Our family’s commute to church this summer included driving through a significant construction project. While I navigated the orange cone obstacle course, my eight-year-old grandson became curious about a ladder suspended in the air. “Papa, why is there a ladder hanging from that big crane?” he asked. I guessed that the weight on the cable probably kept the line from blowing in the wind or balanced the crane’s weight. Newton I am not. Even at eight, my grandson developed several compelling reasons why an aluminum ladder would not counterbalance a crane. I couldn’t argue with his logic, so for several weeks I deferred the conversation to the objects, themselves, “Look! There’s a cutting torch hanging from that crane this time.” Driving to church became a game of guessing what would be hanging next, a trailer, a welder, a tool box, a blue lagoon (construction lingo for a porta-potty.)
Curiosity finally got the best of us, so we investigated. We discovered that hanging tools from a crane is a deterrent to theft and vandalism. Now that makes sense! Hanging tools high in the sky presents would-be thieves with a challenge.
Sometimes Christians do things with money that others may not understand. Why give away money or give a tithe to the Lord? Perhaps an outsider would have some guesses that would be as off-track as my extension ladder guess.
Do we tithe out of obedience? That’s not a bad reason. However, some Christians do not believe the practice is commanded. Others point out that the best tithers in the New Testament, the Pharisees, were seldom in tune with Jesus. One can obey with a lousy attitude and miss the point entirely.
Maybe we tithe for the tax deduction? I hope not. I enjoy the benefits of my country, but anyone who primarily tithes to reduce taxes has probably received their reward: fewer taxes. If tax deductions are driving our offering plates, we have missed the point completely.
Is tithing practiced to bring prosperity? I believe the Lord is looking for any opportunity to fill us to overflowing, but I’m not convinced the Lord measures prosperity by our bank accounts. God’s route to prosperity often involves sacrifice and loss. If we’re tithing to get back more than we gave, we’ll find ourselves selfishly disappointed someday.
Perhaps giving is based on human need? We give to the World Evangelism Fund and sponsor children through Nazarene Compassionate Ministries because we love people. We want to introduce others to Jesus and care for their needs. However, many who don’t believe in Jesus give much more than ten percent of their income to improve the lives of fellow humans.
So, why tithe? There could be a bit of truth in any of the above answers. Though, the best reason to tithe is to give in gratitude to God for creating and sustaining us. Tithing is a way that Christians recognize the authority of God, as Creator and as Provider of all life. In 1 Chronicles chapter 29, we find King David in one of his happiest moments. It was in the context of giving; God was giving, and God’s people were giving:
10 David praised the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly, saying,
Praise be to you, Lord,
the God of our father Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.
11 Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power
and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,
for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
Yours, Lord, is the kingdom;
you are exalted as head over all.
12 Wealth and honor come from you;
you are the ruler of all things.
In your hands are strength and power
to exalt and give strength to all.
13 Now, our God, we give you thanks,
and praise your glorious name.
(I Chronicles 29:10-13)
The Church of the Nazarene is made up of generous people who tithe, and give beyond, on purpose. It is who we are. In the Manual, the Church of the Nazarene’s Code of Christian Conduct isn’t scripture, but it is good! Paragraph 21 reads, “To be identified with the visible Church is the blessed privilege and sacred duty of all who are saved from their sins…They shall evidence their commitment to God… [by] contributing to the support of the ministry and the church and its work in tithes and offerings.” Our commitment and decision to tithe is simply a grateful response to the Lord’s goodness to us.
I didn’t have such a great answer to my grandson when he asked, “Why do they hang tools from their cranes?” But I want to live is such a way that my grandson knowns exactly why I divide my income by ten and giving it to the church as a tithe. It is because the Lord is my Savior!
Dr. Mark Lail – Stewardship Ministries Director, Church of the Nazarene