This week, my goal was to investigate the following: (1) How should Christ Followers use their money? (2) Is tithing still practical? (3) And if it still is, how should we go about it? (4) Lastly, I have been hearing about a graduated tithe - what is it?
I wouldn't be the first one to write that the Bible has some options about people and their money. Most people probably think of only the ones about money being a dangerous snare or a sin if improperly used. And, I will admit that I'll have a few of them on there, but there are some other ones that shouldn't be overlooked either. In fact, money and our finances can be a powerful tool for the Kingdom of God as long as we don't turn obsessed or enamored over it. When we fail to be good stewards with our money, that is when we become susceptible to other dangers, such as selfishness, pride (fame), and becoming power-hungry. We see an example like this in the disciples ministry: to avoid this creeping temptation, Jesus sends out his disciples with no money, among other things. Although this is extreme, I think the lesson that was being taught to the disciples, that we also can learn, is a dependence on God. (For a supplemental tangent about dependence, click here for a poorly written personal experience with a good message.) By far, it is better for us to learn a healthy dependence on God, than to try to make everything happen by our own - and ultimately inadequate - power. And a healthy dependence on God is not sitting in idleness, but to continually putting effort into our school-work, career, job search and monetary gain, but then surrendering the power of choice into the hands of God, who directs towards our true needs as well as godliness. If we're holding our end of the deal though trust and intelligent spending, then God will not lead us astray.
I looked quite a bit for verses on spending money in my Bible and also on the Internet. Most of the instances that I found I was dissatisfied with because I felt they were using the verse too much out of context. However, I found some edification in Isaiah 55:1-2 and Luke 15:13-14, which are contrasting (not contradicting) passages. The Isaiah verses explains the irrelevance (and emptiness) of money when it's not being used for purchasing bread. The word bread here I think is important because it's a basic food staple - he didn't use any fancy, high-priced food. This is to reiterate the point that money gained should be used for only our most basic of needs and nothing more. If this is true, what does that have to say about the typical American Christ-Follower (or American in general)? If nothing else, it should remind us that we need to prohibit our unnecessary and extraordinary spending on our toys and entertainment. Personally, when in "need" (I don't know if I've ever been in need), I try to always purchase what I can used (if possible) or at the cheapest unit price withing purchasing anything extra to preserve my finances for the Lord's purpose. However, please don't view me as a saint. As I write these words, I must confess that I have regrets about my impulsive buys. For whatever reason I used to justify the purpose back then, I look at it in disapproval today. To strengthen this point, we look at what happened to the lost son in the Gospel of Luke. The son who left spent all his money and inheritance on all what the earth has too offer - "wild living" the text says. Before long, he is in need and begging. Most likely, he spent most of his money on prostitutes. Prayerfully, Christ Followers are not spending money on prostitutes but we should consider on what we lavishing spending our money. Clothes? Shoes? Excess food? Entertainment? How much do you think we spend in excess? Can you think of any causes that might be a better use of that money? These are questions we must be asking ourselves on a regular basis.
Lastly, my investigation about tithing. The very first tithe dates back to the days of Abraham. Upon encountering a priest of the Most High God, Abraham honors him by giving a tenth of all he owns - forever to be known as a tithe. Moving forward, the tithe becomes a practice to support the tribe of Levi (the priestly tribe of Israel dedicated to serving the Lord and His people - the modern equivalent of priests and pastors), the homeless, the orphan and the widows. And this practices continues throughout the Old Testament of the Bible, including livestock and crops, as well as money. However, in the New Testament, some people would claim that the tithe disappears since the Levites no longer exist. In the strictness, legalistic sense, it's true. However, check this out: 1 Corinthians 16:2. If you didn't click the link, it says this: On the first day of every week, set aside a part of your finances in keeping with your income saving it up for the collections. So the tithe meaning 10% is dead, but Christ-Followers are clearly encouraged to set aside a percentage of your income for the purposes of God. Maybe you can give only 3%, maybe15%, or maybe even more than that. Keep these next two passages in mind though before you commit yourself. In Mark 12:41-44 a widow deposits two copper coins - a contribution of pennies in the modern day - yet Jesus proclaims that this woman has put more in than any of those around her, who have clearly put more in regarding value. Why is this woman so highly regarded? 2 Corinthians 8:10-12 has our answer. "If the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have." If a billionaire donates a million and the family living in poverty gives $1000, then God see the contribution of those in poverty a greater gift. Basically, it's all about percentages - but remember it's not a competition between others - it's between God and the giver.
But let's talk practicality. At this point in my life, if I were to give 10% or even 5% of my untaxed income, I would without heat, without food or without shelter. Surely, God cares about us and doesn't want us without them when they are necessary. So where does that leave me in giving? Enter the graduated tithe, which is also our featured outside source of the week. (Moneyhelpforchristians.com) Here's how it works. First thing is that you have to be making enough money currently to pay off all the bills. Afterwards, you determine a percent of income you want to give - the site recommends 10% (a tithe), but mentions that it may not be possible and that the percentage can increase later. When a pay increase comes along, you dedicate a certain amount of the raise to use in your tithe in addition to the previous giving? With each raise, you increase the percentage as well. Since you were originally living in your means to begin with, this shouldn't put you in any danger of failing to meet the bills. To keep practicality, adjust the amounts when necessary expenses increase (for example, children or job loss). Did I lose you? Don't worry about it, the site also has a downloadable excel spreadsheet that's easy to follow. Download it here too.
Now don't get me wrong I think the graduated tithe is a great idea but maybe it's not for everyone. The spirit of tithing can basically be summed up by 2 Corinthians 9:7. Give as much as you can generously, maintaining a happy heart and peace with God.
During my investigation I came across a view different websites that challenged its readers to not just tithe their money, but also their time, effort, talents, gifts or any other resources you have as well. I couldn't agree more. In a skeptic world, Christ-Followers need to put up a contradiction-free front to let those who surround us that we are serious about our faith. If we are faithful money givers, but refuse to give 5 minutes of our time to someone who needs a listening ear, we are not doing God's will, which should be our own. I challenge you as well to give God more than a tithe in everyone you do.