. A frontier preacher went to a farmer at hog-butchering time. He said to the farmer, "Brother Jones, if a man had a hunnert dollars, don't you think he oughter give ten dollars to the church?" Farmer Jones agreed that a man like that should give ten dollars. The preacher continued, "Well, if a man had ten dollars, oughtn't he to give one dollar to the church?" Again the farmer agreed. Finally the preacher asked, "Well, if a man had a pig, don't you think he oughter give a piece of that there pig to the church?" Farmer Jones replied indignantly, "Well, Preacher, now you've stopped preachin' and gone to meddlin', 'cause you know
I've got a pig!"
This week will see a lot of meddlin' about money. But just remember, this meddlin' comes not from me, but from the Bible. God knows
you've got enough money to buy a computer and pay for an Internet connection!
Leviticus 27:30-34; Exodus 25:1-8, Tithes and offerings (10/26/2009)
Every week at St. John's, one of the pastors asks the ushers "to come forward to collect the morning tithes and offerings." Because of the wording, you may think that "tithes" and "offerings" are synonyms – that your tithe is whatever you choose to offer to God. This is not true.
The law of the tithe is found in several places; today we are reading from Leviticus. The law is simply that the first 10% of what you earn belongs to God. You can't "offer" it to God, because it never belonged to you in the first place. The law goes on to state that if you want to keep something out of the first ten percent – a special pig, say, or the fruit from an especially productive vine – you may do that, but only by paying an additional 2%.
So the law of the tithe is not that you may generously give anything up to 10% of what you earn, or that you may offer God 10%. It is that only 90% of what you earn ever belongs to you. You are required to pony up God's 10%, willing or not. Willingness doesn't come into it.
After you have given God the 10% that is required, you may be moved to give God a special gift. This is the offering. An offering is optional, and it comes out of your willingness to give God something of your own. One thing you may particularly note about our reading today is that the offerings enumerated in Exodus were much more valuable than the tithes required by Leviticus, and they came from people who were willing of heart.
Now, you may think that since this is an Old Testament law, we Christians are not bound by it. Sorry. Jesus said explicitly that we are still required to tithe (Matthew 23:23).
Matthew 7:7-12, The Father gives good gifts. (10/27/2009)
Fellow-reader Brian L. raises the interesting question of whether God's 10% must be given to our church or synagogue, or whether it may be given to any charity doing God's work or even directly to the needy. With apologies to the pastors and rabbis out there who need to prepare next year's budget, I think it's clear from the Law on gleaning (Leviticus 19:10, Deuteronomy 24:21) that any direct support of the needy counts as part of your tithe. You are required to leave some of your crop behind for gleaners (i.e., the poor, widows, orphans, and aliens), and only what you reap for yourself is subject to the tithe. Obviously, if you leave more to be gleaned, you have less left to tithe on, but you still satisfy the Law.
I personally think that contributions to God-centered charities also count as part of the tithe. I can't think of scripture to support this view, but that may be because charitable organizations are a post-Biblical invention. (If someone feels like searching for a pertinent scripture, I recommend Amos or Isaiah.)
While we are talking about giving, let's think about God's gifts to us. God is our role model for giving. He gives us good gifts, he gives abundantly, he gives consistently, and (fortunately for all of us) he gives without questioning whether we deserve to receive anything. Jesus says, "Think about this. You give your children good gifts, and you aren't even all that good. God is good! Obviously he will give you, his children, good gifts."
Jesus is speaking.
"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives, and the seeker finds, and to the one who knocks, it is opened. Or what person among you, when his son ask for bread, will give him a stone? Or a snake if he asks for a fish? If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him?
"Therefore whatever you want others to do for you, you also do the same for them. For this is the Law and the Prophets."
Matthew 6:1-4, Give alms in secret. (10/28/2009)
Well ! You readers are certainly tremendously interested in the topic of God's money, if the feedback so far this week is any indication. This doesn't surprise me, to tell the truth. I mean, here you are, participating in a daily Bible study. Naturally, that kind of commitment isn't going to be confined to study; instead it is going to be a characteristic of how you view your relationship to God.
