The Teething of Tithing: Stewardship Part 3
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The Teething of Tithing
Stewardship Part 3
Learning What It Means to Give “Cheerfully.”
How do you feel when churches, ministries, or even missionaries seek you, asking for funds? Does it give you a toothache? Do you cringe and make the quickest possible exit, or do you see those requests as opportunities to serve? A lot of people run away from stewardship because they do not see it as God does. This is a reflection of our spiritual condition! We should never separate money and finances from our spiritual life. Yet, so many Christians do, seeking to be cheerful with what they can keep, not with how they can be used. Have you ever thought that the way we give is a prime picture of what is in our hearts and our level of commitment to our Lord? And, when we refuse to give or are very stingy, we are missing key opportunities to serve and be used of God?
If we really want to be mature and growing Christians, we must take the Bible seriously! That means discovering God’s character, holiness, fear, and awe, and learning how we can grow further in the depths of the faith. Then, perhaps in realizing what Christ did for us, we can start to take to heart the seriousness of being a wise steward. Stewardship is an act of worship and gratitude by the Believer, in response to His grace. In so doing, we acknowledge God’s power and authority over our lives. Then, we respond to others around us with these godly precepts.
Stewardship and tithing are hot subjects today and Christians seem to love to debate them. Unfortunately, most seem to have a skewed idea of what these subjects entail, and only impart their assumptions, not the facts from God’s Word. I just read through some Christian message boards about this topic, and what amazed me was how people were arguing back and forth out of total ignorance, from both sides. Some people, saying they were pastors, were getting Greek words totally wrong and passages out of their context. People claiming to be mature Christians were using inappropriate language and tone, putting the other person down and even verbally attacking those who did not share their skewed opinion. Neither group was willing to dig into the text of the Bible to see what it really says; they just wanted to spout off with their preconceived ideas.
As a former academic debater, I know that it is essential to form an argument on facts and logic, and not emotionalism and presumptions. With Scripture, this is fundamental and essential! Nevertheless, these message boards were all filled with assumptions and emotions, no real facts, no word studies, no thought-through doctrinal arguments. It was just, “what I believe” or “what my church does.” Oh, how sad this is! The Bible was being used just like a buffet, to pick and choose what would fit their experiences and mindsets, ignoring the rest, and unconcerned to what God’s Word really said in its simple, clear, and concise form. The Bible means what it says and says what it means. The key is context--not reading into it what is not there, or taking out what is there.
One clear theme emerged from these message board “discussions.” People did not want to take responsibility for what God’s Word said, or what stewardship really means in applying it to their wallets. Emotions and personal Will blocked reason and Scripture. Instead of carefully crafted arguments, people mussed the Word to force their views so they did not have to give to the church. I was dumfounded, and thought these must be high school or young college students who never read a Bible, but some of them said they were pastors! I do not know if that is true, due to the immaturity of their language and arguments, but it would seem that the checking of facts and conviction of the truth were definitely absent.
The mature Christian may realize his or her responsibility in stewardship and then struggle in prayer and with family about what to give. He/she will seek God’s Word for how he/she can serve Him and the church. A mature Christian should never rationalize that it is good not to follow his/her call, use his/her gifts, refrain from sharing his/her faith, or not to give. As persons saved by grace, we should be overwhelmed with gratitude for what Christ has done for us so we naturally desire to serve Him with all of our heart and means. Yes, you are not forced to do anything, because as His elect, you are saved by your faith alone in what Christ has done alone—period! But, as James tells us, what good is it? What good would you be (James 1:22-25; 2:14-19)?
Once we form a more mature faith, and develop a strong sense of gratitude for the grace flowing in us, what should we do about our stewardship? How can we best respond with the goods given to our care? How much do we keep for ourselves, how much do we give away; how much is for us to play with, and how much goes to the work of the church? There are no concrete answers here; it is a call and a response of our heart and faith. We are given the general parameters from Scripture; it is up to us to figure out how to apply them. Yet, this is hard for most, even me, and the source for most debates. The message board debates are nothing new. This subject is now, and has been very controversial. It has been a bitter debate since the formation of the early church, perhaps because most people like to do things their own way and do not like relinquishing control, especially with their pocketbook. So, we can see all kinds of crazy teachings from every conceivable perspective. But what we do at Into Thy Word is see what God’s Word says, and go from there.
