Receiving and Giving – Part 3

Peter Eng

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Summary on why we tithe

The reasons we tithe are rooted in Abraham, the father of our faith. He tithed and all Israel tithed. We who are the true Israel of God, the spiritual sons of Abraham, and we receive even greater blessings than the sons of Abraham after the flesh. We can therefore do no less than to worship God with our tithe. This worship is a confession that God is sovereign in our life.

Next we see the tithe as an expression of gratitude to God. Abraham tithed his spoils; Jacob vowed to tithe all that God will bless him from that time on. Gratitude is the second reason we tithe.

The third reason for the tithe in the OT is the support of the Levites. In fact, in practical terms, the tithe went primarily to support the Levites. In those days, they had no land to farm and the Lord is their inheritance. If the people do not tithe, the Levites starve. If the Levites starve, they will need to provide for themselves and will no longer be in a position to minister to the people spiritually.

The term “tithe” is a good and convenient term to be retained for spiritual Israel. All three reasons for tithing remain true for the Kingdom of God: worship, gratitude, and material blessings for spiritual blessings.

Christians who argue that we are only obligated in freewill offerings are suggesting that the reasons for the tithe are no longer there. Every reason for the tithe remains. If there is no tithe in giving when we function in a developed community of believers, then there is no need for a full-time minister of the Word. The minister of the Word should also serve out of his free-time. The principle in the NT is the same as the old. “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.”The minister of God works and must not be cheated out of his work. The fact that he does it out of love for us does not mean we abuse that love and do not show him our love in return as the Corinthians did to Paul. By contrast, the Philippians understood the principle of receiving and giving, and supplied Paul’s needs.

The tithe may not be commanded in the NT, but that does not make it optional.  At the same time, the duty to tithe does not make it a law.  For instance, Christians are to evangelize. But there is no rule on when we begin to evangelize.  When we finally come to the realization that a wonderful privilege it is to evangelize, we do it. Yet it is only with encouragement and some cajoling that we evangelize. At the same time, it would be wrong to say evangelism is optional. We must not think of our faith in terms of the bare minimum we need for salvation.  We must think in terms of the abundance we receive from God when our faith is exercised fully.  It is not about minimum obligations to keep God from getting angry at us, it is about the maximum appropriation of God’s blessings.

How do we calculate the tithe?

“I’m a business man just starting out in my business. How can I assign 10% of my profits to God’s work? I really don’t see how I can survive that.” One person asks me recently.

The first hindrance to the tithe is the wrong understanding of what constitutes the tithe. We don’t have extensive discussions in the Bible on how to calculate the tithe, but I present the following for your consideration.

Let’s go back in time. The tithe of the produce of the land involved the major crops. The minor crops, like the herb garden, were not tithed. The land itself was not tithed. From this, it is fair to say that we are not called to tithe the business or a tenth of the business income. We are to tithe our personal income. Let’s say you are a business owner and your net business profit is $300,000. You reinvest $200,000 into the business and your personal income is $100,000. Your tithe is based on your personal income of $100,000. This is based on the idea that we are called to tithe the income, in the same way the farmer tithes his harvest and not his land.

Another reason for this thinking is derived from the third reason for the tithe in the OT. The tithe goes towards supporting those called to serve the Lord. The Lord’s servant is paid a 110% of the average income of the tithers if everyone tithes.(That is, eleven tribes tithing towards one.) The reality is that most do not give 10%, and the servant of the Lord usually gets less that 100% of the average income of people he serves. The Lord’s servant lives at the level of the people he serves. So ten working families can theoretically support one full-time person’s income.

The salaried person has an easy job of deciding the tithe because he has a fixed income. Yet, we meet the inevitable question. The first question that arises is, “Do I tithe gross or net?”

My answer is, “It’s up to you.”

I personally practice tithing gross. But the Bible is silent on it, and I have nothing to add. However, I like to suggest that if you look at the principle of 11 working persons supporting 1.  Some will not give 10% but say, 5%. Some do not tithe at all. So will 11 people who are supposed to tithe support 1 person? To further reduce the amount, we tithe net. Our net becomes the gross of God’s servant. On the side of personal consideration, I see the gross and net like before or after tax money.  If I tithe my gross, any money put aside is “after-tithe” money.  I am not expected to commit another tithe from that amount of money. On the other hand, if I tithe my net, any money put aside is “before-tithe) money. When I withdraw that money to spent, I will treat it as something I need to tithe.

Do I tithe my inheritance? The simple answer is “No.” In the OT, the land is handed from parent to child, likewise the home. We are almost certain that was never tithed. The inheritance of land is not an income, but a source of future income. Treat your inheritance like a business asset. There are, however, some people who are blessed with much and wish to expressed their gratitude to God and their commitment to a simple life, and so give a freewill offering from the inheritance. This is a special blessing which only the pure in heart know how to give.

Is the tithe always 10%? My short answer is “Yes.” I hear some people talk about a 5% tithe. The word tithe means 10%. Can we have a 10% that is only a 5%? Would you be happy when your employer cuts your salary by half and still insists he has paid you? Remember that tithe goes towards the support of God’s servant who has blessed you. If you tithe 5%, you have, in principle, cut his salary by half.

