This bold statement was made last Sunday, “Tithing is not giving!” This idea flies in the face of how many perceive tithing. After all, don’t those who make enough money in America list their “tithe” as a charitable contribution to reduce their tax burden? We cheer when it’s time to give our tithe in the service because God loves a cheerful giver. Despite the impulse to consider tithing giving, I would have to agree. Tithing is not giving.
The tithe was a property tax. The collections of that tax were used to provide welfare for the priests, the poor and the immigrants within the community. Compulsory payments are not giving. They are payments. I pay my taxes and if I lived in ancient Israel and owned a farm I would pay my tithe.
Today, our tithe takes many forms such as sales tax, property tax, and income tax. These taxes fulfill in part the requirement of the ancient tithe in caring for the poor and immigrants in our society. To help the priests (and many others) the government allows for its people to give to them and even encourages it through tax deductions. The catch is that many churches turn this generous gift to provide for the priests into a compulsory gift, a membership fee or effectively a tax. Yet a life lived according to the teachings of Jesus is not compelled by church leaders or even God to pay a tithe but inspired to give to those in need.
I think of it much like that scene in Office Space where the amount of flair is up for debate. The supervisor is disappointed with the motivation of his employee which leads her to only wear what is required of her. To her, it comes off as he wants her to wear more and she looks for the new minimum, but he refuses to give one. The act of mandating self-expression prevented it from occuring. Likewise, mandating generosity prevents it from ever being realized.
The ancient requirement of tithing is fulfilled by simple generosity. Tithing is life according to the Law. Generosity is life in the Spirit. Paul was quite clear about the impulse to return to the ancient practices of the Law in his letter to the Galatians. Give joyfully. Give extravagantly. Give sacrificially. Give what you can because you can and not because you have to.