The Christian Tithe

Yesterday, I was in a discussion with someone over tithing at church: How much it should be, how it should be taught, and how to hold one another accountable. I’ll deal with one issue a day for the next few days.

The person was strict about the 10% rule. I shared with him an excerpt from Craig L. Blomberg’s Neither Poverty Nor Riches:

“The number and origin of the Jewish tithes are also somewhat cloaked in mystery. Leviticus 27:30-33 mandates that a tenth of all the produce of one’s land and all of one’s flocks should be given to the Lord. Numbers 18:8-32 explains that these offering were to be given to the Levites, who otherwise had no source of income, and who in turn would tithe to the priests….In Deuteronomy 14:22-29, a tithe of one’s produce and flocks was to be eaten at the central sanctuary, or, if transportation proved prohibitive, exchanged for currency, which could then be used to purchase foodstuffs at the place the Lord would choose for his central dwelling. Every third year, however the tithes would go to the local storehouses so that they could be distributed not just to the Levites but also to other poor and marginalized people: ‘the aliens, the fatherless and the widows’ (Deut. 14:29)…Originally, there may have been only one tithe intended, but the harmonizing Jewish mind-set quickly solved the apparent contradictions between the passages by identifying at least two separate offerings. And by New Testament times, most Jews had come to interpret the every-third-year offering for the poor as above and beyond the other two tithes (Tobit 1:7-9; Josephus, Antiquities 4.8.22). Pro-rated annually these added up to a 23.3% tithe’. Of course, 10% apparently went to one’s own festival celebration, a further reminder that God does not require unmitigated ascetiscism.”

10% is really an arbitrary number. As we see, 10% wasn’t even the amount. We also only have two verses in the New Testament that talk about the tithe, Luke 11:42 and Matthew 23:23.

(Mat 23:23 NASB) "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others."

(Luke 11:42 NASB) "But woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others."

The 10% rule is dangerous. It sets a standard that causes some to think that they are good Christians because they meet it. There isn’t any magic number. The amount God might want you to give could be way in excess of 10%. Christianity isn’t about a set of minimums that we are required to meet in order to be part of God’s kingdom. Christianity is about everything we have – our life, our time, our possessions – being God’s and allowing him to do with them what he wants. If you are trying to be a minimal Christian, then you have really missed what it means to be a Christian and probably aren’t one at all.

American Christians should probably give more than 10% because we are some of the wealthiest people in the world, and the New Testament seems to imply that we should give out of our abundance and not just try to meet a legal minimum. We actually are supposed to give to the point of sacrificing. If you have extra, you should give extra. Everything we have is God’s anyway.

(2 Cor 9:6-11 NASB) "Now this I say, he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully. {7} Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver. {8} And God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; {9} as it is written, "HE SCATTERED ABROAD, HE GAVE TO THE POOR, HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS ABIDES FOREVER." {10} Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food, will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; {11} you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God."

Here is another great excerpt from the book:

“A survey of expenditures in the late 1980s and early 1990s demonstrated that Americans spent annually twice as much on cut flowers as on overseas Protestant ministries, twice as much on women’s sheer hosiery, one and a half times as much on video games, one and a half times as much on pinball machines, slightly more on the lawn industry, about five times as much on pets, one and a half times as much on skin care, almost one and a half times as much on chewing gum, almost three times as much on swimming pools and accessories, approximately seven times as much on sweets, seventeen times as much on diets and diet-related products, twenty times as much on sports activities, approximately twenty-six times as much on soft drinks, and a staggering 140 times as much on legalized gambling activities.”

Because of our excess, I think the example that Craig Blomberg gives in writing in his book is one we should all follow.

“I was challenged early in my adult life by two different pastors, one in the US and one in the UK, who each gave 25% of their total income back to the Lord’s work and let that fact be known, not in any arrogant way, but simply to encourage others that it could be done…I have become convinced that the concept of a graduated tithe is both biblical and foundational for contemporary Christian stewardship. When we were first married more than eighteen years ago, my wife and I committed to begin with a tithe, based on the very modest income we had while I was a graduate student, and then to increase that percentage if God increased his annual provisions for us. Over the years God has blessed us richly and the percentage of our giving has grown. On our last income-tax returns, we reported in the spring of 1998 our highest combined family income ever. Our overall total put us $4,000 below the average household income for affluent suburban community. Nevertheless, we were able to give over 30% of our income to our church and to para-church organizations and individuals involved in Christian ministry. This was our fifth consecutive year of topping 30% percent, following the principle of the graduated tithe.”

I am reminded of the ending of Schindler’s list and how Oskar Schindler was saddened by the fact that he kept his car and his ring at the cost of the lives of Jews. None of our material possessions are worth not showing God’s love. Our little sacrifice could be what it takes for someone to see the true meaning of Jesus’ sacrifice.