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Home > Issues > 2013 > Spring > Tithing: Law or a Grace?
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One of the things Jesus never actually said was, "By the way, now that I've introduced grace into the equation, no one needs to worry about tithing anymore."

Tithing is considerably less popular than words like generosity or sharing. Among lay people the most common question associated with tithing is: "Am I supposed to base it on net income or gross?" Among pastors the question is: "Isn't tithing an Old Testament concept? Aren't we under grace now?"

This question more or less assumes that it was only post-Pentecost that the church discovered that God is the owner and that people are stewards. It implies that legalistic old Israel thought all they had to do was check the "I tithed" box and then got to spend the rest however they wanted (ignoring biblical statements like "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof").

Worse—a certain looseness of thought about grace sometimes becomes a rationale for not giving at all. A friend of mine made the case: "If my kids are really the Lord's, then I can count the money I spend on their food and clothing and college tuition as falling into the 'good steward' category. If I use my home for hospitality and hosting small group, then the same goes for furniture acquisition and home makeovers. I use my computer for Bible study and my phone to store worship songs, so those items are stewardologically deductible." This type of "all-grace giving" where we give "everything" to God looks suspiciously similar to giving nothing to God.

What if tithing is actually one of God's great gifts to us? What if tithing isn't opposed to grace, but is actually a vehicle of it? I'd like to go back to one of the classic statements about the tithe in Scripture, and look at why tithing is in fact God's great tool to create generous people.

Spiritual training wheels

Tithing is like training wheels when it comes to giving. It's intended to help you get started, but not recommended for the Tour de France.

How do you know when to take training wheels off? The quick answer is: when they're slowing you down. How do you know when its time to stop tithing? For all of us not living in dire poverty, the answer is when you're giving way more than 10 percent. Tithing is a bad ceiling but an excellent floor.

The prophet Malachi famously spoke of failure to tithe as a kind of robbery of the divine. "'You are robbing me. 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 flood gates of heaven and pour out so much blessing there will not be room enough to store it.'"

God invites human beings into an experiment. He challenges people to test it. At the same time, failure to tithe is called robbery. Tithing is not the last word in generosity; it's the ...

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John Ortberg is editor at large of Leadership Journal and pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California.

Related Topics:BudgetFinancesGivingResourcesTithing
From Issue:Money, Spring 2013 | Posted: April 15, 2013

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Displaying 1–2 of 2 comments

Alison P. Martinez

June 27, 2013  4:47pm

Old Testament Jews tithed the increase: lambs born, barley harvested, etc. They did not tithe the whole flock or acreage. Jews of Jesus' time struggled to pay tithes, special offerings and Empire taxes in part because, like many working people today, their not all their so-called income was increase. Part of their income substituted for the use value of assets, being paid out as rent or debt service. Many Jews of Jesus' time were in a state of "sin" simply because they could not pay all that the temple assessed. Jesus' ministry was first for the excluded sheep of Israel. His righteous anger flamed at those who labeled it a sin to be poor. I know a single mother who is sending her son to Christian preschool while working as an operating room technician and paying back student loans. She lives with her parents; only when he goes to public school will she be able to afford her own apartment. She is tortured by guilt that she can't tithe. What would Jesus say?

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Rev. Mathew Allen

June 04, 2013  12:34pm

Well said, well thought out. We have a better covenant, so we do more, and where the old covenant began is where we start... and build on from there. Teaching tithing is necessary and needs to be done from the relationship we have with our Father, His Son, His Spirit and His Church which is Christ's Body and Bride. We are blessed to be a blessing. It starts by getting relationships right... everything flows from there. Amen.

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