I’m not sure I’ve ever been so overwhelmed with thoughts before sitting down to write you a letter. I feel like I need to give so much context to my thoughts – my full understanding of stewardship, my idea of what it truly means that God owns it all, even my personal hermeneutics in reading the Bible. But we don’t really have time for all of that, so I’ll fill in the gaps as needed.
What I want to address is the difference, a potentially HUGE difference, between an understanding of “giving” versus “tithing.” My good friend Daniel brought this up concerning a previous letter I wrote to you. Specifically, he said:
In one of your replies above, you wrote, “…giving to God is inclusive of anything he’s using to redeem the world around us (including us), of which the Church is a big part of. A distinction between give/tithe is intentionally used in this instance.”
I would be very interested in more of your thoughts on this (perhaps another post sometime?). I find “giving” much easier and more fulfilling than “tithing.” I definitely give more to non-church charities than I do to my church itself.
Also, where does “Christianly” consuming fit in to this? I try to use ALL my money in economically just ways. That’s why (for instance) I don’t shop at Wal-Mart, and support local businesses as much as I can. It’s more expensive to buy things that weren’t made in sweatshops, or have less impact on the environment. But I know plenty of people who save money at Wal-Mart and then can afford larger gifts to the church. Is one more pleasing to God than the other?
Phew… the overwhelming factor hit me again.
Daniel packs a lot into this. As always, I want to try to simplify and examine. First, I think we have to actually take a step back and look at the bigger picture. As a Christian, I believe that God owns everything. Every. Thing. My checking account. My Jeep. My student loan. My wrist watch. It’s all His – I’m just being a steward of it. And when I say steward, I mean I’m just taking care of it from a temporary standpoint … figuring out how to best use someone else’s “stuff” the way that I best think they’d prefer it to be used. This is really where any concept of “stewardship” needs to grow its roots in.
So, instead of asking “How much money should I give to God? 10%? 15%?” we need to say “God, 100% is yours. What do you want me to do with it?” There’s no right answer to this question – it’s completely unique to each individual and family.
Now, let’s look at what a “tithe” is. Without getting too in depth and bringing up all of the verses (I’ll just refer to the website of another good friend and fellow financial planner – Paul) my basic understanding is as follows. In the Old Testament, where we were under the Law, we were required to tithe (give 10%) (and then tithe on the remaining amount, and then tithe every 3 years on top of that). Had to. No questions asked. It was, literally, the Law. Fast forward to the New Testament. Jesus Christ, the savior whispered about in every Old Testament passage, comes and dies for us so that we no longer are enslaved to the Law. We are free. We’re no longer required to offer blood sacrifices to cleanse us from our sins – Jesus did that. All of the laws, the codes, the interpretations, the sacrifices required … they’re all fulfilled because Jesus died for us. This is the gospel, in its simplicity: grace. Undeserved, unmerited grace.
Stick with me, Jack. So now that we’re not required to follow the Law, does that mean that we’re free to sin and to live as we please? Paul (the apostle Paul, not financial planner Paul) says in Romans 6 “No way! Are you nuts? In fact, if anything, if we understand the gospel fully, we should be all the more inspired to live holy lives.” (Loose, very loose, paraphrase). Jesus even took the Law in several places up to a new level (Think Matthew 5.21-48). So, what on earth does this have to do with giving?
We’re no longer required to tithe – but instead are urged to do even more, because we know first hand the generosity that Jesus had on the cross. That is why giving is so much better of a word, and one that I wish the Church would be using exclusively instead of interchangeably with tithe. A tithe, a literal 10%, is archaic. It’s Old Testament. It’s Law-bound. Is it a sin to give 10%? No, not at all. I’d say it’s just as biblical as giving 3% or 50%. The number isn’t important. The motivation and generosity portion of it is.
Getting back to Daniel’s question, I loosely defined giving as “inclusive of anything [God]’s using to redeem the world around us (including us).” I think this is a fair definition of the word – but it’s as good as I can think of right now. Now we need to link some of my thoughts together: God owns everything, we are stewards of all these “things”, we’re not required to give any fixed amount, and we should be as generous as Jesus. What does that leave us with? A lot of freedom, and a lot of responsibility.
I think that we should be generously giving to causes that we feel God is using the redeem the world around us. If you sense God redeeming the world through your local church that you worship with, give freely to that. If you sense God redeeming the world through fine charities like HOPE International, donate freely to that. If you find God redeeming the world through local business owners, purchase freely through them.
Personally, I believe whole heartedly in the leadership at our own local church, and we give a majority of our giving percentage to that. But I also believe strongly in HOPE, Compassion International, and having designated fellowship money to invite neighbors, friends, and family over for meals. Is setting $50 a month aside so that we have enough to invite our neighbors over for dinner found in the Bible? Maybe, maybe not. I certainly won’t be able to write it off as a tax deduction. But that’s missing the point. The point is individualized generosity. That’s the example that Jesus gave us in the Bible, and that’s the example that we should be setting in our giving.
I’ve written enough – and my head is spinning, so I’m sure yours is as well. My take away is this, Jack: be generous. You’re not bound by the Law anymore. Be a good steward of what God’s entrusted to you – and give as you feel He is directing. Till next time, Jack.