Ever think what you’d do if you won?
Come on, you’ve daydreamed about it before, probably even today. I’m doing it now….
Why is it that the things we daydream of are just that—-things? What is it about more stuff gives us the illusion of power? What is it about that new house that makes us feel like we’d finally belong in a home that’s bigger/better?
Somewhere in the mix of doling out our winnings we tend to also remember, “maybe a bit for charity too.”
Giving or tithing is usually a sore point for many who’ve come and gone from church culture. Usually it’s because money is prone to abuse. In the context of Calgary Church we’ve rarely broached the subject, but in our fourth year we spent some time on the subject of money looking at the triumphs and challenges.
The question we want to ask is whether our community is pursuing a Kingdom ambition that includes a Biblical perspective of giving and generosity.
What is that perspective? Everyone seems to have their own ideas of what that is, some more ambitious than others. Money is one of the most discussed topics in scripture so we’ll glean some important foundations.
Starting somewhere in the beginning there’s something called the ‘tithe’ which literally means a tenth. The tithe isn’t a unique concept to the Bible. Used throughout the old agrarian based economy, landowners could expect to collect a 10% fee from those using the land, King’s could demand tithe from their subjects, or even receive a tithe from the spoils of war.
In Leviticus 27:30 we’re introduced for the first time the tithe to God as a commandment. Not only is there a mandate of 10% to God but the first of everything you earn IS God’s. (First fruits, see 2 Chronicles 31:5; Nehemiah 10:35-39)
For many churches today this is where the story ends. The tithe still represents an expectation to give the first 10% (before tax) of everything we earn to the church. In many ways this old taxation system is alive and well.
But why stop at Old Testament, what does Jesus have to say and how did the early church operate? That should give us an idea of how to respond today.
Jesus doesn’t explicitly discuss tithing. Some people conveniently say Jesus rescinded the ‘old laws’ and therefore we abolish the tithe as well. That’s not entirely true, rather, he represents a subversive third way.
Jesus does talk about giving. For example, Matthew 19:21 is a story of the rich young ruler who wanted to follow Jesus. In his mind he wanted to meet whatever ‘system’ Jesus had in place to be a worthy disciple. Jesus doesn’t select a 10% but rather suggests no amount would work, but if he must, make it 100%. (As an aside, note, Jesus doesn’t ask for the 100% the young ruler could giveaway, rather, he says give it all to the poor.)
Some will stop here and say that this is evidence God owns not 10%, but 100%, and we should be ready to give, or if you’re really ambitious, work our way towards this goal. This of course brings forward new problems. Some people are OK that God may indirectly ‘own’ all they have, but when it comes to actually giving they’re really no different than Joe Blow down the road. (2% GDP for those in AND outside of the church when it comes to charitable giving.) It also suggests we can fall short on BOTH ends of the spectrum. We can feel guilty for not giving enough, conversely, we feel guilty for not achieving the allusive 100% as well.
Is there any winning?
Luckily we haven’t addressed the fundamental issue of giving. Is it a pursuit of a number based on a religious taxation laws? Or is giving something more intricately connected to the community you’re a part of and the pursuit its on?
Looking at how the early church functioned in the book of Acts starts to tell a different story. There seems to be a practice of 100% (giving everything) but the context of WHY seems to differ than the reasons Jesus was compelling the rich young ruler. (Acts 4:34)
A glimpse in to ‘why’ is found in 2 Corinthians 9:6-11.
6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
There are fallacies that seek to enter formulaic agreements with God–the more materially you give the more materially you should get. This is not a guarantee despite the valiant attempts by many church leaders to perpetuate this lie.
There IS a connection but not a formula that those who give generously reap generously. But, the focus shouldn’t be what you get for what you give, but rather how.
This could end up meaning we give nothing because we aren’t compelled to give anything. When the decision to give is a work of yourself rather than a mandate from the church, it’s easy to forget.
Conversely, this is perhaps the crucial distinction: if our giving and generosity is dependent on our heart we’ve moved from religious mandate to compelling grace lived out in community.
This is how our church communities should be different: a question that reveals our pursuit individually within the context of community.
A life in pursuit of the things we crave like justice, hope, peace, and of course, love. When our practice is consumed in the pursuit of these things our giving and generosity follows.