Not one but two engineering types – fellow readers Keith U. and Pat C. – commented that my math was flawed when I said "that any direct support of the needy counts as part of your tithe. .... Obviously, if you leave more to be gleaned, you have less left to tithe on." They both pointed out (correctly) that if you leave 10% for the gleaners, you have 90% left to tithe on, for a total of 19%. True, but the amount of your tithe has gone down, right? I should have said "some of the direct support." (Note: please continue to send corrections. Otherwise, how will I learn anything?)
A couple of readers sent "right on"-type emails.
Two readers, the aforementioned Brian L. and Tracy I., asked my opinion on whether direct support to the needy, even extended family, can be considered as a gift to God. I said yes yesterday, and I still do. (And although I'm not going to say the word "tithe," I still think it counts.) Tomorrow we'll see what John Wesley had to say on this topic.
FINALLY, a brief comment on today's scripture. Notice that Jesus never says that the hypocrites shouldn't be giving alms. They should be giving alms, and they are giving alms. So far, so good. Instead, he says that by advertising the fact, they are trying to get a specific reward – admiration from other people – and they are getting it. They shouldn't expect a reward from God, too.
Jesus is speaking:
"Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of other people so that they can see it, because if you do, you will not have a reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give alms, don't take out an advertisement, like the hypocrites do in the synagogues and streets, so that they may be admired by other people. I tell you for sure, they have their reward. But when you give alms, don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, but let your almsgiving be in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you."
Mark 12:38-44, Give from what you have. (10/29/2209)
To be fair, some theologians will tell you that the New Testament doesn't teach tithing. I think tithing is supported by Mathew 23:23, and Luke 11:42, where Jesus says, "you give a tenth of your mint, spices, and every kind of herb, but you neglect justice and the love of God. These are the things you should have practiced, without neglecting the others." That sounds to me as though Jesus is saying, "don't neglect tithing." What do you think?
People also say that John Wesley didn't teach tithing; however, what he does say about giving is actually much more demanding than the tithe (Sermon 50
). First, of course, Wesley says to earn all you can (without harming anyone) and save all you can (by which he means, "don't spend it," not "put it in the bank.") Then he goes on to his third instruction, give all you can. I've put the main point for today in bold italics, but otherwise this is quoted from the sermon:
2. ... the Possessor of heaven and earth brought you into being, and placed you in this world, he placed you here not as a proprietor, but a steward: As such he entrusted you, for a season, with goods of various kinds; but the sole property of these still rests in him, nor can be alienated from him. ...
3. The directions which God has given us, touching the use of our worldly substance, may be comprised in the following particulars. If you desire to be a faithful and a wise steward, out of that portion of your Lord's goods which he has for the present lodged in your hands, but with the right of resuming whenever it pleases him, First, provide things needful for yourself; food to eat, raiment to put on, whatever nature moderately requires for preserving the body in health and strength. Secondly, provide these for your wife, your children, your servants, or any others who pertain to your household. If when this is done there be an overplus left, then "do good to them that are of the household of faith." If there be an overplus still, "as you have opportunity, do good unto all men." In so doing, you give all you can; nay, in a sound sense, all you have: For all that is laid out in this manner is really given to God. You "render unto God the things that are God's," not only by what you give to the poor, but also by that which you expend in providing things needful for yourself and your household.
6. ... "Render unto God," not a tenth, not a third, not half, but all that is God's, be it more or less; by employing all on yourself, your household, the household of faith, and all mankind...
Notice in today's scripture that Jesus was critical only of people who are cruel to the poor and then pretend to be holy. He did not criticize the rich people who put in a lot of money – they had a lot; it was their job to put in a lot. However, Jesus greatly admired the poor widow who gave all she had
Random Walk in a Gallery of Religious Art, Step 60: Luke 20:19, Render unto Caesar, possibly by Anton Dorph (8/21/15)
While Jesus was teaching, he said, "Beware of the Bible teachers who like to walk around in beautiful clothes, to be greeted at the mall, to sit in the front pew of the synagogues and churches, and to be called to the front of the line at the potluck. They devour the homes of widows and pretend to make long prayers. These will receive a harsher judgment."
