Am I Sinning if I Don’t Tithe?
Article by R. Joseph Ritter, Jr. CFP® EA
You might be, but let’s not confuse tithing with salvation.
A church member was having trouble with the concept of tithing. One day he revealed his doubts to his minister: “Pastor, I just don’t see how I can give 10 percent of my income to the church when I can’t even keep on top of our bills.”
The pastor replied, “John, if I promise to make up the difference in your bills if you should fall short, do you think you could try tithing for just one month?”
After a moment’s pause, John responded, “Sure, if you promise to make up any shortage, I guess I could try tithing for one month.”
“Now, what do you think of that,” mused the pastor. “You say you’d be willing to put your trust in a mere man like myself’ who possesses so little materially, but you couldn’t trust your Heavenly Father who owns the whole universe!” The next Sunday, John gave his tithe, and has been doing so faithfully ever since.
Tithing is wholly ineffective to work out our salvation. John 3:16, the classic plan of salvation, says nothing about tithing as a means of obtaining or maintaining salvation. We are saved by believing on Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and confessing our sins (1 John 1:9). What this means is that we have no Scriptural basis to say we are saved because we are tithing. The converse is also true. We have no Scriptural basis to tell someone they are not saved if they are not tithing.
Instead, tithing is a spiritual discipline and a response from the heart after we are saved. It arises from a desire to acknowledge and please the Lord and is a concrete way in which we can understand the mind of the Lord, how He deals with us, and what He desires from us.
Let’s consider some examples to better cement the idea before us. The Lord wakes you up at 3am and urges you to pray. The Lord calls you to serve Him in missions in India. The Lord calls you to put $150 into the offering plate. If you don’t pray when called, serve when called, or give when called, will your disregard of the Lord’s calls be held to your account? According to Romans 14:12, it will. And what will your answer be?
Now let’s say that because you failed to pray, someone committed suicide. Because you failed to serve, hundreds of people died without hearing the salvation message. Because you failed to give, needs went unmet, and the person in need questioned their faith. Do you really want that charged to your account?
In the previous article, you read that we need to give more than the recipient needs our money. Romans 14:12 explains why this is true.
The act of tithing or not tithing holds nothing to bring us closer to the Lord, just as prayer and Bible study are ineffective to bring us closer to the Lord. Stay with me, now. Placing money in the offering plate, picking up my Bible to read and getting on my knees to pray are physical motions. The focus must not be on rote behavior but on the condition of the heart. Am I open to being used by God through my giving? Am I listening to God and obeying His voice? Am I allowing God to speak to me through the Scripture and allowing Him to guide me? Am I opening a two-way channel through prayer and giving God an opportunity to teach me while on my knees?
Perhaps we can better understand the concept this way. Circumcision in the Old Testament marked a man as a follower of God. But God said in Deuteronomy 10:16, “So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer.” God is not interested in our rote behavior. He is interested in the condition of our heart. (Isaiah 1:11, Hosea 6:6, Matthew 23:23)
Tithing or not tithing is not going to change the heart or cancel out the condition of our heart. This is why tithing cannot be equated with salvation. Tithing to find favor with the Lord when the heart is not right becomes nothing more than using good works to buy salvation, which is not the Biblical way to salvation (Galatians 2:16, Romans 4:2-5).
When it comes to tithing, we are expected to do our part to further the work of the Lord in the world, and it very well may be sin if we willfully ignore this duty. On the other hand, there is no Biblical support for tithing to maintain our salvation while other Biblical mandates are ignored (again, Christ’s own words in Matthew 23:23). If we tithe but neglect our other obligations to the Lord, then we cannot expect the best from the Lord. Tithing is not singled out as a saving grace above all else. It is one part of an overall attitude toward God.
On this point Luke 12:16-21 is a very helpful passage of Scripture,
And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man was very productive. 17 “And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 ‘And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”’ 20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night fnyour soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ 21 “So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
It was certainly wrong to withhold from God (Malachi 3:8), however, in Malachi 3 and in Luke 12 the act of withholding was not the first sin. The man’s sin originated from an attitude that excluded God or refused to acknowledge God. Whether he withheld his resources or offered up his resources to God really wouldn’t matter as long as the heart isn’t right. If the heart is right, you will be giving, whether it amounts to 10%, 3% or 50%.
And the fact is that you may be tithing 10% of your gross income and still be sinning. How is that possible? In the New Testament, neither Jesus nor the apostles repeated the command to tithe 10%. In fact, Hebrews 7 makes a good argument for the 10% rule to no longer hold true.
Instead, we are called to give according to our ability (2 Corinthians 9:7, Acts 11:29, Deuteronomy 16:17). The focus is on the heart, not formality. So if God called you to give 20% of your gross income, and you refused to answer the call because you are already doing your duty at 10%, your refusal will be held to your account. God is definitely not limited to any 10% rule, and we are not at liberty to impose it as a minimum or maximum. The true test is the condition of the heart, not the percentage.
© 2015, 2018 Zacchaeus Financial Counseling, Inc.
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