Whenever I start talking about stewardship, people immediately want to shrink the discussion to tithing. Now, tithing is part of stewardship, but stewardship is much more than tithing. Biblical stewardship encompasses the whole of our lives—resources, relationships, time, talents, opportunities and challenges. Biblical stewardship reminds us that everything belongs to God. Sure, everyone knows that, yet few of us have taken the time to think through what that means and the implications for living included in this truth.
Time belongs to God. We don’t own one minute of our lives. Every second is a gift from Him. Because time is God’s gift to us, we’re obligated to invest our time in ways that maximize the purposes of the Master. We can’t just do what we want to with our time; our time belongs to God. Our relationships belong to God. My marriage isn’t my marriage. My marriage belongs to God. I can’t just do whatever I want to in my marriage. The ultimate purpose of my marriage is to glorify God. One way I do that is with by commitment as a husband to empower my wife to be all that Christ created her to be. As a husband, I am a steward of my wife. She’s not mine. She belongs to God. Her love for me is another good gift from the Father.
Of course, stewardship is about our money too. All of our money belongs to God. The money in your pocket belongs to God. The money in your savings account, your checking account, your investment account . . . all of it belongs to God. And the money trapped in the creases of your car seats? Yep, that belongs to God as well. All of it belongs to God.
So how much do we give? Well, that depends. Again, whenever I talk about tithing, someone will bring up tithing isn’t taught in the New Testament. (I’m always amazed how quickly we can find a Scripture passage to justify our disobedience!) No, tithing isn’t taught per se in the New Testament. Tithing is taught in the Old Testament, and the concept of giving God 10% of your increase was brought into the early church as an easy-to-understand standard.
The New Testament has a different standard of giving. Paul teaches the early church that each person should give as God leads his conscience. Through prayerful submission, they are each to determine how much of their income they should keep. This is a reversal of how most of think about giving. The question isn’t “How much of my money should I give?” but “How much of God’s money should I keep?”
There are biblical teachings to help us with this process. First, we should take care of our family, and this includes extended family as well. Paul tells us that Christ-followers who don’t take care of their families are worse than pagans. There are clear teachings to save and invest our money so we can be prepared to handle any unforeseen challenges in our lives. Proverbs has one of these reminders in just about every chapter.
And there are clear teachings about not being trapped in the prison of stuff. “No one serves two masters,” Jesus tells us. “You will love one and hate the other, be devoted to one and despise the other. No one can serve God and stuff” (My translation). This is where most of us mess up. We confuse wants and needs. Our needs are very simple. Our wants complicate our lives. This is a tough process and it’s the reason most of us never get to this level of discipleship. It’s easier to just argue about whether or not we need to give 10%.
But here’s the catch. The standard of giving in the New Testament isn’t a tithe, but the cross of Jesus Christ.“ Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:6–7, HCSB).
We cannot stand in front of Jesus Christ and see the scars in His hands and feet, the wound in His side, and try to comprehend His sacrifice for us and then argue percentages. After all, the great old hymn isn’t called I Surrender 10%.