“Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: ‘The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little’” (2 Corinthians 8:13-15).
Watching tithing in practice, and listening to how it’s commonly preached, has more often than not seemed more legalistic than heartfelt to me. I feel like, well, while you’re dropping your obligatory ten percent into the offering plate, you may as well kill two birds with one stone, and go get yourself circumcised too. Something about the focus placed on a minimum percentage just seems awfully legalistic to me, but who am I to question the collective wisdom of the Church?
How much money does Jesus want? After all, it all belongs to him, anyway, including that of non-believers. Is Jesus satisfied with just ten percent? Does he want half of everything? Or does he want it all? Jesus told the wealthy ruler in Luke 18 to sell all of his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor, yet just one chapter later, in Luke 19, Zacchaeus offered to give half of his possessions to the poor, as well as pay back four times the amount to anyone he had cheated, and Jesus responded that salvation had come to his house that day. I like these two accounts, in particular, because one was recorded right after the other, and they illustrate, to me at least, that maybe God is less concerned with the percentage given as he is with the heart of the giver. I think I may be on to something.
In 2 Corinthians, the Corinthians had closed their hearts to Paul, and withheld their affections, in terms of financial support. Paul cited the generosity of the Macedonian churches, who had given to the point of self-sacrifice, but he never cited any laws of tithing. Instead, Paul asked for a turning of the heart; he wanted their gift to be given out of love, not compulsion. Although Paul reminded the Corinthians that Christ had become poor for their sakes, his desire was not that they give more than there was to give; Paul was aiming for equality. “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: ‘The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little’” (2 Corinthians 8:13-15). Some faith leaders pressure their flocks, often those with the least to spare, to step out on faith and pledge more than they have; they mock the spirit of the widow’s offering (Mark 12:44).
The old covenant required a simple percentage; therefore, everyone knew how much was required of them. The new covenant, on the other hand, has no set percentage; it does so much more, by testing our priorities, exposing what we treasure most, and revealing where our hearts truly lie. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). I believe that people stumble over tithing today in much the same way people of Paul’s day stumbled over circumcision. No longer bound by a code of legalisms, we seek God about how much to give, and then we give cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7). The value of our offering isn’t determined by the amount we give, but rather where our hearts lie evidenced by how we give; that’s the new covenant.
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