In the comic novel “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” Douglas Adams writes: “Most of the people living on it (Earth) were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.”
The poor worry about the high cost of living. The rich stress over taxes, investments and theft. What does the Bible say about money and tithing—giving 10 percent of one’s income to God?
Tithing first appears in Genesis 14. Abram has rescued his nephew Lot’s family from a pagan army. Melchizedek, king and priest of Salem, blessed Abram. In turn, Abram gave the priest 10 percent of the recaptured spoils, not his own wealth (according to an NABRE footnote).
After Abram’s descendants become a nation, God set aside the tribe of Levi to maintain the tabernacle. Unlike the other tribes, the Levites did not receive land for farming. Instead, the people gave 10 percent of the first fruits of their crops, wine, oil and livestock for the Levites’ needs. In turn, the Levites donated 10 percent of the tithe to God as their offering (Numbers 18). The tithe consisted mostly of food and animals.
The prophet Malachi told the Israelites to “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse (temple treasury), that there may be food in your house. Put me to the test, says the Lord of Hosts, and see if I do not open the floodgates of heaven for you, pour down upon you blessings without measure” (Malachi 3:10). The blessings included spiritual riches.
Jesus mentioned tithing once. He renounced some of the religious leaders as “hypocrites” because they “pay tithes of mint and dill and cumin and have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity” (Matthew 23:23). The scribes and Pharisees kept the letter of the law but not the spirit.
Jesus also praised a poor widow who gave two small coins to the temple over the affluent who dropped large sums. “For they all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she from her poverty, contributing all she had, her whole livelihood” (Matthew 12:41-44 and Mark 12:44). The widow made a sacrifice, while the others merely showed off their riches.
Congregations need funds to provide ministry. We should give God our best and not the leftovers. But our attitude toward giving may count for more than the amount.
Do we contribute joyfully, or is the Sunday offering a chore like paying a utility bill?
Do we stew over basing a tithe on gross or net income, or do we focus on prayer and service?
Is God an accountant who keeps a heavenly ledger, or a loving father? Is God’s word an economic textbook or a spiritual guidebook?
Happiness is not allowing the small green pieces to take control. “Let your life be free from the love of money, but be content with what you have, for he (God) has said, ‘I will never forsake or abandon you’” (Hebrews 13:5).
Sally Carpenter, M.Div., is a member of Holy Cross Catholic Church in Moorpark. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.