Tithes, taxes and the Children of God

Should Christians “Tithe?” This was our starter question at Sunday Night Church yesterday. We talked about how we often associate tithing with prosperity teaching. You may have heard a TV evangelist saying that if you pay your tithe (to him of course) then you will be blessed and if you don’t then you will suffer.

However, we didn’t just want to engage with Prosperity teaching. You see, a lot of Christians will talk about tithing as a requirement not because they want to get rich but because they want to obey God’s Word. We want to consider the strongest form of the argument not the weakest. The strongest form of the argument is that Tithing is a law laid down in the Torah and never rescinded by Jesus.

This is where our Bible study comes in. We were reading Matthew 17:24ff which tells about the Temple Tax collectors coming to see Jesus and his disciples. They ask Peter if Jesus pays the temple tax.  He says “Yes of course” but when he goes into the house, Jesus says,

“What do you think, Peter? Do kings tax their own people or the people they have conquered?”[1]

Peter responds that it is the conquered people who are taxed.  Jesus then says

“Well, then,” Jesus said, “the citizens are free!”[2]

In fact, what Jesus says is even stronger than how the NLT puts it. It’s not just that the citizens are free but that the sons are free. Children don’t get taxed. Jesus turns a question about tax – in this case a religious tax into a question about status and relationship. Jesus himself is The Son. He is under no obligation to pay tax to his father. The disciples and we are sons by adoption. We too are part of the family.

We realised that this should revolutionise our view of tithing and taxing.

On Tithes

If we think legalistically in terms of having to give our 10% then we are tempted to think in terms of our wages being our money. It belongs to me but then I give God (via the Church) 10% meaning that 10% belongs to God and 90% to me.  I have fulfilled my obligation to God and then I can do what I like with the rest.

However, when we look at the question of money and giving as members of the family our perspective is different. Everything belongs to God including the whole of my income.  I don’t just give him 10%.  This means that every decision I make about how to spend my money including what goes in the shopping trolley, where I go on holiday, what I order online is a decision about what to do with what belongs to God.  I should seek to make every decision based on what will bring honour and glory to him.

The other side of the coin is that we are sons and heirs and so we have a share in this. When we give to gospel work, then we are not giving out of the family. It still remains within our stewardship.  We are not giving to meet a legalistic requirement but because our hearts are moved and out of a desire to glorify God and to help look after the family interests.

I am no longer thinking legalistically in terms of “what percentage must I give.” I am thinking from the heart, motivated by grace in terms of

-How should I respond to lavish grace?

-What is needed?

-What am I able to contribute?

On taxes

The Temple tax wasn’t the same as our modern tax system. However, I think there’s a helpful implication here too especially during a General Election.

During a General election, we are bombarded with all sorts of messages from politicians about what they are going to do for us. There’s a temptation to think selfishly especially when it comes to our wallets.  Now, when I think about how to vote, then I should be thinking differently. As a child of the King, I believe that everything comes under the King’s rule. It all belongs to him. So I should be thinking about how I can vote in a way that will bring him glory and be in line with the things he delights in. That means I will be concerned to support tax and spending policies that, for example, have the interests of the vulnerable and needy at heart.

Now, as we’ve noted several times on faithroots.net, we will probably come to different conclusions about how that is best done and so Christians will vote for different parties. The important thing is that our heart motives are right and we take time to think things through prayerfully and carefully.

The second point to remember is this. Many of us will approach a General election with fear. We know that the politicians make promises but we also know that there are costs and one way or another someone will have to foot the bill. This means that financially speaking, at least some, if not all, of the congregation may have to pay more tax over the next few years. Some may be worse off financially, some may be worried about their jobs and their homes.

Oh, and in an urban environment like ours, a lot of people in the church community don’t get a vote, so like the people of Jesus’ day have no say and no control over what the government do to them.

This is where the new perspective that Jesus gives us is vital. First of all, because God is Lord over everything, those resources don’t move out of his sovereign control when they move between private individuals, large corporations and the Government.

Secondly, as children, we know that whether we keep a larger or smaller share of our income, whether or not we pay more tax, whether or not we are financially better or worse off, our security is not in money but in our relationship to God. We are his children and he has promised to look after us. We do not have to fear the future. This does not mean that we are guaranteed protection from poverty or suffering but it does mean that we can trust God to look after our lives and work these things out for our eternal good.

[1] Matthew 17:25.

[2] Matthew 17:26.