Lessons from our childhood linger throughout our lives. I grew up in the home of a minister who taught church administration at a Baptist seminary. Tithing was an expected part of our family finances. As a child, when I earned money from cutting grass and from my paper route, I was expected to share 10% of that in my offering to the church each Sunday. Tithing was not only taught, but it was lived out by my parents. Every Saturday night my father wrote a check to the church and placed it folded on the top of his dresser so it could not be forgotten the next morning. Wendy had a similar experience as she was growing up. Her parents became Christians when Wendy was a child, and their conversion made a dramatic difference in their household. Each month when the bills were paid, the very first check was always made out to the church. When you learn to tithe your nickels and dimes as a child, it’s a lot easier when you’re dealing with thousands of dollars. In large part for us, tithing is a habit and family tradition. We must admit, there have been times when we have not followed our parents’ consistent example, but that has always been our goal and we strive to fulfill that as the cornerstone of our Christian stewardship.
Tithing is found in Scripture and presented as a model of faithful stewardship. In Leviticus 27 clear instructions are stated that 1/10 of a person’s income is to be offered to the Lord’s work. Abraham gave 1/10 of the wealth from his battles to the priest Melchizedek. Jacob, after awakening from his vision of angels, built an altar and then vowed to give God 1/10 of his possessions. Malachi 3:6-12 speaks very pointedly about tithing. It was written at a time of crisis in the Jewish community and the author complains loudly that the people had turned to a pagan lifestyle and neglected care for the Temple and the priests. What is most interesting is that the crisis was not brought on by a time of desperate poverty, but it was during a time of great prosperity. The specific charge made in Malachi is that the people were robbing God as they were caring for themselves and that put their faith in jeopardy. The situation faced by Malachi is not unlike our own day. We do not suffer from deprivation and want, but from an abundance of possessions. It has been true throughout history, the more wealth we acquire, the less generous we seem to be. The biblical call to stewardship is no cheap commitment, but a call to a sacrificial life of ministry and care for others.
Tithing often seems like an extravagant and unreachable goal that is simply asking too much of us. Another way of looking at tithing is to see it as our generous response to God’s extravagant love. The death of Jesus was an extravagant act. The incarnation, where God comes to us in human form, is an extravagant act. God’s love for each one of us, sinners though we be, is an extravagant act. God’s promise of eternal life is certainly an extravagant act. In light of the extravagance of God’s love, our small gift of a tithe doesn’t seem so extravagant at all. Tithing is a generous response to God’s generous love for us.
Written by Tom Graves
This series is designed to give RRCB members an opportunity to reflect upon their own generosity to God. In reading their stories, we pray that your own life of generosity is encouraged and challenged as well.