As a Pastor the question is always in my head: what are we missing that God really wants us to see? But the opposite question is probably more urgent: What are we focusing on so much that is distracting us from what God really cares about?
So here are 7 things that I see the Church (in the U.S.) focusing on disproportionately more than the Bible actually discusses. For Part 1, I’m going to tell you why we don’t need to worry so much about tithing. Got your interest? Good.
You would think tithing is the eleventh commandment or is Jesus’ third great commandment after loving God and loving our neighbors. But the truth is that in the Bible the principle of specifically tithing 10% comes down to:
- A shadowy priest/king in Abraham’s time (we’re not even technically sure who gave the tithe, who received it or why),
- Mandates from the Torah that applied to agricultural produce and really served more as a tax (which allows us to introduce Christians’ favorite thing to do with Mosaic law: beat others over the head with laws that serve their purposes and blissfully ignore all the challenging/weird stuff), and
- A total misreading of Jesus’ words to the Pharisees.
That last one deserves some attention because it is the launching point for some Christians to make tithing a New Testament practice.
It boggles my mind that people use this verse to defend tithing, but here goes, Luke 11:42: ““Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.”
See, See, Jesus directly mentions tithing, so there you have it, give our church 10% of all you make.
Wait, but isn’t Jesus telling them that without justice and truly loving God, giving is pointless?
Shhh, don’t read that part. Just give me your money. See? That’s why you need me, to interpret the scriptures for you…
What the Arc of Scripture Actually Emphasizes
- God wants devotion and mercy more than material sacrifice (Hosea 6:6),
- If money has a hold on you, it would be better to give it all to the poor and follow Jesus (Mark 10:21),
- Following Jesus means giving up my whole life, control, decisions, time, material, but is worth it (Matthew 16:24-26)
- 10%? That’s child’s play. If you only give 50% instead of 100% and then lie about it, you might die on the spot (Acts 5:1-11),
- When Abraham apparently gave 10% to Melchizedek, that was a beautiful act of faith, but because we have a perfect priest and king in Jesus, our reward is no longer on the line (Hebrews 7-9)
My Personal Conviction
It would be easy and comfortable enough for me to cast a disapproving glare on Christians for missing the mark so widely on what the Bible so obviously wants us to focus on. But the truth is, on each of these 7 points, I miss the mark terribly in my own practice of faith. So here is my personal conviction.
Giving money is an essential discipline of Christian faith. If we take anything away from Jesus’ teaching, 10% is actually pretty weak. I need to give more. I need to give with joy and empathy. I need to stop giving as a personal barometer of holiness. I need to give in the hopes of directly alleviating injustices that shackle others and the greed that stifles my own spirit. I need to have a giving spirit in every part of my life: how I give my time, how I give my mercy, how I use my talents and skills, how I give my care and concern.
There is no formula for this, there is no set requirement other than giving all I have. There is no quid pro quo, I do this and receive that from God, except that if I give out of love my heart will become like God’s. I suppose that’s what I’m most afraid of, what we’re all most afraid of, is that if we actually do what God says, we will start to see the world the way God sees it, and then we’ll be totally, beautifully ruined.