Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tithing as an act of grace?

What if tithing is actually one of God's greatest gifts to us? What if tithing isn't opposed to grace, but is actually a vehicle of it? 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. Tithing is not the last word in generosity; it's the first word. But it's a word that God takes with deep seriousness; perhaps because when human beings get vague around finances, they grow deeply evasive.  Jesus was quite clear that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. In the early church, no one's attitude was "Thank goodness grace takes us out from under the Law—now we don't have to tithe anymore! We can give far less than 10 percent!" The early church was so overwhelmed by God's grace and generosity, it went far beyond the tithe. Tithing was never intended as a way to "pay our debt to God." It has always been a training exercise to cultivate a generous and God-centered heart.
Tithing is to our possessions what the Sabbath is to our time—a concrete guideline that points beyond itself to the truth that every moment and inch and scrap of our lives come from the hand of God, and will be returned to God.

As far as the actual tithe is concerned, what was required under the law was greater than 10%. There were actually three "tithes" collected from Israel—one to support priests and Levites (Num. 18:21); another for a sacred celebration (Deut. 14:23); and a third—collected only once every three years—to support the poor, orphans, and widows (Deut. 14:28-2926:12-13). So the actual income percentage given was closer to 23 than 10.

The tithe may not be “Required” under grace, but it is expected and it is a test of our hearts as citizens. Jesus speaking of money and authority said in Matthew 22 :21 and it was repeated in Mark 12:17 “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God’s.” What belongs to God when speaking of money and authority? It its that we surrender all of us including our wallets.  We show that surrender through the tithe and offerings. God doesn’t just want your tithe. He wants you to be generous. God never lowered the standard, He gives us steps of grace to reach the standard. 

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