I recently attended the Missional Reading of Scripture conference at Calvin Seminary. It gave great insight into reading the Bible from a missional point of view.This got me to thinking about tithing from a missional point of view.
First of all, the question comes up: What is missional? Missional is saying that not only are you a missionary in your own personal world, you are sent in the name of God to do this every day. David Bosch in his book Transforming Missions says (and I’m paraphrasing here) as the Father sent the Son, so we are sent by the power of the Holy Spirit.
So how do we look at tithing missionally? Many times people begin talking about tithing by going to Malachi 3:10 where God tells his people to bring in the whole tithe and he will bless them. Great. Okay. So tithing leads to blessing, right? Yes and no. The purpose of tithing is not to be blessed but to bless. In Malachi 3:5 the people of Israel are being placed on trial for oppressing the poor, the fatherless, the widow and the foreigner. They are called on the carpet for injustice. And the response God asks for is that he calls them to tithe.
Tithing isn’t from the prophets though. It is found in the Law of God. Leviticus 27:30-33 speaks of how we are to bring in our first fruits and not hold back from God with what we have. It is commanded in Deuteronomy 26:12-13 to bring in the tithe not just because God asks for it, but for the Levites so that they may distribute help to the fatherless, the widow, and the foreigner so that all may be fed.
Tithing isn’t about giving money to be blessed. It isn’t about giving money so that the church doors stay open. It’s more than that.
Now, some may say that we shouldn’t tithe because it isn’t commanded in the New Testament. In fact, Jesus himself condemns the Pharisees for their tithing. Furthermore, you could say that we are no longer under the law, we are free in Jesus.
Jesus came not to abolish the law but to fulfil it. And God does declare in Jeremiah 31:32 that he will write the law on our minds and hearts. In fact we read in James that the Law gives freedom. We are to read and see Scripture as a whole. More than that, we need to see the Law and Word of God as leading us in the direction of living as a community of believers who act and live differently than the rest of the world
The tithe, then, is more than just something in the Law, it is something that we do as a community which shows we are different from the rest. It shows that we do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with our God.
Paul speaks in 2 Corinthians about the Macedonian church who begged for the privilege to give. Paul exhorts the Corinthians to give in such a way that shows the love of Christ that shows this grace of giving. He tells them that God loves a cheerful giver. And so, they are to give from their hearts what their hearts have decided to give. And when they give, it isn’t just to give for the church but for the church to help the poor, the afflicted, those in need of justice. There is a righteousness here in giving.
As followers of Jesus Christ, as His disciples, we give because it is in response to His work in our life. It is out of gratitude that we give. We give because we are different. We are a different community who live under a different type of ethics and drive. We give to not just keep the doors of the church open, to provide money for the building fund and so forth, but to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God. Tithing is just the start. It is where to begin.