The current attitude that is hitting the pew is the idea that since God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7) then you only need to tithe whatever amount you can “cheerfully” part with, whether it be two percent, five percent, ten percent, or none. Some people interpret these thoughts and behaviors to mean if they don't resent the amount they are tithing, and as long as they can feel happy, content, and generous about whatever amount they tithe, then, they can say they are “cheerful” givers. I do not believe that is what God intended at all. Since all that we have comes from Him, we should be cheerful and grateful that He allows us to keep the gross majority of what we are given. We should focus on being cheerful for what He has done for us! So many countries, governments, and agencies require a lot more from us than God does. The fact that He allows us to enjoy such a large part of His blessings should be a great source of happiness to everyone. Yet, so many begrudge Him even the little they are willing to return.
This concept of giving out of our conveniences is directly in opposition to what Scripture says (although nicely convenient!). Our giving “cheerfully” is the response of our gratitude for what He did for us, not a convenience to our wallets! We may not be mandated to give an exact amount or percentage, since we are under grace and not law as the Puritans argued, but they gave way more than a mere ten percent! So, look at this verse in its context (2 Cor. 9:6-15), especially verse six, and you will see that this popular thinking is wrong! This passage is an illustration from farming (Job. 4:8; Prov. 11:18; 22:8; Hos. 8:7; 10:12). Thus, when you give, your gift will be used as a seed that grows into a crop. The more you give, the more bounty there will be in the Kingdom. Both the seed of the gift and the maturity of the person who gives will grow. This is what Paul calls sufficiency, which means to be content in all circumstances. The opposite would be to be self-sufficient, and the book of Jeremiah tells us how much God hates that! Thus, we need to strive to see the beauty of giving and be cheerfully motivated. And, by the way, this passage has nothing to do with tithing; it was about giving to the poor!
“Isn't the cheerfulness we feel supposed to come from the opportunity to return this small, required percentage of our blessing to Him rather than from a satisfaction with giving God some fraction of the minimum that he asked us to give?” And the answer everyone to this is…? YEA! (Quotes from a missionary in Asia with whom we work.)
· Being a cheerful giver is about responding to God, not to our conveniences.
· Our giving is a pale comparison to the tremendous gift of grace we have been given (John 3:16)!
· We will end up robbing God when we refuse to give, or give too little. The most important investment we could ever make is in the Kingdom of God (Mal. 3: 8)!
· Remember, it is not just our money; it is our time, treasure, and talent. So, we give our time, gifts, and abilities of commitment and service to our Lord, and to His Church.
· We must be aware that our fallen human depravity will get in the way and rationalize the behaviors that we want to do over the call of the Lord!
2 Corinthians 8:1-15 - A Template Of How the Early Church Gave. (NIV)
· …Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy…
· …and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity…
· …even beyond their ability…
· …Entirely on their own…
· …privilege of sharing in this service to the saints…
· …they gave themselves first to the Lord…
· …keeping with God's Will…
· …in faith …excel in this grace of giving…
· …I am not commanding you…
· …you through his poverty might become rich…
· …you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so…
· …the gift is acceptable according to what one has…
· ...not according to what he does not have…
· …eager willingness …the willingness is there…
· …your plenty will supply what they need…
How did they give? Well, it was not just a mere ten percent, because they gave abundantly out of deep poverty (NKJV)! In fact, they may have even given more than they should have! But, they did it because of their love for Christ and knowledge of what He did for them! Their motives were astonishing to other people around them. They need to be our “norm” too. Not that we should give beyond our means, but we should give with a sense of the awe of what Christ did for us. The early church had whole-hearted surrender to Christ, which is the abandonment of our Will to His (Gal. 2:20). They gave everything. What do you give, and where does it come from?
