Frank and I were talking the other day about our finances. Now that we’ve moved into the house and things are settling down, we decided it was time to look at the budget again. We’re also at an age (this sounds so old!) when things like retirement savings enter the conversation. Maybe it’s because our parents are at retirement age or maybe it’s because a stressful job makes retirement sound amazing, but we’ve been looking at ways of being financially secure when we’re ready to stop working.
We also talked about tithing. Before we were married, we each gave a set percentage of our income to charitable organizations and we’ve since combined and increased those givings, as we’ve been able to. As we were looking at our own finances, we wondered about continuing to increase our giving. What is the balance between taking care of ourselves and our family and living an open-handed life?
Though the Old Testament gives a 10% guideline, Jesus is much more about the spirit of tithing rather than a specific number. We began talking about Kingdom Living and what that means as we choose organizations to give to. Is 10% enough? According to one story, Jesus requires 100% to be given. Other communities pooled resources to live communally. What does tithing look like in our modern, American, independent culture? How do we live responsibly without focusing on storing up treasures on earth?
At the beginning of the year, our church did a series on giving. One guest pastor, Mark Miller, talked about “spectatorship vs. ownership.” He was speaking in the context of church involvement, but as we grappled with our own giving, we wondered how that concept plays into the world at large. How do our financial choices – both in spending and in giving generously – reflect an ownership in the restoration of God’s kingdom rather than a passive spectatorship? On the one hand, it’s easy to set up automatic withdrawals each month. Giving is taken out of our budget before we ever see the cash and the fact that we do give can easily slip to the back of my mind. How can I change the mentality of giving to one that is more active?
For us, the way tithing and living generously becomes more active is when we lay a foundation of hospitality under our gifts. While we continue to give a set percentage of our income to various organizations, we also look at how our lifestyle reflects a spirit of giving. How do we open our home to others, displaying hospitality through food and comfort? How do we use the gifts we are given that don’t fit on a line-itemed budget to further redemption of our earth? I have a friend who uses part of her allotted tithe to buying ethically raised and butchered meat. We don’t only give to our church or Christian organizations, but to places who help redeem our environment and who give resources and tools to people learning to build their own sustainable businesses. We look at how our spending and choices affect the whole earth.
I wonder if that is a way to interpret what Jesus meant when he said, “Sell everything to follow me.” (Matthew 19:21) If it’s less about having absolutely nothing and more about using all we have to further the Kingdom. If that’s the case, then everything we spend, everything we invest in, every monetary decision we make is a reflection of the way we tithe and support Kingdom-building.
Do you give to charity? How do you balance generosity with responsibility?
Inspired by The High Calling’s theme of tithing.