In a recent class on giving I heard an all too familiar comment raised by someone in the class, “the New Testament doesn’t command tithing.” The argument usually follows that the tithe, giving 10% of your income to God, was simply an Old Testament model and since it is never actually commanded in the New Testament it does not have to be followed and can not be held up as a standard or ideal. Often it seems that this argument is made in order to justify giving less than 10%, so that one does not have to feel guilty about what one gives. It’s interesting that many different research studies have been conducted to determine what the average church member in the United States gives and while the results vary most end up around 2.5%, well below the tithe. It seems that the church in America has accepted the argument, but is the argument valid.
It is true that the Old Testament Law commanded the Israelites to give 10% of their possessions back to God, whether crops or herds or money. However, this 10% was only a starting point. The Israelites also had to give up the first born of every womb, whether human or animal, to remember the first born that God killed in Egypt. If the firstborn was an animal it was given as a sacrifice, if the first born was a human it was redeemed by paying a price. This first born was not included in the tithe. Also the Israelites had to make various sacrifices through the year to atone for sins and had to make sacrifices and give offerings during the yearly festivals which were also not included in the tithe. When everything was added together the Israelites were giving much more than 10% back to God. This provides an interesting parallel for those of us who live under the freedom of Christ and sometimes argue to avoid giving simply 10%. Shouldn’t we, who have experienced the forgiveness of Jesus and are benefiting from his unselfish gift be willing to give more out of the abundant blessings that we have received? Shouldn’t we quit focusing so much on what percentage is correct and simply give in response to what has been given to us?
And maybe that is where the real problem lies, we have forgotten what giving is all about in the first place. We place so much focus on us in giving (what percentage are we going to give, how will this affect us paying our bills or doing the things we want to do) that sometimes we lose the focus that giving is not another item to be placed into our monthly budget, a percentage of our monthly income just like our mortgage payment and our grocery bill, but it is an offering made to God from our heart that supersedes any type of monthly percentage allocation. And an offering, by the very definition, has to cost us something. It is not just given out of the excess, but is given first and then the budget is set around it.
2 Samuel 24 recounts an interesting story about David that might help to illustrate the point. Typically this story is not often told because it is not very flattering. David begins the chapter by commanding a census to be taken in order to determine how big and powerful his kingdom is. Now while that may not seem too terrible, God is furious because in essence David is relying on his own might and ability and not on God taking care of him. David is more concerned about how strong his army is and not about trusting in God. When David recognizes his sin God comes and lets him choose his punishment, which ends up being three days of destruction by the hand of the Lord. During the second day, as the Angel of the Lord is about to strike Jerusalem, God relents and stays the Angel’s hand as he is about to strike at the threshing floor of Aruanah the Jebusite. David, recognizing God’s grace, goes to Aruanah and asks to buy his land so that he can offer a sacrifice to God to thank him for stopping the plague. Aruanah is willing to give the land to David for free and also the animals for the sacrifice, but David refuses and demands to pay a fair price for them saying, “I will not give to the Lord that which cost me nothing.” (2 Samuel 24:24) David understood that for a sacrifice to be of any value it had to cost him something. If it didn’t cost him something it wasn’t really a sacrifice, it wasn’t really giving.
And maybe that’s the place that we need to start in our own giving. Instead of worrying about what percentage to give, maybe we should start by saying what can I give that will actually cost me something, that will make me change my priorities to be more in line with what God wants? Maybe instead of starting with the idea that I can give 10% and still pay all my bills we should start with the idea of here are some really good things to give to, now let me figure out what I can cut out of my budget to make it work? What can I do without so that others can have? If we start with this attitude then we don’t have to worry about whether we should tithe or not, we simply give a gift that costs us something and trust God to honor the gift and take care of us in return. That is the type of giving God desires.