The Spiritual Aspect of Tithing

The Spiritual Aspect of Tithing
(Exarchate Bulletin)​ 
 
 “Honor the Lord with your substance and with the first fruits of all your produce” (Proverbs 3:9).
 
In ancient Israel, the Church of the Old Testament, the Law of Moses instituted the tithe, also called the offering of the first-fruits. Tithe is merely the Old-English word for tenth. Israel’s tithe was an assessment of one-tenth of all produce. Usually this portion was rendered from the first harvest of the crop, hence the tithe of first fruits. The proceeds were devoted to the maintenance of the temple, support of the priesthood and the sustenance of the poor (Num. 18:24, Deut. 12:11, and 26:12).
 
These activities are still necessary parts of Church life. Parishes need suitable places for worship, education and fellowship. We are responsible for our church building maintenance, and the Lord continuously reminds us of our obligation to the needy. Therefore, the practice of good stewardship, represented by the tithe, retains its importance.
 
The motive behind the Old Testament tithe, however, was not purely pragmatic. For the ancient Hebrews, tithing was never merely an efficient way to raise money. Rather, they understood that their relationship with God required them to dedicate a substantial portion of the fruit of their labor to His purposes.
 
As Orthodox Christians, our basic understanding, derived from the Old Testament, is that everything comes from God. All that we have or hope to possess, beginning with life itself, is His gift. We acknowledge this fact in our spiritual life through prayer and fasting and through our struggle to follow His commandments. With regard to our material blessings, we confess that He is their true source by returning a portion to Him, to be used for His purposes in this world. These works include the maintenance of worship, the support of those called to His special service and the aid for the poor. By thus giving a portion of our wealth for His purposes, we sanctify the remainder.
Through offering a part, we bring the whole of our lives into harmony with God’s will. The Old Testament law embodied this admission of God’s sovereignty in the tithe. Nothing of this has changed with the coming of Christ. Many Old Testament practices are understood in a spiritual way fulfilled, transformed or displaced by Christ’s coming, death and resurrection.
 
The Old Testament saints did not see the tithe merely as a way for organizing fundraising for their temple and clergy, but as part of their relationship with God. Similarly, we cannot regard our giving merely as providing for our parish material needs. We must appreciate the spiritual importance of tithing as the return to the Lord of a portion of His blessings through which we sanctify the remainder for our own use. Thus, we acknowledge the Lord’s claim upon the whole of our life and affirm that the focus of our existence is not this world but the kingdom of God.
 
The tithe, one-tenth, is the ideal of stewardship set forth in Scripture in the Old Testament and in tradition, represented by The Didaché, Saint Irenaeus, and Saint John Chrysostom. At first, for those not used to the idea of tithing, this amount may seem staggering. The best way to begin is to adopt a lower percentage and then increase it over time. First, we should accept the underlying principle behind tithing: That we should not give an arbitrary amount, but that our contribution should represent a proportion, a percentage of our income. Once we establish a certain percentage (for example 3-5%) as our starting point, we can then increase it by one percent a year until we reach the tithe.
 
From the beginning, however, we must adopt the idea that we give a percentage of our treasure; we cannot base it on impulse, giving “a little something” from what we “have left over”. Instead, our offering should represent “the first fruits of our produce” offered, because we feel the need to “honor the Lord with our substance”, as we show our gratitude to Him for His blessings.