Yesterday I posted a reflection on tithing, prompted by this article from the BBC, ‘would you give 10% of your salary to charity?’ As it happens, I had already been thinking about tithing this week, before I came across the article, so I wanted to share a few personal thoughts.
I’d been thinking about tithing for two reasons. Firstly, I took some time at the start of the week to read through Malachi before the beginning of Advent. I find there is something powerful about reading the final book of the Old Testament (at least, in the Christian ordering) and feeling that deep longing for a teacher like Moses, a prophet like Elijah, the Sun of Righteousness with healing in his wings, who can purify the temple, offer a pure and spotless sacrifice, and crush the wicked one under his heel… and then the very next day – December 1st – turning the page to read:
‘This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah’(Matthew 1:1)
It never gets old.
But in chapter 3 of Malachi is that famous promise:
‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.’(Malachi 3:10-12)
These verses raise many questions; what is the tithe? How (if at all) should it be practiced today in a post-Temple era? Is it really true that God always blesses abundantly in return? If so, why do some Christians go hungry? These are all important questions, and certainly these verses can and have been abused to manipulate people into giving. But reading these promises of blessing again this week reminded me that this has, indeed, been my experience.
Since University – from the first installment of my student loan, and my first pay cheque – I have made it a habit to give away 10% of my income, and I haven’t regretted it. I’ve felt the cost of it, and have sometimes wished I had a little more disposable income than I did! But truly, I’ve not regretted it in any serious way. Because God has been so faithful.
In our marriage, Helen and I have sought to live by the 80:10:10 rule, living on 80%, giving 10% and saving 10%. Those numbers have fluctuated according to the season (it’s currently closer to 89:10:1!) but the constant has always been a minimum of 10% given away; often closer to 15%. It has not always been easy, but it has served us well.
Yesterday I wrote about Deuteronomy 4, which said that the purpose of being obedient to God’s instruction was to demonstrate God’s wisdom to the surrounding nations. In the same way, Malachi says that the result of living by God’s instruction is not just that we will experience His blessing, but that other people outside the faith community will recognise the blessing of God upon us! (Malachi 3:12) That has also been our experience; God’s provision is a powerful testimony, and invitation to others to consider putting their trust in Him.
But the second reason I’ve been reflecting on tithing this week is that this season has been unlike any other I’ve experienced. For the first time in my working life, I’ve not been in full-time employment with a regular salary. I took a gap year after university to volunteer unpaid for a church, but that felt different, not least because I had no dependents at the time.
These past few months I’ve done various bits of freelance work, and the money has come in dribs and drabs. As a result, I’ve been able to tithe less than in any other period. We’ve managed to keep it at 10%, but that 10% sometimes looks like such a paltry amount that I’ve almost felt embarrassed about it. Perhaps that sounds like a bad thing to admit, but it’s true. And recognising that feeling in myself has been interesting. It’s caused me to reflect more deeply on the heart behind my giving. Do I truly believe that it is better – like the widow in Mark 12; Luke 21 – to give a small amount out of a pure heart when you have very little, than a large amount without feeling the cost?
There has been something important for me about the practice of calculating my giving on a regular basis. Before now, I hardly noticed my giving from month to month. It just went out by direct debit before my other bills. The only time it was elevated to the level of my consciousness was in those occasional moments where I found there was something I wanted to buy, and wondered why we didn’t have the cash in our account to do so. Tithing had become such an habitual part of my practice that I no longer even noticed it.
Now it’s very much conscious. As soon as money comes in, I record it, take off the 10% and put it aside. At the end of every month I go through my accounts, calculate my tithe and pay it manually. Something about that has helped make it meaningful again. It has given me a reason to feel the true cost of the practice, but also to experience gratitude for the money that has come in and the generosity of God.
I start a new job in a month’s time, and I’m very much looking forward to it. But one of the questions I’m planning to ponder over the next few weeks is how I can apply what I’ve been learning recently, so that I can retain the awareness of my giving, when I return to having a regular monthly salary. It may be as simple as choosing not to set up a direct debit, but making a monthly habit of manually transferring the money, so it forces me to stop, take note, and give thanks. I don’t know. But but for me at least, it has been a good reminder to rethink my practice, so I will forget neither the benefits nor the Benefactor.
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