The other day in Singapore I was listening to Heidi Baker speak. Many things inspired me during her preaching and praying, but one comment really struck me. She was talking about how people are so particular about tithing that they forget what God called them to do. They calculate their 10% giving down to the cents so they don’t err in their giving and get cheated out of a blessing from God.
Do you know that the word “tithe” is only mentioned twice, in negative contexts, in the whole New Testament? The first time it is mentioned is in Matthew where Jesus himself says, 23“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matthew 23:23; The synoptic parallel verse is found in Luke 11:42).
The second instance is when Jesus quotes a Pharisee’s prayer saying, “The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’” (Luke 18:11-12). Both of these two references equate tithing with the religious Pharisees. It does not condemn nor condone tithing, but simply says that the Pharisees put so much effort into making sure they do not short change God out of the tithe that they even tithed tea leaves and herbs, yet they forget justice, mercy and faithfulness.
The only other place in the New Testament which mentions the tithe is in Hebrews 7:8-9, but only in regard to Abraham’s giving of a tenth of the spoils of war to Melchizedek, which is an Old Testament story.
I grew up in a religious tradition in which tithing is constantly preached and practiced. It was considered the sign of a true believer. I am thankful for most of my background, but in later years have struggled personally to separate religious legalism from my personal relationship with Christ. I found my own relationship with Christ being more like a Pharisee with religious rules and regulation rather than being a wholehearted follow of Christ.
I found that on many occasions I viewed my “religious duty” as going to church on Sunday (even if I didn’t feel like it) and at least giving 10%, calculated always precisely so as to not be rebellious. I was committed to a righteous life between nine in the morning and noon on Sunday. I was certainly holy because I also attended the evening service and often came to prayer meetings on Wednesday night for a few hours. Calculating the hours of my righteousness it comes out to approximately 10% of my week. I was tithing my life. Yet as I looked at my life, I saw emptiness. I saw dissatisfaction. I saw discarded dreams. I would listen to powerful messages, engage in wonderful worship yet I knew was not reaching my potential in Christ. I was only tithing my life to Jesus. I was only giving 10% of my life.
Jesus was completely clear about giving when he said what he expects, “any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33) That doesn’t sound like a life “tithed” does it? No, that is a life dedicated to Christ 100%. Well, in my past life I would have probably stopped writing here and made some cute final comment like, ‘So, what would Jesus do?’ Everyone would feel blessed because it doesn’t require any application or accountability. Today, I am not going to stop writing at the comfortable place.
So, what does this mean to me?
- Do I tithe my income, or do I give freely without calculating, as the Holy Spirit leads me to give? Is my giving “sacrificial” or only out of my “surplus”?
- Do I tithe my vehicle? Am I so concerned about my vehicle and potential scratches that I would never give someone a lift, loan them my car, or drive long distances for ministry or friendship because it would lower the re-sale value? If I am, I am only “tithing” my car, not giving it to the Lord.
- Do I tithe my house? Is my house only a place of personal privacy and security? Do I only open my house once a year for a brief prayer meeting? If so, I am likely not giving of my house for the Lord’s purposes. Have I ever had visitors, other than relatives, stay at my house? Or, is my house known as a place of refuge and a place where anyone can come and stay. Is my house a point of ministry, rather than my palace?
- Do I tithe my time? Am I only “serving” during prescribed religious programs such as Sunday school, a church picnic or Bible study? Or, am I sensitive to the Holy Spirit, continually, seeking to use my time for the purposes of the Kingdom of God. Does my life, at my place of work, serve any purpose to the Jesus?
When I graduated from university with my computer/business degree I felt God gave me a choice. The choice was: serve Him or serve myself. I tried to rationalize several other favorable alternatives to God. First, I promised to make money working for several years and then later in life going out to serve him on my own money so I would not be a burden to others. Secondly, being in computers and business I promised to make a lot more money than “normal people” and I assured God that I would tithe faithfully, and my tithe being so much greater than others, would be a great benefit to God’s work.
God won out and I chose not to tithe my life, but to give it all. Yet, that same choice I made some twenty years ago is the exact decision I have to make every single day. I have to consciously make a daily decision to not simply tithe 10% of my life, time, and possessions, but to give all to Him as a follower of Christ.
Living a life like this, I can honestly say, I have seen God “throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it” (Malachi 3:10).