Monday, November 17, 2008

Sermons I Wish I'd Heard, Part 1: Tithing

By Maria Boccia, PhD
Professor of Pastoral Counseling and Psychology and
Director of Graduate Programs in Counseling at the Charlotte campus

As I was considering ideas about which to write for this forum, I got to thinking about some of the sermons that I have wished I’d heard, but which I have never or rarely heard preached over the years. So I thought that one of the things I might do is to write occasionally about one of these topics. A topic near the top of this list is on the question of tithing and money. In some churches, it is a tradition at the end of the fiscal year for the pastor to preach at least one and perhaps a series of sermons on stewardship (in anticipation of people pledging financial support of the church for the coming year). In others (like most of the ones I have attended), the topic of tithing and money is avoided like the plague, which I consider ironic in light of the fact that something like 50% of Jesus’ teaching is about money. Then, as I was preparing to write on this topic, I received an e-mail from our pastor in Chapel Hill in which he talked about tithing, and attached two columns he had written on this topic in 2007. I thought I might share some of his thoughts with you. Thank you, Rob Tennant.

Have you considered that tithing is never mentioned in the New Testament? That's right! It is not! Tithing is an Old Testament concept: Deuteronomy 14 in particular mentions that the people of Israel should tithe, that is give one-tenth to God. God gives some interesting instructions to his people about tithing in this passage. He says that the tithe is to be taken to the place God has chosen for his name (ultimately, I suppose this refers to the Temple in Jerusalem). However, the Law notes that a person may live too far to travel there, and be unable to carry the tithe to that place. In this case, a person is to convert it to money, go to the place that God has designated for his name, and have a party and celebrate God. Take our tithe and throw a party? I think this tells us something about how God thinks about the attitudes he wants us to have with respect to our resources, time, and money. I also think it goes quite nicely with New Testament teaching about giving.

As I said, tithing is not mentioned in the New Testament. What is mentioned over and over again is generosity, and giving out of a full heart, cheerfully. See the connection? Here are some of the things Jesus says about money and generosity:

And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:40-42, NIV)

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21, NIV)

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on." (Mark 12:43-44, NIV)
Clearly what matters to Jesus is our attitude. It seems to me more about overflowing generosity than about measuring out 10%. Paul's comment, in 2 Corinthians 9:7-8, is telling:

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (NIV)

God loves a cheerful giver. This has a very different feeling to me than the idea of tithing. As in so many principles of the New Testament in comparison to the Old Testament, it calls us to a higher standard based on the attitude of our heart rather than an external standard. That is why Jesus praised the widow who gave her last mite over the wealthy Pharisee who gave his measured tenth.

My pastor summarized the principles about giving which we learn from the New Testament as follows:
- Give generously
- Give humbly
- Don’t overvalue money; put a greater value on the things of the Kingdom of God
- Give to those in need
- Recognize that all you have is really God’s

My pastor encourages us to begin with giving 10%. But that is just the starting point. We also need to think about giving generously, giving where we see the need, giving of all we are not just of our money. Then I think we will see the blessings of Malachi who understood God's promise when he said, "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 floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it." (3:10, NIV)

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