In yesterday’s post we discussed why tithing is a commendable goal, in terms of personal and parish finances, rooted as it is, in God’s word. And, while giving 10% to the Church is not strictly required by Church teaching, we do well to review and respect the tradition of tithing and also to explore its blessings, as promised by God.
In today’s post I want to explore the biblical roots of this practice. And, while the roots are deep in the Old Testament, as we shall see, the one time Jesus mentioned tithing, he indicated it ought not be neglected.
Perhaps a good place to being in simply to note that finances are simply too important to ignore and thus, it makes sense Scripture would address this issue. In fact, in the New Testament there are almost 500 verses devoted to prayer, 500 verses devoted to faith, and almost 2,000 verses devoted to our possessions and how to deal with them. Sixteen of thirty-eight parables dealt with finances (e.g. The hidden treasure, the pearl of great price, the fishing net, the wicked tenant farmers, the marriage of the King’s Son, the rich fool, The parable of the talents, The unjust steward, Lazarus and the rich man, the servant of two masters, the two debtors, the widow’s paying of the temple tax, the lost coin, etc.).
God knows that were our treasure is, our heart will be. And, whether we like to admit it or not, our money and possessions are important to us. God, to reach our heart, has to discuss these things. Money isn’t just about money, its about what we value, and we have to allow the Lord to help us think properly of and deal with money, if he is going to mend our hearts. A conversion that does not reach the wallet is far from complete. While God does not need our money, he IS interested in our hearts. How we deal with finances is an important indicator of our heart and our priorities. Thus in teaching of of the tithe, God is not after our money, as much as our heart.
In studying the teaching on tithing (giving on tenth of our Income back to God and God’s Church), we see not only a obligation of which God speaks, but also of blessings he wants to bestow. And what are those blessing? It is the increasing blessing of a heart that is right with God and neighbor in our use of money, and heart that is increasingly free of financial bondage such as debt, overspending and destitution, and a heart that is more able to be generous with, and less fearful about money.
The Teaching on tithing and the way to these blessings can be seen in three stages as laid out in Malachi:
Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty. “But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’ “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ “In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,” says the Lord Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty. (Malachi 3:7-12)
Hence we have here a kind of three-step plan to greater financial freedom and blessing rooted in the practice of tithing. The Three steps are: 1. Review your faithfulness, 2. Release your funds, 3. Receive your fruitfulness. With a hat tip to Rev. Adrian Rogers who is a significant source in a lot of this material, Lets look at the steps and the teaching in detail:
I. Step one – REVIEW YOUR FAITHFULNESS – The text of Malachi begins by asking us to review our faithfulness to God in terms of our finances. God takes up a voice of complaint and rebuke in doing so, saying, Even from the days of your fathers you are gone away from my ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto me, and I will return unto you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, Wherein shall we return? [The Lord says] Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed me. But you say, Wherein have we robbed you? In tithes and offerings [says the Lord]. You are cursed with a curse: for you have robbed me, even this whole nation.
In his “suit” the Lord lays out three aspects of the problem of our possible lack of faithfulness in our finances:
1. RESISTANCE - For the Lord says, that even from the days of our fathers we depart from his ordinances and do not keep them. Note here, it is not simply finances which the Lord deals with in Malachi. The obedience to the tithe is part of a larger picture of overall obedience. God is after the heart, the person, not the wallet. I WANT YOU says the Lord. and So he adds: RETURN TO ME!
Among the other issues God rebukes them for through the prophet Malachi are defiled, deficient and half-hearted worship, the dishonoring of God’s Name, that the priests were not instructing the people and giving good example, that men dealt treacherously with their wives through divorce, that the people considered the Lord’s way tedious, and that they exalted the arrogant and the evil-doer. And yes, also that the tithe was not being returned to the Lord.
So, there is an overall resistance to God’s will, of which the refusal to return one tenth of their income to God was one part. And God does not hesitate to call the withholding of the tithe by its proper name: robbery. And this leads to the second aspect of our examination of our faithfulness or lack thereof.
2. ROBBERY - God says, “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But you say, Wherein have we robbed you? And God responds In tithes and offerings.
Robbery? This is strong language! But to withhold the tithe, the first tenth of our income, is robbery in the Old Testament teaching, because the first tenth belonged only to God. And to, take, withhold or keep what belongs to another is robbery.
For the Jewish people there were very clear instructions from God about the tithe. Here are some of the more significant texts that indicate that the first tenth of income belongs to God and is to be returned to him:
(1) Lev 27:30 And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD’S: it is holy unto the LORD.
(2) Deut 12:11 Then there shall be a place which the LORD your God shall choose to cause his name to dwell there; there shall you bring all that I command you; your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the heave offering of your hand, and all your choice vows which you vow unto the LORD.
