Did you know that part of God’s plan for our financial giving includes setting aside money to build joy in our families and communities?
An unexpected command
A few years ago, I discovered an astonishing Bible passage that radically changed the way I think about tithing. And now I find that same passage also provides an unexpected apologetic for the three elements of The Life Model: multigenerational community, relational brain skills, and the Immanuel lifestyle.
The passage is about tithing, the practice of giving to the Lord the first 10% of the produce of the field (or, in modern times, 10% of our income). I’d always thought of tithing as giving so that the ministry of the temple (for us, church) can continue. The tithe provides for the people and supplies needed so the good news of God’s grace can continue to spread.
But I was taken aback by what I read in Deuteronomy 14:22-27:
“You shall surely tithe all the produce from what you sow, which comes out of the field every year. You shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God, at the place where He chooses to establish His name, the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and your flock, so that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always.
[If the travel to Jerusalem is too difficult for you,] then you shall exchange [the tithe] for money, and bind the money in your hand and go to the place which the LORD your God chooses. You may spend the money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household.”
Also, you shall not neglect the Levite who is in your town, for he has no portion or inheritance among you.”
What?! I’m supposed to spend my tithe to buy food and throw a party for my family and community?! And I’m supposed to include in the celebration those who don’t have much income of their own to tithe on such a celebration?
YES! But let’s not get too far out of context here.
Tithing in context
This passage about tithing was not understood by the Jewish community, nor has it been understood in the church throughout the centuries, to replace the tithe that goes to the ministry of the temple (church). Although there is some dispute about the exact details and percentages, the Jewish community generally understood the scriptures to call for three tithes totaling between 20 and 25% of their income.
The first was the tithe to the temple, which sustained the priests in their service (Num 18:21-24). The priests were responsible for the care of both the temple (Num 1:50-53) and the people (e.g., 1 Sam 1:9-20), providing the point of interaction between God and Israel.
The second was the tithe described in the passage from Deuteronomy, which we can call the tithe of the feasts. If possible, this portion of the grain, oil, wine, and meat was to be taken to the temple and offered as a sacrifice. Like the fellowship offering (Lev 7:11-17), it was not to be fully burned on the altar, but partially burned, partially given to the priests, and the rest eaten in the company of family and community, with an awareness of God’s presence participating in the joy of the shared meal. If it wasn’t possible to travel to Jerusalem, the family would sell the produce, take the money to the nearest place identified by God, and there buy food and wine to celebrate this meal. As Jim Wilder has explored in detail in his teachings on “Attachment with God” (JIMTalks Volume 28), sharing meals is one of the primary ways God fosters healthy, loving, secure relational bonds with us and among us.
The third tithe we can call the tithe for the poor. It was offered every third year (hence the annual amount of 3.3%), a tenth set apart to care for the Levite, widow, orphan, and foreigner who had no income of their own and depending on the care of the community (Deut 14:28-29 and 26:12). Some people think the third tithe is actually the second tithe used in a different way every third year. That is, two years the second 10% is used for corporate feasting, and the third year that same 10% is instead given to those in need.
Where your treasure is
Whatever the exact details, the meaning is clear. And especially so when we remember Jesus’ words that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:21). The community is to intentionally set aside income for three purposes that represent the heart of God for his people:
- maintaining the dwelling place of God among his people
- sharing meals with family and community in joy and gratitude
- attending to the needs of the poor and weak in the community.
Does it strike you, as it struck me, that these three purposes of God match the Life Model’s three elements of transformational communities?
- the Immanuel lifestyle, or ongoing awareness of God’s presence in our midst and interaction with him
- relational brain skills, or fostering a community that knows how to share joyful and loving bonds with each other
- multigenerational community, or including in our communities the weak and poor along with the strong and wealthy, making sure all people are cared for with gentle protective tenderness.
Now, let’s be clear. I’m not suggesting we should all start setting aside 23.3% of our income and divide it up in these exact ways. A lot of wise church leaders over the years have sought to apply God’s tithing instructions through the lens of Jesus’ words and ministry, and the general consensus of tithing 10% of our income has been the result. I’m not about to argue with that.
But there is a practical application we can do without violating two millennia of church history. We can consider, in ongoing interaction with Immanuel and our communities, how to use our treasure to form our hearts. We can invest our time and finances in ways that help us learn to value the same things God values.
For example, what if I create a budget category for saving and spending money on joy-building activities with my family, friends, church, students, or work colleagues – and what if I protect it with the same rigorousness with which I protect my church tithe? What if I invite my family or friend group to give up 10% of our screen time and replace it by practicing the awareness of God’s presence together? Or what if I/we intentionally invite someone who is often alone to share a meal once a week?
This new way of understanding “giving to the Lord” requires us to reconsider how we save and spend our income and who we include in our family and community. It reveals a fresh vision of what generosity means, expanding our resources to include time, joy, attention, and food. If we are to grow up into the likeness our joyful, generous, inclusive Father, we must continue let more parts of our lives be shaped by his express commands and the characteristics of his heart – caring for the poor and weak, seeking times for corporate celebration, and consciously attending to his presence in our midst. Let us pursue this with our time and treasure, and our hearts will follow!