The sense of devotion, sacrifice, and selflessness are absent from modern American Christendom. We try to buy ourselves and G-d the illusion of dedicating our selves to His service with a few paltry coins in the plate each Sunday, when we go at all. Only the most extreme even offer 10% of their income. But cash is too easy.
A tithe is supposed to hurt. It represents thankfulness, recognizes its true source, symbolizes devotion, and requires faith in G-d’s continuing Providence. To discover the essence of tithing we ought to look beyond the 10% of income to the commandment Israel never kept—the Sabbath year.
In Leviticus 25 the Lord commanded Israel to observe a sabbatical year from farming the land, the main economic activity of the people. G-d promised that He would cause the unfarmed land to produce enough to sustain them; the people were to redirect their focus from practical business concerns to faith-reliance on G-d. For 490 years the Israelites neglected this command; G-d made up for the rest with 70 in Babylonian captivity.
While this command applied to Eretz Yisrael, it draws out Sabbath principles for the modern church. When followed, the injunction forces one to alter focus from the practical to the Divine. It frees up the schedule and allows for time spent with family, friends, and those in need. The practice also illustrates the people as holy—a Nation set apart to G-d.
When accepting Christ, one is entreated to offer the entire self to G-d, as ‘a living sacrifice.’ Our lives are no longer simply our own, but belong to Christ and the church. Everything, even eating and drinking, ought to be done for the glory of G-d. It is not enough to simply give up Sunday mornings and a few dollars; He demands it all.
I suggest the church in America needs to revamp its thinking on tithing. Instead of looking on tithing as a portion of our money that we ‘give back’ to G-d in recognition of His ownership, we should be offering a portion of ourselves—our time and talents in the service of others. Not only is it more costly, it’s more effective.
What if every Christian in America would offer a 10th of his or her work to the Lord, in the form of service to those in need? Roughly 155 million Americans—nearly 54% of the population—claim to be Christians. Imagine the results of 155 million people giving 10% of their work to the poor! Let’s look at some examples:
- Lawyers taking a pro bono case every 10th case, to plead the case of orphans and the poor.
- Educators reserving a tenth of their enrollment for children from families which cannot afford to escape under-performing school districts.
- Filmmakers supporting ministries and charities with documentaries and promotions every 10th project.
- Housing Developers building entrance-level housing as a 10th of developments, perhaps in association with Habitat for Humanity.
- Restaurants donating a tenth of their cooking to soup kitchens and homeless shelters.
The list could go on forever: the cost is staggering. Those who committed to such difficult sacrifices would be required to trust G-d to be faithful and would not be as financially ‘successful’ as their worldly counterparts. But imagine the results! The Apostle James instructs the church to care for the poor, the orphan, and the widow. If even half of those who claim Christ in America made a radical commitment to tithe of themselves, many social ills would be greatly improved. Welfare, Healthcare Reform, and Social Security would cease to be such pressing issues: the church would be salt and light.
This requires a radical self-denial; a relinquishing of the rights of acting in self-interest, the destruction of the altar to the god of Time. But if the church mobilized in such a radical way, the world will see the power of G-d shine through his ‘royal priesthood’ in a manner never before witnessed in history.
Thoughts?Jason M. Silverman 24 July 2009