BY SOLOMON KIM
I’m terribly bad at getting people gifts. Just terrible. I think it’s because I think too much. Will she like it? Will he even use it? My saving grace is always the old adage, “It’s the thought that counts.”
The meaning is simple. Neither the gift nor the act of giving is what truly matters. It is the intention behind the giving that matters. For those of you who have received especially mediocre gifts from me, I pray you share that sentiment. What, then, is my intention behind giving an offering or tithe to God? How much thought do I spare for the money I put in the plate at church?
Honestly speaking, not much at all. For my entire life, giving back to God has been yielding a buck or two I happen to find in my wallet as the congregation enters the time of offering. Tithing has been giving up something close to ten percent of my wages as outlined in the Bible. I give what is expected of me. I do what I was taught to do. Does it mean anything if I do it this way? If I think of my offering as the couple bucks that I need to buy myself a can of green tea (which I love), I may tell myself that I need tea and God has no need for my money this week, and it’s true. God has no need for the scraps of paper we assign worth to. He is not a few dollars short of buying a meal up in heaven. To think He needs or wants to take away our money is absurd. Giving to God is not something He requires of us.
This thought struck me as odd when I first heard it. “I don’t believe you are required to give a certain amount of your income.” When those words came out of Pastor Francis Chan’s mouth, it set off alarms in my head. The Bible says in Numbers 18:26 (NIV), “Speak to the Levites and say to them, ‘When you receive from the Israelites the tithe I give you as your inheritance, you must present a tenth of that tithe as the LORD’s offering.’” It clearly states that I am required to give a tenth of what I get to God, doesn’t it? In a time when my salvation was based on my work and righteousness, yes. In a time before Christ died for my sins and freed me from the bondage of the law, yes.
Christ’s death and resurrection ensured that we don’t have to be perfect beings to enter the perfect realm of heaven. The laws of the Old Testament no longer condemn us because those who believe Jesus is the Savior of mankind are guaranteed salvation by faith. In short, obeying laws is not what gets us into heaven. By no means does that mean we live lawlessly. It simply means that there is a totally new and revolutionary reason to follow God’s laws.
Why do we follow any law? When I drive my car, I’m not a reckless driver, and I generally follow traffic laws. Despite this, when a police car appears, I sit up, my hands shoot to ten and two, and I attempt to look as inconspicuous as possible. Why? Why do law enforcement officials trigger this reaction in so many of us? It’s quite obvious why. Tickets and traffic school really suck. It is the fear of being punished that convicts us to follow laws.
Just as it is with traffic laws, it was fear of being punished that motivated the Israelites to obey Old Testament law. Spiritual and even physical death were the punishment, the fires of Hell would wait for them. Such a lifestyle is tough, isn’t it? Statistically, the average person breaks eight laws pulling out of their driveway. How much harder is it to live an entire lifetime sinless and pure? There aren’t enough lambs on earth to forgive that sin.
Therein lies the beauty of Jesus. He is referred to as “The Lamb” whose sacrifice forgives every little law we break. Through Him we are justified. The implications of His death on the cross are enormous. Where once we had to be perfect, we can now be flawed. Where once our salvation hinged on what we are supposed to do, it is now secured by what Christ has done. Through Him we are freed. Simply put, we are given a ticket to paradise, no strings attached.
It sounds too good to be true. The Creator of the universe loves us and has done everything necessary to be with us. Amazing! Why then, are there still so many things that we are supposed to do, certain words we are supposed to say? Go to church every Sunday, read the Bible, give tithes and offerings. Why, if Jesus’ sacrifice freed us from the law, do we have to do all these religious things? That’s exactly the point. We don’t. Jesus gave up His place in paradise so that we, through His loss, might receive salvation. He did all the work. The only thing we do is receive.
The next logical step in one’s thought process would be to question why anyone would do anything “religious.” Why go to church on Sunday when I can watch football? Why pray and study my Bible in the morning when I can sleep in for an extra fifteen minutes? Why throw away a tenth of my salary when I can buy myself a bigger television?
It is typically with tithing that people have the largest issue. To put it into perspective, if Bill Gates were to tithe ten percent of his yearly salary, he would be giving close to four hundred million dollars a year. Ten percent of a paycheck is a lot of money even on a significantly lower salary. If God doesn’t require us to give this to Him, why do it?
It is a deceivingly simple answer. Do it out of love and thanksgiving to a God who sacrificed His only Son so He could be with us in heaven. If you truly understand the extent to which God has provided for and loved us, you can only rejoice and lift up praise to God.
However, just saying that one should do something for the sake of love is so vague and cliché without proper context. In fourth grade, my teacher had a system designed to motivate us to do our homework. For each week we turned in all of our assignments, we received a red ticket. These tickets could then be used at a monthly raffle for miscellaneous prizes. Being a much better student then than I am now, I had hoarded several weeks worth of tickets to use if I saw a prize that I really wanted. One month, my teacher presented a small crystal bowl. It was a strange prize, not really interesting to eight and nine year-old kids. I used all my tickets, won it, and gave it to my mom.
I pray you understand why I did that. I could have saved my tickets for another month and used them to win an awesome Beanie Baby like the other kids, but I didn’t because I wanted to give yet another tasteless gift to my mom. It is the same with God. “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7, NIV)
When I see the offering plate being passed around Sunday morning, I can’t help but notice who actually puts something in. I experience the pressure to give a little just so that others can’t judge me as impious. God doesn’t want that. He only wants offerings from cheerful givers who have set aside a portion of their resources to simply say, “I love you,” and, “Thanks for the blessings.” When you are handed the plate, God isn’t demanding your money. The plate, the people, none of it matters. What matters is whether or not you are giving what you have decided in your heart to give. God asks for nothing more, and in my opinion, we should do nothing less.