Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Tithing: Replaced by Grace?

So I was talking with Jim about what he teaches concerning giving. And we got talking about how he has taught in the past, and how he might teach in the future.

He told me how his dad had pretty much required of him, from when he was very little, to tithe.

"I told my dad one day when I was getting $10 a week in allowance"--I forget exactly what Jim said he told his dad, but it was along the lines of--"One dollar out of ten dollars is really hard! Now, if I wait until I get a hundred dollars, then it will be much easier to give ten dollars!"

Except . . . Except, the world doesn't work like that.

Jesus said, "He who is faithful in a very little will be faithful, also, in much" (Luke 16:10). It doesn't seem to work the other way around. Few, if any of us start with great and big things and learn to be faithful there so that we can turn around and apply our good stewardship practices to little things as well.

No. We begin our training when we are children, with very little. And then, by God's grace, we are able to apply the lessons we learned when we were small to the bigger things in life.


I remember talking with my first boss on my first job outside of college. He was a self-professed practicing/devout Christian.

Somehow, it came out that Sarita and I tithed on our income. And not on the net, but on the gross. ("After all, God says he is a great king--the great King. And kings and governments don't take taxes based on what's 'left over.' They take it off the top. They get 'the first-fruits.' . . . " --For more on this particular subject, you may want to look at Malachi 1 where God complains about his people: "'Try offering [your (lousy, pitiful, meager) offerings] to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?' says the LORD Almighty. . . . 'When you bring injured, crippled or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?' says the LORD. 'Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,' says the LORD Almighty, 'and my name is to be feared among the nations'" (Malachi 1:8, 13-14).)

So I was telling my boss these things.

He expressed amazement.

"Why don't you wait to tithe until you've got a little money?!?" he asked. (He knew how poor we were. After all, he was my boss! ;-) )

He told me he had determined to become a millionaire by the time he was 39. "Then I'll be able to give some really decent money. But until then, I figure God will let me save it up so I can give him more. . . . "

"Right," I thought sarcastically.

It is only through the little acts of faithfulness, with the small things, that one is going to be capable of engaging in the major acts of faithfulness required with the big things.

Faithfulness, I believe, is a habit. And habits are formed when we are young. Or, should I say, now. They're formed now and not later. Or, as it has been said: The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The next best time is today.

If you want to become faithful, now is the time. If you want to be prepared for the right response should you ever be called upon to give your life for the sake of a greater good: you will be prepared for that right response by sacrificing the little things today. . . .

Why should giving $10 out of $100 be easier than giving $1 out of $10? Or $100,000 out of a million? If you haven't established--through practice--the habit of mind, it's not going to happen. Period. But when you establish the habit early and with little things, the habit of giving becomes engrained and, I can confess, it does, indeed, become a whole lot easier.

I mentioned a friend who said she believes tithing is "an Old Testament law that was replaced by grace."

I've heard that perspective before. And I find it interesting.

"Replaced by grace"? What does that mean?

In one sense, I would say, I think she is correct. It has been replaced by grace. It was "replaced by grace" in the Old Testament as well: at least once, that I can remember. Exodus 36:3-7:

[The workmen] received from Moses all the offerings the Israelites had brought to carry out the work of constructing the sanctuary. And the people continued to bring freewill offerings morning after morning. So all the skilled craftsmen who were doing all the work on the sanctuary left their work and said to Moses, "The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the LORD commanded to be done."

Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: "No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary." And so the people were restrained from bringing more, because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work.

But otherwise, what does that mean that the tithe has been replaced by grace? That we ought to feel no compunction to give a minimal 10% of our income for God's work--whether more "spiritually" oriented or of a more "secular" nature?

I look around--Lord! May I not become judgmental!--and I see people--fathers, mothers, heads of households--placing a dollar in the offering plate. Or a five dollar bill. Maybe even a twenty. Wow! They are so "generous"! --Sarcastic again. (Lord, have mercy.)

Would they expect to go to a movie for a dollar? For five dollars? For a family?

Would they expect to get into a basketball game? A football game? For $20?

Oh! I guess church isn't entertaining. And why should we pay for anything that doesn't give us pleasure? After all, isn't life about us, us, us ("me, me, me!")?!?

Or is it?

Or why do we give?

Or why should we give?

"Grace," indeed, that a person would have no idea why s/he should give, why s/he should have any concern about anything besides him- or herself!

We have so much "grace," apparently, that we have no idea what it means to give.

Is it grace, on God's part, to permit us to be miserly? Is that what "replaced by grace" means: "Graced to be miserly"? "Graced to be self-centered"?

I wonder, instead, if the grace we are to experience begins with the minimal discipline, when we are children, when we are being tutored toward maturity (I think of God's people in the Old Testament, Galatians 3:24): I wonder if the grace we are to experience sets the tithe as the minimum we should think of giving . . . because we have been graciously afforded the opportunity and ability to do and give so much more.
blog comments powered by Disqus