First of all, I have to give credit to the snappy title of this post to its creator, Mr. Wes Whitener. It’s a song of his by his band The Sheeps. You should totally check them out. They rock. I’ve been thinking about that song a lot lately. I hope he’s not going to expect any royalties. Cuz I ain’t got ’em.
As you’ll soon realize further into this post.
So, a while back, in this post, I mentioned duplicity. Duplicity is basically another word for deceit; having a different intent than what is being professed or projected. Saying one thing but doing another thing entirely; double-mindedness. It is the opposite of simplicity: Being of one mind and one heart; saying what you mean and doing what you say you’ll do. It seems that I have lived a large portion of my adult life while operating under many duplicitous and double-minded motives; namely, that if you do good things in the name of Jesus, that God will somehow pay you back by the butt load bless you for it.
Yeah, it’s pretty embarrassing when I admit that out loud.
I have to contend, though, that I don’t think I am the only person who thinks this way. In talking to other believers and in examining my own life, when something goes wrong, we tend to get a little huffy with God–as if He owes us because we are, after all, such faithful, tithing church-goers. Maybe it’s human nature. But I also must admit that, on numerous occasions, I have heard tithing preached to me as a sort of dangling carrot. “Do this for God, and I PROMISE you, He will bless you back.” “Give to this campaign, and just wait and see what God will do because of your faithfulness.” Appeals are made to our duplicitous natures. Most often this idea is backed up with this verse from Malachi as a sort of biblical proof that this is a promise that can indeed be counted upon:
‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,’ says the Lord Almighty.–Malachi 3:10-12 (NIV)
Hmmm. Well, let me tell you a little bit about my experience.
I was 21 when I married a wealthy and generous man. Not too bad so far, huh? 🙂 I was young, wide-eyed, and albeit a bit naive. I didn’t possess any complex money managing skills. At the time as a college dropout, I made about $200 a week. I spent exactly however much I made. I paid my bills and my rent on time, and I didn’t really own anything and I didn’t owe anything. I kept things pretty simple. So when I married Ren, who owned his own business, a home, and several shares in the stock market, needless to say I was very impressed and in way over my head.
Well, as the years went by, after the wedding, heading up a ministry that tanked, owning a business that didn’t net a profit for the first few years, after going back to college and finishing my degree, after having four kids, and after purchasing two rental properties that have been sitting vacant for the last two years…the wealth with which we started turned into a deficit. A massive. Suffocating.Deficit. Plain and simple, we weren’t paying attention. All blame and all fingers pointed right back to us. We were foolish. We spent when we should have saved. We jumped when we should have sat still. Mistakes were made.
The irony in all of this, though, is throughout the entire time we were such good tithers! In our minds, I guess we thought all our foolish spending habits were countered by our faithful tithe. I truly believed that if we just kept tithing that God would take care of us and provide everything that we needed. We believed that, as was taught by the verse in Malachi, if we brought our whole tithe to church (which we did faithfully and then some–even when we didn’t necessarily have it to give), we would eventually be so blessed that we would not be able to contain it.
Yet my reasons for tithing were duplicitous, at best. I always felt under compulsion to give, because I saw this as a direct mandate from God. So I reasoned that if I made the sacrifice and chose to obey God, that He had to pay me back. To be quite frank, I think we thought that one day we were going to be rich. That as long as we were giving and serving God, He would one day bless our efforts monetarily and that’s all it took. Pretty sick, isn’t it? It didn’t matter that, in the meantime, we were spending far more than we were making. It didn’t matter that we weren’t keeping a budget. It didn’t matter that we bought pretty much whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted. As long as we were tithing, God would provide, right?
I guess we were caught up in some sort of “prosperity theology.” Of course, we probably wouldn’t have called it that, and I’m fairly certain that we’ve even made fun of this theology in public. And I really don’t even know where we picked this up. I’m wondering, though, if this is a common trap that American evangelicals fall into. We believe that we are God’s chosen people, and since He’s omnipotent and owns everything, and that as long as we’re obedient and faithful to Him, He not only will meet all our needs but will go above and beyond and reward us with prosperity, health, wealth, and a life of leisure. We are, after all, entitled to that aren’t we?
Riiiiiiiiight. You mean like Jesus was?
I have also heard of what some Christians refer to as a “tithe promise.” In other words, say they have an appliance, a car, or a leaky roof that could give out at any moment. Well, they believe that because they are faithful tithers that God is somehow magically keeping it from falling apart for them.
Can we say Christian superstition, anyone?
