Some time ago I was gifted with a book of short reflections by Maya Angelou. I was touched with her thoughts on charity. She believes that the act of giving liberates the soul of the giver and increases “that intangible but very real psychic force of good in the world.”
“When we cast our bread upon the waters, we can presume that someone downstream whose face we will never know will benefit from our action, as we who are downstream from another will profit from that grantor’s gift,” Angelou tells us.
This idea that giving is an endless chain of grace is one dimension that seems to be lacking in many Catholics’ understanding of tithing. If we review the biblical origins of tithing, we see that the tithing principle was first practiced when Cain and Abel brought the “first fruits” of their labors to God (Gen. 4:3-4). Abraham gave tithes to Melchizedek; Jacob pledged to God one tenth of all he had received from God. (Gen. 14:20; 28:22)
Throughout the Bible we find references to tithing and giving back to God a portion of all that He has blessed us with. Jesus Christ did not do away with this principle; He even endorsed it when he scolded the Pharisees and scribes for their hypocrisy. He told them that they should pay attention to all the matters of the law, and to faith and mercy. “These you should have done, without neglecting the others.” (Matt. 23:23) “Others” refers to the paying of tithes.
The chain of grace originating in the time of Cain and Abel reaches us today as we participate in the life of the Church and pledge our tithe to her support. If we do not give our tithe, we weaken this chain of grace.
What is the Tithe?
In the Old Testament, the tithe was a mandatory program of giving one tenth of “all your produce” (Prov. 3:9) that applied to everyone in Israel. This tithe belonged to the Lord and was considered holy. Abraham as our spiritual father set the example when he offered tithes to Melchizedek.
Today all Christians are encouraged to set aside a “tithe” as part of their commitment as a member of the Body of Christ. This tithe should be given to the Church from whence springs our source of sacramental grace and spiritual formation. While part of our tithe may be given to organizations like the BCBP that help nourish us spiritually, we must not neglect the Church in our commitment of support since one of the purposes of the tithe is to provide financial provision for the practical maintenance and administration of the Church.
An Act of Worship
First and foremost, this returning to God a portion of what is His represents a practical expression of worship. We honor God with our substance. As such, our tithe should not be just a ritual but an act of our heart, a reflection of the way we feel about the Lord. Our tithe shows how much we honor and reverence the Lord for His loving provision for us. He supplies all that we need; how can we deny Him the tenth that He asks from us? Tithing is one good way that we can worship the Lord in deed rather than just in word.
Tithing is an act of spiritual consecration of our activities to God. It reflects our understanding of the principle of stewardship and our obedience to God’s will. This act of giving the first and the best to God directly challenges the worldly spirits of materialism, greed, ingratitude, envy and selfishness that vie for superiority in our lives.
A Way to Build Faith
We build our faith as we tithe. I clearly remember when we first attended our action group meetings in 1985, one of our members, Paquito Buenaseda, had a one-track mind. He talked about tithing, he believed in tithing, he used every word he said to convince us to tithe. At first we didn’t pay too much attention but when he began citing event after event in his life and others of the good effects of tithing and blessings receive, we began to listen. When we began to tithe, good things happened to us, too. Our faith and confidence in God’s promises were reinforced.
The Lord challenges us in Malachi 3:10 to test Him in this. If we “bring the whole tithe into the storehouse” He promises to open the floodgates of heaven and “pour down blessing upon you without measure.” Those of us who practice tithing know this to be true.
As we tithe, we can claim God’s promises. As His answers pour in, our faith is strengthened and livened. God has not only promised us spiritual and material blessings but also divine protection (Mal. 3:10-11). Jesus Christ tells us that we should “store up treasures in heaven … for where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” (Matt. 6:20-21). As businessmen and professionals we can see then that our tithing represents a practical investment in the Kingdom of God.
What Happens If We Refuse To Tithe?
Failure to contribute to the support of the Church and those people or organizations doing God’s work points to poor stewardship, lack of confidence and trust in God, dominance of materialism in one’s life, and an ungrateful spirit. Eventually this leads to spiritual and material poverty. Proverbs 11: 24-25 advises that “one man is lavish yet grows still richer; another is too sparing, yet is the poorer. He who confers benefits will be amply enriched, and he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”
If our praise and worship of God is loud and enthusiastic during prayer assemblies, yet is unsupported by our tithe for the maintenance of those who provide the venue and ambience for such praise and worship, our praise becomes a “clashing cymbal”. Our faith sickens with anemia. If we cannot express our love and gratitude to the Lord with our possessions and income, in all fairness, why should He continue to give us more possessions and more income?
I Can’t Afford To Tithe
In reality, a Christian cannot afford not to tithe! God does not exempt the poor from this obligation either. Jesus even commended the poor widow who gave out of her poverty (Luke 21:1-4). Humanly if we want to have more, we save more. God’s way is not our way, however; His way is for us to give more before we receive more (Luke 6:38). The way God sees it, withholding the tithe only perpetuates poverty – both materially and spiritually.
Stepping Out in Faith
The bottom line in any discussion on tithing is: do I have enough faith and trust in God to back up my faith with obedience in the matter of tithing? Do I have enough spiritual and fiscal discipline to return to the Lord a portion of what He in his generosity has given me? Am I willing to back up my commitment to Christ through the BCBP by pledging part of my tithe on a regular basis to the BCBP?
In short, am I willing to make this step out in faith? Reread and meditate on the whole book of Malachi if you are yet unconvinced. Let us not continue to weary the Lord with our empty praise. Let our lives and our tithes become our vehicles of praise. –Nancy R. Catan, BCBP Manila