By Agustinus Ryanto. Originally written in Bahasa Indonesia.
I was taught at a young age that tithing is a way of giving back to God to help grow His church. I started to tithe when I entered high school. Every month, I would set aside one-tenth of my pocket money and place it in a special envelope with my membership number on it.
I continued to tithe even when I moved to another city after finishing high school. At that time, setting aside 10 percent felt easy because I didn’t have a lot of needs and wants back then.
For seven years I tithed faithfully, but my commitment started to flounder when I moved to Jakarta to work. Things in Jakarta are a lot more expensive than in the city where I used to live. I have to pay for boarding, transport, food, and support for my parents. One-tenth of my salary could now cover a week’s worth of groceries, perhaps more.
Without discussing this with my church friends, I decided to stop tithing in my fourth month of work. Although my salary was technically sufficient to cover my expenses, I felt it would be wise to keep the 10 percent as my emergency fund instead.
This decision was further affirmed by the articles I read and the conversations I heard about how we’re not obliged to tithe, and that it’s more important to give joyfully (2 Corinthians 9:7). This made me think that it would be better to not tithe if I’m feeling reluctant and can’t bring a “joyful heart” to my offering.
The tithing money I had “saved” should have been allocated for other important things, like replacing my old phone that had run out of memory and storage. Instead, I spent it on something I didn’t need, like buying train tickets to travel somewhere so I could “get out” of my daily routine in Jakarta.
All of me . . . but not my money?
It has been five years since I have stopped tithing. But all this changed when I caught up with a friend, who recently got a new job and moved to a smaller town after working for several years in Jakarta.
We were chatting about everything when he suddenly asked: “By the way, are you still tithing regularly?” I was caught off-guard by the question. Even though we were talking about money and finances, I didn’t think we’d touch on the topic of tithes and offerings.
Hesitantly, I said, “I’m still tithing, but not 10 percent.”
“Why?” He suddenly became serious and leaned forward in his seat. “Then that’s not called tithing. You know tithe means ‘tenth’, right?” he continued jokingly.
“It’s so much more expensive living in Jakarta. And I feel like since my salary isn’t that big, the money can be used for something else.”
Although the conversation took a serious turn, I was grateful that my friend seemed interested in what I had to say, and there was no judgment from him, perhaps because we had been together in the same church for many years, and he knew that I had always been faithful in giving.
“Besides,” I continued, “Tithing is not an obligation for us. If we give it forcefully, it’s useless.” As I defended my decision, I even quoted the Bible: “Paul says in Romans 12:1 that the acceptable offering is our body, as a living sacrifice, that is true worship.”
“But . . . how can you give your whole life if you can’t even give 10 percent of what you have?” my friend asked.
I didn’t know how to respond to that. Logically, I thought so too: How can I give everything, including my life, if I can’t even give a small fraction of my money?
The idea of tithing (tithe meaning “tenth” or 10 percent) comes from Malachi 3:10. Although it is an Old Testament command, I believe it’s still a helpful reference for me when thinking about offering. If we have 100, all we’re giving back is 10, and we still have the remaining 90 to use. By regularly letting go of what we’re attached to, it ultimately helps us not to place our security in our possessions (Matthew 6:21).
Since the catchup with my friend, I have committed to return to tithing, though it did not happen overnight.
The first thing I fixed was my mindset towards giving. God is not forcing me to give Him a certain amount of money, but giving is an expression of my love and gratitude for all the blessings I have received (Romans 8:32, Proverbs 3:9-10). I may not have a huge salary, but I have everything I need. Everything I have effectively belongs to God, so why am I unwilling to give it to Him?
And in fact, because I work for a non-profit organisation, my salary comes from the generous donations of other people who were moved by God to give freely to support the work.
The second thing I did was to keep a closer eye on my finances. I prepared a spreadsheet to track my monthly budget and expenses. As I developed this routine and recorded all my physical and online transactions, I quickly saw which areas of my expenses I needed more control over.
Having made these changes, I no longer experience shortages. From all these, I’ve learned that giving to God has enabled me to experience these benefits (Proverbs 11:24), such as:
- Growing in discipline by learning monthly budgeting and financial management.
- Getting to know the happiness of being able to support my local church.
- Being encouraged to commit wholeheartedly to God, to not put my trust in my income but in Him.
The decision to tithe is a personal one, and it depends on each of our hearts, which means it’s not so much about the amount, but about our willingness to give to God’s work.
God has given everything to me, so it is only fitting that He gets the best, which I’m committed to continue doing, with joy.
Questions for reflection