Do I have the duty to tithe when I am in debt? There is no simple answer.  First I am assuming it is a desperate debt that you have to pay up, not like a structured long-term mortgage that you pay over time. If it is a mortgage type debt, your duty to tithe remains. If you are in grave danger of financial failure and you have cut out all discretionary spending in your life, I believe you are not under duty to tithe. There are poor people in Israel or in the Israel of God. If they have cut back all discretionary spending and still cannot tithe. I don’t think the tithe applies to them. They are no longer like the famer who gets a good harvest, they are like the gleaners (e.g. Ruth) who are living on very little. But if we are paying a debt and still have money for discretionary purchases then our debt is not reason to stop tithing. Channel the discretionary spending to the Lord’s work as an expression of your commitment to tithe when you have the capacity to do so.

Do I have the duty to tithe my student grant or scholarship? The short answer is “No.” Most grants and scholarships pay tuition, room and board, etc. Under these circumstances you are still a dependent and you are receiving kind rather than cash. As much as you do not tithe for room and board at home, you do not tithe for the room and board you get in a grant or scholarship. However, if the scholarship is a merit scholarship with generous proportions, you should consider it income and tithe accordingly.

How do I direct my tithe? In our complicated society, we are faced with different ministries with different needs. Assuming that we are committed to the tithe, where does it go? We recall the tithe goes to the Levite. The more directly that is done, the less complicated it is.  For instance, if you belong to a small church plant with 10 working people and each give 10%, the minister will have the average income of the congregation (less the amount of net rather gross tithe). If there are 20 working persons and each tithe, and there are church expenses, we can assume that half of our tithe goes to the minister and half to ministries that we consume. Evangelism, new converts, programs and facilities consume our tithe. I am detailing these so we can understand that we consume resources. Our tithe must go to where we consume. There is nothing spiritual to say I give nothing to my own church and give my tithe to the poor people I meet because they need it more. If you come from a big church with excess funds it is acceptable to channel some of your giving to another need. But at no point can you cut off your giving to the place from which you get your spiritual care and feeding.

A really bad case of this is when your own church is small and short of funds to pay your pastor properly, but you still direct your tithes to where you are not getting your spiritual content and where you are consuming. If your church is unable to meet your spiritual needs and you go to different places and you split your tithes, it is acceptable. The point of the tithe in addition to worship and gratitude to God is duty to those who serve us. We must not muzzle the ox that is treading out the grain. Until the duty reciprocity is met, generosity to the poor is irrelevant. It is like telling people who work for you, “I am supposed to pay you so much, but I have decided to give part or most of it to the poor because I think they need it more than you do.” The tithe is not our money to control. God has already assigned it to his servant who serves you.

If God’s servant who serves us is amply supplied and what we consume is amply taken care of, we may direct our tithes to other ministers of God who are in need. There are many of these. The tithe is for what we consume in spiritual benefits. If you consume an expensive church building in your spiritual needs, do not begrudge your tithe to that project.  If we are not convinced there is such a need, we may choose not to participate. But the most basic need we must not lose sight of is the need to supply those who serve us spiritually.

Family in ministry. Some people may have family members in full-time ministry. Do we support them? If they have a need and their ministry is unable to meet that need, the answer is “Yes.” When there is a need, it is proper that our family members be the first recipient of our tithe. But we still cannot freeload on the community that provides us spiritual blessing. They must have something.

Special Giving

The freewill offering is beyond the tithe. If the Lord has blessed us with much and we see a need and like to give to it, it is freewill offering. Unlike the tithe where there is a duty to do so, there is no duty involved in the freewill offering. The emphasis here is that it is beyond the tithe. Anything within the tithe is not freewill offering. Some Christians direct their tithes to pet projects. That is not the best way to give. The essentials must be met before the optional. It is good that we have things we feel passionately about and wish to give to those beyond the tithe.

An example of freewill offering is when a person receives an inheritance and wishes to give part of it away. That is not the tithe, it is freewill offering.

Legacy giving is when people who have received spiritual blessing choose to leave something behind to bless others who come after them. For some it may be a fund for missionaries, or for the education of unsupported pastors’ kids, or unmarried widows of pastors, etc. It is often done in the context of a testamentary Will, though there are people who give while still alive.

In my personal experience, Singapore Christians tend to be better at tithing, and American Christians are better in special giving involving their inheritance. Many feel they have already supplied their children and choose to leave a significant portion to the Lord’s work as a blessing that extends beyond their life.

Conclusion

Money has a special hold on us. In our natural self, we are loathed to part with it. Without Christ, we are all grabbers and takers. We know only to give to our immediate family and any giving is out of our excess. But when we have received the richness of God’s redemption, we learn to give.

I was a wayward child and I believe that the grace of Christ saved me. I was in the “youth at risk” category. If not for the redemptive work of Christ, I may be behind bars today. Whatever hardships I face, whatever disappointments, whatever injustice, whatever failures, God has blessed me more than I deserve. There was a path I did not take. God kept me from that path. There will always be suffering this side of eternity, but I am grateful to God for the blessing of wife, children, home, and health.  We have never experienced hunger from want or the turmoil of war. God has protected us from natural disasters and the violence of wicked people. And when there are accidents, he has spared us so we can speak of his mercy. Where people have been wicked towards me, God has sent unexpected friends to uphold me in my moments of despair. I have done nothing to deserve such a good life. There is every reason for me to bow in worship and present my tithe in grateful acknowledgment of his goodness to me.

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