observe

It’s not a ‘penalty for being sinful’

Published 7:18pm Saturday, December 8, 2012

I’d never heard the song before a teenager in our church strummed his guitar and sang it at a talent show several years back. The song, written by Ray Stevens, is about a man lamenting over all the taxes he pays: “Now some of these folks that we’ve been sending off to Congress / Think that all they’ve got to do – just spend and spend / But you know you can’t run a family much less a country / With more money going out than coming in.”

And the tag line is a classic: “If 10 percent is good enough for Jesus / It ought ‘a be enough for Uncle Sam.”

I thought about this song in these days of our national fiscal crisis. The United States is more than $16 trillion in debt, which means that each of us bear a share of more than $52,000. And yet our elected officials continue to spend and spend and no one seems to have enough courage to say “Stop.”

In the midst of this fiscal mess, a number of people have called for tax reform. Herman Cain in the last campaign famously suggested his “999” plan, and others have called for a “Fair Tax” doing away with income taxes in favor of a national sales tax. I tend to favor the flat tax which means that every American pays the same percentage of tax, like the biblical tithe. The flat tax means everybody pays something and has an investment in our country — some “skin in the game,” as it were.

But until I’m elected, I’m afraid my influence is nil.

The tithe is first mentioned in the Bible when Abraham gave God a tenth of his spoils from battle (Genesis 14:20), and after the law was given to Moses, the tithe became the standard contribution required of the Hebrews (Malachi 3:10). Though the tithe is not specifically commanded in the New Testament, Christian leaders suggest it a good minimum threshold for our giving.

A friend and I labored one day to make sense of the intricacies of the grammar lesson we were hearing in seminary class. While the professor lectured about the syntax of the Greek language, my friend leaned over to me and whispered, “That’s what the tithe is — a sin tax!” Groan.

Actually the biblical principle of the tithe isn’t so much that it’s a penalty for being sinful, nor an obligation commanded by the law, but an act of love for God and his kingdom.

We now enter a season of giving. One of the finest gifts you can bestow is that of a “thank offering” to God through the biblical practice of the tithe.

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