The Old Testament teaches a tithe of 10% to God. It was a type of income tax given for the use of supporting the theocratic government of Israel. The people were legally required to give tithes to feed the Levites, the widows and orphans. In churches today, some people have asked, “Are we supposed to tithe 10% of our salary before CPF deduction or after CPF deduction?” I actually do not believe that New Testament teaches a compulsory tithe of 10%. That is legalism. It hardly has the essence of grace or heart-righteousness permeating Jesus’ teachings. That is why Paul does not talk about tithing a fixed portion of income. Instead, he says “Now about the collection for God's people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made” (1Cor 16:1-2). The key phrase to observe is “in keeping with his income.” I believe we should not stick to giving a fixed portion of income to God but according to the level of our prosperity.
Therefore, 10% is not a Christian’s obligatory tithe but a starting-point for giving. That margin should generously increase with increase in our prosperity. For a person earning $1000, giving 10%, i.e. $100 and living on the balance of $900 might be a struggle. However, if we earn $10000, will giving $1000 and living on $9000 be as much a struggle for us? Not likely. In fact, we can just as easily live on $7000 and give $3,000. How much will we give then if we earned $25,000 a month, or more than that, and how much of that are we willing to live with?
When it comes to living and giving, the question is all about our priorities. Is the money we give to Christ a forethought stemming from our prosperity or is it an after-thought stemming from our material wants? Does our money go first to Christ sacrificially and after that, then we decide how the rest will pay for our bills and lifestyle? Or do we decide on how to finance a ‘good’ lifestyle first and then decide on how much to give to Christ? It is simply a matter of priority. Do we give out of surplus or leftover? Christ first or lifestyle first? If you struggle with these thoughts, be encouraged. Struggling means the Holy Spirit is working in you. So pray and ask God to enlighten you on the ways to put Christ first.
That is the whole point of our lives isn’t it? It is not about how much we want to live comfortably or what we leave our children. The point is Christ. He becomes the paradigm by which we live. He becomes the pattern by which we can live a life rich in grace. Scripture tells us “though Christ was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). Christ, who was worshiped in heaven, chose to walk this earth so that we, who had lost everything, could have what mattered; eternity with God who loved us first.
Christ gave everything so that we might live. Scripture testifies that having been given so much by Christ, we need to give thanks in every area of our lives. Let us pray that even as Christ has given us so much, may we grow to have that same gracious attitude to God’s work that Christ has towards us.