For the Joy (Part 1) - The Prodigal God
Preached by Andrew Ruth
Questions to Guide You:
For a printer-friendly copy of this reading plan, including sample questions to augment your study of Scripture, Download the PDF.
This is a follow up to yesterday's post, "For the New Giver." While not necessary for everyone, I want to make sure I break this teaching down as far as possible, because it is one of the scariest and most counter-cultural. I am not teaching on Giving because I want your money, but because I want you to experience the joy of a generous heart. I want you to know the blessings that can only come through cultivating a generous heart.
Tithe is an English word, derived from an Old English word meaning Tenth, which was in turn used to translate a Hebrew word, ,that literally meant one tenth or 10%. So, while people with through the term around loosely to describe a gifts to the Church, tithing is the practice of giving 10% of my income back to God, mainly through my local congregation, but also to the poor directly.
No you do not have to tithe. It will not get you into heaven, Jesus’ death and your faith in that death save you. But you will struggle to grow in generosity, and apart from giving you will constantly feel the burden of not having enough, whether you make minimum wage or a million dollars. People that do not give sacrificially, feel perpetually poor.
Many folks will say that the Tithe is an Old Testament Law that we are freed from by Jesus and the Gospel of Grace. I think that is true. Still, when Jesus criticizes Pharisees that religiously give 10% of everything including table spices, he does not say, "Stop observing the tithe, that get's it all wrong. Don't you know its all about grace!" Instead, Jesus points out that the Tithe was never about following the rules, instead it has always been about the heart. So He says, "we should practice justice, mercy, and faithfulness without neglecting to also Tithe" (Matt 23:23).
If that Bible Study's not convincing, another Presbyterian Pastor, John Ortberg likes to say it this way, "I can't imagine facing God one day and saying, 'I know back in the Old Testament days people gave a Tithe, and I know now, in addition to all the blessings they got, those Old Testament Scriptures and stories and heroes and the promise of your presence... In addition to all that, I have been given the gift of Jesus and the cross for my sake and the promise of resurrection and the hope of the Holy Spirit, and I think I'll ratchet my giving down 5 or 6 percentage points."
Jesus expects us to tithe. Not mechanically, but thoughtfully and intentionally to fight greed and indifference in our hearts, and injustice in our world. One a different note, Shriners, Rotarians, Scouts, and Gyms all force members to pay dues; we do not because we believe than anyone who understands the gospel, will naturally feel compelled to give.
First, some good reasons not to give 10%. If you are unemployed, and not yet receiving unemployment or severance checks, then you have no income to tithe on. If you are a student living entirely on Student Loans, then likewise you have no income to tithe on. However, I would encourage you to START NOW giving a percentage of all income from part-time jobs. According to one report, 63% of people who tithe, started to do so between childhood and their 20s.
Still, if you cannot give 10% now without losing your car or your house, don't lose your house or car. Figure out what you can give. $10 or $100 a month and also try to give your time disproportionately, while seeking to rearrange your budget to rebound from bad financial decisions. 10% is not currently a realistic option for you, mainly because of overcommitment, but through a Dave Ramsey Financial Peace Course, it very well could be a reality in as little as 6 months to a year.
Don’t beat yourself up, remember, 2 Cor 8:11-14 says, “Give on the basis of what you have. If you really want to give, then the gift is measured by what someone has. It is not measured by what they don’t have. We don’t want others to have it easy at your expense. We want things to be equal. Right now you have plenty in order to take care of what they need. Then they will have plenty to take care of what you need.” Right now you might need other believers to supply your need, and that is ok.
Well first off, praise God. Second, you especially need to give by percentage, because the temptation to give by amount will be astronomical. Though folks disagree with me, you may divide your gifts among other ministries, but personally, I would not give less than 5% to my local church, even if that is greater than their entire budget. Oakland will not hoard your wealth, but abound all the more in giving. We would like to give away a third of all the money coming through our doors. On a more personal level, such a gift demonstrates your commitment to the community, and your trust in the leadership to use your gift in God honoring ways, just as everyone giving a greater percentage but smaller amount, must trust the Church to faithfully use their money well. If you trust other ministries or secular organizations to steward your gift more than you do your local church, then we really need to have a conversation.
For more information on Tithing, check out the sermon, "Live to Give: The Test" by John Ortberg of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church. Pastor John is a great teacher and is especially passionate about Generosity and Tithes.
This is not an exact science nor is it LAW. Think of the tithe, not as a task to accomplish, but as training wheels to liberate you into generosity. Remember, God is more concerned with our hearts than the letter of the law.
