The law’s tithing versus the Gospel’s free generosity

Next time you’re at a church social function, go up to people who seem to be having fun and start talking about tithing. Most will run for cover faster than vampires at dawn.  But the ones who remain may have an interesting story to share.

That’s because a wide majority believes that giving a tenth of their gross income is utterly impossible and totally unrealistic. For instance, if a family makes $52,000, that would be a donation of $100 a week. If they’re typical “2 percenters,”  they put a $20 bill in the weekly offering envelope and be satisfied. It’s truly a real stretch to ask them to put in the other $80 for a tithe.

Some churchgoers criticize tithing as too rigid and legalistic — more the province of Pharisees and scribes than of Christians, who, after all, have been freed by Jesus from the law. Yes, it’s true, we are free from the law, but as Martin Luther points out, the law does serve God’s purpose in the lives of faithful people.

First, the law helps keep order in our world by shaping our outward behavior. If people are giving financially to the work of God because they feel compelled to do so, they are still contributing financially to the work of God.

But the second use of the law is more to the point. The daunting requirements of the law can lead us to despair and guilt and awareness of our selfish, sinful nature. That in turn causes us to turn to the Gospel for its message of freedom and joy. And in response to God’s love, we gladly give more, and more and more.

That’s the story you may hear from the people still talking to you at the church function. Most people who have taken the plunge of tithing have found it surprisingly rewarding. (Read the story of one such tither.) The satisfaction they get from giving money away leads many to offer well above the 10 percent level.

It’s counter-intuitive to think that giving away more money will actually make you feel richer, happier and more fulfilled, but that’s a very common experience of tithers. By walking on the path of the law of tithing, they have actually found themselves in a place where they can enjoy the Gospel’s freedom for generosity. They have learned the truth of Jesus’ observation of Matthew 6:21: “Where your treasure is, there your heart shall be also.”

Reprint rights granted for congregations for nonprofit, local use. Please reprint with the following copyright notice:
© Copyright 2006, the Rev. Rob Blezard. Reprinted by permission.
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