Editorial: Tithing only marks the beginning of stewardship

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Here’s a challenge: Publicly declare all Christians should tithe, and then watch what happens.

If you’re in a Sunday school class, prepare for awkward silence. Most folks don’t tithe and don’t even want to think about it. If you write a letter to the editor of the Baptist Standard, get ready to read a bunch of replies. Some folks think about tithing often, and they’re more than ready to press the issue.

Marv KnoxThe first time I wrote an editorial in favor of tithing, the barrage from the mailbag blind-sided me. My parents taught me to tithe as a preschooler. Every member of our family carried an offering envelope to church each Sunday morning, and the numbers on those envelopes totaled exactly 10 percent of my pastor-daddy’s salary. Later, my first job—straightening the hymnals and picking up the Sunday bulletins from the pews of our church on Wednesdays after school—paid a whopping 25 cents. Daddy “suggested” I tithe a nickel a week, since I couldn’t give the Lord two and a half cents. You could tell I wasn’t a financial genius. It never occurred to me to propose tithing a nickel every-other week. That’s how I became a double-tither as a third grader.

So, I never considered any devout, church-going Christian would argue against tithing. But as you’ll note in our feature package, “The Tithe: “More Theory Than Practice,” some Christians claim tithing has been out of date for 2,000 years. From their perspective, tithing is based upon Old Testament law, which Jesus replaced with grace.

That argument may have merit. But if it’s used to whittle-down expectations for Christian behavior, it misses the point.

Jesus articulates one of the most thoroughly New Testament concepts in his Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). A master takes a trip and entrusts his wealth to the management of three servants. Upon his return, the master praises and rewards two servants who invested his wealth wisely, worked hard and yielded a return on his investment. But he condemns and punishes the lazy servant who buried the wealth for safekeeping until the master’s return.

Jesus clearly implies several truths:

  • All we “possess” is not our own; it belongs to God.
  • We are expected to be diligent, wise and faithful stewards of what God has entrusted us.
  • If we are diligent, wise and faithful stewards, we will receive God’s favor.
  • If we are lazy—or worse, if we squander God’s resources on ourselves—God will condemn us.

Seen from this standpoint, several applications emerge.

First, arguing about tithing is about as pointless as debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Everything in our lives belongs to God. It’s not ours; it could be gone as quickly as a tornado touches down, a fire flares, the stock market crashes. Meanwhile, as long as things are in our care, our passion should be to multiply them in service to God’s ministry and for God’s glory.

Second, we break the First Commandment when we think our income belongs to us, and it’s our prerogative to decide whether we’ll give 3 percent, 10 percent or 15 percent to God through the church. “You shall have no other gods before me,” the Lord says. But we place ourselves ahead of God when we act as the owner.

Third, if we limit our consideration of stewardship to money, we’re missing the point. Surely, Jesus’ work benefits from our financial resources. But it also requires our time and talents. Some Christians are generous with their checkbooks but stingy with their watches. They won’t invest themselves in what God wants to accomplish in this world. They’re lazy—or selfish—stewards of their giftedness and the gift of their days.

Fourth, if we limit our consideration of stewardship to ourselves as individuals, we’re also missing the point. Many Christians learn to be selfish because they attend selfish churches. How should we expect new believers to learn stewardship and generosity when their congregations spend ever-increasing proportions of their receipts on themselves? Churches are about mighty kingdom business. But when they limit their vision and investment to what they can do themselves, they deny the existence of the larger body of Christ.

Well, we may get some letters debating whether we should tithe. Bring ’em on. A tithe is only the beginning.

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Care to comment? Send an email to our interim opinion editor, Blake Atwood. Maximum length for publication is 250 words.