Talking about the 'T' word

Mention the word "tithe" and you get mixed reactions

Mention the word “tithe” and you get mixed reactions. Some people are on board and others become resistant, if not reactive.

Tithing is a biblical model for generosity but it is not the only one. Other models and terms are used throughout Scripture, such as love offerings, first-fruits giving, generous giving, proportional giving and sacrificial giving.

I believe we all need a model because like many things, without a plan, nothing happens. For additional reflection on this subject check out the free downloadable curriculum, Generous living in a self-centered world, where more on this subject can be found.

Below are three reasons why tithing can be a helpful approach.

Tithing is a discipline

Rather than getting hung up on tithing as a legalistic requirement, consider tithing as a set of training wheels on your first bicycle. Training wheels help keep us upright and moving forward. When we become more comfortable and experienced as a bike rider, this assistance is no longer needed. Tithing is similar in that it provides clear guidelines that keep us moving toward a goal.

It’s been said we need to practice an activity for 30 days before it becomes a habit. Establishing a discipline to give away a tenth of our salary per week is a practice that at first may seem scary or even risky.

Although a tithe means a tenth, people who have given nothing or very little may want to start with 5 percent and then graduate to 7 percent after six months and a tenth by month 12. Again, it’s about deciding to start somewhere and heading toward a goal that may challenge you, but is doable.

In 1 Timothy 4:7-8, Paul writes to his young companion, “Train yourself in godliness, for while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for the present life and the life to come.”

Tithing for me has become an expression of my trust in God to provide for my needs. When we start giving our money away, it shifts our faith in God from theory and a heady belief to something very practical and transformative.  

Tithing is a decision

The average giving of self-described Christians in North America is about 2.8 percent. This seems pretty slim, considering we are among the wealthiest and most privileged people to ever walk this earth. I would suggest that is partially due to the lack of teaching and conversation in our churches about giving and generosity.

Paul was rarely shy about discussing anything related to the Christian life, and this is especially true when it come to the subject of generous living. In 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, he has this to say on the matter of giving:

Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.

This act of putting aside a certain amount requires deciding on a plan and following through.

Tithing is defined

So where does the concept of the tithe come from? Wasn’t it part of the old covenant law, and since we are governed by grace and the new covenant, is it still relevant? Good questions, and often used as a rationale to avoid needing to make this discipline part of our teaching and practice.

Tithing is first mentioned in Genesis 14, when Abraham gives away a tenth of his assets to Melchizedek, the priest-king of Salem. The next time we see the term used is in Genesis 28, where we read that the grandson of Abraham, Jacob, also is giving a tenth of his assets away as an expression of worship to God. These actions took place before the law was established and, in each case, these acts of generosity were worshipful expressions of gratitude to God.

Moses then picks up with this practice of the tithe and incorporates it into the Mosaic code in Deuteronomy 14. By this time, the “tithe” came to represent about a 23 percent annual gift divided among three categories.

Three separate tithes:

  1. The Levitical, or sacred, tithe (Numbers 18: 21, 24).
  2. The tithe of the feasts (Deuteronomy 14:22-27).
  3. The tithe for the poor, which was collected every three years  – or approximately 3 percent per year (Deuteronomy 14:28, 29)

We don’t want to miss the reference to the tithe mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 23:23. Here he endorses the practice of the tithe but cautions that for it to be acceptable as a gift of worship and gratitude, it must be given with an attitude of seeking, justice, mercy and faith. What this suggests is that the practice of the tithe continued to be taught and expected into the first century and endorsed as an important spiritual practice.

Summary

The tithe is one of several biblical models on generosity, as was mentioned at the beginning of the article. I would argue that it continues to be a key spiritual practice for the Christian in the 21st century.

Some of us may find it a stretch to go from our current practice to a full 10 percent. If that is your case, begin somewhere and move forward as God supplies. Some of us can do much more than a tithe and shouldn’t consider 10 percent a stopping point.

Paul talked about giving as the Lord prospers (2 Corinthians 8:10-15). In all that we decide to do, let’s do it with cheerfulness! The fact that we are able to help others less fortunate and support the church in pursuing the work of the Kingdom of God is a joy we should celebrate!

Author

Beryl Jantzi
Director of Stewardship Education