Friday, September 18, 2009

Pay Tithing First To Put God First???

So, I was thinking about tithing a bit this week.  Rather a theoretical commandment for me, at the moment, till I actually start having "increase" again that isn't due to a massive influx of debt. My wife and I have talked about the "pay the Lord first" concept before, but it came up again this week.  I really don't understand the justification of those teaching this position.  It surprises me to see it taught as if it were the "scriptural" way of doing things... often citing references to the Old Testament, and commandments to bring the "first fruits" as offerings.

The reason this bothers me is that all these passages referring to first fruits are most certainly not referring to tithing.  The ancient Israelites were commanded to offer many different sacrifices, for different reasons.  But in an agrarian society, paying tithing using the first fruits is a real impossibility.  Tithe literally means tenth.  It's a percentage.  It cannot be calculated until the total is known.  If I have 100 cows that are pregnant, I'm not commanded to bring the first ten calves and pay them as tithing. Why? What if 10 cows abort? Stillborn calves.  Calves dying shortly after birth.  Twins born. Etc.  My debt to the Lord would change significantly.

So that isn't the case today.  We can, with relative certainty, predict the size of our "harvest" and number our "flocks" without waiting to see for sure.  But that doesn't change the fact that the commandment to tithe had nothing to do with first fruits.  This is a modern conflation of tithes with other offerings.  Now, I know the point people are trying to teach, that we need to place priority on serving the Lord, and on obeying him... but I don't think we can say that just because we do something first we're putting it above him priority wise.  I generally get my homework done before recreating with my wife, but that doesn't mean I think that homework is more important than she is.

Is the Lord angry with those that pay their tithing, before their other bills?  Perhaps not.  But I also can't imagine that he would be the least bit displeased with those who pay their mortgage, car payment, insurance, etc. first, then hope they have enough left for tithing. This isn't a net vs gross issue, which I also find interesting.  It's a chronological first vs last.

Honestly, I imagine it's the reason we even do tithing settlement. So we can pay up once we've been able to calculate our interest from the prior year.  This has got me thinking too, and I've decided that there's really no good reason we have to use the calendar year for our obeying the "anually" part of the commandment.  Why not have our own personal tithing settlement every July, or something.  It seems December is the worst possible time, for a lot of families, by the time they pay for Christmas related expenses, to come up with extra cash they realize they ought to pay as tithing.  Why not do it right after we file taxes, or better yet, receive our tax returns?

So, any thoughts on why we need to pay tithing first, or why December is good time for tithing settlement? Or anything else tithing related, I suppose?


  1. The way you put it; it probably dosen't matter when you do it. If you put God second, pay when or if you have the money. After you have bought all of the Christmas things, your car payments, your credit card payments and of course your house payments. Then you give because you have to. Well you might be like Cain and your offering might not be accepted by God. So why pay it at all for all the good it will do?
    (Ok, you know I didn't really mean don't pay.)

  2. "But I also can't imagine that he would be the least bit displeased with those who pay their mortgage, car payment, insurance, etc. first, then hope they have enough left for tithing."

    Well, let's do a thought experiment...

    Imagine two families of the same size with the same salary.

    One family has a large house with a large mortgage, one has a small house with a small mortgage.

    One family spends $600 on food every month, the other $200.

    One family owns three cars, the other one.

    Again, same salary, but the first family has spent virtually all of their income on "bills", while the second has a fair amount left over.

    And you're saying God would be perfectly fine with the first family paying less in tithing than the second (if not nothing at all) because, hey, sorry, we spent all of our take-home money first on our "bills"?

    Lifestyle choices *affect* bills -- if buying a bigger house at the expense of tithing becomes a virtual "tax shelter" in God's eyes, why *not* buy a bigger house? Or a second car? Or shop at the upper-scale supermarket instead of the discount bulk store?

    Sorry, I don't think the principle of tithing is supposed to involve "shelters" -- where God is happy to get whatever 'crumbs' are left over after everyone else at the table has gotten what they want.

    If you pay tithing off the top, before everyone else, then everyone with the same income has the same responsibility. Without the illogical situation of a family being 'punished' with additional obligations for being frugal and modest in their spending in the first place.

    And afterwards, if a family wants a big house or a third car with what's left, they BUY a big house or a third car. What's left is their money to make whatever lifestyle choices they want.

