I was thinking yesterday about giving and the giving pattern I've developed. When I was actively involved in an institution, deciding where to give and how much was easy because I didn't have to decide. The institution told me where to give and how much to give. The first 10% of my paycheck always went to the local storehouse. The "local storehouse" is christianese for the institution where I was a member.
This 10% was always figured based on my gross income, never on my net. Giving to the local storehouse was considered to be the same thing as giving to God. If we used our net income to determine how much we were going to give, that was a sin because we were actually giving the government the first fruits of our income thereby putting them before God. Of course, God is a jealous God and would get back at us by causing us to lose our job or by giving us a cut in pay until we learned our lesson, repented and began to give him all the money that he was entitled to. After all, we are just stewards of our finances so everything belongs to him and not to us. This method of giving is called paying our tithe. It's payment due to God similar to paying our electric bill.
The tithe, however, was only the beginning of our giving. Our church leaders would periodically decide that there were special opportunities for us to give to God. The most common opportunity was to give to a building program. Some churches really made it easy on us, they would even take a used car or another item of value as a donation. They could then sell this donation and use that money for their special project. We were excited because we knew that we had pleased God with our giving. The only problem is that his pleasure is short lived so we had better make sure our tithe is up to date or he may whack us.
This all sounds right until we come into this message of God's grace. Then, we begin to learn the truth about what giving to God really means. As difficult as it is to believe, we know it's true because it connects with what has been in our heart all along. The first thing Father began to reveal to me was the truth about tithing.
Tithing is an Old Testament concept and is definitely scriptural. The problem is that nowhere in the Bible are New Testament believers told that we are required to tithe. The only reference to tithing is in the letter to the Hebrews. The purpose of that letter is to prove that the New Covenant we live under is a better covenant with better promises. In it, there's a very short reference to tithing used to explain that the priesthood under the New Covenant is better than the priesthood under the Old Covenant. It was not meant to instruct us to pay our tithes. Nowhere else in all of the New Testament letters is tithing mentioned. Surely if it is as important as we are led to believe, it would be a common topic.
In these New Testament days, we have the life of God in us. That was not true before the coming of Christ. The law, which includes instructions about tithing, was put into effect to bring us to Christ. Now that we're in him, our relationship to the law is ended. That includes the law of the tithe. We're no longer required to tithe and we're not robbing God if we don't.
The biggest danger I see with this false teaching is that it robs us of relationship. When I was tithing, I just plunked the money in the offering plate and didn't even think about it. After all, the tithe belonged to God and I didn't want to rob him of what was his. The result is that this produces Christians who have no concept of what it means to give since it becomes a trained behavior.
As we venture out of the system, things change. Now, there is no storehouse where we can put our tithe. Now, we have to decide for ourselves about where to give and how much to give and we find that we don't know. Like all of the institutional practices, the tradition of tithing has robbed us of our ability to hear from God. With no one to tell us where to give and how much to give, we don't know what to do so our giving pretty much stops.
This time of transition was the most difficult for me. During this period, which by the way I'm still in, I stopped doing most of what I was doing before and that included going into my prayer closet and Bible reading as well as tithing. When a pendulum is swinging, it goes from one side to another before it finds its mid spot and stops swinging.
That's true for us too as we learn how to live this life free of the religious constraints of the tithe. Our giving will slow down considerably and may even stop. In time, however, as we re-connect with our hearts we'll learn what it means to be a cheerful giver.
In 2 Corinthians 9:7 Paul says, "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."
When I was bound by the law of the tithe, my giving was far from cheerful. I gave reluctantly because I was giving under compulsion. Now, as a free believer, I'm learning to re-connect with my heart and, when I give it's with enthusiasm because I'm following what's in my heart instead of giving because this is what I'm told to do.
Malachi 3 has been used to blackmail God's people into giving. I want to encourage anyone who is struggling with guilt because of this false teaching to understand that our Father loves you and does not require you to pay him for his love. It's a free gift because you're his child. Learn to re-connect with your heart and give however your heart leads and you'll discover the joys of being a cheerful giver.
(If you would like to know more about this topic, I recommend reading "Tithing: Low-Realm, Obsolete and Defunct" by Matthew E. Narramore.)