Earlier in this series, I mentioned the idea of using well all of the capitals we have been given, but it is important to note what I mean by “capitals.” I first learned the stewardship language of capitals from an Anglican priest out of England at an evangelical conference in Tampa, Florida. While I do not remember his name and cannot find any books written on the topic by him or anyone else, I clearly recall him talking about the Five Capitals God has given us. They are 1. Spiritual, 2. Relational, 3. Intellectual, 4. Physical (time/talents), and 5. Financial. While there may be more than five, this concept changed my thinking on stewardship and especially percentage giving forever. In fact, it made the idea of the “Three T’s: Time, Talents, and Treasures” seem like a relatively pedestrian way of considering how we utilize all God has given us. This helps us reflect theologically on how God uses Christian tithing as a prime example of living in His grace and gratitude given to us first and then lived out actively in our lives.
The idea of Christians giving “gifts” or tithes to the Church is scattered throughout the New Testament. While the negative example from Acts 5 has already been addressed, it is associated with a church that was filled with individuals who were selling all they had and giving it away for the benefit of the new community of faith. A notable example of this is the preceding text in Acts 4:32-40 which says:
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him, brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
Interestingly, this giving goes way beyond a meager 10% of the goods and income. It is a heartfelt generosity and response to their thankfulness to Jesus and their love for one another.
Another New Testament teaching on giving which is also helpful is found in 1 Corinthians 16:2: “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income.” Admittedly, we must be careful here. Paul’s instruction of this practice with regard to the offering for the saints in Jerusalem is a collection from Gentiles and is not necessarily a regular church offering. Nevertheless, this passage brings out four important points which characterize the nature and habit of percentage giving. We find balance as we give individually, regularly, methodically, and proportionately.
This, of course, is generally caught rather than taught, which could be problematic for “teaching” percentage giving. This is why there also needs to be a way to bring forward and hear of others who voluntarily tithe and how the practice has been a blessing in their life as they have used it as a joyful response to God’s grace and a loving sacrifice for the needs they see all around them, including the needs of their church. Even if you hate “testimonies,” you cannot deny their persuasive power. That said, while there has been much work done on giving and tithing, much of what we see is very Law oriented. I believe this is a misguided notion and there are much better, more enjoyable, and more God-pleasing ways to be a joyful percentage giver in Jesus Christ.
As an aside, an interesting reality is this: If you cannot live off 80-90% of your income, then you are probably struggling to live off 100% anyway. In other words, if you cannot it means you have bigger financial problems and priority issues you need to address. Generally, it should not require a miracle for someone to get through the month with 10% less in their wallet. If we sit down and look at a budget, people will probably observe how they can make it while giving away at least 10%. That might mean cutting some fun money or working to creatively increase income, but it can be done, especially as we work together to create joyful habits with spouses, children, etc. to get it accomplished. When we compare this to the truths from the verses used earlier and others, we must remember that as we tithe, we do it out of love for our redeeming God, not out of guilt. That said, does motive not matter? Of course! Obedience is first of all an act of obedience to God, regardless of the motive. Like many things, we learn to like what we may do, at least initially, out of less-than-ideal motives. This frequently includes percentage giving for many people.
Ultimately, the matter of giving is always between you and God, and He definitely knows our heart attitude and our circumstances, but it also affects the community of faith and our relationships in tangible ways. While God knows when issues are beyond our power to direct and control, He also knows how extravagantly He has often blessed us. The important thing is to see giving as a joy and privilege and not a burden. It should not be out of a sense of duty, but rather out of love for the Lord’s grace and mercy towards us first and a desire to see His Kingdom advanced. Although percentage giving and/or tithing often starts with duty, we learn through observation and practice, also known as healthy habits, to be relationally obedient and joyfully proactive towards our propensity to have “other gods” as we allow purer motives to continue to grow out of the right practice. It is grace and forgiveness received in Jesus and grace and forgiveness conveyed by His people.
Check out more of this discussion on RINGSIDE PREACHERS PODCAST with Tim Barkett “Sex and Money”: https://radiopublic.com/ringside-preachers-G7q39E/s1!4ce8c