A warning: beware of your motives. Do not give because you expect to get! God is not a divine bellhop, and He is not required to give you anything. Yet, He does, out of His love and grace! Some very bad teaching has been sneaking in like a snake its way in our churches and airwaves, called the “Health and Wealth” gospel. It says that if you give your money to the preacher, God will give you ten times more, or whatever amount they come up with. They tell you that “Jesus wants you wealthy,” “Jesus wants you rich,” “Jesus wants you prosperous,” and “God wants you rich!” (Direct quotes from Christian Research Institute by several different preachers!) This is not the point of the passage in 2 Corinthians! And furthermore, nowhere in Scripture is this idea found or even alluded to, nor is there even a passage you can twist to say this. It is completely made up! Such teaching is to rationalize the greed and sin of men. This is not the spirit of the Corinthians. They did not even have enough to give what they gave; but they gave anyway, not to get something back, not so they could become wealthy, but because they had given themselves to the Lord, their God, their Savior. We must not allow ourselves to fall prey to greed and the lust of power and money. Our churches are in trouble financially; less than ten percent of the churches tithe any amount over two percent, while others get rich from false promises based on greed and not found in Scripture! Yes, God will usually bless you when you give to Him! I have, in twenty years of pastoral ministry, rarely seen otherwise, but the gift must come from a willing heart, not a “get back, or get rich” attitude. Our riches come from being in Him, not in money or things! Remember, the Lord delivered us from the materialistic attitude and earthy riches for a much greater richness that we could never possibly fathom--that which is to come!
If He does give back to you, it is because of your motive, your heart! Or, He may let the devil give to you, but watch out, because you may have nothing in the hereafter! Jesus says, Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap... (Luke 6:38)
Jesus says to us, “give and it will be given to you.” What is the context? For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. This passage is dealing with hypocrisy! Remember the analogy: as in real estate the most important thing is location, location, and location; as in Scripture and our interpretation of it the most important thing is context, context, and context!
Maybe God will give all of your money back plus ten times. Maybe He wants you in poverty as He lived; maybe He wants you rich. But, in my experience and from Scripture, I have seen Him not only give back to you what you sowed in the first place; I have seen God take care of your needs! We have to learn to trust Him when we give, and He will increase the fruit of our righteousness. So, do you see anywhere in Scripture that God will make you wealthy if you give, or if you ask? NO! It says, He will meet your needs, and He will fill your life with Himself, which is a greater richness than any amount of money Bill Gates has! We are to seek righteousness because this is the great wealth!
A Look In Church History
The early church prescribed a tithe for all of its members who were able to pay. They saw ten percent owed to God as the absolute minimum from a person’s total income, the least anyone should be able to do. Even Monks had to pay.
Later on in Church history, it was believed and practiced that one was to live the most modest life possible, sell his possessions, and give to the poor based on the passage in Matthew (Matt. 19:21; Gal. 5:1). They saw tithing as law, but we were not under law. In addition, they believed that since everything belonged to God, we should just give Him everything. By the time of legal Christianity, the ideas of tithing had changed so much that the application of giving ten percent was accepted and practiced in all the provinces and nations that were Christian. By the Eighth Century, the Holy Roman Empire took over and the tithe became the tax to Rome, in addition to any governing tax. In the twelfth century, the Monks got a reprieve, so, not only did they not have to pay tithes, they also were able to receive them (before it became the obligation of families to care for them).
At this time, controversies over what a tithe is, how much the Christian was to give and the Church was to receive, was highly intense. The main opponents to tithing were those who did not want to give versus those who did; between those who wanted the tithe for themselves versus those who did not want their money wasted on corruption. By the Middle Ages, tithes had become as complicated as those in Jesus’ day. With specific regulations, twisted out of the context of the Scripture and levied on the poor, such as tithes to the church, the priests, vicars, and personal tithes-- were extracted from their produce, for which each category had different regulations (just like our IRS tax code today), different from hay, to corn, to wood, to monies. Then in the pre-reformation, intense conflict arose with tithing; it then escalated during the Reformation. Just a generation after the Reformation, more controversy arose, especially in England where there was a state church. This escalated into the English Civil War. What was the issue and why there was a civil war? A whole county fought over tithing! This was one of the reasons that led the Puritans to flee. The Puritans desired the tithe to be voluntary and not mandatory, just as Scripture prescribes. The state tithe in England lasted up until a few decades ago-- to support the state church!
