In response to the economic downturn, most Americans are receiving a stimulus check from the government to get some money back in the economy and help people pay their bills.
There have already been jokes around the Internet about how well people will use this money—for example, the sale of an 85″ Ultra HD TV on sale for… you guessed it, $1,200.
But for followers of Jesus, I want to ask a slightly more relevant question: Do I have to tithe my stimulus check?
When to Tithe (And When Not To)
Let’s just start by quickly acknowledging two underlying assumptions:
- 10% is a helpful baseline. God tells Israel to give ten percent in the Old Testament for the dual purpose of honoring God and supporting the tribe of Levi—the priestly line that didn’t have a physical inheritance of land in Israel. In the New Testament, this command is never explicitly repeated—though it is culturally assumed and further generosity is encouraged.
- You tithe. Most people acknowledge that generosity is good, but few American Christians actually part with 10% of their income. If you don’t give a strict ten, no judgment from me. All I can tell you is that tithing has been a meaningful practice in my life to “put my money where my mouth is” and trust God more fully.
Okay—with those two things said, let’s ask the broader question: When should I tithe, and when should I not?
For example, I was part of a seminar in college about managing finances (turns out that don’t normally teach that in college, but that’s another issue for another time). One of the key verses from that seminar was Mark 12:37, where Jesus says, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”
The point was simple, practical, and challenging: Tithe your total income before taxes are taken out, not after.
But there are also times when you intiutively realize you shouldn’t tithe. For example, if someone gives you a $30 gift card to your favorite restaurant, I doubt you set aside three dollars for you church—and that’s okay. That $30 was a gift, not something you earned. Treating it like something you earned kind of devalues the gift, doesn’t it?
So we give back to God from the income we’ve earned, but not gifts. But where does that leave government stimulus money?
Embracing the Way of Jesus
If you haven’t already, chances are that you will be receiving a check in the mail or a direct deposit of $1,200 (or more if you have kids). That money is tax-free, and you didn’t earn it.
Yay! I don’t have to give God any of my money!
(Let’s just be real and acknowledge there’s a part of us that wants to say that, right?)
But hold on—that money isn’t a gift in the personal sense, either. No one sat across a table from you and slid you a check, saying, “I want you to have this.” So if it’s not earned and not strictly a gift, what is it?
It’s an opportunity.
Jesus told many stories about masters who entrusted people with money. In those stories, the master never states his expectation on the front end—but when he returns, he asks a strict accounting of his wealth.
Of course, if you need to pay your bills, pay your bills. That’s one way that we can be faithful with what God has given us.
But if your needs are reasonably accounted for, then maybe it’s time to turn your eyes outward.
- Maybe it’s time to invest in your church’s deacon’s fund for community needs, which previously was used on occasion but now may be stretched thin.
- Maybe it’s time to support urban and ethnic churches, who are at the most risk of permanently shutting their doors due to the economic downturn.
For that second point, I just want to plug Churches Helping Churches, a movement seeking to help churches who are most at risk of closing.
Even if you can think of practical needs for your stimulus check (my wife has been on unpaid maternity leave for a month and I’m cutting hours at my work, so I have some needs!), what would it look like to give 10% (or more!) of your stimulus check to those in need—not out of religious obligation, but out of the generous love of Jesus?
This is the challenge and the opportunity before those of us who claim the way of Jesus.
“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.“Galatians 6:10