Note: To understand these profiles, you should first be familiar with the biblical concepts presented in The Practice of Tithing as the Minimum Standard of Christian Giving
The Situation: Bill and Donna are in their mid-thirties. Bill has steady work as a salesman, but there always seems to be too much month left at the end of their money.
Bill and Donna sincerely intend to put in the offering box whatever’s left at the end of the month. But, between house payments and bills and occasionally socking a little something into savings, there’s just never anything left. They feel bad, but what can you do when you’re out of money?
The Problem: Bill and Donna don’t understand “first fruits.” They should give to the Lord off the top, not out of “what’s left” or not left. They don’t realize that the tithe belongs to God, and that there’s a word for taking money that doesn’t belong to you—stealing.
The Situation: Joan is a twenty-two year old, just finishing college. Her 30 hour a week job pays just over minimum wage. She earns about $500 a month. Joan’s parents still provide room and board, but she has to take care of her tuition, books and other expenses. “I can’t afford to give,” says Joan. “I’m barely making it now. If I gave up a tithe that would be $50 a month, and I’d probably have to drop out of school. I’d like to give, but I just can’t.”
The Problem: Joan is not only robbing God, but she is robbing herself of the opportunity to grow in faith. Right now she doesn’t believe God’s promise in Malachi 3 (also confirmed in Matthew 6:33) that he will take care of her if she puts God first by giving him what is his. If God is capable of helping her get by on $500 a month, isn’t he capable of helping her get by on $450 a month? Joan’s God doesn’t appear to be very big.
The Situation: Bob is in his early fifties. His wife Elaine says, “for years we frittered away our income on all kinds of luxuries. Now we’re twelve years from retirement and we don’t have anything saved. On top of that, we’ve still got two kids in college that need our help.”
“We’d like to give to the church,” Bob explains. “But Scripture says we’ve got to provide for our family first. After we get our kids through school and maybe get a nest egg started, then we’ll start giving.
The Problem: Bob and Elaine are keeping what belongs to God in order to compensate for their poor planning and lack of discipline in the past. Their first debt is not to their children’s college education. Their first debt is to God. If it wasn’t tuition costs, it would be something else. Since they have no true conviction about giving and no standard of giving to start with, they’ll always find a reason not to give.
The Situation: Phil and Pam enjoy giving. With their little blue Santa’s helper (VISA) they just gave each other a video recorder and a large screen television for Christmas. The kids got a nice computer to keep them busy while their parents enjoy the city’s finer restaurants. Their three year old Chevy was getting a bit tacky, so they just bought a new model.
“Next year I’ve got a big promotion coming,” says Phil. “Then we’ll start giving—right now the budget’s pretty tight. It’s not that we don’t ever give to God’s work, you understand,” Phil adds. “Why, when we were in Hawaii last month we attended a neat church service on the beach and I dropped a $20 bill in the offering.”
The Problem: Phil and Pam are blind. They say there’s no money left to give—and they do their best to make sure of it! No matter what they say to the contrary, their lifestyle proves unarguably that toys, trips and cars are more important to them than God, his work and the needs of others.
They say they’ll give when they earn more, but they won’t. If Phil and Pam have been unfaithful with a little (more than a little), they will be unfaithful with a lot. Their expenditures will always rise to meet their income. Making more money will only make them guilty of robbing God more.
Like so many of their fellow church members, Phil and Pam simply don’t understand that the tithe belongs to God, not them, and that they are to return to him the “first fruits,” not “last fruits” or “no fruits.”
The Situation: “There’s a lot more to stewardship than money,” says Gina. “We can’t all give—but some of us can teach Sunday School, clean the building and open our homes to guests. I consider that to be my giving.”
The Problem: Gina rightly believes stewardship involves more than money—but she wrongly believes that stewardship ever fails to include money. Her argument is just as faulty as saying, “I can’t give the church any of my time or my gifts and talents, so I’ll just give my money instead.” God expects all of these, not just some of them. Gina is attempting to justify robbing God by “making up for it” in other areas that she should be doing anyway.
