Monday, September 04, 2023

Anonymous Asks (265)

“Should Christians give out of their gross or net income?”

In my twenties when the Lord got hold of me, I was for a time the spiritual equivalent of a fire-breathing dragon. I was VERY gung-ho about the things of God. Sometimes that was a good thing. Other times I was way too dogmatic about truth I had yet to live out and about areas of experience in which I had yet to be tested.

If you had asked me today’s question every year of my twenties, I would’ve answered “gross income” every time. Today, not so much.

Apples and Oranges

There’s very little precedent we can look at for Christian giving that corresponds precisely to the situation we find ourselves in today. The Law of Moses commanded Israelites to give a regular proportion of their income to God, usually referred to as a “tithe”, which means “tenth”. However, that term can be misleading. Jason Dulle points out that once all the laws are taken into consideration, Israelites who kept the law probably gave something in the range of 23% of their income rather than 10% once you take into account the regular tithe of land and flock, the annual festival tithe and the tithe for the poor every third year. On top of that, certain generations of Israelites gave vast sums voluntarily to support the spiritual initiatives of their day, such as the building of tabernacle and temple or repairs to the latter.

Bear in mind, though, that until Israel demanded God give them a king, the average Israelite paid no taxes. Zero. The tithes covered all. Even when taxes were eventually introduced, they were intermittent, and a byproduct of failed leadership or excessive ambition, and in the case of taxes paid to foreign governments, national sin. As God originally designed it, the average Israelite’s regular tithing covered not just his religious responsibilities but his civic responsibilities as well. His 23% — assuming it was in fact that high — went a long, long way.

The Long Arm of the CRA

Contrast that with the average single middle-class Canadian Christian, who gets hit at source for at least 30% of his income, then pays sales tax on everything he buys to the tune of approximately $4,500 annually, as well as property taxes of $3,500, estate taxes, profit taxes, gas taxes and customs taxes. On average, the Fraser Institute calculates that comes to over 41% of an average family’s income, after which most of us start thinking about giving the Lord his due.

So, you see the problem: comparing modern Christians with ancient Jews is an apples-and-oranges exercise. It doesn’t help us much, though it might make us yearn to live in a theocracy rather than in a country where our taxes fund much more than road-building, schools and an army. No, Canadians get the privilege of covering the cost of abortions both here and in the Third World, the odious MAID program, Pride celebrations, transgender surgeries, forced vaccinations, participation in foreign wars we don’t want and numerous other government initiatives that are actively sinful, and to which we are not allowed to be contentious objectors. There is nothing voluntary about Canadian taxation, and we have no say in how the proceeds of taxation are expended, allegedly on our behalf, that we should claim to ever have control of our gross income. Frankly, we don’t, and I don’t want to be identified in any way with the portion of my income the government appropriates and misuses. It shames me to have any part of that.

Principles of Christian Giving

Sorry, back to the question. Christians are not under the Law of Moses. In the absence of explicit instructions about how much we should give the Lord of our income, many of us still use the 10% figure as a starting point. It’s certainly easy to calculate. But truly, numbers do not enter into it. The Lord is looking for an attitude of heart from his children, not a specific number in the bottom line.

Briefly, Christian giving is to be regular (“on the first day of every week”), proportionate (“as he may prosper”), voluntary (“not reluctantly or under compulsion”), enthusiastic (“God loves a cheerful giver”), generous (“whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully”) and discreet (“do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing”). If you can manage to spare an extra 23% after our government has carved out their 41%, then you are doing fairly well. Personally, I can’t, and I regret the legalistic and pedantic way I approached the issue as a youngster.

Before or After Taxes?

Each of us stands or falls to his own Master. At this point in my life, I would not be any man or woman’s judge who elects to give a lower percentage (or a fluctuating percentage) out of their after-tax income. In the end, the Lord asks us to be stewards of what we actually have in our hands, not stewards of some hypothetical number at the top of our tax returns that the average Canadian Christian will never see.

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