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Tithing or Marketing?

Posted by thethousandmarch on March 10, 2013 at 12:40 AM

In America we like to do business with businesses who give money to charities – we want to know what they’re giving to and they want to tell us. Quite plainly this is a form of marketing, which isn’t to say these businesses are completely cynical and don’t care about the charities they give money to. Many, if not most of them would give money anyway; at least the owners would, even if no one knew about it. But in a way they are forced to make their giving public because they don’t want people to think they are greedy, soulless businesses who don’t contribute to the community.


As a Christian I try to follow the teachings of Jesus. He says in Matt 6:1-4:


Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.



I do not like to make known my giving and am certainly not comfortable using charity as a marketing tool. So what do I do – as a businessman I want people to think of me and my business as one which is generous and is a positive contributor to the community. Whilst considering this dilemma I thought of a man in my hometown, Sherm Olsrud. He owns a couple of large grocery stores, is very supportive to his community and gives a lot of money away. One thing he does is to buy a lot of 4-H and FFA animals for more than their market value – he bought a number of mine through the years. He also has the meeting room at one of the local non-profits named after him; no doubt for giving them money. Now all this giving has certainly built up a whole lot of good will for his business. I know I like shopping at his grocery store in part for what he has done. But, I’ve never felt he did all of what he did in some cynical manner. I always felt like he was successful so he gave back; people appreciate that so they support his business, but that seems secondary.


So I’ve decided to use that as my model. Sure, giving money to charity in the name of my business helps my business, but that has to be secondary. My giving has to be from a genuine desire to help others and done in gratitude for those who support me. And if I have to spend money to advertise my business so that people know about me and what I do, if I can do it in such a way that I also get to give money to a cause I believe in, then I’d rather do that. That way if the advertising doesn’t have a very good return on investment as far as my business is concerned, at least the money spent helps have a positive impact on my community. (Of course just paying for advertising so that those who sell the advertising can make money and take care of themselves and their family also has a positive impact, but you know what I mean.)


We could also ask if this kind of giving even counts as tithing. We could say it’s really just a marketing expense. Even though the government lets me write it off as a charitable donation, God may not consider it to be one. That would mean that if I did believe in tithing, I would have to give at least 10% above and beyond what I give in the name of my business. If that’s the case then I suppose it doesn’t really matter if I tell the world about my businesses’ charitable giving, because it’s not really what Jesus was talking about. I, however, do not believe in tithing and I’m not looking for any rewards. I certainly believe in being generous and sharing my resources with others in need, but I do not believe I have some obligation to give away exactly at least 10% percent of my income no matter how that is measured. I also do not think I have the capability in myself of being righteous and earning rewards. I’m counting on Jesus’ righteousness, and sharing in the rewards he earned. So, I guess that means that even though I certainly want to be obedient to the teachings of Jesus, but that does not actually require me to get technical about what counts as tithing and what does not. Instead I can do as Paul says and “give what [I} have decided in [my] heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion” (II Cor. 9:7).


Categories: Bi-Vocational Ministry, Tithing - Don't