Tuesday, April 04, 2006Give off the top... live off the rest.
Christians ought to be marked by their giving. Generosity needs to be part of who we are. (See 2Cor. 9:6-7) As a general principle, it is proper to give 10% of your income to your church. This is called tithing. I have known some Christians who would not do this because they were not fully in agreement with the church's teachings or practices. They would be willing to attend the church, send their children to Sunday School there and sit under the preaching themselves, but not give their money. They would use all the programs and resources the church offered, all of which cost a great deal of money, but would not give a dime to help with those costs. I disagree with that line of reasoning. If you, as a believer, go to a church, you should tithe there. If you disagree with them in some areas, seek to find a church where you belong, but don't stop tithing at the church you go to until you start to go elsewhere.
Some Christians object to tithing, saying it is an Old Testament commandment, not relevant to the church today. My pastor's response to that is: "Yes, we are only told to give, rather than to tithe - so why not give more than the 10%?!" Of course, the attitude in giving is more important than the amount. It must not be done "grudgingly or of necessity." So, if the amount is not important, why do I still insist on talking about 10%? Because the principle I want to impart is that of giving first. We give a set amount off the top of our income. Then, with what remains, we determine the lifestyle we can afford to live; how much money we will have for a home and food and clothing and all the other things.
Ten per cent is a lot of money. Financial advisors will tell people to put away the first 10% of their income for themselves as a means to save for retirement. How can a person put away 10% for himself and give another 10% to his church? Well, many people can't. For Christians, giving to the church should be the priority. Then, the budget. Then, savings with what is left over if there is anything. Christians don't HAVE to save. It is not wrong to save, but the widow who gave her last coin was praised by the Lord for her act of faith.
We have noticed that most people we know tithe to something. That is, while we as Christians, give a tenth of our income to our church, our neighbours and co-workers spend the equivalent on various vices. Some will smoke and drink away that much money. Others will spend it on expensive hobbies and entertainment. Rand and I will look at each other in bewilderment and wonder how certain people finance their lifestyles. Then one of us will remember, Ah yes... that's their tithe! If we weren't giving to our church, we could do that too! In the same way that we find our whole essence of being from Christ and the church, others will reveal where their essence lies by where they give their tithe. Christians who are struggling to tithe both to their church AND various habits will be miserable, not just because of the drain on their resources, but because of the underlying problem of not giving themselves fully to Christ.
Although we have been faithful to tithe in our home, it often bothered me that we were not marked by generosity. I can think of a number of family members who are not Christians, but are more generous than I. They give gifts for no reason and are quick to share their money with those who need it. I wanted to be more giving but it just seemed like with one income to support 5 people, there was no way we could give our money to others.
Since we have started budgeting more stringently (see Family Finances Parts 1, 2 and 3), we have been able to budget for this type of giving. In our envelope system of budgeting, there is an envelope with some money designated for giving "unplanned gifts." It is not a large amount, but it ensures that we consistently have something to be generous with, not just when we come into some unplanned money ourselves. At least once every 3 months (which is how often we fill our envelopes), we can give money or spontaneous gifts to people we care for. It is something that was lacking in the past in our home. We were takers, always looking out for freebies from family and friends, but never giving back - well, of course we sometimes had freebies to give back, but rarely any portion of our finances got allocated to those who help us in so many different ways every day. And there usually wasn't money left over for anyone who fell outside of our family and friends. Let me stress, this can be a very small amount of money if necessary. Inexpensive gifts can be loving gifts. Then again, it can be a large amount if your budget will allow that. Of all the things I spend on, the ones I later regret are not likely to be the gifts I give.