by John G. Panagiotou
“Where your treasure is there will your heart be also.”1 These words of Jesus have resonated within the hearts of people for two thousand years. What was Jesus talking about? What do Jesus, the Bible, and the Church Fathers have to say about tithing and giving to God?
The Scriptures have no less than 2,350 verses having to do with money and money management. Jesus speaks about money and money management more than any other topic including heaven, hell, salvation etc. The topic is very important for the Christian life.
In an often misquoted verse, St. Paul the Apostle writes, “the love of money is the root of all evil”.2 St. Paul teaches that our Lord realizes that we have needs to meet in order to live and to carry out His work. God is, however, a jealous God and demands our full commitment with nothing else taking precedence over His Lordship in our lives. That is why the Apostle Paul warns his first century Greek congregation that the love of money is evil.
All that we have is on loan from God. It is all gift. What we do with our time, talent, and treasures will have to be given account of on the last day. This was the great sin of disobedience by Adam in the Garden of Eden. He abused his gift of stewardship. King Solomon who was the richest and wisest man of all time, expressed his feeling of the emptiness of materialism apart from God when he said, “vanity of vanities, it is all a bubble that bursts”.
In the book of Genesis, the mysterious paradigmatic priest of priests Melchizedek appears to perform one task alone: to collect the tithe from Abraham and to thus confer a blessing upon him on behalf of the Lord.3 This clearly shows that Abraham in his righteousness before God gave of his first fruits (his best fruits) unto the Lord and in turn was blessed. This is precisely what God is calling us to do. We as believers are each called upon to give sacrificially of our best resources first and God will take care of the rest as He did with Father Abraham.
As individuals, when we become burdened with a mindset of materialism (i.e. non-stewardship focused giving) we become slaves to our wealth instead of our wealth becoming our servants for the promotion of God’s Kingdom. This clearly is not the way that God intended it to be. Inevitably, we squanderer the gifts of our resources. Then a multitude of other problems emerge namely the bondage of debt. For truly, as the Preacher teaches in Ecclesiastes and Proverbs, “the borrower is a slave to the lender”.4
All of these principles not only apply to the individual Christian, but to the life of a congregation as well. Jesus is clear in the New Testament when He says that He would build and grow the Church and that the task at hand for believers is to make disciples who are followers of Jesus amongst the nations. That is what the core culture of a parish and diocese should be all about. That is what the ultimate focus of any and all monetary collections should be about. As the late great Russian theologian Georges Florovsky would write on the matter:
The primary task of the historical Church is the proclamation of another world “to come.” The Church bears witness to the New Life, disclosed and revealed in Christ Jesus, the Lord and Saviour. This it does both by word and deed. The true proclamation of the Gospel would be precisely the practice of this New Life: to show faith by deeds (cf. Matt. 5:16). The Church is more than a company of preachers, or a teaching society, or a missionary board. It has not only to invite people, but also to introduce them into this New Life, to which it bears witness.
It is a missionary body indeed, and its mission field is the whole world. But the aim of its missionary activity is not merely to convey to people certain convictions or ideas, not even to impose on then a definite discipline or a rule of life, but first of all to introduce them into the New Reality, to convert them, to bring them through their faith and repentance to Christ Himself, that they should be born anew in Him and into Him by water and the Spirit. Thus the ministry of the Word is completed in the ministry of the Sacraments.5
If you want to know the spiritual state and strength of a church, just look at its stewardship report. Invariably, it tells it all because what people do with their money speaks volumes. We make disciples by giving people Jesus through preaching, teaching, the sacramental life, the liturgical life and outreach ministries. It is to this end that our giving should be focused. If the ekklesia will do its job, Jesus has promised to be faithful and do His. Sacrificial giving for the Christian is not an option, but a joyful obligation. St. John Chrysostom in the 4th century speaks of this joyful obligation in his book On Wealth and Poverty
when he writes that the Christian owns nothing because God owns everything.6
The ecclesial ministry in its essence is not about buildings, budgets, and bodies. The model that we ought to follow is that the Church should be viewed first and foremost as the family of God, not just as another corporation or business. When that happens, the Bible tells us that inevitably God’s presence and blessing can be seen manifest in the local eucharistic community because its focus is on Jesus the Author of our salvation. It is then when we see the fullness of the Faith express itself, not only in the transformation of the elements into the Body and Blood of Christ, but when the celebrant and those worshipers present are transfigured into the Body of Christ as well.
With these things in mind, proper Christian stewardship for individuals and congregations should include the following four principles: 1) the glorification of God should be the focus; 2) giving should be sacrificial; 3) giving should be of the best of the first fruits of one’s resources; and 4) debt has no place in this paradigm.
If you would incorporate these four principles of economics into your lives and the life of your congregation, the Lord has promised to do mighty, mighty works in your life and in the lives of all around you. A proper understanding of stewardship is not a luxury in our private life as a Christian and in our collective life as the Ekklesia. For us to be be truly “called out from the world” as the word ekklesia connotes, is to take up the mantle and responsibility of stewardship and all that it entails.
1 Matthew 6:21
2 1st Timothy 6:10
3 Genesis 14:18-20
4 Proverbs 22:7
5 Florovsky, Georges, “The Church: Her Nature and Task” appeared in volume 1 of the Universal Church in God’s Design (S.C.M. Press, 1948).
6 Chrysostom, Saint John, On Wealth and Poverty [trans.] (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1984).
John G. Panagiotou is a graduate of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary and Wheeling Jesuit University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org