I get technical tithe questions and I want to take a moment and explain to you why I’m not very good at answering them.
Here at MH4C, I like to focus on generous giving, and I think that is best portrayed through something called proportionate giving. I’m not sure I’d say that I’m anti-tithe (some people turn red in the face as soon as they hear that word – I don’t). I certainly have no problem with people who give 10% to the church, yet I don’t feel comfortable with the legal understanding of the tithe.
I’m not sure how detailed and technical God is willing to get with his conditions for giving.
Imagine I wanted to give my wife the best birthday present ever. (If you hear snickers in the background, that is because I’m a horrible gift giver).
Let’s say I decided to ask her what she wanted and she said she wanted a book by a particular author. She gives me a list of the books she has read by that author.
I head out on the hunt, and I realize that there are so many books by that author. There are more than twenty books.
“Could you just tell me which book you want? There are so many choices.” My wife sighs and tells me which of the books she’s most interested in.
I finally decide on the book and then I come to realize there are two cover styles – one with a nature picture and another with a family in a house.
“Honey, could you tell me which cover you would prefer to have?” My wife sighs and tells me to just make a choice.
Getting Bogged Down With the Technical
The reason I have difficulty answering some technical tithe questions is because I think giving is more of a relational activity than a legal one.
What is a Legal Activity & Legal Giving?
If I had a court order not to go visit someone, I would need to ask permission from the judge if I was going to go somewhere that might be a violation of the judge’s decision.
Thus, a legal activity means there are stipulations, boundaries, and conditions.
Most tithing questions come from this perspective.
- Should I tithe from my gross or net income?
- Can I use part of my tithe to help my dad who is sick in the hospital?
- Should I tithe on my business income the same way as my personal income?
- What about an inheritance? Should I tithe on that?
- Should I give all my tithe to the local church?
- Should I tithe if I’m in debt?
Please understand. I’m not trying to judge or condemn anyone who has asked any of these questions. However, I’m simply trying to point out that these questions do tend to lean towards a more legal understanding of giving. They mean you believe the gift will or won’t be acceptable based on number, percentage, or compliance to certain regulations.
We do have biblical principles to help us answer those questions, but perhaps the answer would become more clear if we focused on a more relational form of giving. What people need is help with discernment. Discernment is hard and legal is easy. Legal answers mean that there are no exceptions; you simply do what you’re told. Discernment means there might be times when another approach is appropriate.
As an example, take my answer to the question – should I tithe if I’m in debt?
I don’t approach that question from a legal standpoint. I approach it from the standpoint of spiritual health. I pray that my answer is informed by the question, What honors God, not just the question, What does God require?
What is a Relational Activity & Relational Giving?
Relational giving means you give in response to your relationship.
In the illustration I give about my wife’s gift, I found that my wife would have accepted any gift if she knew that’s what I bought because I really wanted to show my love for her. Part of the gift is the desire to give what’s best.
There’s a story in John 14 where a woman pours perfume on Jesus. There are a lot of technical reasons why that was a bad idea. The disciples, in fact, point out that the money could have been given to the poor.
Perhaps the woman made a technical error (and perhaps she didn’t). However, she was doing something to honor Jesus, and he looks right past her potential oversight and accepts her gift because of the heart that motivated her gift.
As an example, I believe that it is a healthy practice for Christians to give to the local church. However, I don’t give all of my giving money to the local church. While you may or may not understand this, I feel like it would be inappropriate for me to give a full 10% to my local church. My 10% monthly contribution would literally double the church’s monthly contribution. As a result, others would not be challenged to give if the local needs (and more) were always provided. I want to avoid dependence of the church on my gift.
From a legal standpoint, my actions are not excusable. However, from a relational standpoint, my actions (I believe) are justified.
Relational giving recognizes that there are exceptions to every rule. And God can be pleased with those exceptions. Thus, relational givers discern the will of God in the midst of complex situations.
I guess all I’m saying is this: I’m not sure how much God is concerned about all the technicalities of giving. Sometimes (not always) the technicalities show we’re trying to do the minimum to please God. We think his approval of our gift will be based on what we give, not how we give it.
Remember, giving is not an act of justification. We are not justified through our giving. However, giving is an act of the sanctified. We are not saved by good works, but we are saved for good works.
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10 NIV)
We give because HE gave first.