Money – or rather lack of enough of it – for most people is a very emotive and perhaps a taboo subject, when it comes to discussing personal finances. Listening to the news about Government departments there never seems to be enough, let alone considering how much debt we owe. When I first wrote this article a few years ago I read that the UK Government owes more than £1.6 trillion to its creditors. Shakespeare penned these famous lines in Hamlet:” Neither a borrower nor a lender be; for loan oft loses both itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry. This above all: to thine own self be true.“ Many think this is a Biblical quotation but whilst it reflects some aspects of teaching in the Bible this quote does not come from the Bible itself.
So what does the Bible teach about how believers should manage their money?
Moses told the children of Israel what they could expect if they were obedient to God.
From the beginning of Deuteronomy 28 we can read of all the blessings which the Israelites could enjoy if they put God first in their lives including the statement that “you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow”. However conversely, if they turned their back on God they were told that they would not prosper and would only be oppressed and exploited and robbed continually…”
TITHING – that is giving a tenth of your produce/money to God’s work has been a principle which stretches back at least as far as the time of Abraham. It has of course been abused by unscrupulous members of the clergy throughout history, but that doesn’t invalidate the principle of giving to God the first fruits of the harvest, be it in animals, grain and fruit or as money.
In Malachi 3 the prophet said to the people. “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings [you have withheld]. 9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, this whole nation!” But he goes on to say,”10 Bring all the tithes (the tenth) into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lordof hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you [so great] a blessing until there is no more room to receive it.”
The tithe was specifically given to the priests and their families to live on as they were required not to own land which they could cultivate, in order to carry out their priestly duties. In Luke 18 Jesus tells a story about a self-righteous Pharisee saying that he tithed everything that he received, so it was obviously still a practice in Jesus time. But as the new Christian church was established the believers went far beyond tithing in their desire to support the work of God.
To quote WIKIPEDIA; “Some interpretations of Biblical teachings conclude that although tithing was practiced extensively in the Old Testament, it was never practiced or taught within the first-century Church. Instead, the New Testament scriptures are seen as teaching the concept of “freewill offerings” as a means of supporting the church: See 1 Corinthians 16:2 The Amplified version reads like this “On the first day of every week each of you is to put something aside in proportion to his prosperity, and save it so that no collections will need to be made when I come” and 2 Corinthians 9:7. “Let each one [thoughtfully and with purpose] just as he has decided in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion for God loves a cheerful giver and delights in the one whose heart is in his gift!” (Amp). Also, some of the earliest groups sold everything they had and held the proceeds in common to be used for the furtherance of the Gospel: Acts 2:44-47; Acts 4:34-35“.
So somewhere between then and now the main body of the church seems to have largely lost its way regarding financial giving. Most of us cannot set foot in a historic church building without reading an appeal for money to support the fabric of the building. Nothing new; I hear the prophet Haggai saying thousands of years ago, “ 4Is it time for you yourselves to live in your expensive panelled houses while this house of the Lord lies in ruins? 5Consider your ways and thoughtfully reflect on your conduct!” (See Haggai 1:4-12).
We glibly quote the verse from Philippians 4 about God supplying all our needs and wonder why He often doesn’t seem to do so, but we don’t realise that it is a promise based on first meeting some conditions. The Message says; “;15-20 You Philippians well know, and you can be sure I’ll never forget it, that when I first left Macedonia province, venturing out with the Message, not one church helped out in the give-and-take of this work except you. You were the only one. Even while I was in Thessalonica, you helped out—and not only once, but twice. Not that I’m looking for handouts, but I do want you to experience the blessing that issues from generosity. And now I have it all—and keep getting more! The gifts you sent with Epaphroditus were more than enough, like a sweet-smelling sacrifice roasting on the altar, filling the air with fragrance, pleasing God no end. You can be sure that God will take care of everything you need, his generosity exceeding even yours in the glory that pours from Jesus.
So what about the principle of tithing in the 21st Century? I was taught from my early days as a Christian, that I should tithe as a basic principle, and add freewill offerings on top. I guess if every Christian in the UK tithed their income, there would be many more prosperous churches! I wonder if God is sickened by the poverty mentality that appears to pervade many of His churches when His people see the need to ask people outside that congregation to help them to pay for the upkeep of their building by collecting other people’s unwanted goods to sell for a fraction of what they were originally worth, whilst spending their money on the latest gadget for their own home or having an expensive holiday? Charity shops and Jumble sales may well meet the needs of poor people, but I don’t believe that they glorify God or show the world that He can live up to His name of being JEHOVAH JIREH – Our Provider. (See Genesis 22:14). If you read this chapter you will see that PROVISION rode on the back of a willingness to sacrifice that which was most precious to Abraham, just as the Philippian church did many years later.
The question for us today is what does God expect of us in supporting the work in the church at this time? I was once in a small church with a minister who was working in a secular full-time job. We discussed the possibility of him being released from that to be able to devote more time to the church. By 10 of us giving a ‘TITHE’ – a tenth of our gross income, it would have provided him with a salary which was based on the average amount of the 10 who gave. Using that principle, what if 100 people gave a tithe of their gross salary?!
In my next article I shall be writing about my experience of God’s wonderful provision for me under the title – THE JOY OF GIVING- ADVENTURES IN GIVING and RECEIVING!