I have long maintained that generosity is one of the great antidotes to greed, is a remedy for consumerism, and is a key to fulfilling the Great Commission. To go for the jugular, I have furthered insisted that tithing as it is preached and practiced in the American church can be one of the great enemies of the spread of the Gospel. Thus, I have held the position that too much preaching on tithing and too little teaching on generosity has produced a stingy church that focuses too much on percentages and obligation and too little on liberty, grace, and the joyful release of Kingdom resources.
Wow! I sense the hackles rising up on the necks of my readers with that opening salvo! Before I get a return barrage of objections, permit me to expand a little on my perspective –
Recently a friend of mine on a church staff e-mailed me with a question that set me to thinking. He asked: “Do I tithe to the church of which I am under the employ? It seems circular and not really helpful. If I did that, it seems like I should just tell them to cut my pay 10%. I’m thinking I should give to other places. Thoughts?”
Now I thought that was a great open door for me to jump in feet first – his line of reasoning gave me the opportunity to try to challenge his thinking a little – and those who know me know I don’t like to miss that kind of opportunity.
Here is my opening thought: “Not to split hairs, but first of all, I don’t teach tithing, nor do I believe it is relevant to giving. I think tithing distracts us from the NT model of generosity. II Corinthians 8-9 and the churches at Macedonia set the standard for giving that pleases God. Tithing can easily get us focused on percentages and obligation, whereas generosity frees us up to be glad, joyful, liberated, free with
My point? (No, I don’t have time here to discuss the often-misunderstood role of tithing in the OT. Nor do I have space to talk about how the overall concept of “giving-as-tithing” in the OT is rarely as low as 10%.) Paul wrote extensively on stewardship and giving and never once recommended tithing to his audience. Not only that, but in the most extensive discussion of financial giving in the NT (II Cor. 8-9), Paul’s unbridled enthusiasm for generosity as an expression of grace is palpable. The situation Paul was responding to in II Corinthians would have been a fabulous opportunity for him to speak on tithing, and yet he circumspectly never commands or even suggests the tithe.
I went on to comment: “So, the real question to me is: Where, with whom, and how much do I want to be generous? Asking this question frees you to think creatively, to be sensitive to the Lord. It may very well lead you to go well beyond the 10% of tithing as you develop sensitivity to God’s voice and are freed up financially and find generosity to be fun. That may very well get you thinking of how much you want to give to your church AND how much you want to disburse elsewhere as a good steward. Or, the real question could be: Do I want to be generous with my church under which I am employed? And don’t confuse the two. Your church is responsible for paying you – you are responsible for being generous. Those are two separate issues.”
To his concern that it might be “circular” as he gives to his church while his church pays him, I had this thought: “Interestingly enough, I have a parallel situation – there are some missionaries whom Kathy and I supported for years who chose to support us when we decided to raise support. Like you giving to your church, it seems circular, but it isn’t. Each party is being generous and God is pleased.”
Finally, my closing thought for my young friend: “The old saying may seem trite – ‘You can’t out-give God…’ – but there is a deep truth there. It can be exhilarating to be freed up to give beyond the norm, beyond the 10%, liberated from our finances to give with joy from the heart without double-checking to see how the percentage is working out. And to watch how our Generous God takes care of us. Frankly, I think the church is in need of serous teaching on the topic of happy, liberated, bighearted munificence as a statement of our gratitude to God for His largesse to us. Only then we can discover the freedom of deliverance
from what often is really the bondage of tithing.”
A final note those who have made it this far – I do have great respect for those who believe tithing is for today, even as I reject that approach. If you believe in or teach tithing, I want you to know that I am not trying to disparage your position as much as I want to inspire a vision among Jesus’ followers that frees us from captivity to selfishness, greed, percentages, and consumerism, delivering us into the glorious liberty of gladly relinquishing our grip on everything so that we might give ourselves fully to God’s mission.
—- Dave Shive