Are 'Offerings' Above and Beyond My Tithe?
As part of our "Ask Pastor Dave" blog post series, a parishioner wrote in to ask...
"Some friends and I were discussing Malachi 3:6-12, which seems to come up in every discussion about giving back to God a portion of the fruits of our labor. I am understanding that the storehouse is the local church and that that is where my tithe should go and that 'offerings' would be that portion of my giving that I could use at my discretion above and beyond my tithe."
Historically, at least in our country, tithing is the practice of giving 10% of one’s income to one’s church. Offerings are gifts given above and beyond the tithe, either to the church or to other Christian ministries. Charitable giving to non-Christian organizations would not typically be included in either of these categories.
The concept of tithing is very interesting from a Biblical point of view. Most references are found in the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament). Jesus only refers to it a couple of times, and negatively: pointing out those who tithe, but whose lives still need a lot of work. He doesn’t apply a one-size-fits-all formula for generosity. Sometimes he demands that people give it all away (Matthew 19:21). He inspires Zacchaeus to give half his possessions to the poor (Luke 19:8) – although, arguably, this isn’t commanded by Jesus. Sometimes it seems as though a cup of cold water given to someone who is thirsty is enough (Matthew 10:42).
At the same time, he is strong in promoting generosity, even suggesting that owning possessions is incompatible with discipleship: Matthew 19:24, Luke 12:33, 14:33. Most of his disciples “left everything to follow him.”
All that said, tithing is the only specific target mentioned in the Bible, and It has changed many lives when it has been presented in a gracious and inviting way.
Tithing is a discipline that can help us grow less interested in ourselves, and more interested in the needs of others. In my experience, generous people tend to be the happiest, most peaceful, most mission-focused people I’ve met.
In addition to Malachi, you might want to reflect on Proverbs 3. It features an agricultural image. The farmer would go into the field, harvest the first tenth, and thank God by giving it to the temple; then go out and harvest the remaining 90%, and trust that this was enough to feed the family until the next harvest.
We also find Jesus’ image of the “steward” to be helpful. The steward is a first-century slave or servant who is in charge of the master’s entire household. This slave has control over more assets than most people in town, but owns none of it. It remains the property of the master, who expects it to be used in a way that is pleasing to the master.
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