I learned about tithing when I was 11 years old—when I had my first paper route in the Pittsburgh suburbs. My parents talked about tithing freely and naturally as a part of dinner table conversation. I also learned how deeply passionate my parents were about this spiritual discipline.
And spiritual discipline is what tithing is! Much like prayer or devotional practices or regular worship or even fasting, tithing is a spiritual matter. And yet many churches fail to acknowledge or talk about tithing as an integral part of the faith journey. Many churches seem to believe that tithing is an antiquated, outmoded, and irrelevant rule for Christian living.
Tithing is not a means of raising more money for the local church. Tithing is not “fundraising.” Tithing is not a religious rule or divine fiat. Tithing is not a road to sainthood or the equivalent of spiritual superiority. Tithing is a believer’s response to the astounding grace of a loving God.
In the Old Testament, giving 10% was a prescription for healthy living. Beyond legalism, tithing placed God as a higher priority in life. For the faithful Hebrew community, tithing was one part of a total giving plan.
Jesus assumed tithing. Jesus ratcheted up the definition of a faithful life. All of life belongs to God. Jesus simply said, “If money gets in the way of being true to God, get rid of it.” This may be the most important piece of the story of his encounter with a rich young man (Luke 18:18ff). Jesus is not saying that every Christian must give up all possessions and follow him.” Rather, he says, “Keep your life simple. Don’t let anything get in the way.” Note that Zaccheus did not give up everything in his encounter with Jesus. He kept half! (Luke 19:8) He downsized to be more obedient and live more faithfully.
The consistent spiritual goal of money in the Christian life is a tithe –10%. For many, tithing is a growth goal—learning over time to grow toward a full tithe. For a few who have the spiritual gift of giving, 10% may be an insufficient goal. I have known several such people in my ministry.
Tithing is a significant way to invest in Kingdom purposes. Tithing gives you the opportunity to be generous.
My undergraduate degree is in mathematics. But I did not learn about tithing in a math class. It is not calculus or trigonometry or differential equations. Rather it is a lesson learned in a faith-based environment, a fully engaged local church, and a life lesson by experience. In trying to follow Jesus, I have simply learned that I can live better and more fully on 90% of my income that on 100%.