Deuteronomy 26:12 and The Purpose of Tithing

tithing_comicWhy tithe and what is the purpose of tithing?  The general opinion in most of the churches I have ever been was that tithing was what you gave to God through the church in order for the church to continue to survive and function in the world.  This section in Deuteronomy gives a different picture of the purpose of tithing, though:

When you have finished paying the entire tenth part of your produce on the third year—that is the year for paying the tenth-part—you will give it to the Levites, the immigrants, the orphans, and the widows so they can eat in your cities until they are full.

Here the tithe doesn’t go to the tabernacle/temple at all.  When it is paid, every third year, it is given to those who cannot take care of themselves and have nothing.  In this way every three years the poor have their fill.  This actually goes beyond helping those who have fallen on hard times financially.  They are cared for every seven and fifty years in God’s economics.  Rather, this takes care of those who have no possibility of helping themselves.  Widows and orphans have no inheritance and no property.  Levites have no inheritance and no property.  Immigrants have no inheritance and no property.  These are people who most likely will be permanently destitute of provisions in life unless something radically unexpected happens.

So, every three years the tithe is paid.  Ten percent of what all of Israel earned is given in that third year to alleviate the needs of the destitute among them.  This is a wonderful image of the blessings of God being shared by the entire community.  I know many pastors and congregations who emphasize tithing as our response to the blessings of God in our lives, perhaps not with this exact reason in mind, but for the sake of ministering to, with, and for the poor as a part of it.

The interesting thing, though, is that the tithe is not a Christian concept.  This is one aspect of life that was not carried over from Judaism at first.  If you read through Acts, the first Christians (who were Jewish, keep in mind) did not give ten percent, but rather shared everything they had so that there would be no one destitute among them at all.  This goes well beyond a three-year tithe.  This gets to the heart of possessions and how we use what we have been given every day.

All that we have is God’s.  We are stewards of his creation.  And we have been entrusted with his possessions to use them on his behalf to fulfill his will in the world.  This is what our earliest ancestors in the faith understood.  When we reduce this concept to giving ten percent of our wealth (and I know many pastors who would be shocked and utterly amazed if people actually gave ten percent!), we claim ownership of something that is not ours and relegate the tithe to God almost as payment for our material blessings.

Perhaps it is time to see the true purpose of tithing once again, to alleviate the pain and suffering of the destitute among us, and how the Church elevated this far beyond the ten percent gift so that all benefited from all of God’s blessings.

Matthew 25:14-30 and God’s Economics

PD-Gold-Bars-and-Coins17-300x199If you are following the Bible Reading Schedule I posted at the beginning of the year (see here), we finished Matthew today.  In the readings we covered the Parable of the Talents (or Parable of the Valuable Coins).  This is a story that many people who have been around churches for some time have heard.

Interestingly, the rich man (who represents God) does not give his servants (who represent us) equal amounts of money (which represent resources of money, time, talent, ability).  One servant receives 5 coins, another 2 coins, and the third only 1 coin.  Then there is verse 15, which specifically states, “He gave to each servant according to that servant’s ability.”  Not all people are equal.  And God, having created us, knows this fact.

This idea does not sit well in Western American culture.  We are brought up with the self-evident truth that “all men are created equal.”  The idea that some receive more than others by God based on ability rubs us wrong.

Yet it is true.  Not all people could become world famous musicians because not all of us have rhythm, and some of us are even tone deaf.  Not all people could become neurosurgeons  because not all of us have the steady hands to perform that kind of work, let alone the inherent ability to learn what is necessary to be that kind of doctor.  Not all people could become a choir director, or a movie star, or a football player, or fill in the blank.  We are all different and have different abilities.

But one of the surprising points is the result of the different levels of disbursements.  The one who received 5 coins was rewarded with the phrase, “Excellent!  You are a good and faithful servant.  You’ve been faithful over a little.  I’ll put you in charge of much.  Come, celebrate with me” (verse 21).  The one who received 2 coins was rewarded with the exact same phrase in verse 23.  And this is God’s economics.  It does not matter how much one is given.  If that person is faithful with what he or she has, God rewards the same.  Two, five, or one million coins–the point is not how much we receive, but whether or not we are faithful with what we have.

The only failure is not to obey God or to be faithful in how we use the resources God entrusts to us.  How are we using what we have to further the kingdom of God and fulfill God’s will in the world around us?  As long as we use the resources God has given us to to this, the reward will be the same–a well pleased God.