Consider this. Without faithful giving, we would have no way to finance the spread of the gospel, missions, evangelism, social programs, kids and youth programs, or even the building of the Church. Not just the buildings, but the people, programs, and opportunities to do as our Lord has called us to do would suffer! We could not impact our neighborhoods with His love, or minister to the needs of men. Yet, our neighborhoods are suffering from violence, the breakdown of the family, juvenile delinquency, substance abuse--the list goes on--while most of the neighborhood churches sit, doing little to nothing. There is no vision, no programs, all because of one thing that is missing--no money!
Here is something else to consider. The “smart” economists say that if we removed the nation’s income tax system and went to a “flat rate” of ten percent across the board for everything, our US National budget will be plentiful--and balanced! All we would have to do is divide ten percent from the gross national product, compare it to what the IRS gets annually, and what the national debt is. But, we probably will not see this happen due to political jockeying; it is too simple, and it would work. The rich would pay more because they buy more. The poor would pay less, and so forth. It would be a level playing field. The tithe is on the same level playing/paying field, too. It was, when first instituted, and it is still fair today. Everyone is at the same standard; there are no favorites.
Is Tithing for Today?
The answer is no--as a forced obligation. The answer is also yes--if it is a response from the heart. We are not obligated to give any amount. But, when we have the right mindset, based on the Word of God and a heart that flows with gratitude for what He has done, yes, we will want to give all that we are able to. I believe that in the debates, occurring over the centuries since the early church, and now to the classrooms in seminary, and to the message boards I pursued, money and religion have always gone together. Money and religion have always fought each other in people’s pride and inclinations. Just as Jesus’ anger with the money changers in the temple and Luther’s outrage with the selling indulgences in the pre-Reformation period, to the TV preachers we have today saying, “if you give to me, God will give to you ten times as much,” it all comes down to motivation, greed, and the idol of money. We will bow to money or we will bow to God. The question is what do you truly worship? Where is your motivation? Where is your heart?
And, so the controversy continues, as the presumptions and feelings of men take over sound reasoning and dialog. I call you to search the Scriptures and see for yourself what God requires of you. As for my family and me, we will give all we can with our time, talents, and treasures for His glory. What about my opinion of ten percent? I agree with the Puritans and the early church. Give what you can, but not as an obligation; it all belongs to Him for His glory! Ten percent is a good place to start! Good stewardship is where we start! Sometimes you may not be able to give much. When I was in school I could not give most of the time, so I augmented more volunteer time. Today I am a missionary and struggle day to day. God has provided for my family, but not in any kind of abundance or what we call in the US, “discretionary income.” So, I volunteer in areas in my church outside of my pastoral responsibilities and give what I can of the treasures the Lord has given me. Even in my poverty, after doing my taxes, I realized I did give just over ten percent, and I do not know how I did! He provided!
(Reference and History from “History of the Christian Church” by Schaff; “A History of Christianity Vol. I &II” by Latourette, “The IVP Bible Background Commentary,” by Keener, and “The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church”)
Richard Joseph Krejcir is the Director of ‘Into Thy Word Ministries, ’a discipling ministry. He is the author of the book, Into Thy Word and is also a pastor, teacher, speaker and a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena California. He has amounted over 20 years of pastoral ministry experience, mostly in youth ministry, including serving as a church growth consultant. firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2003 R. J. Krejcir, www.intothyword.org
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Outstanding article! It is an article that is much needed, well written, documented, and accurately based on scripture. Thank you for writing this.