Saturday, 14 January 2012

To tithe or not to tithe, that is the question

It's always good when the Bible changes your mind. It is a good reminder that you don't know everything and that you have stuff to learm still. 

Last Sunday in church I was talking about giving - partly through necessity and partly because we need to address big questions in church, after all Jesus did.  I figured it was fairly straight forward, there is plenty in the Old Testament about giving a tithe (a tenth) to God's work and to support the poor.  But having read more it's apparent that the New Testament doesn't talk in terms of tithes.  The one place where Jesus seems to commend someone giving a tithe is when the Pharisee (who isn't a Christian) is praised for being so diligent that he tithes the herbs he grows.  But then he points out what the Pharisee has forgotten - justice, mercy, faith (Matthew 23.23-24) - all way more important than getting your mixed herbs right.  

However – we aren’t off the hook.  Far from it!  The Bible has plenty to say about followers of Jesus being generous in their giving.        

Jesus tells us that when we give money we aren't to make a song and dance about it – do it quietly and without telling others about it. Matthew 6.1-4  Notice too that Jesus says when you give – not if you give.  He also observes and commends radical acts of generosity on the occasion of the widow who gave all she had.  Mark 12.41-43.    Jesus also says that whatever we do for the least of these you do for me – feed the hungry, clothe the poor, give the thirsty something to drink, tend to the sick.  Matthew 25.31-46. 

So giving isn't off the agenda for Christians, just that tithing isn't taught for us.  In the longest passage about giving in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 8 & 9), Paul tells the church to be generous because they are grateful for the grace they have recieved.  And it makes a metric tonne of sense for Christians who are grateful for God's generosity to be grateful in turn to the church and to others.  
Thing is, despite our spiritual sensitivities, giving is a spiritual activity.  Our budgets are spiritual documents – they show what we think are important and where our priorities lay.  That’s the case whether we are setting budgets for our own spending or working out our finances as a church.  That’s why I fear our church is in a difficult place financially, and perhaps, spiritually; because our budgets, individually and corporately, reveal something of our hearts.

For some the tithe is too much of a stretch, for others it isn't enough of a challenge.  What we mustn't do is use the freedom I believe we have to hide from our responsibilities.  I saw a statistic that said the average American Evangelical gives away 3% of what they earn.  I dare say the Brits aren't too far off this figure, though it's a complete guess on my part.  Which would suggest that some are less grateful than the Pharisees. 
But don't let me or anyone else twist your arm.  As Paul makes clear:

2 Cor 9 7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 

Whatever we do, we should do so cheerfully before God.


  1. We were taught that "Cheerful" giver actually comes from the word in Greek meaning Hilarious -can you imagine your congregation rolling in the aisles as they put in their collection?...

    Hope things work out - it would be a huge shame if God's people let Him down on this one.

    Keep blogging - say, every day or every other
    would be good.... ;)

  2. Yes, "We will now have a time of hilarity"; be great, wouldn't it? Will try to up my strike rate blog-wise but can't promise :)