22 June 2010

Moving toward Glad Giving

This article is a follow-up to my previous article on tithing. After some feedback on that article, first published in the April edition of my congregation's newsletter, I decided to step back and try to give a more "Gospel-way" of moving toward the salutary practice of tithing. Yes, tithing can seem like a burdensome law, but it need not. Rather, we can view and approach it as a God-given goal for living the Christian life, trusting God to provide for us and loving our neighbor in need. This article first appeared in the June-July 2010 issue of "The Hope Lutheran."
Back in April I used this column to introduce and teach the topic of tithing—giving 10% of your income to your congregation. God clearly teaches tithing in the Bible, both by example and by challenge. Yes, God actually challenges His people to tithe and see how He will bless! See Malachi 3:8-10. April’s article also ended with this interesting and, I think, inspiring quote from Lutheran pastor John H. C. Fritz: “If the Christians of our day would give ten per cent. of their income,…the treasuries of the churches would always be filled to overflowing, and there would no longer be the proverbial church deficit.” (Pastoral Theology, 259-260)

Now I can almost hear the voice in your head wanting to cry out: “Pastor, that’s all well and good. But we have light and phone bills to pay. We have to buy clothes for the kids and put food on the table. We have to pay the credit card bills, the doctor bills, and the mortgage or rent. We can barely get by and make ends meet as it is! How can we possibly tithe, or give 10 percent of our income?”

Bear with me. April’s article is not the only piece of the puzzle. It certainly was not meant to be a club to make you feel guilty. Not at all! Let’s look at God’s teaching on tithing as the destination (goal) where God wants us to live our life. Yes, God teaches it. Yes, He wants us to learn to give. And, yes, as His redeemed people, we do want to live life as He teaches and grow in His ways. After all, we do trust that our heavenly Father knows what’s best for us.

But we also have to deal with our real life challenges, where we find ourselves right now—budgets stretched as tight as a drum, perhaps debt up to our eyeballs, maybe learning to live with lower family incomes, etc. Real life is where we are now.

So let’s ask ourselves: How can we go from point A to point B? How can we move from where we are now to the destination God has for us in managing our finances? How can we move from our stress-filled financial pictures to the joyous and peaceful goal of living and giving as God teaches? How can we move from money worries to glad giving?

A Matter of Grace
The first thing to remember about the Biblical teaching on tithing is that it is a matter of grace. Yes, God teaches it in the Bible. Yes, I devoted my April article to it. But it’s not intended as a club, or a law, or a guilt trip – in any way.

If you cannot possibly give 10% of your income in the church offering at this time, God is not mad at you, and neither am I. Your salvation does not depend on whether you tithe or not. You are not a better Christian if you do tithe, nor are you a worse Christian if you don’t.

Your heavenly Father loves you, saves you and provides for you completely by His grace and mercy as revealed in His Son Jesus Christ. He does not teach you to tithe in order to burden you. Not at all! Remember St. Paul’s words: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Now that’s grace.

Also take a look at Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25-34. There our Lord Jesus exhorts you not to be anxious – not to worry – about your physical needs. God knows that you need food, drink, clothing, shoes and other bodily and daily needs. And God graciously provides for them purely out of His grace and goodness—because He already loves you.

So let’s always remember that tithing is a matter of God’s grace and learning to live in that grace He gives through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

A Matter of Growth
Since tithing is one goal that God gives us, it also makes sense that God wants us to grow into that way of life, that is, move in that direction. It’s part of what St. Peter says, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

Back in April I mentioned that God is the greatest Giver. He has created us and redeemed us to grow in His image, that is, grow into being better and better givers. This, of course, applies to all areas of life, including when we manage His gift of money.

So the question for each of us becomes: “How can I grow into tithing? How can I move toward being a glad giver?”

One practical step is to work at getting out of debt. (Yes, you read that correctly.) Debt is just plain dumb! I know, that’s not how our government acts or what our society says these days. Radio ads routinely advertise taking out another loan (more debt) in order to get out of debt. Sorry, but you cannot dig your way out of a hole!

