by the Rev. Dr. Peter C. Moore
As a child I was something of a kleptomaniac. Yes, sorry to admit it. I used to steal. Of course it was small change – and I stole mostly from my parents’ “gambling bank” – an old and rather fancy (though out of date) evening purse tucked in the bottom drawer of my mother’s bureau. There she and my dad kept their meager winnings from bridge games. The quarters, dimes, and occasional crumpled up dollars were very handy when, as a little tyke of 7 or 8, I needed money for candy or crayons.
That changed as I grew up and began to know a bit more about right and wrong. However, it’s why a verse in St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians holds a special meaning to me: “Let the thief no longer steal but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his hands, so that he may be able to give to those in need.” (4:28)
By the time Christ became real to me in my mid teens I was already sensing a change regarding my attitude towards money. Stealing had thankfully become a thing of the distant past; but the concept of giving had only begun to dawn on me. Of course I had the obligatory “mite box” during Lent into which I put pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. But that always seemed trivial to me, though I guess it helped plant a seed.
What made the biggest difference was reading Scripture with new eyes. In my 16th year I began to read the Bible – a little bit at a time – but with a determination to find out what this Christian life was really all about. As I went to bed, I would read a short passage from the New Testament – usually from the Gospels – and the Holy Spirit spoke to me. This is REALLY TRUE, I finally admitted to myself.
So every aspect of life had to be re-examined: my social behavior, my attitudes towards other people, my thoughts about what I was being taught in the classroom – and my feelings about money. It was then that I began to tithe: one tenth of what I made, or was given, was to go to God’s work.
That pattern of giving has continued all throughout my adult life; and here’s what I’ve discovered: tithing has helped me let go of my control over money. That, of course, was what was behind my childhood stealing. I wanted to buy stuff my friends had but I couldn’t afford. It was a control issue. By giving a tithe I relaxed my death-grip on money – and it mysteriously relaxed its death-grip on me.
Plus, by giving my tithe to God’s work, into the hands of other people who were for the most part going to decide exactly how and where to spend it, I was experiencing even more freedom from this nasty control of what I had been tempted to think of as mine, mine, mine.
Now, as I have been involved in so many ministries, and even founded several, I find that the requests come in like waves. The need is endless, and the appeals for money never ceasing. But by beginning each year figuring out just what my income will be, and then setting aside 10% — or often more – I find that I can enjoy a little bit of what Paul called “hilarious giving.” (2 Cor. 9:7) Furthermore, I can really enjoy the rest of the money that God gives without guilt, compulsion, or anxiety. I can be thankful for my many blessings, and also rejoice with others in their blessings knowing that they, too, will be giving to God’s work.
Tithing is not, I believe, a ghastly moral obligation foisted on people because God somehow wants us NOT to enjoy life. Quite the opposite, it is God’s gracious gift to us so that we can relax in relation to money, experience freedom from its control, and have a ball giving to the most important thing in life: God’s great work through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.