Growing up as a preacher’s kid, the importance of tithing eluded me. My tithe money to the church would help pay the salary of my dad, who would then give me money for allowance, from which I would then tithe, which would pay for the salary of my dad… To my young and self-absorbed mind, it seemed like an unnecessary financial loop.
Of course, as I became a follower of Jesus at age 19 and realized the importance of obedience and prioritizing God above other things, my attitudes shifted. Still, although I have surrendered many things and experienced great change and positive growth through my maturing Christianity, truly trusting God with my money was always just out of reach. Fear or selfishness would often win. The most obvious area where this would play out is tithing.
Financial immaturity or foolish mismanagement? Scale down on the tithing a bit this month. No need to be legalistically bound to an exact 10%! Unexpected medical bill? Oops, well I guess I “have no choice” but to skip tithe this month. After all, God, you could have prevented that trip to the ER if you wanted! Need extra money to buy Christmas presents for my ever expanding circle of friends, family, in-laws, co-workers, and acquaintances? Well, it’s for a good cause – celebrating the birth of Christ and sharing with others (rationalize, rationalize, rationalize).
Many Christians and many sermons focus on the second half of Malachi 3:10, “test me now in this,” says Yahweh of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.” Not as much focus is placed on the imperative at the beginning, the command to, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house…”
The longer I was a Christian, and the more steps to financial maturity and financial oneness with my spouse I took, the more my failure to consistently tithe a full 10% troubled me. I would go long periods of doing really well, and then blow it. Sometimes during those good stretches God would clearly bless my obedience and other times he would not. I began to realize what this signified about me – I really didn’t trust that God would be there for me and have my back, at least in this area. Or I would give up control only later to take it back. It also highlighted a core belief that I have carried for a long time – “I can ultimately only rely on myself to get my needs met.”
But one day, Socrates made it all come together. What? How did this ancient, non-Christian (pre-Christian) philosopher from Greece help me trust Jesus with my money? For a few years I have been teaching classes on the Seven Christian Virtues, the first four Cardinal Virtues originating in ethical Greek philosophy. One quote from Socrates that would always start off the series of classes would be, “It is not living that matters, but living rightly.” One day I decided to actually research the context of that quote, which led me to Crito, a dialogue captured by Plato between Socrates and Crito on the subject of justice:
Then, most excellent friend, we must not consider at all what the many will say of us, but what he who knows about right and wrong, the one man, and truth herself will say. And so you introduced the discussion wrongly in the first place, when you began by saying we ought to consider the opinion of the multitude about the right and the noble and the good and their opposites. But it might, of course, be said that the multitude can put us to death.
That is clear, too. It would be said, Socrates.
That is true. But, my friend, the argument we have just finished seems to me still much the same as before; and now see whether we still hold to this, or not, that it is not living, but living well which we ought to consider most important.
We do hold to it.
And that living well and living rightly are the same thing, do we hold to that, or not?
As I used this excerpt to expound on that initiatory quote for my virtues class, a deeper truth dawned on me. Living well and living rightly are indeed the same thing. Here in America, very few people think of living well and living rightly as being the same. After all, we were raised on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, try to keep up with the Jones’s, are exposed to thousands of advertising messages a day designed to make us feel discontent, and stress over first-world problems on a regular basis.
I needed to radically shift my perspective.
If I faithfully pay the whole tithe, and have to eat ramen noodles and peanut butter all week, that is living well. If I faithfully pay the whole tithe and am not able to buy a single Christmas present this year, that is living well. If I am late on a power bill or have to work extra jobs to make ends meet, but I faithfully pay the whole tithe, that is living well! If I have to move my entire family into a one-bedroom apartment in an unglamorous part of town, but I am 100% obedient to God, that is truly a life lived well!
And now, for the first time in my life, I am truly and completely trusting God with my money.