(3) Deut 14:22 You shall tithe all the yield of your seed, which comes forth from the field year by year.
(4) Prov 3:9-10 9 Honor the LORD with your substance, and with the firstfruits of all your increase: So shall your barns be filled with plenty, and your presses shall burst out with new wine.
(5) Mal 3:10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse [i.e. the storehouse of the Temple],
(6) Mat 23:23 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.
Thus, a clear instruction of the Old Testament was that the first tenth of income or harvest belonged to God. It was the Lord’s, and the failure to render it was thus a form of theft, or robbery.
The final quote (6) is a New Testament quote, and while Jesus considers other matters such as justice to the poor and mercy to be more important, it is clear that he indicates that the tithe is not to be neglected. Thus it is hard to argue, only on a biblical basis, that the New Testament set aside the old practice and/or abrogated the practice.
It remains true that today the Church does not specifically or legally prescribe a tithe be brought to the Church, but there is good evidence that the early Christians did observe some form of the tithe (more here: Sermon on the Amount: Blest Be the Tithes that Bind). The Church’s current lack of a litigious approach on the tithe does not mean that the biblical verses have no application for Catholics today. The Biblical text still goes a long way to set forth the ancient teaching, namely, that it is commendable for us to consider the first tenth of our income to be God’s alone even if the principle is understood today more as a spiritual practice than a mandated one.
Indeed, concerning the biblical teaching on the Tithe, the following summary is memorable:
Abraham Commenced it
Jacob Continued it
Moses Commanded it
Jesus Commended it
So why cancel it?
So, consider the tithe to belong to God, and thus, to refuse to offer it back is a form of spiritual robbery as the text sets forth. Do this however as a spiritual practice, for the Church does not currently require it, and in no way should we today consider our brethren who do not fully render the tithe, for reasons of their own, to be thieves. Leave it to the Lord to assess each one’s financial faithfulness.
3. RESULT - Where there is a lack of financial faithfulness God announces a result. You are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation.
Indeed, Do you think we can receive financial blessing if demonstrate a lack of fidelity in terms of the finances we already have? Scripture says elsewhere:
(1) Luke 16:11-12 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?
(2) Prov 11:24 One man gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.
(3) 2 Cor 9:6 The point is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
In other words, if God can’t even trust you with ten cents on a dollar, why should he trust you with greater things? Thus the curse comes at our own hand in terms of a meager harvest. Since God cannot trust us with little, he certainly cannot trust us with more. Hence we are cursed with a lack of resources, due to our own lack of trustworthiness.
So step one is to review our financial faithfulness. To the degree that we must make adjustment and repent we ought to do so. Are you and I being generous and faithful with the funds God gives, or stingy and sinful. Having made an assessment of our faithfulness, we arrive at step two.
II. Step two – RELEASE YOUR FUNDS - The text from Malachi goes on to say in verse 10: Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in my house. And herein God defines exactly what we must do regarding our finances. He sets forth a definite proportion, to be brought, to a designated place, for a definite purpose.
1. DEFINITE PROPORTION – The text says, Bring ye all the tithes. The tithe is the first tenth of all our income. In Genesis 28:22 Jacob said and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee. Leviticus 27:32 also says, And concerning the tithe of the herd…the tenth shall be holy unto the LORD. That it should be the first tenth, is also indicated for example, in Prov 3:9-10: Honor the Lord with thy substance and with the first fruits of all thine increase and so shall thy barns be filled with plenty and thy presses burst out with new wine...
So, there is a definite proportion called for: the first 10% of all our income. This is very different from giving God the leftovers. Too many are not honoring God with the first fruits. They say, “Well I have these responsibilities, I have the car payment, I have the house payment, I have insurance, I have taxes, I have the barbershop, I have the Amazon bill….ta da, ta da, ta da… And after I pay all that, we’re going to look and see what we have left to give to God.”
Does this seem right? Does this honor God, that he should have to takes the leftovers? Scripture says, Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you. Matt 6:33.
So the designated proportion is the first tenth of our income.
2. DESIGNATED PLACE – The text says to bring the full tithe “into the storehouse.” The ancient Jewish temple had a storehouse. Thus the designated place was the Temple.
For us the question is, where is our storehouse, where is our temple? For most of us it is our parish. It is the place were we are fed spiritually and cared for, where also we worship. There are some Catholics, who for various reasons, worship or attend more than one parish regularly, and one can see that the tithe might be divided proportionally in such cases. But for most of us the full tithe should go to our one parish.
