A large number of Google searches through which people end up reading posts on my blog have to do with money. And one of the searches which come up time and again has to do with the way in which our tithes should be given. I’ve written about this topic before. The feeling I have is that many Christians are really struggling with the question whether we are compelled to give our full tithe to our local church or whether we are free to give our tithes in other places as well.
Possibly the best way to approach this question is firstly to look at the principles behind tithing. Tithing per definition means the giving of a tenth of your income to God. We know from the New Testament that the Jews adhered to the laws concerning tithing very strictly, but we also know that Jesus criticised them for this, not because they were strict in giving their tithes, but because they neglected other important things, such as the caring of the poor and the elderly (Matthew 23:23). The danger of strictly following rules about tithing is that it takes away personal responsibility. I could write out a cheque every month giving a tenth of my salary to the church or even more conveniently, I could sign a stop order at my bank instructing them to pay over a tenth of my income to my local church – which is very nice for the church receiving a guaranteed income but which strips me of all responsibility in the way that I give. And I’m not convinced that this is what God expects of us.
In Leviticus 1 we find some interesting principles about giving to God. This chapter concerns the giving of burnt offerings. God instructs His people to take an animal from the herd or the flock (which says to me that each person has to make a personal decision about what he or she wants to give), but that the choice has to fall on a male animal without defect. What I believe God is saying through this, is that He doesn’t want us to be skimpy when giving to Him. Or, to put it in another way: We have to give in such a way that we can feel that we are giving. One person could give $1000 without even noticing any difference while another may not be able to give $10 without having to adjust their monthly budget. In other words: If I’m still giving to the Lord without my giving having any effect on my lifestyle, then I may not be giving enough! To take a bull from the herd – not just any bull but the best – would have had an effect on the Old Testament farmer. They would have felt that they are really giving something substantial to the Lord. This is the background to the episode in Mark 12:42-44 when Jesus made the remark about the widow who gave two copper coins, saying that she had given more than the others who had given out of their wealth.
We could lay down strict rules about giving. We could say that every Christian needs to give 10% of their income to their local church. But then this action of giving becomes a mere ritual. I would rather say that we need to take greater responsibility towards giving, which implies that we prayerfully make decisions about how much and where we will give. Obviously we have a great responsibility towards out local church. But chances are, if we prayerfully consider this issue, that we may feel that we also want to support one or two other ministries as well.
My wife and I have identified a few mission organisations which we also want to support. The greater part of our personal tithes go to our own church. However, every month we also give towards two other specific mission organisations which we want to support and then throughout the year we also have a few organisations that we have identified which we support with a single amount. (This once-off contribution makes sense when the money has to be sent overseas, in order to cut down on bank costs and transferral fees.)
I could be 100% in line with the Bible in my giving but totally out of line with God’s will. Which is the reason why I believe we need to start looking at principles rather than rules. God willing, I will continue with this topic tomorrow and have a look at the New Testament principles about giving.