Tithing conjures up images of prosperity preachers hollering at little old ladies to send them their last paycheck so that these old ladies will be mightily blessed by God, one day, eventually, with a tremendous windfall.
It conjures up TV evangelists sitting around fireplaces with big hair, surrounded by Southern ladies with even bigger hair, asking for money for their “ministry” that turns out to be their private jet.
Tithing is not particularly popular, especially when people telling you to tithe are directly benefiting from it. It’s easy to distrust a pastor preaching about tithing when they’re about the Pass The Plate.
So since I am not a preacher, and I don’t have a plate, I want to talk a little bit about why I tithe. The lectionary text this week is on Christ’s famous summation of the Law and Prophets – to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself – and there is no way that we can love our neighbors as tangible as with our wallet.
Tithing, or Giving Generously
Theologians are split about whether tithing (the practice of giving 10% to the church) is required for modern Christians. Tithing in the Hebrew Bible was primarily to support the Levites and the priests (which Christians do not have), and the New Testament’s only discussion of “tithing” is Jesus’ condemnation of religious leaders who tithe but don’t do justice (Mt 23:23). All of the Epistles, however, are firm about giving – give generously. Give to the poor, give to the Apostles as they travel, give out of your abundance, then give some more – give cheerfully, give from your heart, hold all possessions in common (Acts 4:32; 2 Cor 8-9:16, 1 Cor 16:1-4; 1 Tim 6:17-19).
For me, the most practical way that I’ve found to insure that I’m giving abundantly is hunking a certain percentage of cash right off the top of my paycheck, every single week.
That money doesn’t always go to my church. Sometimes it goes to other organizations in the community, especially ones that help the “least of these” – organizations that protect women from violence, that protect LGBTQ homeless youth, that create safe homes for people with disabilities. Sometimes the money goes to disaster relief in the US and across the world. Sometimes it even goes to political campaigns, which I wrote briefly about here.
But no matter how well-off or terribly-off I am financially, I always set money aside, every week. If I don’t give when I’m poor, I sure as hell won’t give if I’m ever rich. We expand to our lifestyle and spend the money that we have. C.S. Lewis’ admonition for how much we ought to give continue to challenge me:
I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc, is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small.
“There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.”
Your giving should slightly be uncomfy, in other words. Not because it’s so harsh, but because the uncomfiness itself is a gift. It’s an invitation to spiritual growth we can’t get any other way.
Setting that money aside, for me, is a spiritual practice that doesn’t just benefit my neighbor, but myself.
Tithing and Scarcity.
Y’all, I have such a scarcity mindset. I live in scarcity, every day.
Tithing is a spiritual practices that teaches me to reject scarcity and invites me to trust.
Living in scarcity means buying the lie that one day, you’ll run out. There won’t be enough food, friendship, spiritual care, sunlight, happiness, love, money. What I wrote about here on Patheos is that living in scarcity means that no matter how much you hoard, you will never ever have enough to feel safe. And honestly, scarcity is telling half of the truth – because no matter how rich you are, you’re always just a day away from everything falling apart.
So what do we do when we finally admit that our lives are fragile, and that no amount of hoarding can keep us safe?
We’re free to open up our hands and give.
Tithing, every week, on every paycheck, reminds us that we can’t control a thing. When we generously give, not just with “what’s left,” but right from the top, we are tangibly training ourselves to live out of abundance and live out of trust. When we start to use our money as if we really believe that God is the one who provides, we see a difference not just in our financial life but in all areas of our spirituality.
Tithing and Interconnectedness.
Not only that, but giving generously reminds us that everything we have, we owe to others. We owe others our generosity not because it is “charity” but because it is justice. We are who we are because of others and our interconnectedness, and we owe the world our gifts in return. Letting go of our money is just admitting what’s already true: the money isn’t ours. None of it is. It’s all just a loan, a product of our social location and parents and country and access to resources. How will we steward what’s been loaned to us? Will we acknowledge our indebtedness by loving the world with what we’ve been given?
Our world has more than enough resources for everyone to be fed, clothed, and in homes. Some people have so little because of the greed of humans, not because of the selfishness of God. When I train my hands to give generously, I acknowledge the enoughness of the world and participate in creation by participating in God’s act of justice and generosity to those around me.
It is a huge gift to be invited into God’s work of restoration, to be invited into God’s work of enoughness for my neighbor. When I give, I trust that God will take care of me – while simultaneously participating in God’s work of taking care of my neighbor.
By giving, we participate in creation. We acknowledge the fragility of life. We admit it all is God’s, and therefore it is all my neighbors.
Tithing makes my soul a little less scared, a little less tightly wound, and a little more free. I give because it is justice, I give because we are all connected, and I give because my soul really needs to be the kind of soul that isn’t afraid.
What does “giving generously” mean for you this week?