We were 21, newly married, and snugly settled into our one-room apartment above a garage. I was a part-time student, so support for this marriage venture came from part-time work. Pickings were slim.
Kathleen and I brought into our life together a shared conviction that we should tithe whatever money passed through our hands — setting aside one-tenth for the Lord’s work. We had been taught that salvation is a gift but it calls for a lifestyle that is honoring to our Lord. Tithing seemed to be part of that lifestyle.
It wasn’t easy. I was in school for eight years after we were married. One of those years proved financially treacherous. Carrying a full academic load while struggling to meet the needs of a wife and two little dependents taxed us to the limit. By the grace of God, we survived.
1. We were taught to tithe by godly parents.
My wife’s mother raised seven children on a widow’s pension of $60 a month. The older children remember that she set aside six dollars of that meager amount for her church. In my case, my mother confided to me when I was a boy that when you have a dime, you set aside one penny for the Lord’s work. Converted at age 16, I began the practice — falteringly at first, but eventually with some consistency. Kathleen’s conversion at 16 prompted the same response.
2. Tithing is a systematic way of expressing gratitude to God.
We know that Christ’s death for our salvation was an unprecedented act of love. And we know that God showers us with temporal blessings — shelter, food, clothing and relationships. What better way to demonstrate our gratitude than by setting aside a tithe for sharing our blessings with others?
3. Tithing enhances our sense of accountability to God.
We recall the example of a Christian railroad engineer, back in the days of steam locomotives, who left the pay car each month and took a tithe of his earnings directly to his pastor. Asked why, he responded, “My job has its dangers; I don’t want to die with the Lord’s money in my pocket.”
4. Tithing enriches the deep togetherness of marriage.
Jesus taught that marriage is a “one flesh” relationship (Matthew 19:4-6). How could we be “together” in the fullest sense if we did not act on common convictions about the spiritual meaning of money entrusted to us? We see money as an exchange for time spent. When you work, you give up a week of time and in exchange receive a monetary reward. Money is thus a residue of time, so tithing makes a statement about the spiritual nature of life itself.
5. Systematic tithing supports the local church’s good ministries.
During my 19 years as a church overseer, we were often absent from our home church. But the church employed a staff who served the congregation on our behalf. They conducted public worship and instructed children in the faith. Without charge, they ministered to the sick, the troubled, the grieving. A home church was our first responsibility.
6. Tithing seems to make the remaining 90 percent go further.
How? First, we found that tithing made us more careful with what was left because that too was the Lord’s money. Moreover, tithing on a minister’s salary taught us to mend any “holes” in our pockets so that, however sparse our income, giving could be a regular part of our shared life.
Second, we believe the Lord rewards in His own way those who make His work their first priority (Matthew 6:33). Just like everybody else, tithers can be laid off or faced with unexpected car repairs, but their special care with money and the Lord’s added surprises make things come out better in the long run. As one farmer said, “When we shovel out, the Lord shovels in — and He always uses a bigger shovel.”
7. Tithing seems like a mature Christian practice.
During my late teen years I found it easy to stand on the roadside with a suitcase and catch a ride. When I was picked up, someone else owned the car, paid the insurance, bought the gas and underwrote the repairs. I rode for free. Today, Kathleen and I would feel like adolescent hitchhikers if we accepted the blessings of the church while leaving others to underwrite its ministries.
8. Tithing stimulates generosity.
As our Christian lives have developed we’ve become increasingly aware of God’s great generosity: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). Tithing is no match for that level of giving. At the same time, we believe tithing can be a training exercise for generosity. Earmarking at least 10 percent for the Lord’s work prepares us to respond generously to needs that arise beyond the claims of our tithes. In a sense, the commitment to tithe is like the ratchet on a hoist. It doesn’t set upper limits, but it keeps us from slipping backward when pressures come.
9. Tithing helps us remember that for Christians, all of life is for giving.
Jesus did not command tithing, but He did commend it (Matthew 23:23). And the New Testament goes well beyond. Chapters 8 and 9 of 2 Corinthians exhort us to bountiful giving, describing believers whose “extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity” and who gave “even beyond their ability.” After 60 years, our belief is that 10 percent of gross income is the best starting point for a life of giving.
Looking back, we know that we are the richer for having started the practice of tithing at the outset of a married life launched on meager resources. The Apostle Paul made a telling point when he wrote, “You will always be rich enough to be generous” (2 Corinthians 9:11 NEB).