    Sorry, I don't think this view of tithing is defensible...

  3. A couple things, and yes, I do think it's defensible.

    Your thought experiment is an interesting one, though it deals almost exclusively with the net vs. gross issue, not the chronological one I meant to address here. (Perhaps I shouldn't have said "hope they have enough left over" and left it as "then pay thier tithing")

    I think it's a poor assumption to say that anytime a commandment requires more, that must be what God wants. If God, who gave the commandment, wants me to pay net (or gross), that's up to him, not up to me to say, 'it'd show more devotion to do it this way, so that's now a requirement.'

    Lifestyle choices do affect bills. Is there anything wrong with having 7 cars, a boat, and a mansion? Just because it wouldn't violate the law of tithing doensn't mean it would be ok. Buying that beach house limits your opportunity ($$$) to give charitably to others. It makes you work longer hours to pay the mortgage, depriving your family of your time.

    In God's eyes, is everything equal in those two houses? Probably not, but that doens't mean they're not both paying tithing properly.

    Again, I think I'll have to get a post up soon on net vs gross, to get my feelings better explained. (actually, to help me understand where I sit might be a better explanation)

  4. I've never thought of it as though we are actually being told that we have to physically pay our tithing first. I've always just interpreted that as setting aside the tithe first so that it doesn't get spent between rent and insurance and that shiny new laptop.

  5. You know, I think the whole tithing thing is totally flawed in the Church today. There are so many members paying their tiths off of loans. They are actually financing their tithing with creditcards and so on. Tithing confuses me, because it seems very fair in the beginning. All have to pay 10% of their annual income. But the fairness only applies up to a certain extent.

    Is it really the same for a low income family and a high income family? There are many members who don't even "feel" the payments. They make so much moeney it doesn't matter to them. When I was thinking about this I came across a scripture, a paragraph from the old testament (JST). "Wherefore Abram paid unto him tithes of all that he had, of all the riches which he possessed, which God had given him more than that which he had need." JST Genesis 14:39. Now this gives me a whole new perspective and I can understand why the GA's don't mention this paragraph when talking about tithing.

    Should I only pay tithing from what is more than I need? If so, I will have to determine what is needed and what is plain luxury. That takes effort, but I think that's what the Lord wants us to do. He wants us to be actively sorting out what is needed and what is not. We need a place to live, in most cases we need a car, food, clothings etc. It's really up to you to decide. It's an exercise of common sense and love. When our money is spent on these necesseties first, the rest is subject to tithing, at least according to this JST paragraph.

  6. I don't think God needs, or wants, our money. I think He wants our hearts. (He owns everything BUT our hearts.) He puts us in positions where we have to show whether we value Him more than this or that thing. What may be an easy test for one may be hard for another. The rich young ruler was asked to part with all his material wealth and follow Jesus. The young man couldn't clear the bar. Peter patted himself on the back, and announced that he and the other twelve had done just that. But Jesus warned him of higher bars to clear--Peter denied knowing the Savior to save his own life.

    "If ye love me, keep my commandments." Peter loved the Savior more than his career, but it took a while before he loved Jesus more than his own physical safety or survival. But Peter's overall trajectory was one of progress.

    The way we pay tithing, the attitude, is the most important thing. It shows how, and whether, we love God. If we let go of it grudgingly, we've already failed. We've drawn near to God with our lips, but our hearts are far from Him.

    The names of various sacrifices in the Old Testament are instructive. You mention "first fruits." "Free will offering" is another instructive phrase. We are simply told "ten percent," but the spin we choose to put on those words--net or gross, before or after the bills are paid, etc.--tells the Lord where we rank Him on our list of priorities.

    God has has given us everything we have, and the very best He had (the Savior), for our spiritual and temporal welfare. He is generous and openhanded, ready to share all He has. It seems reasonable that we should reciprocate, and be willing to part with all we have, however small, at His request. We expect, and receive, so much from Him.

    Does our reciprocation of love really have to pass through the filters of a calculator or a budget? Can it even survive after passing through the meat grinder of legal technicalities and gnat-straining?

    If we are looking for ways to give as little as possible, our hearts are probably in the wrong place to begin with, and we will probably receive blessings in kind.