Should I Tithe in College?

“Don’t forget your offering!” My mom would say this to me every Sunday. Of course, back then, what she really meant was take the crisp dollar bills in her hand so I could put it in the offering box. This memory is pretty much the extent of my theology of offering and giving that I received growing up.

But after being involved in ministry for basically my whole life, even starting out as a pastor’s kid, I can’t help but be confused that we talk about money so rarely in the church. It’s a strange phenomenon because Jesus talked about money more than any other topic in the Bible. He made it a point to discuss wealth than both Heaven and Hell combined, and 11 of the 39 parables that he told were about finances.

With this basic foundation in mind, there are four basic observations I want to make for collegians and their wallets.

1) Your bank statement reveals your heart

Where and how you spend your money is never random. Your habits and patterns reveal the deeper priorities and loves of your hearts.

For example, if 75% of your monthly spending is spent on movies, boba and food, you probably value hanging out and having a good time with friends. On the other hand, if you make it a point to save 75% of your monthly finances, you probably value security and stability.

I made it a point not to say “income” because if you are like most collegians, you probably don’t have any stable source of income. However, what is shocking to me is that even though you say you don’t have any income, you seem to spend quite freely — just look at your Instatory.

Wherever the money may come from, I simply want you to consider the observation that if 0% of your finances over the course of your college years is set aside for giving to the church and to God, what does this reveal about the leaning and priority of your heart?

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt 6:21)

2) You won’t give later if you don’t give now

I am convinced that one of the greatest deceptions that Satan has used to neutralize financial giving particularly during the college years is the simple lie of “I’ll do it later when I have more money.” But do you really think you will give $500 when your heart trembles at the idea of giving $10?

The practice of giving is not operated by an on-and-off switch. It is more like a muscle that you develop over the course of your entire life. Do you know what happens if you try to lift 200lbs without first lifting 5lbs? Nothing. Your body won’t allow you to do it. It’s not even a matter of desire or intention. You simply won’t give more if you haven’t given less.

It can be humbling to drop in $5 in the offering basket, but take heart that Jesus marveled at the poor widow’s offering of a penny. He sees your heart and takes notice of a collegian who forgoes that precious cold brew once a week in order to give something to God.

"One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much." (Luke 16:10)

3) Giving is supposed to hurt

When you give something that comes at a cost to you, it means that you value the person you are giving to. Giving cheerfully does not necessarily mean that it won’t hurt. Every time my wife and I tithe, it hurts. We can’t help but think, “That’s a lot of money that could be spent elsewhere.”

I believe the doubts and thoughts that come with giving money to God are a necessary part of the process of rededicating your resources, your future, and ultimately your life back to the Lord on a regular basis.

You are supposed to be a little sore after you work out. The soreness is what tells you that you are doing the right thing. It is what reminds of why you work out in the first place. Don’t try to pave a path towards giving that avoids the cost; no such God-glorifying path exists.

“I will not offer burnt offering to the LORD my God that cost me nothing." (2 Samuel 24:24)

4) You cannot serve both God and money

In 1 Timothy 6:9, Paul tells us the desire for wealth and worldly prosperity causes many people fall into a “snare” that will lead to destruction. I used to think that moral or sexual sin are what causes many people to fall away from God during college into the post-grad years. Although this might still be true, I believe the desire for riches and financial security will be the temptation that really stifles your relationship with God if you aren’t careful to fight it early on. God knows our hearts and above any other desire or sin, His word says that "the love of money is the root of all evil".

“You cannot serve God and money." (Matthew 6:24)

Sometimes the most spiritual conversations are actually the most ordinary ones. Maybe the next question you should ask your fellow Christian isn’t, “How are you doing spiritually?” but “How have you been spending your money”?

Don’t fall into the trap of banking on fleeting, earthly treasures. Invest in eternity by making it a point to give now, even if it hurts.

Sam Bay is currently serving as the college pastor at Gospel Life Mission Church and is a graduate of Talbot School of Theology.