Friday, April 27, 2012

Generosity Not Just Tithes

For years I've struggled with the idea of tithing. Yeah, I know all about the verses in the Bible about tithing and why and when and whether you tithe on gross or net and all those other things about tithing. Yes, tithing is a critical component of Old Testament theology and practice. Yes, tithing is important for children to understand and it is easy enough for anyone who can move a decimal point to get as to how much they should give back to God. Tithing is for children - not for grown-ups.

I don't like tithing. Never have. Never will. There - I've said it. I don't think tithing should be the basis for adult stewardship education in Christian churches. We're beyond that. Actually, we've been beyond that for about 2,000 years - I'll prove it. Here's my premise - let's stop teaching tithing to adults and really, really teach GENEROSITY.

Tithing is the first step in giving back to God. I think most adults stop at that point and never progress beyond tithing. What Jesus teaches and lives out is much, much more than tithing - it is generosity and that is what God wants and expects from each of us, not just tithing. Too often tithing can end up being a scorecard - yep, done my 10%. God doesn't want just 10%, he wants more; he wants us to step out in faith and dependence on him. While tithing has a place, I don't think it is enough for a mature Christian.

Tithing is mentioned in the New Testament three times.
  • Matthew 23.23 and Luke 11.42: Jesus roundly condemns the Pharisees for being sanctimonious and legalistic, even in their tithing on minutae but forgetting the big picture.
  • Luke 18:12: Jesus mocks a Pharisee who keeps all the commandments, even tithing and fasting, but is less justified before God than a miserable tax collector.
  • Hebrews 7.2-6: Paul tells the story of Abraham's encounter with Melchizidek and the tribute, a tithe, that Abraham gave. Paul is citing history and not writing theology.
Jesus himself didn't have anything good to say about tithing because the Pharisees had made a mockery of it. Like so many other things that the very human Pharisees "legalized" to death, Jesus didn't argue the point but instead came at it from another direction. Jesus emphasized generosity at every turn.
  • He fed 5,000 men (plus women and children) - now that's generous!
  • He brought people back to life and healed people with disablities
  • He taught people like they'd never been taught before
  • He gave of himself till he was exhausted from the crowds
  • He died as the ultimate sacrifice and sign of generosity
In fact, the only instance I can find (based on my memory, mind you) of God being selfish is God's demand that humans not worship anyone else (including money). That's it. All the other words spoken by God relate to his giving nature and generous spirit. God does chastize people for their selfishness and spiritual immaturity but otherwise God is all about giving - from creating Eden (Genesis) to creating heaven (Revelation).

How does this translate to our churches today? Glad you asked!

Teach tithing to children. There are fundamental principles in tithing and of the relationship between what we have (time, talent, and treasure) and how those gifts should be given back to God. By all means, teach tithing to minors. But from middle school age kids up to 120 year olds, tithing takes a back seat to generosity. Big G is now the ruler - nothing trumps generosity. Tithing has the pitfall of becoming a scorecard - generosity has no negative connotations!

Well, how much is generosity? It is giving of all that you have in a way that makes you feel like you are indeed imitating God. Paul commended the Philippians for their eagerness to be generous; he taught the Corinthians the basis of generosity. Even Paul, that legalistic first century Christian, never focused on tithing but always on being generous. Imitate God in giving things away.

Generosity for some is just 1%,  for others it is 50%. For most of us it falls in the 5%-20% of our income. Generosity is not about keeping score of how much you've given away - as if you could ever compete with God, ha! Generosity is about seeing how much you can rely on God by imitating him in giving away anything and every thing you have. Let me challenge you to look at everything you have and ask if you'd be willing to give it away tomorrow if asked for it.

I challenge pastors and educators to start the conversation with tithing but to move quickly to generosity and ask yourself, "Am I being generous? Or stingy?" Stinginess is not a Christian concept - generosity is. And I can assure you that if every Christian lived up to his own definition of "generous" - the world would be utterly amazed. Teach, live, and love generously and generosity - and watch things change!

Lead On!

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