One subject that seems to present a stumbling block to Christians is tithing. Why should I tithe? What if I’m already having trouble paying my bills?
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The idea of tithing has been around for millennia. The first reference arose in the book of Genesis when Moses said that Abraham paid tithes to the priest Melchizedeck. In Old Testament days the tithe was generally paid in animals, crops or other goods, but in modern times, since we receive our pay in the form of cash or bank deposits, we pay our tithes in the same form.
But why do we tithe? The answer to that depends upon whom we ask.
If we ask a fundamentalist, we will probably be told, “Because God said to,” or “Because we’re supposed to,” or simply, “It’s our obligation.”
Well, all of those statements are true. God did say so, and we are supposed to, and it is our obligation. But do oughts and obligations motivate us? Not really all that effectively. Human nature is that we fulfill obligations when anyone is watching, but we look for the chance to ignore them when we’re sure no one can see us. Sound familiar?
When I was a child, I was expected to tithe on my allowance. When the offering plate came around, I would thump the bottom of it to make it sound like I’d dropped a coin or two into it. As I got older and sat with friends instead of my family—usually far enough away my dad couldn’t see me—I just ignored the offering plate.
Duties, onuses, obligations are not the most effective way to motivate human behavior.
About 30 years ago, still basically a non-tither, I found a better reason. A cousin got me started listening to a television preacher who preached the gospel of prosperity. This man taught an idea that was brand new to me—that I could tithe my way to wealth.
Many charismatics I know sincerely believe this. One reference they will cite is Luke 8:8, which says, “But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold. . . .”
This is a direct quote from Jesus, but it needs to be put into context. He was delivering the parable of the seeds, and He was talking about how a seed brings forth a plant many times its own size.
The other primary reference they use for this either Matt 19:28-29 or Mark 10:29-30. Both of these passages quote the same words from Jesus—that everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands for His name’s sake would receive a hundredfold and inherit eternal life.
This motivated me for awhile, but as I became a little more mature in the word, I realized that God was not talking about money here. I thought there must be a better reason to tithe than trying to use God as a sugar-daddy.
Yeah, but David, I like this hundredfold idea. Are you sure? If examining the word itself is not convincing enough, let’s apply a little common sense. Do we really believe we can tithe one dollar and God will give us back $100? If so, let’s tithe that $100 and wait for Him to give us back $10,000. Then it would be $1 million, then $100 million, then $10 billion. Next would be $1trillion. Does this begin to expose a logical fallacy? Every dollar on the planet would soon end up in our pockets. I don’t think so.
The prosperity people do quote one passage which I think is very pertinent. Malachi 3:10 says, “‘Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,’ Says the Lord of hosts, “‘If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.’”
Unlike the other passages the prosperity people love to quote, this passage does not promise a specific return. It doesn’t say every time you tithe a dollar God will give you $100. In fact, it doesn’t even necessarily promise a financial reward at all. The blessing could be good health, or a lasting marriage, or children leading joy-filled lives. We all take many, many blessings for granted which may be direct results of this promise.
But in my opinion, Jesus gave us an even better reason to tithe in the 6th chapter of Matthew. In verses 19-21, He said:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;
But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth or rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
The bold and underlining is mine, of course. To me, this is one of the most key verses in the entire Bible. Verses 19 and 20, even though they came from Jesus, still appeal to our soulish nature. We don’t want our money destroyed or stolen, and here’s a way to keep that from happening.
Verse 21, however, appeals solely to our spirit-man. It gives us a way to allow our money to lead our hearts in the right direction.
Think about it for a moment. Think of a farmer with a crop in the field. His every waking hour is filled with concern about the weather, commodity prices, pests—things that can affect that crop.
Or the man with a multi-million dollar stock portfolio. He has a constant eye on the Dow, the S&P 500, all the news that can affect the ups and downs of the market.
“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
My tithe gives me an investment in God’s kingdom. It draws my heart inexorably toward God’s kingdom. This is my motivation for tithing. It doesn’t depend on who’s watching or making me feel guilty if I don’t do something. It gives me a positive reason, an internal motivation for tithing. That’s a lot more powerful than telling me I ought to.
How do you feel when a preacher or teacher or some other person tells you you “ought” to tithe? That it’s your duty? That your money is needed for this program or that?
If you abide in Me and My word abides in you, then you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.
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Contact him at dnwalkertx (at) gmail (dot) com or tweet him at @davidnwalkertx.