Friday, June 18, 2010

2 Corinthians 8-9: To Tithe or Not to Tithe OR Generosity

When we talk about giving, especially giving to a church, we generally talk about tithing, or giving one-tenth of our income. I've heard and read the arguments FOR tithing (Abraham, Melchizedek, Malachi 3) and I've read the arguments AGAINST tithing (Old Testament law is passed away, we live by grace). If I had to, I could support either position using Scripture. Yes, that's what they teach us in rhetoric classes.

Regardless, my favorite discussion on this topic is found in An Unstoppable Force: Daring to Become the Church God Had in Mind, by Erwin McManus:

I was sitting on the hearth of the fireplace with an individual who was considering becoming part of Mosaic. He turned to me and asked if Mosaic was a law church or grace church.
It was pretty obvious to me that he was setting a trap, so I thought I would go ahead and jump in. I said, “Well, of course we’re a grace church.”

“I thought so,” he replied. “I was concerned that you were one of those law churches that told people they had to tithe.”

“Oh, no,” I said. We’re a grace church.

The law says, ‘Do not murder.’ Grace says you don’t even have to have hatred in your heart; you can love your enemy.
The law says, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ but grace says you don’t even have to have lust in your heart for another woman.
The laws says, ‘Give 10 percent,’ but grace always takes us beyond the law. You can give 20, 30, or 40 percent. We would never stop you from living by grace.”

He looked at me and said, “Oh” – a profoundly theological response.

For the record, Duane and I have chosen to tithe and then give more as God leads and God enables. The traditional tithe gives us a guideline, and we find guidelines are useful and keep us accountable.

Nevertheless, Paul doesn't really address tithing/not tithing. He speaks to the topic of generosity and commends the Macedonian churches, who "gave as much as they were able and even beyond their ability" despite extreme poverty. This isn't about dollar amount, or whatever they gave in first-century Roman Empire. It's about heart.

He urges the Corinthians to participate in the grace of giving. He writes, ". . . just as you excel in everything, in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us, see that you also excel in this grace of giving." (8:7)

Paul emphasizes that giving is not a command; rather, it's an outward sign of what's in the heart.

Years ago, before coming to Newbreak, Duane and I were very sporadic in our giving. The guideline of tithing seemed like a good idea, but honestly, we didn't have enough money to live on and we didn't think God wanted us to go hungry. When we began giving regularly, it was an act of faith and a sign of trust. By giving, we were acknowledging that everything we had belonged to God, that we believed he would take care of us. And he did.

Giving in this passage isn't really about tithing; it's about generosity, giving out of a desire to see God's kingdom grow.

We counted on the promises found in 2 Corinthians 9, where Paul writes, "And God is able to make all grace abound to you so that in all things at all times, having all you need, you will abound in every good work." (verse 8)

I've heard pastors on television (not at Newbreak!) promise that God will reward us generously when we give generously (to their ministries), that if we give hundreds of dollars, God will reward us with thousands. They base that on 2 Corinthians 9:6, which says, "Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously."

I struggle with this type of prosperity preaching, mostly because it urges giving for a monetary return. And because I see the preachers get rich while poor people struggle. And it doesn't focus on giving out of desire to see the kingdom of God grow.

This I know. God has taken care of us when it didn't make sense, and he has always met our needs. Sometimes at the very last minute. Pastor Mike calls it "God math."

I wish I had more time to delve into this incredibly difficult topic. Nevertheless, I want to close with by quoting Paul. Rather than focusing on a distinct amount, Paul says, "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."

Every one of us needs to take our concerns about giving (and tithing) and give them to God. Talk to him about them. And then listen to God's leading in this very important area of our lives.

1 comment:

EnnisP said...

I am a tither and I encourage others to make tithing a part of their financial management principles but I avoid the legalistic, condemning approach which you have done here. The spirit you have expressed should be true of people from both sides of this issue. Thanks for posting.