Tithing amid economic downturns

GAINESVILLE, Ga. (BP)--The tithe is an indicator of obedience to all of God's laws, and He is looking for the right attitude from believers when it comes to our giving. But, what does God expect us to do during tough economic times?

Well, Psalm 24:1 declares, "The earth and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants, belong to the LORD." And in 1 Corinthians 4:7, Paul asks, "What do you have that you didn't receive?"

Scriptures like that are pretty easy to handle when things are financially good. But, how do Christians respond when critical health issues, job loss or worldwide economics have almost bottomed out? During times when mortgage payments and utility bills become due and food is needed for the table, does God expect us to tithe?

Before responding to that, let's be realistic. Do you tithe? Or maybe, have you ever tithed?

The tithe is not a law, but tithing is one of the first standards of giving found in the Bible. In fact, Abraham tithed four centuries before the Law was given to Moses. However, the tithe is an indicator of obedience to God's laws, so Christian giving should come from the heart.

The book of Malachi seems to confirm that truth when the prophet confronted the Jews with the sins of disobedience and he used their lack of tithing as an example.

"Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! You ask: 'How do we rob You?' By not making the payments of 10 percent and the contributions. You are suffering under a curse, yet you -- the whole nation -- are still robbing Me" (Malachi 3:8-9).

When the Barna Group released results of their tithing poll numbers for 2007, we learned that very few people tithe. In fact, only 5 percent of adult Americans tithed. Among evangelicals it was somewhat better: 24 percent tithed.

Now -- with some wishful thinking -- even if Southern Baptists were able to double that figure, the percentage that tithes would still be low. In fact, if you doubt that less than 25 percent of those in your church tithe, just ask your leaders.

Well, let's get back to the original topic: tithing amid an economic downturn.

Since the tithe, meaning "tenth," is the minimum amount mentioned in God's Word, it is logical to assume that it's the minimum amount God wants from a believer. However, does this principle still apply when a person is on a fixed income or is dependent on government entitlements in order to survive?

Old Testament Jews brought about 23 percent of their increase to the Lord's storehouse. The storehouse keepers, the Levites, then used what was given to care for widows, needy foreigners in the area, orphans and themselves.

New Testament believers didn't bring their tithes and offerings to a physical storehouse; instead they gave of their increase in tithes, offerings and alms to the church body. In turn, the church leaders used what had been given for spreading the Gospel and the general support of the church. Alms, other gifts that were given, were used to care for the poor, widows, orphans and other needy persons.

It is important for us to understand that the Bible doesn't make special provisions that exempt those on fixed incomes or government subsidies. It simply says, "Honor the LORD with your possessions and with the first produce of your entire harvest" (Proverbs 3:9).

So, whatever funds that come into your possession, from whatever source, the "first produce of your entire harvest" -- welfare, Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, unemployment, disability, alimony, inheritance or regular income -- should be considered "first produce." Be a "from the heart joyful giver," and don't spend a lot of time looking for those "few exceptions."

No one knows just what the economy might do and what we might face during the coming months. Nevertheless, Christians need to remember that the same God who provides for us in the good times provides during the tough times, too.

So, as Christians, when it comes to tithing, we need to look for ways to give rather than trying to find loopholes that might allow us not to give.

If we truly believe strongly in honoring God from the increase He provides for us, we need to seriously consider tithing on all of the "first produce of all of your entire harvest," and then trust that He will continue by providing all that is needed for us to live.

Remember that God's desire is for our benefit and good, and He is more interested in our hearts than in any actual amount that we give.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

-- Giving is an external testimony of God's ownership of everything in our lives.

-- The tithe isn't a limit. God's people in the Old Testament gave nearly one-fourth of their income. For Christians, tithing should be the beginning, not the final goal, for giving.

-- God's share isn't just 10 percent of our money; He owns the other 90 percent, too.

-- Give with the right attitude, not out of necessity, but with thanksgiving to the Lord.

-- When your children see your joyful giving, they'll learn the importance of commitment to God.

The future economic climate could dictate that sacrificial giving will be necessary for many of us. And, sacrificing in order to give is a way to honor God. However, this sort of sacrifice should be done only as the result of a heart that's set on honoring God, and not a desire to impress others.

Remember that God is more concerned about the attitude of our hearts in giving than the percentage or the amount we give. Nevertheless, the minimum God asks of His people is to give the tithe -- no matter what direction the economy might take.

So, whether we're in an economic downturn or experiencing abundance and affluence, let's keep our eyes on God -- He never leaves us and He's in the boat with us.

Howard Dayton is co-founder of Crown Financial Ministries. Dayton and the late Larry Burkett joined forces in 2000 when Crown Ministries, led by Dayton, merged with Christian Financial Concepts, led by Burkett. The new organization became Crown Financial Ministries, on the web at www.crown.org.

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