For Love of God—or Money?
- Thursday, October 06, 2011
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is the latest installment of Solo Zone, a monthly series focusing on believers who have taken advantage of serious opportunities God has laid in their faith walks—and whose singleness actually works to their benefit, as well as God’s glory.
Do you tithe?
Only 24 percent of evangelicals tithe, according to a Barna study.That’s not very many of us, is it?
And singles? We’re even worse at tithing.
For those of us who do tithe, we generally figure ten percent is being fair. If not generous. But what would you say to a single guy who views that figure as more of a starting point than a limit?
He hasn’t made a vow of marriage—yet—but he made a financial vow to God years ago.
Meet Charles, whose real name we’ll protect for his privacy. Ever since he first set up his own budget in college, Charles has been giving 25 percent of his total income to the Lord’s work, as both tithes and offerings. Whatever term you’d like to call it.
Because it doesn’t matter what you call it; Charles believes it’s all God’s to begin with. Every penny that God provides, through whatever our portfolio of resources looks like.
Whose Money Is It, Anyway?
"I view giving differently from most," he bluntly admits. "I don't consider the assets and funds I have mine. I believe they're God's and I'm simply a steward of what he has entrusted to me, and I am to use them for his purposes."
Now in his early 40s, perhaps Charles would find our culture amenable to the idea that more of his income belongs to him, either because singles often don’t earn what married people do, or because they end up in higher tax brackets, or because they don’t have an extra income from a spouse to help finance their household.
But Charles doesn’t see it that way. Nor does he tithe more just because he’s single.
Granted, he doesn’t have the extra expenses of children and a non-income-earning spouse. Nevertheless, while he was in college, Charles committed out of love to the Lord that he would tithe at or above 25 percent of his income regardless of his life circumstances. And by God’s grace, he’s stuck with it.
“I don’t consider any amount of my giving to be a benefit of singlehood,” Charles clarifies, shrugging off any easy rationalization of his tithing commitment. “Having a family would not change my priorities. My family would have to live on a budget that would fit the leftovers after the first fruits are given to the Lord. In addition, the 25 percent vow . . . would include any income my wife contributed.”
So he’s promised God that whatever his household earns, at least 25 percent of it is tithe. Currently, he’s tithing 30 percent. The additional 5 percent is icing on the cake, a demonstration both of faith and gratitude for all with which God has blessed him.
Doesn’t that make your brain woozy? How countercultural is such a concept—even for people of faith? Constructing a family budget after the tithe, instead of with it? And reducing one’s standard of living to accommodate a robust tithe? Who does that?
Charles has done it privately for years, and he admits it hasn’t been easy.
“Of course, the more I make and the more I tithe does cause more temptation to have wrong thoughts about it. The down side to my way of thinking is that it’s hard to buy luxuries for myself, or use funds for entertainment, without feeling guilt.”
Speaking of how much money he makes, how much is it? Charles, an IT manager, says it’s around $115,000, which he realizes tops what many two-income families earn. But he insists the generous tithe principle applies regardless of salary.
“I started out making $19,000 per year in my first job,” Charles explains. “I still gave 25 percent. The amount of income I make doesn’t factor into the percentage I give, due to the vow I made. This would not change if I were to get married.”
So, it can be done. It’s not so much how much you make, but the percentage at which you want to return what’s already God’s back to him and his work.
“I view money as a tool,” Charles says with all the candor of a Wall Street tycoon, but without the hubris. “In God’s wisdom, he has designed society to work this way. Money in itself is neither good nor bad. Mankind, in his depraved state, perverts the use of money through greed and oppression.”
Now he starts preaching!
“God’s people have a charge to redeem the use of and attitude toward money. How the church deals with finances—especially as it relates to our care of each another—can be a very strong testimony to the unbelieving world. This is true as a corporate body and individually. I think it all starts with realizing who we are, and who he is, and what he has done for us.”
A Vow for Rich and Poor
It’s been his appreciation of God’s gift of grace that’s propelled Charles to commit so extraordinarily to tithing. And yes, this means that even though Charles has a nice paycheck, and he can tithe at 30 percent without compromising a confident lifestyle, he’s still pretty frugal.
“I believe God’s people should avoid excess and extremes, and live in moderation,” he professes, although he understands that “moderation” is a relative term.
“The Lord entrusts different things to different people. Simply having food to eat, clothes to wear, and shelter, is sufficient. But I don’t believe Scripture teaches us that we’re sinning if we have more than the bare essentials of life. If God blesses one with riches, I would expect that person’s lifestyle would be far different from the one he blesses with only enough to scrape by. What is required is that in either case, what one has should be used to the honor and glory of God.”
Not that Charles wants us to think he’s holier than we are. Instead, isn’t visiting the principles by which he manages his finances helpful for the rest of us? After all, his lifestyle isn’t anything not taught in Scripture, so it’s nothing new.
Neither is the allure to deviate from his tithing vow.
“The temptation towards materialism is always present. The more stuff I acquire, the more I find it acquires me,” confesses Charles. “That said, the real test is when God takes away the luxuries, comforts, and accumulated things. At that point I will find out if I am materialistic or not; if I will praise God . . . and be thankful, or turn bitter. Trial by fire can refine or destroy. But by the grace of God, I know when the time comes the Holy Spirit will cause me to stand.”
After all, we’ll have eternity to enjoy what we’ll never acquire on earth.
“All belongs to God,” he maintains. “So, while the first fruits go to him right off the top, it is an incorrect attitude to assume that the remainder is mine to do with as I please.
“While it is not wrong to spend money on myself even for luxuries and entertainment, it must be done in moderation, with an eye to eternal riches, and not temporal enjoyment.”
From his smorgasboard of church experience, ranging from the Christian and Missionary Alliance to the Presbyterian Church in America, Tim Laitinen brings a range of observations to his perspective on how we Americans worship, fellowship, and minister among our communities of faith. As a one-time employee of a Bible church in suburban Fort Worth, Texas and a former volunteer director of the contemporary Christian music ministry at New York City's legendary Calvary Baptist, he's seen our church culture from the inside out. You can read about his unique viewpoints at o-l-i.blogspot.com.
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