though they heard this principle taught in SS--"Give God your time and He will give you time." They obeyed what God said to them, and then all of a sudden, they started having time. Their week started going smoother. The same applies to the tithe. Give God your money, and He will give you money, the amount you truly need).


THE TITHE GOES TO THE CHURCH

Now some wish to tithe but wish to give their tithe to organizations other than their church. Maybe they feel like the church is not doing a good job. Or maybe as at FBC Dallas during the 80's people designated their tithe to make sure it was spent the way they wanted it spent. (FBC Dallas ended up in millions of dollars of debt because of this.)

Be very careful with this. Maybe you don't get something out of the lesson or the worship service every Sunday. Yet who do you want beside you praying whenever you get really sick? You want your Christian friends whom you met because of your relationship to the church. You want your church to pray for you, or you want BF or one of the other staff members to be there praying for you. Maybe that church was instrumental in leading you or your children to the Lord for salvation. Part of the problem is that we think that what the church does is not as valuable as our money. Try putting a value on spending an eternity with Jesus and not in hell. Try putting a value on a pastor praying at the bedside of a dying father. THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO COMPARISON. Yes, every church has room for improvement. Dialogue and not withholding the tithe is the way to make improvements. Paul states this principle when he says that we should support financially those who have supported us spiritually (Rom. 15:27).


CONCLUSION

To me 2 questions need to be confronted. First, do I have my money, or does my money have me? If I can't turn loose of it to do what God wants me to do with it, then it has me. I am a slave to my finances.

I know that it is hard to give the tithe, especially whenever you have children. You think of all the things that you can buy for them. The truth though is first that they want you more than they want the things you give them and second that God will give you the money you need to buy the things He wants your children to have. (God may not give you the money to buy your kids all you want to give them; however, you've got to decide who knows best how to parent your children--you or God.)

Second, who do I want to be responsible for my finances? Myself or God? In the past few years we have seen wild gyrations in the stock market. We've been informed that because the politicians refuse to deal with Social Security that the SS system will fail us within a few decades. Do you think your job is safe and secure? Recently a young man who was in a secure position with a secure company owned by a young man found out that the young man had sold the company right out from underneath them. So, who do you want to be responsible for your financial well-being: the God of the universe or you? The choice is yours. The tithe is the way you make your choice.