Want To vs. Have To: Discovering the Joy of Giving

A Bible Study by Jack Kelley

Because we’re adults, we think we’re pretty responsible. We have ourselves convinced that by and large we do the “right thing.” But sub-consciously we’re still governed by something called the “want to vs. have to” principle.  Here’s what that means.

Given the option, we try to order our lives so as to do more of those things that make us feel good, and less of the things that make us feel bad. In conversations we say, “I want to” about the good things and, “I have to” about the bad.  When we say “I want to,” we’re really anticipating the desirable results of our action, whereas “I have to” anticipates effort where results are either undesirable or unclear. (Example: “I want to play golf, but I have to do my taxes.”)  So when we say “I want to” we’re focused on results, but when we say “I have to” we’re focused on effort, and results are usually more pleasant to consider than effort.

Our happiness is governed by the relationship between “want to’s” and “have to’s” in our life. The more “want to’s” we have in our life the greater our happiness will be.  But if we lose sight of the desired result, or if the result has lost it’s meaning for us, then even those “want to’s” we formerly enjoyed doing will become “have to’s”, and will no longer be enjoyable.  It may sound confusing at first, but if you give it some thought, I think you’ll see the logic.

How Giving Became A “Have To”

The Lord understood this principle (naturally) when He established the law of tithing. In three passages from Deuteronomy, He explained this law, commanding the people to put aside one tenth of their annual production for Him.

“Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills” (Deut 8:6-9).

He said there would be plenty of opportunity to prosper in the land He was giving them;

“When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Deut 8:10-14).

He warned them not to become proud and forget that it was He who had made their prosperity possible;

You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today (Deut. 8:17-18).

Then He explained how He wanted them to remember Him.

 But you are to seek the place the Lord your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling (Jerusalem). To that place you must go; there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, what you have vowed to give and your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks.  There, in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the Lord your God has blessed you (Deut 12:5-7)

They were to take the Lord’s tenth (tithe) to Jerusalem each fall after the harvest and use it for a big feast to celebrate the Lord’s blessings upon them. Here’s what He told them to do with it.

Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always. But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the Lord your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the Lord will choose to put his Name is so far away), then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the Lord your God will choose. Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice (Deut. 14:22-26).

The reason He commanded them to separate the tithe was that He wanted to remind them it was His. Also if He hadn’t required them to do so, most wouldn’t have set anything aside for the feast. It would all have been absorbed into their living costs and they would have missed out on the celebration.

Every third year, instead of celebrating they gave the tithe to the priests in their city to help the poor and indigent, first within the community and then from among their visitors. There was always enough to last until the next contribution three years later.

And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own.  At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands (Deut. 14:27-29)

Obviously, the Lord didn’t need their money. He only wanted them to remember Who had blessed them.  By celebrating, they were reminded.  Further, He commanded that the celebration be at His house, not theirs, so they wouldn’t start thinking they had created their own blessings.

The Origin Of Thanksgiving

Each fall in Jerusalem, at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles, the Lord hosted a national celebration with His people coming from all over. The aroma of delicious foods cooking over open fires permeated the whole city. For seven days where ever you went there was an air of joy and festivity as the people remembered their Provider and gave thanks.  In the US, our Thanksgiving celebration was originally patterned after it.

Because it felt good to obey, they wanted to do it, and they learned the joy of giving. When it came time to donate the tithe to the poor, they did so with a generous spirit, knowing that they were giving away the Lord’s share not theirs. (It’s always easier to be generous with some one else’s money.) Because each community helped its own poor directly everyone got the help they needed, and the people could see how their generosity was blessing others.

What About Now?

Contrast that with the way of giving in the Church today. Because we’re not under the Law, we no longer believe that one tenth is the Lord’s, so we no longer credit Him for our blessings. When the Church asks for money, we think we’re being asked for some of our own money, and sometimes we’re not clear about the benefit.  All we’re told is that the Lord’s work will be hindered without our help, as if the all powerful King of the Universe will be stopped in His tracks for lack of our contribution.

This approach to giving makes us feel bad, so we want less of it. We resent being made to feel guilty so we give only as much as is necessary to ease our guilt. “I want to” has become “I have to.” No wonder the joy has gone from our giving.

Some “religious” groups require 10% of their members’ income and conduct periodic audits to make sure they’re getting it all. Some even teach that tithing is evidence of salvation. It’s the most glaring example of man’s religion working at cross-purposes with the intent of God’s laws.

A Blessing or a Curse?

Today, tithing is thought by many to be a curse for believing rather than a celebration for blessing. They go around looking for a church that doesn’t talk about money all the time. Because they never learn the true purpose of their giving, they are deprived of the blessings of abundance the Lord promises to those who “bring the whole tithe into the storehouse.”  For its part, the church merely survives when it should thrive. (The church would actually receive much more income if we went back to doing things the Lord’s way)

And perhaps most sadly, those in need don’t receive the help from the church they could otherwise have.  Instead, the government has become their benefactor. Therefore, help that could have come in the name of the Lord, and perhaps prompted a life change in the heart of the recipient, influences the way they vote instead.  Satan wins again.