I recently read a business case written by a friend who works with businesses and individuals in implementing biblical solutions in their personal and workplace lives. I have tremendous respect for his work, skills and wisdom. However, I was uncomfortable with the primary conclusion of this business case.
The story goes that after a particularly successful year, a businessman decided to invest his tithe in his own business. The next year, a slam-dunk contract which was expected to be quite profitable nearly bankrupted the company.
According to the case study the businessman “knew that his disobedience sowed the seeds of judgment. In this case the judgment came in the form of financial disaster. Sin always extracts a price and frequently our sin impacts others. In this case, Robert’s presumption put his company at risk to fail, which threatened to leave hundreds of his workers unemployed during a time of severe economic depression. Now not only would Robert pay the price for his sin of presumption, but also his workers and their families.”
The conclusion presented is that because this man did not tithe appropriately God sent judgment to destroy his business and put his employees out of work. Therefore, you should tithe or God will wreck your business.
To be fair, I don’t think the author of the case study would say that was the point he was trying to make. However, it is clear conclusion drawn from reading the article.
So, what’s wrong with that?
While that may be consistent with common mischaracterizations of the personality of the Old Testament God, I would suggest that it missed the mark in 3 areas. It is a misunderstanding of the tithe; it is a misunderstanding of the character of God; and it is a misunderstanding of judgment.
The first misunderstanding is a frighteningly common one. It is the idea that the believer owes 10% of his or her income to God. Some have even taken it so far as making a distinction between God’s tithe and our offerings. This view doesn’t stand up to even historical investigation. The tithe was a law given to theocratic Israel. In fact, there were multiple tithe’s mandated and when they were all added up they often exceeded 30% of income. These tithes were used to support the national institutions of theocratic Israel including the Temple, the priesthood, the poor and the government. In other words, tithes were like taxes. The law given to Israel was fulfilled in the coming of Christ. The church on this side of the revelation of Christ lives in his fulfillment, not under Israel’s law. The worst part of this misunderstanding is the violence it does to the concept of stewardship. Suggesting that God owns the tithe implies we own everything else to do with as we please. But what do we have that we haven’t been given (1 Corinthians 4:7)? God owns it all and we as believers are stewards of God’s resources that he has places in our hands. Since we are in-Christ (rather than under the law), we take on Christ’s nature and character. He is a giver and so as we seek to steward his resources with his nature, we get to share in the joy of giving. Ten percent is a cop-out!
The second misunderstanding concerns the character of God. Once again it is a fairly common misunderstanding that God operates on a “good-get-blessed; bad-get-cursed” basis. This myth too has a basis in the Old Testament for that is precisely the way the Mosaic covenant was laid out: obey – blessing; disobey – curses. However, the Old Testament goes to great lengths to point out that while it is universally assumed that the good get rewarded and the bad get punished, our God has an even higher way. This is progressively revealed throughout the Old Testament but becomes clear in the coming of Christ who being perfect takes the punishment deserved by his people and gives to them the blessing deserved by him. One of the primary points of the book of Job is that Job’s friends who assumed good=reward, bad=punishments don’t get it. To me this business case sounds a lot like Job’s friends (hence the title) saying, “Your company’s in trouble? See, you must have disobeyed God.” God makes it clear — in Job and throughout the Scriptures — that he is not limited to formulas. He does as he pleases (Psalm 115:3). However, he is not arbitrary. He is consistent with his character and his character is good. While we don’t always understand what he is up to, God promises that he works all for the good of his people. God doesn’t make children go hungry because a businessman missed a payment on his tithe. This issue is closely related to the third misunderstanding.
The misunderstanding of judgment is probably just as common as the previous two. We use the word judgment to refer to when God gets fed up with people and rains destruction on them. To be fair, that is a common picture of judgment in the Old Testament. However, in the New Testament, God’s wrath was satisfied when it was poured out on Christ. As believers in Christ, we do not face the wrath of God. We have been spared God’s wrath at Christ’s expense. For Christians, God’s judgment looks like vindication. So rather than seeing business failure as a judgment punishing this businessman and his employees for his failure to tithe, it might be that God held up his business success to get his attention to direct him to the destiny he had in mind for him.
Isn’t that the same thing, just different semantics? It might look like the same, but the difference in the perspective of who God is and how we works with his people makes a huge difference in your ability to enjoy God and embrace working in partnership with him. Do you want a Sovereign partner or a vindictive boss?