The Situation: “I’m so far in debt I can’t give a dime to the church,” says Tony. “What am I supposed to do, stop my car payments? What kind of testimony would that be? And it would be bad stewardship to sell my car—I’d have to take a $2,000 loss. God doesn’t want me to be stupid, does he?”
The Problem: Tony has already been stupid. In buying his new car, he put himself in a position to disobey God’s command to give. He violated Scripture by spending money he didn’t have. His greedy and foolish misuse of credit has put him in this fix.
Tony apparently believes that God and his church and needy people should pay for his own foolish choices. Why not take a $2,000 loss in order to get into a position to obey God? Is there any stewardship more 'terrible' than robbing your Creator and Savior?
Here’s another person who thinks the tithe is his, not God’s. Nowhere in Scripture does it say “first fruits” are to be given to those to whom they will be the best testimony, but to God. If Tony ends up having a bad testimony here it’s because of his foolish choice, which is not helped but only complicated by further disobedience to God. He needs to ask forgiveness and learn from the situation so that he doesn’t do it again. But does it make sense to rob God in order to have a “better testimony” to men?
The Situation: Joe is an outspoken Christian who’s known as a man of faith. He stands up at church business meetings and speaks out in private conversations saying he wants to see the church build more buildings, raise the pastors’ salaries, and expand into all kinds of new ministries.
Joe challenges the church to rise to the occasion, and reads passages of Scripture about walking by faith and not sight. He inspires everyone. Everyone, that is, except God and the financial secretary, who are the only ones who know the truth: if everyone gave like Joe, the pastors would have to be laid off, the missionaries would have to leave the field, the church would have to sell all of its property, and the congregation would be walking neither by faith nor sight—it would be buried three feet under.
The Problem: Joe appears to have great faith and vision, when it comes to the obedience of others. It’s his own obedience that he has trouble with. He fails to ask himself a crucial question: “If everyone gave like I do, where would this church be?” He is quick to commit other peoples’ money, but clings to his own.
Joe is a hypocrite. He says one thing and does another, and in doing so heaps up judgment for himself. He will be held accountable to God not only for his lack of giving, but for his hollow words of exhortation that he himself fails to follow.
Beginning Where God Began
To me, giving less than a tithe is simply not an option. Someday I’m going to stand before God and give an account of my life (Romans 14:12). In that day I do not want to have to explain why, being indwelt with his Holy Spirit and having lived in the most affluent nation in human history, I failed to give at the very minimal level of those who did not have the indwelling Spirit and owned far less than I.
The concepts behind the first fruits—the ownership and worthiness of God, and the servanthood and indebtedness of man—are as true today as they were in the Old Testament. And surely the gratitude of God’s people should be far greater on this side of Calvary than the other. Without a guidepost, where do you start your giving? Why not start where God had his people start throughout the Old Testament? Why not start with the tithe?
I view tithing as I view a child’s first steps. His first steps are not his last, neither are they his best, but they are a fine beginning. So is the tithe. Tithing is for many the first toddler step of stewardship. It’s the training wheels on the bicycle of true giving. It may not be a home run, but it gets you on base—which is a lot further than the majority of church members ever get.
For those who still feel that the New Testament church has outgrown the need for the tithe as a guideline, let me suggest the following: figure out your pre-tax income from every source, all of it including the dollar value of the benefits you receive (don’t forget health insurance and retirement), then multiply by 10%.
If you discover that you’ve been regularly giving to the Lord’s work beyond the level of 10% then you’re right—you don’t need the tithe. Just go right on doing what you’re doing, and let God move you on further in the grace of giving. But if your giving adds up to 7% or 5% or 3%, it shows you really do need the tithe as a teacher and guide to stewardship.
Begin with the tithe. It shows yourself, your family, and your Lord that you’re serious. As you continue to tithe, you’ll sense God’s approval. You’ll experience the freedom and joy there is in acknowledging his lordship of your money and possessions, and thereby your whole life. “I can see it’s right to tithe, but I can’t start right now.” Never put off obedience. The moment of conviction and enlightenment is the moment to act. To procrastinate obedience is to disobey. Trust him enough to begin this life-changing eternity-impacting adventure of giving.
For more, see our other resources on money and giving, as well as Randy's related books.
Photo by Etienne Boulanger on Unsplash
Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries.