The issue of giving money to the church is often a touchy subject for many. Even within Christianity there can be great division regarding the tithe. I’m reminded of an old joke:
Three ministers are out playing golf and they’re trying to decide how much to give to charity. So the first says, “We’ll draw a circle on the ground, throw the money way up in the air, and whatever lands inside the circle we give to charity.” The second says, “No. We’ll draw a circle on the ground, throw the money up in the air, and whatever lands outside of the circle – that’s what we’ll give to charity.” The third and most senior pastor says, “No, no. We’ll throw the money up in the air and whatever God wants he keeps!”
Tithe is an old word for tenth, and the overwhelming model in the Bible is that people of faith give back to God (via the local place of worship) one-tenth of all our income. For example:
This stone that I have set up as a marker will be God’s house, and I will give to You a tenth of all that You give me. (Genesis 28:22)
Every tenth of the land’s produce, grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord. (Leviticus 27:30)
You are to bring there your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tenths and personal contributions, your vow offerings and freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. (Deuteronomy 12:6)
Sometimes it’s hard to think about giving away 1/10 of our income – a dime of every dollar. So I asked on Twitter: Do you tithe to your local church? Why or why not?
And responses came pouring in:
@chrislinzey Yes I do. Taught to tithe by my parents & believe it's scriptural and an act of worship. And I tithe on the gross 🙂
There is no promise in the Bible that if you tithe then God will repay you with worldy riches. God doesn’t have a savings plan – you give 10% and you’ll see dividends 100x what you paid. It doesn’t work like that.
Giving says several things:
1) God, I give you this as an act of worship.
2) God, I recognize that all I have is from you.
3) God, I trust that you can take care of me even if I give my income away.
I believe that God will be faithful to us even if we give away 10% (or more) for his kingdom.
What’s your gut reaction? Are you a tither? How does the idea of giving a dime of every dollar sit with you?
If you give money to God, He’ll give money to you. NOT so we can get rich, but so that we can live generous lives & be a blessing to others!
Boy that sure makes us feel good, doesn’t it?
It’s a promise of getting money (which we all love) and it comes our way when we first give money to God.
Here’s the kicker – the part that makes us feel better about the whole exchange is that the money that God gives us needs to be used to bless others.
Everyone got that?
Give money to God. God gives money to you. Go and bless others with what God has given you in return.
Here’s the thing. IT’S GARBAGE! TOTAL BALONEY!
Boy, this really got me steamed up today.
There’s no equation by which we can coerce God into giving us cash. Moolah. Greenbacks.
I know plenty of righteous poor people who give to God and never get money in return. God’s not a bank paying you interest on your investment.
Telling people that if they give then God will give back is ludicrous.
“But Pastor, what about the poor woman who gave her last two coins?”
What about her?
That’s a great story, but the point is not, “Give to God and he’s gonna give you more in return.” There is no Heavenly CashBack Plan. The point of the widow giving is about the heart of the giver.
Jesus says, “So what if you give a little out of your abundance? Look at this poor woman who gave a lot out of her poverty!” Her heart was in the right place – not because she wanted God to return her money ten-fold, but because she prioritized giving to God above everything else. She gave until she had nothing left to give.
What a heart.
I’m not there. I haven’t met a whole lot of people who are. But shouldn’t that be our goal? Can we grow and mature and get to the point that we’re willing to commit to God 100% of everything we have and everything we are?
Jesus said, “The poor you will have with you always.” There’s not divine get-rich plan. Giving to God may get you no earthly reward. Don’t believe anyone who tells you differently.
At the same time, when we cultivate generous hearts then we reap unseen rewards. We may never experience them in this lifetime – but that’s not the point.
So examine your heart and your motivations for giving.
I am delighted to have Kevin Linzey as my first guest blogger. Kevin is husband to Britt, dad to 3 awesome boys, and loves bromance movies. Oh yeah, he is also an Army Finance Officer who did his undergrad studies at West Point (The United States Military Academy) and his graduate work at Syracuse University. Take it away, Kev!
What is the role of government? What SHOULD BE the role of government? These questions are easy enough to ask — difficult to answer. Many people are bothered these days by the government shutdown. Even our national leaders cannot agree on what the role of government should be. Should the government force health insurance on people? Should the government pay for this or subsidize that? What about the debt ceiling?
My education (and personal interest) is in economics. There are many branches of economics from macro-economics (performance, structure, behavior, and decision-making of an economy as a whole) to international economics (market relationships among the nations) to micro economics (the study of individuals’ interactions in markets). The one thing that ties it all together is that economics is the study of choices and incentives. It is the study of behavior and trying to figure out why people, firms, or countries behave the way they do.
The basis for most of economics is that people want stuff. People are creative problem-solvers and generally find a way to provide stuff to each other. Over time people specialize based on skills, talents, and interests. One person might provide labor as a handyman. He sells his skills and time fixing people’s houses. Money is used as a common exchange system so we don’t have to barter and trade. The person needing the washing machine repaired doesn’t give the repairman dinner. The repairman gets money that he can then use to buy whatever he wants. Currency is a great system to enable specialization!
Ok so enough of the basics. Back to the question; What is the role of government?
All types of goods have markets. This is the exchange of goods and services where some people provide the goods and other people consume them. The meeting point between the people selling and the people buying? That is the price. Most people are familiar with the interaction of supply and demand. If something has a lot of supply but low demand, the price will be low. If demand goes up, the price will go up. Since we have currency as a medium of exchange, working in free markets where suppliers and consumers can come to an agreement on price it is a great system. Everyone gets a choice. Some people will line up outside the Apple store 3 days before the new iPhone comes out and pay $400 for a new phone. Others will wait a couple years until the supply has increased and overall demand has gone down and the price has dropped to $100 for the same phone. In cases like this, no government is needed (except maybe police to keep the Apple fanatics from fighting for a place in line!).
However, there are some markets that fail. Some goods or services are not provided in the right quantity for the good of society. These are generally called public goods. Public goods are defined as non-excludable (you can’t stop people from consuming it) and non-rivalrous (my consumption does not stop your consumption). The classic public good is defense/security. An Army provides defense to everyone. Just because I am safe doesn’t mean you are not safe. We all consume security. And if we live in a secure country, there is no way to stop someone from consuming that security.
So the problem with public goods is that there is little incentive for the individual to pay for that good. Everyone else will pay for it, so why should I? That’s how we get the free rider problem. The problem is that if everyone tries to get a free ride, NO ONE will pay and we won’t get the public good! Other examples of public goods are lighthouses, clean streets, flood control, etc.
Another type of market failure is when there are negative externalities. This is just a hoity-toity way to say some choices have bad consequences that affect other people. A company many save money by producing as much as it can and just ignoring pollution. However, the rest of the community has to deal with the pollution whether they want to or not!
A third type of market failure is information asymmetry. This means that not everyone shares information equally. Buyers may not know the bad things about what they are buying because the company doesn’t tell them. Or it could be individuals buying and selling a used car. How does the buyer know whether or not he is buying a lemon? How does he know the guy selling it is being honest? Unless he’s a mechanic and very knowledgeable about cars he may never know! So he offers a lowball price to cover the risk he faces that he might have to spend money to fix up the potential lemon.
Another information related problem is copyright/patent enforcement. In today’s information society, it is pretty easy to find out how something is made. If anyone could reproduce anything, what incentive is there to be creative and come up with new products? If you won’t get to profit off your invention, why bother inventing it?
There are still more market failures but you probably get the point. Individual incentives sometimes don’t lead to the best situations for the whole of society. This is where government comes in. A legitimate government (i.e. all people recognize its authority) can effectively enforce solutions to the market failures. It will tax everyone to pay for public goods so there are no free riders. It will make sure people don’t make bad choices that affect their neighbors (pollution, etc.). It will protect consumers who might not otherwise have the right information to make good choices. It will enforce patents and copyrights so people can benefit from their ideas. Addressing market failure is a commonly agreed to role of government among economists.
The Bible talks about the role of government many times. In the time of Samuel, Israel decided they wanted a king. Prior to Saul, the nation had no king. Judges and priests were the social leaders. They helped resolve disputes and enforce justice. They were recognized as legitimate by the people because the people acknowledged the authority God placed on those judges and priests.
But then God set the precedent for peaceful voting when he allowed the people to (in effect) revolt against his social order. The people thought they knew better and demanded a king. God gave them a king but warned them about all the bad that would come of it. When the people again demanded a king God allowed it.
Unfortunately we focus so much on our earthly incentives, the economic gain from exchanging goods and services. We focus on getting more money and getting more stuff. We think and ponder about the forms of government and even God’s people complain just as we have been doing since the Israelites complained to Samuel. We argue and fight but don’t take heed of the warning God gave about earthly governments.
Jesus took a different approach to teaching priorities. He said multiple times that his Kingdom was not of this world. He was not concerned with politics. The fighting among people for power has nothing to do with God’s kingdom. When he was asked about money he said, “Give to the government what belongs to the government. And give to God what belongs to God.”
We need rules. We need enforceable processes to protect people during disputes. While a free market is the most beneficial system for exchanging goods and services, in a fallen world greed, pride, deception, and all the bad things will surely be present. Even when God’s people had no king, God still gave them judges to help resolve problems.
Letting people make their own choices for their own best interests rather than being told what to do by an oppressive government is usually the best way. But markets do fail. Greed and power spur people to take advantage of one another. But in all the wrangling over political power and crashing markets let’s remember some of the benefits of God’s kingdom not being of this world.