Donations, giving and tithing defined…
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I was in Bible College and was learning contextually how things were written and learned that the Call to tithe in many churches is often misinterpreted. I was a new pastor in a small church in Washington, DC and as the Lord would have it, I got a little attention. I was called upon to write something that was printed in the Washington Times, Monday, February 4, 2008. It put me out of favor with many pastors instantly. Here’s what I said.
One of the most divisive issues in marriage is finances. It is no different in “the bride of Christ,” also known as “the church.” People are trying to live right and come into the church with all kinds of preconceived notions, teachings and experiences that are not all good.
When a preacher seems focused on money, wealth and prosperity, it’s offensive to some of those that are struggling. To others, it’s a carrot. The promise of financial independence and power motivates and draws people. Who in today’s consumer-driven lifestyle doesn’t want bigger, brighter “bling-bling?” People in debt want to get out. Most people want to improve their circumstances. And if the person they are listening to is charismatic and appears to have the favor of God, then maybe this person deserves to be heard. It is a business; give the people what they want.
Today, I want to clarify a few things about money and tithing.
One of the baddest bass lines in modern music, and a hit for the group the O’Jays, was the song that used the first five words of 1 Tim. 6:10, which is our sermonic text: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (I Timothy 6:10)
Money is not evil. We need money to do just about everything in this world. The church needs money. We can’t pay our new mortgage without it. We need money so that we will have a place to meet for study, worship, and more importantly to some, a place to eat, be heard and socialize. The church needs money to support missions, to spread the Good News, feed the hungry, clothe the naked and minister to people in this community.
In the a traditional Baptist church, we have used the terms “tithes and offerings” for centuries, but can I tell you the truth this morning? Tithing was instituted by God for the priestly tribe designated to work in the temple. Tithing of the people was done in food for sacrifice and to provide for the priest and his family. There were offerings of pieces of meat, grain, fruits and vegetables. Tithing is 10 percent of your produce — the best of it. If you raised cattle, you were to present the best calf; [if] you farmed, the best of your produce.
Tithing had a specific purpose. Even then it was misused. Out of context we wrongly repeat the Old Testament command in the book of Malachi to “bring the tithes into the storehouse.” But it sounds good and is expected. “We have always done it this way,” I can hear you say. If you read the entire book of Malachi, you’ll see that it also contains the rebuke of the priest for not being right. They were holding out. In context, tithing is from the law of Moses. As Christians, we are no longer under the law, but under grace.
Today, it is a “system” to get parishioners to give regularly to support the church. It is not the same tithes, which technically mean a tenth of your produce. It’s not 10 percent of your gross or net income. It’s just money.
Why still do it? The church needs money for the work of the ministry. It needs money for the good of the church. It should be what you want to give to a God that has given you so much.
Why didn’t anybody ever say this before? In the financial world, it’s hard to budget on “some-timey people.” Ten percent is a good percentage to ask for, but it is biblically out of context if it is preached that it applies to a New Testament church. It will make it hard to pay for a building rental or a mortgage when folks give when they feel like it, and if they don’t feel like it. It is hard to grow a church when the most folks are apt to put in the symbolic “Baptist dollar.” And if you make it obligatory, then it loses its value to God as an offering. This financial issue is compounded if the congregation doesn’t like the pastor. Then the basket is light then, too. So it has become a balancing act of truth, maturity level and shepherding. That is why some churches collect money before the sermon, some churches leave a basket at the door and others put one up front on the altar.
The New Testament, where the church begins, had a different approach to giving. They gave what they had for the good of all. Are you ready to give your all? What is your motive for your giving? If it is to be prosperous, you’re wrong. You can’t quid pro quo with God. Is it to be seen and appreciated by people in the church? Then you are wrong again. God looks at our heart. He owns this world and everything in it. We are merely stewards of what we have. Remember the Scripture of the husband-and-wife team Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, in Acts 5 that held out? Again the heart can condemn you. As a tool, money is a good indicator of where your heart is though. The synoptic Gospels tell us, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)
God deserves our best. He desires us to worship Him. Let your giving be part of your worship. It’s not tithing, it’s giving.