EDITORS’ NOTE: Baptist Press is carrying a column by Larry Burkett each day this week in honor of his longstanding financial ministry. Burkett, a BP columnist for two years, died July 4. He was the founder of Christian Financial Concepts, now merged with Crown Financial Ministries in Gainesville, Ga.
GAINESVILLE, Ga. (BP)–What can you do if your spouse doesn’t want to tithe and you do? This isn’t an unusual situation. After all, in light of today’s roller coaster economy, don’t we need every last dollar just to survive?
Most people would be amazed to discover that in the Old Testament the Hebrew people brought approximately 23 percent of their increase to the Lord’s storehouse — a physical storehouse. The Levites were the keepers of the storehouse and used what was given to care for the widows, needy foreigners in the area, orphans, and themselves.
In the New Testament, the people no longer brought their tithes and offerings to a physical storehouse; instead, they gave of their increase in tithes, offerings, and alms to the church body. The church then used the tithe for spreading the Gospel. The offerings were used for the general and administrative support of the church and alms were used to care for the poor, widows, orphans, and needy.
God’s Word describes the tithe as a testimony to God’s ownership. It was through the tithe that Abram acknowledged God’s ownership of everything. And, because he did, God was able to direct and prosper him (see Genesis 14:20).
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE TITHE
The numbers of individual bankruptcies today is staggering. People struggle financially, because they do not understand the importance of handling their finances biblically. God’s freedom cannot be experienced in the area of finances unless:
— God is acknowledged as owner of everything and we accept our role as stewards over His possessions.
— We affirm our role as managers of God’s possessions by surrendering the first part back to God.
— We understand that God supplies a surplus above basic needs so we will be able to help those in need.
When we recognize that God owns everything and all blessings come from Him (including our ability to work), our role as managers (or stewards) becomes evident. Then we may also see more clearly the multitude of blessings we have to be thankful for.
CONFLICT OVER TITHING
Because tithing involves money, it is a prime candidate for controversy between a husband and wife. However, if both spouses are Christians, they should have a desire to please the Lord.
It’s important for both spouses to be trained in God’s principles of finance, because in that way they’ll understand that tithing is God-ordained and not just a personal desire that one spouse is trying to impose on the other.
It’s imperative to understand that tithing is not a law but, rather, an indicator of a desire to be obedient to all of God’s laws. Giving always should come from the heart. And, because the tithe’s purpose is to be an individual or family testimony of God’s ownership, it was never intended that everyone should give the same amount or even in the same way but that each should give bountifully and cheerfully (see 2 Corinthians 9:6-7).
IF ONE SPOUSE IS AN UNBELIEVER
The problem becomes more complicated when one spouse is an unbeliever. Since it is the biblical responsibility of the husband to be the leader in his home, if the wife is an unbeliever the husband must obey the Lord’s direction. Husbands need to realize, however, that the Lord is more concerned about the wife’s soul than about money. Therefore, if tithing becomes an obstacle to wives, to win those wives to the Lord, husbands should consider not tithing temporarily.
Husbands need to counsel their wives, pray with them, and seek their opinion and direction; however, according to God’s Word, the decision is ultimately the husband’s. Because most wives in America today are looking for the strong leadership that seems to be lacking in many marriages, husbands need to take the lead regarding spiritual matters, and that includes tithing.
However, if the unbelieving spouse is the husband, then the believing wife should submit to his wishes and trust that her submissive attitude will win him to the Lord (see 1 Peter 3:1-6). Remember it is not the money but the attitude of the heart about which the Lord is most concerned. If a wife has made a commitment to give but her husband objects to giving, God knows the desire of the wife’s heart and He will honor that commitment, even though the wife honors her husband’s wishes not to give. God will bless because of the wife’s attitude even though she cannot give.
Nevertheless, a wife might still ask her husband to let her give an amount smaller than the tithe for at least a year. If, at the end of the year, the family is worse off financially as a result of giving, she will agree to stop giving. But, if the family is better off, then the husband may be willing to agree to give more. After all, in Malachi 3:10, the Lord says to test Him in this thing (tithing). Often this is just the opportunity for God to prove Himself real to a doubting spouse.
MORE THAN MONEY
It’s important for both wife and husband to be trained in God’s principles of finance. That way, they’ll understand that tithing is God-ordained and not just a personal desire that one spouse is trying to impose on the other.
If a couple doesn’t tithe because one spouse objects to tithing, then the subject should be placed “on the back burner” until they are able to discuss and study the principles of tithing together. After all, God would never expect to see the disruption of a marriage over this issue.
In reality, the tithe represents much more than money. In the final analysis, giving the tithe is the outward expression of an inner commitment-or the lack of it. The tithe portrays a material and financial surrender that has been preceded and prompted by spiritual surrender, as a result of understanding God’s way.