When it comes to being responsible, the resource we struggle with the most is money. If you are at all honest, how you spend your money could use some improvement. I know this because every week the sermon happens to be on stewardship, giving increases a hundred-fold. The pastor tells stories of how most people in the world live on next to nothing. The faces of malnourished children living in some third-world country tug at your heart. And then there are countless stories of how God has made ends meet for individuals in dire-straits--all because they tithe. This leads you to the conclusion that you have it pretty good. Then the guilt sets in.
In just a few short minutes, you have come to the realization that 10% is a small sacrifice. And, of course, you can't skirt around the fact that, Scripturally, tithing is a pretty clear mandate. The only real debate for you is whether or not that 10% is to come from your net or gross pay. Either way, you are much more generous with your money--for a while.
Eventually the guilt subsides and your spending habits go back to normal. All because you don't see any tangible results from the money you tossed in the offering plate. It's not like the reminders you see in your home on a daily basis. The car in the garage you are still paying off. The television you spend hours watching on a weekly basis. The refrigerator full of food that spoils before you eat it.
I'll be the first to admit that tithing has always been a struggle of mine. It's one of those things I have a tendency to put off until tomorrow. Once I pay off the credit card. After I pay off the car. When I finally have that emergency reserve in the bank. Just as soon as my 401k reaches a certain amount. These are the things I tell myself to justify postponing God's mandate to tithe.
As experience tells you, tomorrow never comes. Something always breaks down. You need to update the kitchen. That hospital bill needs to be paid. The unexpected pregnancy. And then there is always the draw of consumerism you have to suppress. Inevitably, there is more month left than money. Which is why God asks for the first 10%. He knows that left on our own, we will already spend the last 10% before the check even comes.
I have heard countless sermons on tithing. Several passages in the Old Testament directly address the topic. However, the New Testament seems to change directions. While Jesus addresses money, he doesn't emphasize tithing--giving 10% to God (or the local church). Instead, he stresses the dangers of making money an idol by emphasizing good stewardship--being generous, paying bills, not borrowing, etc. In a round about way, Jesus says 'you have heard it said to tithe 10%, but I tell you to be a good steward.' And stewardship is not just a concept for individuals (like tithing seemed to be), but for businesses and churches as well. Stewardship goes beyond the first 10%. Jesus makes it abundantly clear what we do with the remaining 90% is just as important to God!
Here are a few principles for being a good steward:
Set spending limits. I have heard a few churches discuss this principle. The idea is to establish an income level required to maintain a certain lifestyle (I can't give you an exact dollar amount or percentage, so don't ask). Anytime money comes in beyond that--i.e. a raise or bonus--we no longer have to debate what to do. By setting this limit, we have already decided the money won't be spent, invested, or saved. Instead, it will be generously given away. Money is much easier to let go of when we haven't already spent it in our mind Again, while this is a great practice for individuals, it won't hurt to practice this with our businesses and churches. And, grasping this principle makes the next two far easier to implement.
Draw in the reigns of consumerism. Let's face it, there will always be something bigger and better to purchase. Our clothes seem to be unfashionable just a few months after we buy them. The electronics we purchase are outdated just as quick. Our vehicles begin to depreciate in value the moment we drive them off the lot. Perhaps it's time we change our spending habits by answering a few simple questions. Are we buying them to meet a need, fulfill a want, or portray some status? Can I get the same product for less? Just as there is no need for individuals to keep up with the Jones'; there is no need for businesses or churches to keep up with them either.
Give generously. We have all heard it is better to give than to receive. Even so, I willingly admit, sometimes it's tough to release the grip I have on money. Yet, following Jesus requires I do so. The book of Acts describes a church that made sure everyone within their community was taken care of. They pooled together their money, goods, and talents in order that everyone within the community had enough. The early church took the responsibility to help upon themselves; they didn't pass it off to the government or anyone else. Find causes that the resonate with you and generously donate to them. This is something I like about the church I attend. They tangibly meet the needs of those within the community through monthly service projects. They sponsor the 'Turkey Give Away' every Thanksgiving. Every quarter they host 'The Closet' that provides free (quality) clothing to those in need. They also partner with various organizations like Poetice, and Casas por Cristo by giving of their time and money.
Being a good steward is much more liberating and impacts the kingdom of God far more than our legalistic 10%. It forces us to rethink our habits and change our hearts.