“Bow your neck to His yoke alone, and to no other yoke whatever; and be careful to see that you never bind a yoke on others that is not placed by Jesus Christ.” – Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
A good friend and I went back and forth recently over tithing. He is leery of applying the concept to Christians; I argued for it as a powerful spiritual discipline that can deepen our relationship with God. This much I will grant him: you can’t hold Christians to tithing as a commandment or law that we disobey at our peril. We are “not under the law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:14 NIV) And yet there are concepts and spiritual disciplines that Christians have carried over from the Old Covenant, some as if they were law. If we’re living under grace, what do we do with these things? Cast them aside?
I think it breaks down to our position before God, and our walk with God. A Christian’s position before God is as an adopted child (Romans 8:15), a place that once gained can never be lost. God’s love for us is unconditional; nothing we do or fail to do can cause Him to love us more or less than He does. Nor can we become more saved or less saved through action or inaction, once we have received adoption as sons and daughters.
But like any parent, God wants us to grow, to mature, to succeed, to live lives pleasing to Him. He gives positive reinforcement when our walk pleases Him, and sometimes discipline when we sin. When we live by Jesus’ teachings and refrain from evil, we meet the baseline expectation for a child of God. But can there be more? How do we deepen our relationship with our Father? One very important way, as Paul told the Galatians, is by loving and serving one another: “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13 NASB)
But in that place where it’s just me and God, some of those transcendent principles and practices from the Old Covenant can come into play. These are ways of living that no longer bind us by law, but that remain open to us to enrich our walk with God – disciplines such as tithing, fasting and keeping the Sabbath. God won’t withdraw His blessing or lessen His love if we don’t practice these things. But they represent to me a kind of guide to How Life Works in submission to God. They’re not hoops to jump through or God being a killjoy, but treasures God sets out for us to discover, for our benefit.
A man I know owns a restaurant. Sundays off are out of the question. He struggled with this for a long time and finally spoke to his pastor, who advised him not to fixate on Sunday. Just take a Sabbath at some point during the week. My friend followed this advice. Unless the place was burning down, his staff couldn’t call him on that day. The respite did him wonders, and though he feared to take his hand off the wheel for a day every week, the business ran better than ever. He did something pleasing to God that he didn’t have to do, and he found a blessing and no doubt a deeper walk with his Father.
And then there’s tithing. The Bible tells us not to give reluctantly or under compulsion, because God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7). You may give 2% of your income cheerfully and with sincere thanks to God. I have no business judging you for that; you alone can discover God’s will for your giving. Beware of people who say God has told them what you should do. But in such areas, I believe God sometimes tests us – as with any test from God, to show us what He already knows. These tests don’t always have an answer sheet. Should I fast? When, and for how long? What’s permissible on the Sabbath? God’s answers may vary for you and for me and for different circumstances.
In giving, the scariest version of the test we can choose is the open book version, the one where the answer is 10%. You write that first check with a trembling hand, but the very act reveals how deeply God has drawn you into faith and trust. What follows will further reveal how faithful He is: “Test me in this,” He says (Malachi 3:10), an unparalleled invitation in Scripture. And like my friend committing to a Sabbath rest, if you accept the challenge, your walk with God gets closer.
In all such things we have freedom, but in that freedom I have found the pull of these disciplines to be paradoxically stronger. Maybe it’s because God first gave me the freedom to choose Him, and proved Himself so worthy of choosing.