As you are aware as we look to the future and the
possibility of calling a minister full time we face the issue of finances. Put bluntly we need to find another $35,000
each year, and we are currently looking at how that might be achieved. We look over the fence at Hoon Hay congregation
which is smaller than ours which has employed a full time minister and is
looking at employing other ministry staff.
We are slowly building up the usage of the complex to
gain an income from the building. We are
looking at other ways to raise capital, but a key area we must look at is the
income we receive from regular giving to our church. Money and church is a touchy subject, but if
we are going to go ahead and search for a full time ministry we have to be able
to show we can meet our commitments, and our special workgroup looking at this
has estimated we need to increase giving by $15,000 per year which is not
As this has been talked about several people have asked me about the
practice of tithing. The question has
been asked about the practice In some churches that people will give one tenth
of their income to their church. I don’t
think it’s that simple.
Tithing is a practice that
is found in our scriptures. We are told
Abraham established the pattern of giving one tenth of what he received as an
offering to God. Just what that was used
for is a little unclear. The pattern is
also followed by Jacob. (Gen
28:20-22) Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep
me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear,
so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my
God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house.
And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.” The word tithe literally means “tenth,” and the
giving of a tenth to God seems to be a pervading pattern. A key teaching was that all they had was gift
from God, and this returning the tenth was a practice that built this teaching
into their lives. Because God cares for
those at the bottom of the heap it was also used to help others who may not
have had an income.
This pattern was established in the laws of
Moses. Originally the tithe was an
obligatory offering requiring 10 percent of an Israelite’s first fruits. Because
God provided the harvest, this first part was returned to God. It wasn’t something
considered after all the bills were paid, but was a first call on the income
which for most was in the form of harvest and food. It was a show of thankfulness for God’s
provision. It also provided for the Levitical priesthood, festivals,
and the needy.
As the Israelites became a more settled community the annual
tithe was largely used to sustain the places of worship and the leaders
involved in the worship and teaching of the faith. But this wasn’t the only obligatory tithe.
They also tithed to support a special jubilee festival (Deut. 12) and took a
third tithe every three years to take care of orphans, widows, and the poor
(Deut. 14). Baked into God’s law was a special provision to take care of the
most vulnerable citizens. Interestingly, this included caring for people from
outside of their community. Someone has
worked out that if you average these mandatory offerings you come up with a
figure of about 23 percent of your income was given in this way each year. With introduction of kings and rulers there
were also the introduction of other taxes and it all became quite complex.
On top of these compulsory tithes, there were regular
opportunities for freewill offerings. These were generous gifts that expressed
the Israelites’ gratefulness through voluntary giving to special projects. At a bare minimum, they gave 23 percent a
year, but there was no ceiling on their generosity. They could—and frequently
would—give exorbitantly out of their excess. In response to Moses’ call for
contributions to the building of the Tabernacle, the Israelites literally gave
so much that Moses had to command them to stop giving (Ex. 36:2–7).
Jesus doesn’t mention the tithe as a requirement that
his followers should adhere to. Instead
he promotes the idea that we need to get our priorities right in our
lives. Jesus praises the widow who dug
deep and sacrificially to give alongside those who gave a little from their
abundance. For him there was aa focus on
the new earth or reign of God in all things and that extended very clearly to
money. Maybe I’m just speaking to myself here, but
the need to set our priorities carefully, and in all our money dealings we need
to consider is this benefiting the kingdom.
Is this helping to bring God’s reign on earth? Promoting the kingdom of heaven should be
our first priority in life and not an afterthought when all my wants and
desires are taken care of. The widow
raises some hard issues for us all.
He also addressed the issue of calculating exactly
what the law required in terms of tithing but not caring about the true intent.
Giving to the work of God should come
from the heart and not the law. The law
if you like sets some guidelines, and Jesus was more interested in growing a
generous heart and giving generously to support the provision of worship the
teaching of the faith, and caring for others.
Super religious people it seemed were good at nailing down to the last
cent how much was to be given, meeting the demands of the tithing law, but they
failed to see others who were struggling in life. In
several teachings he warns that true religion is not about reaching targets of
giving, but is about genuine caring and having a concern about justice and why
for instance some are poor. You may also
remember that parading your giving also gets the thumbs down from Jesus. (Matt 23:23, Luke 11:42)
this mean for us?
Some churches teach the tithe as a law that
applies today with the church as the recipient.
Some may have seen the movie In My
Fathers Kingdom which came out this year and focused on a Tongan family
here in New Zealand. Dad in his
retirement took up a paper round to provide money for the church and when it
came to the annual tithing Sunday he would ring around his kids to ask for a thousand
dollars from each of them to give to the church. Often how much you give becomes public
knowledge so an impressive donation gives mana.
His commitment to give almost destroyed his family. Other churches stress the benefits of giving
saying God will bless those who give much.
I live with the principle that we are constantly blessed and while I
have no doubt God loves a cheerful and generous giver I don’t think we get
special rewards. There is something
wrong when giving to the church almost destroys families and is manipulated by
the church to provide blessing. There’s
nothing new here. Martin Luther was
motivated to call out the church in his own time for providing tickets to
heaven or indulgences for those who gave generously.
Thankfully we maintain a highly confidential
system of giving in our church. Our
giving is a matter between us and God.
It is a sobering exercise to work out what 10%
of our gross income is. I don’t want to get
into strict tithing rules, but the principle should sit there at the back of
our minds and hearts as we consider our budgeting. We are called to commit
sacrificially to support Gods work and not hoard it for ourselves.
We need to recognise our taxes are part of the
command of God to ensure that those at the edges are taken care of in our
society. Our giving to other charitable
organisations or causes are also part of this obligation to serve the purpose
of God’s reign or kingdom. What we give
should however not be governed by law, but by a cheerful and generous heart that
mirrors the heart of God.
In all things we should consider all we have as gift from God and ask how
can we use it wisely and well:
to live with joy and appreciation for the good
things and gift of life,
to support others in need,
and to invest in promoting God’s
Our church is a key part but not the
only part of God’s work in our community. Therefore we should carefully consider how
much we will invest in our church as a means of promoting God’s kingdom. This should be a conscious and sacrificial
decision and not a ‘I think I can spare a few bucks’ for the church commitment. The Israelites gave 10% of their first
fruits, and that represented not what was left over, the crumbs from the
leftovers, but was a first call on their income. Our church deserves a high priority.
My invitation is simple. Over the next month will you review your
giving in the light of our scriptures and our situation? Next Sunday we will have a letter prepared to
give you which will outline our situation in more detail and ask for a response
so we can plan for the next ministry.
There is one other thing I want to say, and
that is “thank you!” I know many of you
have over the years maintained a regular giving practice in your lives. There have been wonderful results to that
giving and the teaching and presence of Jesus in our community has been
promoted with care and compassion. We
now face a society that more than ever needs to hear the good news of Jesus
Christ. I believe we are called to keep
the flame burning, and indeed to turn up the gas so it burns brighter.