One of the first questions that we receive regularly from newcomers to Calvary is, “Please can you explain to me how your pledge system works.”
I’m never certain whether that’s because people mistakenly think that their significance in the community is determined by how much they give. Or if they are worried that their membership to this part of the Body has to be covered by a certain fee. Or if pledging is something they’ve always done from where they come. Or if, just maybe, it is an essential part of expressing their love to God and their devotion to Christ’s ministry and mission.
From some, there is a definite sense that this is a burdensome duty, an obligation that they would much rather do without.
And so today I would like us to look at where the concept of tithing or pledging comes from – primarily through the Old Testament passage of Deuteronomy 14:22-27 – to perhaps shift our perspective on disciplined giving from burden to gift.
Before we even delve into it, I would like to mention that there are three types of tithes mentioned predominantly in the Old Testament.
The first was the Levitical or sacred tithe found in the book of Leviticus which was given to the priests for their service to the temple. They earned no money; they had no homes and so a portion of the community’s resources was set aside for them to enable the furtherance of God’s work and a life of dignity and sufficiency for their families.
In a similar way, a portion of our offertory on a Sunday goes to most of the ministers of the Gospel at Calvary – but not directly. A minister’s stipend is paid by the Methodist Connextional Office from contributions made by the Circuit (Johannesburg/Alexandra) on behalf of each society e.g. Lombardy East, Calvary, Ivory Park. Where certain societies are unable to meet their assessments (the amount paid for each minister as determined by the MCO), Calvary also offers financial assistance as part of our own tithing in order to ensure that God’ work is done meaningfully in all corners of our Circuit – and especially the ones where people are struggling to make ends meet.
So tithing is about giving dignity and stability to those who advance the Good News of God’s kingdom and their families.
But as we look at the reading from Deuteronomy, we see the there are two other types of tithes that we seldom think of or mention:
In verses 22-27, we read of a Tithe for Feasts. At certain times in the life of a family such as the birth of a child, the Israelites were required to go to the temple to offer sacrifice. The whole family journeyed together for these times had not only a spiritual dimension to them, but a social one as well. And, interestingly, the tithe was not given over to the priests but shared amongst the family members and eaten and enjoyed together – grain, wine, meat, oil; whatever they wished.
The point of this tithe was to help young and old learn to revere and honour God always, to enjoy time in God’s presence, and to cultivate a deep and abiding sense of joy.
Doesn’t that challenge the attitude with which we sometimes give?
God wants us to set aside money for rest and retreat, for spiritual upliftment, for family thanksgiving! Up to a tenth of all that had been earned was to be enjoyed with time away together.
So tithing is also about recognising and enjoying God’s presence in our lives, with one another.
Then, every three years according to verses 28 and 29, all the tithes were to be gathered up and collected to care for and support the foreigner, the fatherless, the widow i.e. anyone who was struggling with any other form of social injustice. This is the Tithe for the Poor that enabled those who had nothing to come, eat and be satisfied through the love and provision of those who had little or lots.
But besides the giving of food and money, this was also a profound moment for the community to come together and connect meaningfully with those in dire need and with one another. It is in giving to the least, generously and diligently, that people found a sense of blessedness in their hard work and productivity – not in laying up secret stores for their own benefit or in blowing it all on one big party.
It is in this tithe that we find our humanity; that we create our community.
So tithing is also about responding to the needs of others and, in so doing, discovering a greater significance to our work than financial reward.
Thought-provoking, isn’t it? A disciplined approach to giving that includes God, our own physical and spiritual welfare, as well as care and support for the neighbour in need.
Financial discipline is in fact far more than a duty or a demand. It is a gift from God that reminds us constantly of our interconnectedness.
This Rhona season, I would like to challenge you to see the value and importance of each rand and cent that you set aside for God’s work, and to consider where these rands and cents fit into your monthly expenses and what they add up to.
Perhaps, if over the worship and sermons during this season, you have found yourself deeply challenged by how money effects you and your relationships you would like to make the most of this gift of discipline for the next few months and see if it changes anything: on pay day set aside the money that you want to give to God as sacred tithe, as a tithe for feasts, and as a tithe for the poor. It doesn’t have to be 10% but it should be set aside with a prayer of dedication similar to the one below. Spend that money as God leads – putting it in the offertory bag, providing a meal for someone who is unwell, paying for a spiritual course or saving up for a family holiday etc. Spend it all at once or divide it into a weekly amount but remember that it is for building connection and use it as you have pledged. At the end of the month look back at what you have had to miss out on, on what you have gained, at whether your sense of God’s presence has increased.
And may you find that the Lord your God has truly blessed the work of your hands!
Yours in Christ
Prayer of dedication: Oh Lord, my God, every good thing comes from you. I thank You for my ability to work and I thank You for this fruit that has come from the work of my hands. Help me to know that it is Yours; not mine. Help me to use it with care and discipline, not just for my benefit but also for the building of Your kingdom. Amen.