Sitting across from the Temple treasury, he watched the whole crowd put money into the treasury, and many rich people put in a lot. One poor widow came and put in two nickels, which made a dime. Summoning his disciples, he said to them, "I tell you the truth – this poor widow put in more than anyone else who gave to the treasury. They all put in a part of their excess cash, but she, from her poverty, put in all she had – her whole living."
Acts 10:1-8, God remembers prayers and alms. (10/30/2009)
Remember when we had three pictures of Jesus walking on water? We’ve also had multiple pictures on the sacrifice of Isaac, Daniel in the lion’s den, the Nativity, and a few other topics. Some incidents, like this conversation between Jesus and people who were trying to trick him, attract more attention from artists than other incidents. One thing I’ve been enjoying about the Bible we’re currently using is that it has quite a few paintings of events that we haven’t considered before in our Random Walk studies.
We all have our favorite passages or books of scripture. I like the Gospels and Acts, and in the Old Testament I like Genesis, Exodus, and even Numbers more than, say, Lamentations. My husband and many of my friends like the letters of Paul. My Greek study buddy, as near as I can tell, has the entire book of Luke memorized in both English and Greek because she reads it so often!
But all scripture is important, not just the parts we particularly like! This week, open your Bible and read something different.
Previous Step. Next Step.
"Render unto Caesar" possibly by Anton Dorph,
from the Gamble family Bible,
now in the private collection of Regina Hunter.
Unprecedented feedback this week – everybody seems to be interested in the topic of God's money. I think we all agree that tithing is taught in the Old Testament. I think we can also agree that tithing is the gold standard for support of the local church and synagogue. After that, we have a lot of questions: What exactly has to be tithed? What exactly counts toward the tithe? Do Baptists and Methodists have to follow the same rules? Does Regina have any math skills? Does the New Testament teach tithing? Is tithing even enough?
Unfortunately, I know we can agree that not very many people do tithe, no matter how you answer these questions!
I implied before, and I'll say outright, that I suspect you readers of being in the upper tier of giving. I feel like I've been preaching to the choir all week. Nevertheless, giving to churches and synagogues is one of those 80/20 deals – 80% of the giving comes from 20% of the people. The other 80% of the people give little or nothing. So probably you have a friend or relative who is wondering how to get started. I'll pass along a couple of suggestions that I've heard or used over the years for increasing giving with a minimal amount of financial hardship.
First, people who've been giving a dollar a week (or nothing) need to adjust for inflation and put in $5 a week! (Unless, of course, they only make $40/week.) That's less than a latte!
Second, 10% is quite a bit for people who've been giving a dollar a week, but 1% isn't all that much. So suggest that your friend increase his or her giving this year either to 1% of income this year, or by 1% for the ones who are already giving a few percent. No doubt your friend will discover that it was easy, so maybe next year he or she can increase by another 1 or 2%. In a few years, giving will be substantially increased.
My personal favorite was to increase my percentage of giving at exactly the same time I got a raise – even if no stewardship campaign was running. If I got by last week on $X, I can almost certainly get by this week on $X + 1/2 of my raise. Depending on the size of your raise, you can get to 10% in a short time this way. To the very end of his life, John Wesley was determined to live on the same amount that he spent as a young man and to give the rest to the poor, and he came very close to it.
Please don't tell your friend that God rewards his givers financially. God is not a T-bill. There is no guaranteed rate of financial payback for your giving to your church or synagogue. Do emphasize that tithing is a sliding scale – if you make more, give more, but if you make less, it's okay to give less. If you lose your job or suddenly have crushing medical bills, just call the business office and tell them you have to change your pledge. They will understand and probably even put you on the prayer list.
And remember, God knows both your heart and your financial situation. Cornelius was neither a Jew nor Christian when the angel appeared to him and said, "Your prayers and your gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial before God."
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Copyright 2009, 2013, 2015, 2016 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved.
Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the
author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the
Bible-study participants. Thanks to the
Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers
for their support and enthusiasm. All
errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.
St. John’s United Methodist Church,
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