“DO WE REALLY NEED TO GIVE AND TITHE?”
I enjoyed a few days away in Wiltshire this week.
Amongst the many wonderful things that I did and saw, two things stand out as being relevant to this “Tough Question”:
- I entered a beautiful village church set in a moody graveyard. It was quiet and it was full of peace…but the first thing that greeted me as I walked in through the door was not a Bible or a prayer book but a brightly lit-up scanner asking me to donate £5 for the upkeep of the building! And immediately I thought of the age-old charge against the church: “all they want is your money!”
- Earlier I had spent a day in warm sunshine, walking around the spectacular house and gardens of Stourhead. And in the grand house, the most treasured exhibit was left till the final room – the “Pope’s Cabinet”, a magnificent receptacle of trinkets with over 150 secret drawers, covered in semi-precious stones, which was made for Pope Sixtus V in about 1585 an which was purchased by the owner of Stourhead “at an immense sum, so great that he says he will never declare the sum”. And immediately I thought of the age-old charge against the church: “those clerics enrich themselves while the people starve – and they say that they serve a loving God!” (* See Appendix 1 for a counter-argument to this)
TITHES AND OFFERINGS – THE DIFFERENCE
A “tithe” is a giving of 10% of your income to God.
It is Biblically commanded in the Law:
“A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord” (Leviticus 27: 30)
Jesus says that the Law has not been taken away. Therefore, it is still an instruction for followers of God (we call them “disciples” or “Christians”) today.
There are many different views as to what form tithing takes. For some, the view is that you give 10% of your gross income – regardless of your expenditure needs. For others it is 10% AFTER major expenditure (like rent or mortgage or tax) – the “what is left” – your net income. For yet others, it can be “tithe in kind” – by giving of their time, or their service. The argument here is that when the Law was given, tithing was generally in the form of farming produce – animals or crops – and that, therefore, their tithe can also be in “kind”.
Then there are different views on “where” you give your tithe. Some say that it must all be brought into the church and that it is the church that decides how it should be used. Others say that they have the duty, before God, to use their tithe in the way that they think is right – and so they give it to a charity or to support the work of an individual.
Whatever view you might hold, be aware that another will hold a different view. As is so often the case it is the principle of the matter that is key. The decision and commitment to tithing is what is most important, and not the way that the tithe is given or used.
An “offering” is considered to be “over-and-above” what is given in a tithe. It is sometimes referred to as a “love gift”. It can be given to a cause, or a charity, or an individual in need, or just someone that you wish to “bless”.
THE “IT’S ALL HIS” ARGUMENT
There is a view, that must be decided on individually, that tithing was part of the Law, or that tithing was the minimum requirement, and that we are now under Grace and in a very different relationship with God than the legalistic one of the past.
In this view, we are Christ’s and, therefore, all we have is Christ’s. In this view, therefore, it is not “how much should I give?” but rather “how much should I keep?”. For “it is not mine, it all belongs to Him”.
Let the reader decide whether this is for them.
WHY IS GIVING AND TITHING REQUIRED OF US?
Well, the obvious simple answer is “because it is!” And we trust in God that He knows what is best for us and so we do it without question.
However, God has given me a mind to think and understand.
The need to give “tithes and offerings” is, actually, a no-brainer. Money does NOT “grow on trees” (despite what our children might think!). As has been so often pointed out, we work in partnership with God. And part of our relationship with Him is to ensure that the pastor is paid, the building is maintained, the bills are honoured, the missionaries are funded, the poor are supported, the Gospel is proclaimed. This all takes money and God says “use that which you have”.
THE BLESSING OF THE RICH
The opposite of giving and tithing is keeping it all for yourself. The Bible is very much against this. And we are clearly told that the love of money is the root of all evil. Notice that money is not evil – it is the LOVE of money that is at the root of all evil.
Although Jesus points out that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God; I understand this to mean the rich man who loves money. I thank God for those He has allowed to become rich because He knows that they are going to use the wealth they have made in order to serve the church. I thank God for people like my friend Michael – rich but living a modest lifestyle because of their belief that they should use what God has given them to be a blessing to others.
SO, WHAT SHOULD OUR ATTITUDE BE?
The Bible tells us that God loves a cheerful giver.This kind-of suggests that God has no time at all for giving with unwillingness. Let our view of giving and tithing money not be a legalistic one, but one based on relationship.
Jesus also said (in Matthew 23: 23) –
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former.
Maybe a really helpful, and well-known, Bible story is that told us by Jesus in this parable:
14 ‘Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag,[a] each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 ‘After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. “Master,” he said, “you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.”
21 ‘His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”
22 ‘The man with two bags of gold also came. “Master,” he said, “you entrusted me with two bags of gold: see, I have gained two more.”
23 ‘His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”
24 ‘Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. “Master,” he said, “I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.”
26 ‘His master replied, “You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
28 ‘“So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 25: 14-30)
Everything we have is given to us by God and we are called to use all that we have to build up His Kingdom of which we are citizens. We are His servants and so all that we have is for His wonderful purposes and not for out own selfish purposes. The parable of the “rich farmer” shows this:
15 Then he said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.’
16 And he told them this parable: ‘The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.”
18 ‘Then he said, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’”
20 ‘But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”
21 ‘This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich towards God.’ (Luke 12: 15-21)
When we simply want wealth for our own benefit we are sure to fall foul of our own self-seeking.
Like the men in the parable of the talents we are stewards of what we have been given. So we are called to use what we have wisely and for His Kingdom. Stewarding does mean that we have to take responsibility for HOW are gifts and talents and wealth are used – we must not allow others to abuse it.
And how wonderful it is to hear that we shall be rewarded for how we use our time, our talents and our wealth. But more wonderful than any reward is to hear our Master and our God then welcome us “home” with the words –
“Well done, good and faithful servant”.
…is that “yes! Of course we have to give of our wealth to the Lord!” This giving is for the “work of the Lord”. This giving can be financial but also of our time and our talents. The form of this giving is between us and the Lord. The amount of this giving is between us and the Lord. The attitude of our giving – happily or grumpily – is crucial. We are the Lord’s servants here on earth. All that we have comes from Him – yes, even our talents. The “fruit” of our giving and our hard work is our act of servanthood to Him. As stewards we are to look after and use all that He has given to us – our time and our talents as well as our money and our possessions. Let us make no excuses. Let us look at how we serve our Lord with all that we have. Let us begin today!
APPENDIX: A COUNTER ARGUMENT IN FAVOUR OF A RICH CHURCH
I remember meeting with an African who defended the fact that his bishop lived in a huge house with a fleet of cars in his driveway. The local people, he said, had to see that the Christian God was more powerful than the local deities. It was expected that the proof of this was to be seen in the wealth of His representatives here on earth.
The building of huge cathedrals in Europe and the wealth of the clergy needs to be seen in the context of the time of the Middle Ages – an age when the power and glory of God was to be seen in riches and buildings that towered above all others – showing the centrality of the Christian faith in society.
The church was superbly rich – but it used so much of its wealth to provide care for the poor and the sick. This was seen clearly when Thomas Cromwell enacted Henry VIII’s will to close down the monasteries. Suddenly thousands of poor, sick and elderly people, previously housed and cared for by the church, were thrown out onto the streets with no-one to look after them.
I personally, am very sceptical about all these arguments – to me they contain the element of excuses to justify the wealth of the church. Jesus Himself said that He had nowhere to lay His head (Matthew 8: 20) – He did not pursue wealth.