I will say that God has taken care of us. Because God is kind and loving and generous, not because we have done something to twist His arm into providing for us. We have everything that we need, and we certainly don’t deserve any of it. Every month our bills have been paid. And we’ve even successfully stopped the bleeding, and, by the grace of God, are turning our situation around. However, it hasn’t been without sacrifice. It hasn’t been without pain. It hasn’t been without depending at times on the charity of others, which I can tell you is the most humbling experience in the world. Jesus said that it is better to give than to receive. He wasn’t kidding around on that one. We know from first hand experience we’d much rather be the ones giving than receiving. Because the givers are the ones that have the stuff. The receivers…well, do not.
I have heard preachers say that you can “tithe your way out of debt.” I can barely type that without getting severely sick to my stomach. Let me be frank: You cannot tithe your way out of debt any more than you can eat your way towards weight loss! By the same token, you cannot give your way to financial blessing either.
Let me be clear: If you are giving to get, you won’t, and will probably go broke.
The Bible actually has a lot of sound financial wisdom for us about saving, spending, and giving. It’s amazing to me, though, how these crazy, creepy doctrines worm their way into our psyches and take precedence over the sound advice that the Bible actually has to give. Or maybe these are the messages that desperate preachers feel they have to preach in order to give their offerings a boost. Either way, I think this is what happens when we read every verse of scripture as a mandate–as a prescription–instead of a description. It’s also what happens when we turn off our brains and rely on others to interpret scripture for us, instead of relying on the common sense and the Holy Spirit that the good Lord gave to us.
And we wonder why tithing is such a touchy subject in church. Christians often argue that low offerings reflect a person’s lack of trust in God. I would argue, however, that it’s because they’re getting tired of being lied to and jerked around. The world does that enough through fancy marketing techniques. This practice should NOT be in our churches. Period.
So, where do I stand on tithing now? I think that giving is good and we all should do more of it. However, I don’t believe we’re under any law to do so. Boy, that sure takes the pressure off doesn’t it? It might even actually make it a much more enjoyable thing to do. Do some research on your own about the New Testament and the tithe. People far more educated than me have done countless studies on this stuff, and they all come to the same conclusion. Tithing should not be taught as obligatory under the New Covenant of Christ any more than the prohibition of eating pork or keeping a Saturday Sabbath. In fact, if we have it, than we should give more than just ten percent. And if we don’t have as much to give, than we should give only what we can. I liked what Greg Koukl over at Stand to Reason has to say:
Christians shouldn’t ‘tithe.’ This O.T. legal obligation has been replaced by the New Testament moral obligation to give…and with a smile on your face…Instead of a legal requirement to tithe, we are offered the opportunity to give. One can decide for himself whether he should give five percent, 10 percent, or 15 percent. It’s up to him, according to whatever he has purposed in his own heart as God has prospered him.
The point is to give and give cheerfully. Support those that are feeding you spiritually, because that’s love and gratitude in action. And if you’re not a churchgoer, give to charities you believe in. God doesn’t look at how much but rather how you are giving. In other words, God is more concerned about the heart and the attitude with which you are giving. So much of my giving in the past was done with a “What’s in it for me?” attitude. And when I didn’t get what I thought was coming to me, I would become bitter and resentful. Or I would become fearful of the calamity that was sure to befall someone upon finding out that they weren’t tithing. I always gave but often it was more often “under compulsion” or out of fear of God’s disappointment in me or His withholding of blessings in my life. I wonder now if, during those times, God would have much rather me not give anything at all.
So, I hereby propose a new way of teaching tithing. Instead of approaching it as a biblical mandate, remind people of how much they have been given and how cool and how fun it is to be able to share that with others. Generosity is good. Selfishness isn’t. Be sure to remind people that God is not going to give them any special reward for giving. And likewise, God won’t be disappointed in you if you choose not to give. God’s love for you is not based on how much you’re giving. Don’t use the method of the dangling carrot. Give, as the Bible says, cheerfully and NOT under compulsion. Give because it’s an antidote for selfishness. Give because you want to live a life of generosity. Give and expect nothing in return. Give because it is a privilege to do so. Give because it’s the right thing to do. And it is doing the right things that is most often itself the very reward.
Give because that’s what you would want someone to do for you, if and when you should ever find yourself in desperate need.
Ah, there’s that pesky Golden Rule again!
I’m convinced that anything else is downright manipulative. Duplicitous even. And, call me crazy, I just don’t think that’s the way God wants us to approach anything in this life.