Stewardship and the Tithe

The Bible tells us that “the Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein”. This is not only poetry but a fact of the material universe. All matter, space and time belong to Him simply because He is the Creator.

We are His Creatures, along with all of the animals, however we were set apart from them from our beginning. God made humans to “subdue” the Earth and to “have dominion over the fish… birds… and every living thing that moves on the earth”. Our purpose from the beginning is to serve God by ruling His over His Creation and our fellow Creatures. The Earth and all that is in it belong to God (ourselves included), but we have been entrusted with caring for His possession. We are by design God’s stewards and as God’s stewards, we must give an account of our stewardship to Him.

It is with this firmly set in our minds that we begin to think about stewardship of our personal finances.

The Bible affirms that “a worker is worthy of his wages”. The use of our skills, talents and physical labor are genuine contributions that we make to the world and it is right to expect a measure of compensation for them. In the days of Moses, when God entered into a unique relationship with the people of Israel, He required that a tenth of “the increase” of every Israelite be given to God. This tithe was to come from the produce of  their labor. While I know that this ten percent came from their crops  and animals, I think it might have included any cash which made up their “increase”. This 10% was then given to the priests for their use in the performance of their duties before God and for their sustenance. Today, despite the absence of a priesthood and a temple, many Christians believe that God still requires ten percent of their income to be devoted to doing the will of God in the world.  Are they correct?

In the Book of Acts, James tells the church, particularly Paul and Barnabus, that the Gentiles who were turning to God through faith in Jesus should “abstain from the thing polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood”. The giving of tithes was not imposed on Gentile Christians at that time. In fact, at no point in the New Testament, are Christians instructed to give ten percent of their income. However, the apostle Paul does have something to say about giving.

When he wrote to the church in Corinth, Paul praised them for their generosity toward the church in Jerusalem. He explained his reason for sending some “brothers” to them to “arrange in advance for the gift” they had promised to give to the Jerusalem church. His reason was that he wanted their gift to be given willingly, “not as an exaction”. With regard to this specific occasion of giving, Paul says that “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion…” He also goes on to note that the Corinthians’ generous contribution to the needs of the Jerusalem church was directly tied to their “confession of the gospel of Christ” which came from their “submission” (possibly to his apostolic authority or to God Himself).

There is no command here, but certainly there is a principle. That principle may be worded like this: Christians should willingly give of their means to meet the needs of others (particularly other Christians) with the understanding that doing so is an extension of their confession of the gospel.

Some people need more than a principle to guide them on this matter. They want a commandment. Since the Law of Moses gives such a commandment, many Christians are keen to seize upon it, give their ten percent and move on. Personally, I think that setting aside ten percent is a good place to begin when learning the discipline of giving. However, I believe that we should not settle on ten percent without revisiting our giving ever again. As we become more conformed to the likeness of Jesus, we should expect our generosity to increase as well. I think that teaching the tithe as a requirement of God upon Christians today is misguided and prevents many from maturing in their relationship with God.

God, make us more confident in your provision and more generous with what you have provided.

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