The tithe includes our regular Sunday offering and may also include special parish offerings like a maintenance fund, or a school support fund. Generally however, our offerings to the poor apart from directly funding parish programs for them, ought to be considered as offerings separate from the tithe, since the Tithe is described as being directly due to the storehouse, i.e. the Temple and for its functions. This as we shall see will permit the temple, i.e. the parish, to undertake the works of God which are the proclamation of the Word, the celebration of the liturgy and sacraments, and the works of service required of any parish.
3. DETERMINED PURPOSE – the text says the whole tithe should be brought to the storehouse so that “that there may be meat in my house.” In other words, that there may be a wherewithal to do God’s work.
People come to Church to be spiritually fed, to worship God in a dignified and properly apportioned place, and to receive other care from the clergy and the staff. How will that happen if there’s no “meat” (i.e. no resources) in God’s house?
Do not underestimate the expenses associated with the upkeep of your parish. There are buildings and grounds to be maintained and repaired, staff to be paid a decent salary, for the office and management of the church, musicians and other costs related to worthy liturgy, outreach to the poor, education costs related teachers and materials for the parish school or religious education program, capital expenditures, and lots of other things. Most parishes have budgets well north of one million a year. My own parish of 900 families has a 1.3 million dollar budget.
Hence if we are going to be financially faithful, we have to release our funds in a way that corresponds to the what is just and to the needs of God’s Church. Scripture sets that number at 10% of our gross income for the parish, and it is a good goal to aim for even if the Church does not specifically command it by law.
But here comes the best part. God will not be outdone in generosity. And if we will be faithful in our finances, God will release blessings. Thus the text from Malachi concludes its threefold plan. Having reviewed our faithfuleness, and released our funds accordingly we:
III. Step three – RECEIVE YOUR FRUITFULNESS – In the Malachi text God sets forth the blessings, the fruitfulness that comes to the faithful: – And prove me now herewith, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the LORD of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts.
In effect the Lord announces a four-fold blessing. To those who are faithful to tithing, God will:
1. RENEW YOUR FAITH - for the text says, prove me now herewith says the Lord. In other words, when you get right with God in your finances you will find your faith will be strengthened. How? We will find in the laboratory of our own life, that God is faithful to his promises. God says, “Prove me in this, try me!” And sure enough, we see the blessings come, and our faith is strengthened.
Of this I am a witness. I have tried to be faithful in that which is least (money) and God has blessed me with that which is much (faith). My finances have become more stable, I do not overspend, I am more satisfied with what I have, I am less concerned about money, whether my own or the parish, I trust God, and thus I am also more generous. I have “proved” God in this and not found him to be wanting in the least. And thus my faith is renewed and strengthened. I know so many other tithers who have similar stories!
2. RETURN YOU A FORTUNE - The Lord says he will open you the windows of heaven, and pour out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.
The fearful often say, if I tithe I’ll have less. “No,” says God, “You’ll have more!” God will pour out a blessing. Will it all be money? Probably not. But the blessings do come as I have described above. Scripture says,
(1) Eccles 11:1 Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.
(2) Proverbs 3:9 Honor the LORD with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase: So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine.
(3) Prov 11:24-25 One man gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. A generous man will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.
3. REBUKE YOUR FOES - The Lord says, And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground.
In that agrarian culture the “devourers” were insects, animals and disease and drought which could destroy their crops.
For most of us however, the “devourers” are bad spending habits, living beyond our means, greed, materialism, gluttony and so forth. God will rebuke these and other foes that devour our income and/or enslave us to creditors and to debt.
I have been blessed here as already noted by release from lots of dumb and frivolous spending. More grateful for what I have, I don’t always need the latest model, the latest upgrade. And when I do need to buy, I can usually pay cash. Farewell to compounding interest that devoured all my income.
4. RESTORE YOUR FRUITFULNESS - The Lord finally says, neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the LORD of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts.
Here too, for the ancient farmers of Israel, it meant that the blessings would arrive when they could reasonably be harvested by available laborers and nothing would go to waste or rot in the field.
For us, it seems what the Lord promises is that, because our finances are now under control, and on account of the blessings of either extra income and/or a lack of overspending, we are able to be a blessing to others, the poor, the needy, our family and so forth. Tithing can and will increase our ability to bless the poor and everyone else. And thus will others call us blessed and consider us a blessing.
God never fails. He is faithful and there are many blessings that come from tithing. We discussed that at greater length yesterday.
Today’s task was to set forth the biblical teaching on tithing. Having used Malachi 3 as our primary text, we also sampled others.
Note that tithing is not to be understood as a burden, but as a way to experience blessing. Some react with fear and hostility to tithing, but the Lord says simply, “Try in this, prove me now herewith, and see if I don’t pour you out a blessing!” I am a witness, God is faithful. I have proved him and not found him wanting.
Here’s a funny video that teaching that he who sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and the the measure you measure to others will be measured back to you: