I was reading through some of the articles on giving and tithing at Crown Financial Ministries the other day. I was struck by something that both saddened and angered me at the same time. Many of their articles ask and answer questions like “Should I tithe on my Social Security checks?”, “Should I tithe on alimony or child support payments?”, and “Should I tithe on life insurance payouts?”.
The problem with these types of questions is that they tend to ignore the joy of giving and get caught up in the technicalities of exactly how we can please God. I believe many people with these questions honestly want to honor God in their giving. But when they get focused on whether they're doing it just right they are missing the point. Rather than giving being a joyful expression of their love for God and God's love in them, it becomes a burdensome task filled with fear of making a mistake.
This is one of the reasons I don't teach tithing as a giving standard for Christians. It has such terrible potential to become a matter of observing strict, heartless laws that we can become blind to the reasons God wants us to give in the first place. It turns something that should be a beautiful picture of our response to Jesus' teaching into an ugly argument between believers.
The Heart of Giving
After Jesus' death, you will find no instructions in the New Testament that use tithing as the example or standard Christians should use when it comes to giving. Instead, the apostles always point to Jesus' love and sacrifice as our ultimate motivation and example. The heart of giving goes back to the cross and what happened there. It's focused on having an eternal view of life and the true value of riches. Giving revolves around an understanding of who God is, what He has done for us, and what He wants us to do for each other.
This view of giving is so much more powerful than clinging to a strict, stifling view of tithing. We think we're doing people a favor when we teach tithing. It's a relatively simple guideline (though people do have a tendency to complicate it). It makes us feel more confident that the church will be able to pay its bills (assuming everyone tithes). We think we can motivate people to give by teaching tithing, telling them about the blessings and curses, and pointing to Old Testament verses that declare it as a commandment.
Look at those ideas in comparison to Jesus as the central example for giving. Tithing didn't suffer for us. Tithing doesn't get us to heaven. And tithing never loved us.
But Jesus did suffer for us. He offers us eternal life. And He loves us so very, very much – even to the point of death. How can our response to Him be anything other than love? And how can that love – God's love – produce anything in us other than astonishing, extravagant generosity?
It's easy for us to dismiss tithing because it's so impersonal. We can come up with excuses for why we can't tithe just now. But we cannot ignore the gift of Jesus – the gift of His death for our sins so that we can have eternal life. There is no excuse that can overcome that gift. If Jesus is our focus for giving, then the Holy Spirit will continually compel us to give generously.
And the joy we'll have in that giving! Every moment of generosity can be an opportunity to reflect on God's amazing love for us. It gives us a chance to share God's love as we help others. It becomes an exciting part of our walk with Christ rather than a dreaded task of worrying about calculating everything to perfection.
I know many of you will not like that I've taken a stance against tithing. It's become such an ingrained part of the Christian culture in America that it's almost a sin to speak against it. But why can't we see that giving based on the life and death of Jesus will result in more generous, more sacrificial, and more cheerful Christian givers than teaching based on tithing?