I think most young Christians struggle with the idea of the tithe. We feel a little like God is prying our clutched fingers off our stuff, or like the church is bleeding us for money.
Eventually, we may decide that tithing is a matter of trusting, and ultimately God isn’t taking 10%, but rather letting us keep 90% of what He has given us. Even if the funds come through our labor, He is still the one who gave us a functioning body and a job. We decide that, just as God commanded Israel to tithe so that the Levites (his temple servants) were cared for, so pastors and the likes need cared for so that they can devote themselves fully to God’s people and Word, and that buildings still need repairs, maintenance, and sometimes even expanded.
But even if we get to that point in our surrender to the idea of the tithe, I think this is a shallow understanding.
I am reading through Deuteronomy right now, and in chapters 14 and 15, God seems to spend a lot of time addressing stuff like the tithe, releasing others from debt, caring for the poor… basically money and possessions. I was taken aback by chapter 14. He tells Israel to bring their tithe to His designated place, and if it’s too much to carry, they “shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the Lord your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire- oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household.” (vs. 25-26). I am stunned by a couple of things I never really noticed before.
God isn’t taking anything, He’s inviting us into something. To sharing. To celebrating. The fact that it even mentions buying wine and strong drink as part of the tithe is somewhat amazing. That’s a little outside-the-box isn’t it? I may have just ruffled some legalistic tail feathers by pointing that out. But the truth is, God isn’t anti-alcohol, He’s pro-sobriety. Alcohol is intended to be part of celebration, and in one of Paul’s letters to Timothy, as medicine for stomach ails. He knows better than we do that drunkenness is harmful, and He doesn’t want His kids harming themselves. But alcohol itself can be a lovely gift of enjoyment.
Vs. 26 ends with “And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household.” The tithe isn’t meant to take something from us, but rather to invite us into a greater celebration (like the tithe going to the local church is meant to sustain a really beautiful community of joy and celebration). He has Israel go to a specific place because He is turning the tithing into a party… gathering His people for a celebration (kind-of like when we bring tithes to the church service- the weekly celebration).
But chapter 15 follows up by addressing how we treat money, the poor, others indebtedness to us. I won’t go into all the logistics, but my basic take-away is this: Hold everything with an open hand. Don’t be entitled. Everything we have is a gift, and meant to be shared with joyful generosity. Let God’s blessings in your life (and this doesn’t just apply to finances) freely flow through you and lavishly upon others.
I have noticed, for more than two decades, that when I treat all things like they belong to God, and am more open-hearted and generous with my brothers and sisters, His blessings flow more freely towards me. I ought to be like a rushing river, not a dammed up reservoir. An open hand, not a clenched fist.
I have also noticed that when I stop thinking in possessive terms, I become more joyful in giving, whether it’s to others or to my local church. And it liberates me to celebrate. Because my heart isn’t wrestling with that doggone possessive nature that still wants to cling tightly to this realm.