• John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

Deferred gratification or deferred tithing?

A friend writes as follows:

“In a recent discussion I brought up the idea of students being in debt, and wondered what kind of conceptual framework they should be working through regarding tithing: they are privileged in their education, but currently do not have an income on which to made tithing-type decisions.

“I plan this semester on talking with my students a bit about the whiplash effect that students can have when they graduate and suddenly go from having lived for 4-5 years with no income (and not tithing), to suddenly making $60k and trying to make decisions about their giving. How should they begin thinking, acting, and growing generous hearts now, in preparation for graduation and their future, while feeling burdened with their accumulating debts? I expect questions about ‘deferring their generosity,’ such as ‘I could tithe from my summer earnings but then I’d have to take a larger loan … so I’ll be generous in the future.’ Thoughts?”

I think every Christian should tithe something, no matter how small his or her income. (The widow’s coins in Jesus’ parable come to mind.) There will always be good reasons not to tithe: paying off loans, starting a business, saving for the future, getting into a house, educating the kids, etc., etc.

Likewise, the reasons to tithe are as good now as they ever will be: recognizing one’s dependence upon God’s provision; refusing to allow money to utterly determine one’s outlook; doing something for someone else; maintaining solidarity with the poor; resisting self-centredness in all of this; and more.

Furthermore, habits are habits, good or bad. If I habitually give, I am much more likely to–you guessed it–habitually give. And if I habitually don’t, I likely won’t.

I can certainly imagine someone exercising responsible Christian liberty and saying that in this or that unusual case, I can defer tithing and then have more to offer others. I’m not laying down a law here–as if anyone would care if I did!

But oh, boy, I myself find it a lot easier to defer tithing than to defer gratification–my own, or my spouse’s, or my kids’.

So I tithe.