For years people have been asking me for my response to the tithing question. “Should you tithe?” Here are two responses:
- You should tithe
- You should not tithe
Since both responses are expressed as commands, and we are not under law, I care for neither.
“Paul, you’re being tricky. Please address the issue.” Okay, check out two statements below. Which do you agree with?
- I tithe regularly, therefore I’m spiritual
- I never tithe, therefore I’m spiritual
You will find both views debated on social media, but both sides are in error because each is boasting in what they are doing or not doing. There’s pride on both sides.
My friend Richie Lewis recently preached on the “Subtlety of Self.” The subtlety of self is manifested in the pride we take on whatever positions we hold. “I… therefore…” glorifies the flesh.
Let me give you an example that grace-lovers will recognize.
Formerly I was bound up with rules and rituals, but now I’m free from all that. I don’t work (Christ has done it all), I don’t tithe (Christ is my tithe), I don’t go to church (I am the church), therefore I am spiritually superior to others who have not seen the light.
What’s wrong with the statement above? It’s arrogant and unChristlike, is what’s wrong. It has the prideful stench of self all over it.
The problem is not what you’re doing or not doing; the problem is you’re identifying your self as your source. Because you have it all figured out, you’re better off. Hooray for you!
The subtlety of self
The works-occupied legalist glories in what she does, while the lazy grace-lover glories in what he doesn’t do, and both miss the mark. Again, it’s not what you’re doing or not doing that matters, it’s why you’re doing it (or not doing it). Any time self is the source of your joy or standing you are walking in the flesh. You are not walking by faith.
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Gal 5:6)
I hooked you with tithing but in Paul’s day the issue was circumcision. On one side there were law-lovers who said, “You should be circumcised” and on the other were grace-lovers who said, “You shouldn’t be.” According to Paul, both sides missed the mark:
Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything… (Gal 6:15a)
Substitute circumcision for tithing or church attendance or whatever issue you’re debating and the point remains the same. The thing is not the thing. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
So when people ask me, “Should you tithe?” I get agitated. It’s a bad question because it inspires you to draw on your knowledge, your understanding, and your clever ability to figure things out. Proceed this way and any answer you come up with will likely be a dead work.
So what should I do?
For starters, stop using the word should. All things are lawful, so don’t ask me to should on you. On the subject of giving, let each be convinced in his own mind. But let me leave you with this: A law-preacher will compel you to give using the carrots (“give and God will bless you”) and sticks (“stop robbing God”) of Malachi 3. Such a message insults Jesus who made us eternally unpunishable and through whom we have received every blessing. Don’t listen to it.
And don’t listen to the grace-grump who turns non-tithing into an angry cause. “We were lied to!” Tithing has become an offensive issue to some. I appreciate you may have been exploited, ripped off, and abused, but if you are offended, you’re not free. You need to give it to Christ and put your ego back in the grave.
To paraphrase Paul, in Christ Jesus neither tithing nor non-tithing has any value. If you want to tithe, then tithe, and if you don’t, then don’t. But whatever you choose, don’t brag about your choice, and don’t hammer those who choose differently. The one who boasts about his non-tithing is just as confused as the one who tithes-to-be-blessed.
Giving is where the rubber of our faith meets the hard road of need. It’s a subject we need to talk about more than we do. But it’s also a subject where we need to beware the subtlety of the self. When we talk about money let our conversations carry the fragrance of Christ rather than the aroma of arrogance.
Grace and peace to you.
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