The Bible actually does teach us about the folly of being in debt. Proverbs 22:7 says, “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.” Also look up Proverbs 6:1-5. Think about it this way. When you are in debt – any debt, no matter how big or how small – the money you must use to pay the credit card bill or the student loan bill, well, it does not belong to you. It belongs to the creditor. And since that money belongs to the creditor, you really do become “slave of the lender” until you completely pay off those debts! (Think fees and interest rates!)

Then consider this: what better things could you do with that money if you had the say so over where it goes? How would it make you feel to use your money for purposes other than paying creditors? Instead of playing endless “catch up” with VISA, MasterCard, or Sallie Mae, you could actually use the money God gives you for more productive purposes, such as saving for a rainy day, preparing for college for your children, or even giving to help those in need. Yes, when you get out of debt – when you have the real say in how to manage the money God gives you – then you can give more freely and more gladly.

A second practical step in moving toward being a glad giver is to plan and work at increasing the percentage that you give. (And if you are used to giving a certain dollar amount, then simply figure what percentage that amount is. Take that amount, either by month or by pay period, and divide by the amount of income per month or pay period. Presto, you have your percentage. :))

Let’s illustrate. Let’s say right now you can only give 5% of your income in the offering. Thank the Lord for that! That’s a good gift and accomplishment. As you more carefully plan how to use the money God gives you, and as you pay off those unnecessary debts (everything except the house payment), then challenge yourself by raising that percentage figure. Perhaps in a couple of months you can increase it to 6% or 7%. Maybe by in a year you can bump it up to 8% or so. As you keep taking the steps to manage your money (instead of letting it dictate to you!), you can plan to increase your percentage for giving, and you will rejoice in being able to do it.

Giving with Gladness
So, tithing is a matter of God’s grace—we are saved by His grace and we grow into being better givers by that same grace. It’s also good to remember that everything we have in life, including money, really belongs to God, not to us. Check out Psalm 24:1. As someone once said, “It’s very easy to give away someone else’s money.” That’s how we can learn to give with gladness: we realize that the money does not belong to us in the first place; we are simply “asset managers” for God.

In 2 Corinthians 9 St. Paul gives good instruction and sage advice on how to live as Christians who are also glad givers. In verse 6 he says, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” Gladly giving has great benefits. Since God has freely given everything to us, especially forgiveness of sins and eternal life, we can also “sow bountifully,” that is gladly give – in all areas of life.

St. Paul continues: “Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (v. 7). No, God does not want grumpy givers, people who give only because they have to or because they think somebody else is forcing them to give. Remember God’s grace! Instead, God “loves a cheerful giver.” The Greek word translated “cheerful” is the word from which we get “hilarious.” So, “God loves an hilarious giver” – a giver who laughs when he/she gives, a giver who finds great joy in giving to help other people. (Hmm. Can you imagine everyone joyfully laughing as they put their offering in the basket? :))

Finally, St. Paul gives a glorious promise. It’s a promise intended to comfort and inspire us as we spend our whole lives learning to trust our Lord and move toward glad giving: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work…. He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for all your generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.” (vv. 8-11)


  1. I've typically approached this by way of the Law and by way of the Gospel as I apply it to myself (and then in turn in teaching and as an example to my congregation).
    By way of the law, I know that I am an horrible idolator. I love my money and I love my stuff. So when I pray Psalm 24, "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein," I am brought to my knees in repentance for worshiping creation rather than the creator.
    By way of the Gospel, in Christ I am a forgiven child of God. In baptism I have been clothed with Christ and reflect Christ to my neighbor and the world... this means that the modus operendi for the Christian is sacrificial self-giving, be it in our vocations, relationships, or the way we handle our possessions. So, my focus isn't on balancing a checkbook, but rather giving to the Church, and thus to the Lord's work, and trusting that He has given me all that I need for this life.
    Anecdotally (and this is no means by which to build any kind of theology) I have found that the Lord in fact has made good on His promise in Malachi... in fact I'd have to say looking back, the number of bounced checks is inversely proportional to my giving.

  2. Excellent write up on a very sensitive issue. Thanks for taking the time to give such a thoughtful presentation on tithing.

    I especially appreciate the suggestion that tithing is only one part of a total budget all of which must be managed carefully rather than a get-out-of-jail-free card.