I’m young, and relative to many of you, poor, but relative to many of our neighbors, wealthy. Relative to the world, very, very, very wealthy. Therefore, when the Bible addresses "the rich" or "rich people," I assume it is talking to me.
I do not have all the answers, and the ones I do have, I got from older, wiser, more generous men and women like you. If you have thoughts, comments or questions, please come talk with me.
Always remember who you are whose you are,
Some of you are some of the most generous people I’ve ever met, and I want to learn from you how we can create more generous disciples of Jesus. This blog is a starting point for those wanting to grow in generosity.
Sunday’s sermon, “I am Called to Give” was intentionally broad. I did not name the sermon, “I am Called to Tithe,” because that is much too narrow a definition of generosity. This entire sermon series is about cultivating life long dispositions, patterns, habits, and ways of living. Just as there are many different ways we are called to Love and different groups of people we love with different opportunities (family, friends, neighbors, enemies), there are equally variable ways to practice generosity in various situations involving a number of different groups of people.
In addition to commending 10% as a starting place for our giving (Matt 23:23), in one of Jesus’ scariest commands, he even calls us to “give to everyone who asks of you” and “loan to people without expecting repayment” (Luke 6:30,35). Jesus repeatedly tells us to give to the poor and to look after the vulnerable. Jesus’ brother, James writes in James 1:27, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
These are incredible commands that demand a level of generosity that seems beyond approach and outside reality – so much so that they are almost paralyzing. Sometimes it makes me feel like an illiterate person holding the Bible, knowing I should read it, and wanting desperately to read it – but desire and desperation alone will not teach me to read, baby steps of letters and sounding-it-out are the in between.
Likewise God has given us some helpful, concrete steps to grow us in generosity.
Just because you make $40,000 a year does not mean you have to spend $40,000 a year. Instead, intentionally live as though you had less in order to include saving and giving in your budget. Like I joked on Sunday, this will mean you cannot use the “Mortgage Calculators” to estimate the size house you can afford. There are hundreds of historical Christian examples of this. One example is John Wesley, who founded the Methodist Church. Wesley started as a poor preacher without a church, living off his horse and out of a bag. Over the years, he grew to worldwide fame, receiving offerings and gifts from all across Europe and the USA, but he made a decision that he and his family would perpetually, no matter how much they made, like off of the modern equivalent of $30,000. Everything over $30,000 was given to the Church and to the poor. Modern examples of this include Rick Warren (Purpose Driven Life) and Eugene Peterson (The Message) who both work for $1 a year.
Still, you don’t have to start that drastically. The first step towards giving is to MAKE A BUDGET AND LIVE WITHIN THAT BUDGET. If you have a habit of accruing credit card debt, you need to rework your spending. If you need help doing this, find a Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University Course to help.
For now, find one thing in your budget that you do not need, and dedicate that money to the Church. Examples might include TV service, High Speed Internet, Magazine Subscriptions, Landscaping, Clothes, Four-Wheeler payments, Boat payments, etc.
Claire and I practice this by eating at restaurants less, so that we can afford to host our neighbors for dinner more often at no cost to them. We never want to be miss an opportunity to host because we lack resources.
Giving comes out of our checks first, even before taxes. To remind myself of this truth, Claire and I give a percentage of our Gross Income away, because God gets his cut before the Government gets theirs. I don’t like paying taxes, but I do like many of the things they pay for, including roads, public schools, hospitals, and EMS teams. Still, giving 13% of my income to Uncle Sam seems steep, compared to giving 10% to God, who provides for all I have, who created my life, and saved my soul. 10% seems huge, but is actually paltry in comparison to the percentage of my income forcefully taken from me by the government, who gives me far less than the Lord. That realization alone, makes me so much more grateful and willing to give to the Church.
Let me pause to say, do not tithe on Student Loans, or any loans for that matter. We tithe on our INCOME not on our DEBT.
So practically for those of you who’ve started to complete step one, meaning you are no longer going further into debt. So once you’ve stopped accruing debt, its time to start redistributing your funds from spending to GIVING and SAVING.
I do this right now by starting my budget with gross income, less my hoped giving percentage (10%), less my hoped contribution to savings (7%), less taxes, less expenses and pocket money. If I come out in the negative, I decrease my savings and giving by a point, and rework the whole thing, while examining my expenses for unnecessary costs. Eventually, Claire and I would like to ratchet both the Savings and Givings percentages higher.
Tomorrow I will post more about some Frequently Ask Questions, when it comes to Tithing in particular, so check back.
Remember, who you are and whose you are,
Still trying to decide if the Financial Peace University is for you, check out this preview: