May 22, 2015 in Commentary
Scripture tells us that as a Christian you cannot serve two masters. Matthew 6:24 says “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” It is easy to be a cultural lukewarm Christian who puts money ahead of Faith, family and folk and then give passing praise to Christ and His Church, but a true Christian puts service, duty, charity and humility ahead of any thought of personal selfish gain.
We as Legionnaires are called to serve our God, therefore also serving our families and our extended families by putting the word of God ahead of the heretical prosperity gospel that has influenced and warped the American view of what the Christian faith is. One of the clearest ways to clearly mark our Faith and our responsibilities to our nation is by looking at where we put our money and time. Luke 12:34 says “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” and in that spirit one of the highest callings of the Legionnaire is to be tithing to your Church, to the advancement of the kingdom of Avalon and in active participation in charitable activities for the poor, the sick, the aged and the downtrodden.
Where you place your time and money is indicative of where you place you hope, your Faith and even your soul. With that in mind we must make tithing and charity not just a fringe activity when we have exhausted all other options for how to spend our time and money, but one of the most important activities of those who answer the call to Orthodoxy and to our future Orthodox nation.
The concept of tithing has been part of obedience to God since the beginning of Biblical Tradition. Genesis 14:19-20 tells us “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High for putting your enemies into your clutches. And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” A part of duty and obedience to God is giving the first fruits of your labor. From God we receive the sunlight and rain that nourishes the crops that feed ourselves and our families, we receive the blessing of health to be able to work and even our very air we breathe and the beat of our hearts is a gift that God bestows upon us.
As unworthy and sinful as we are, our Creator continually gives us grace, forgiveness and blessings beyond imagine, the least we can do is to give back the fruits of our labor in willing tribute to our God.
To understand the issue of tithing and charity it is important to know the Old and New Testament view on the subject. The Church through the Saints and Church Fathers has held the torch of truth throughout the centuries to help believers understand God’s plan for us and how to best worship Him. One must look at the whole of Scripture and the words of the Saints to understand a properly grounded Christian worldview. Thus to start delving into the topic of tithing we need to go back all the way to Genesis and up to the modern day.
Tithing in Old Testament times was set up to have a tribute to care for those in the priesthood and in positions of service who did not inherit as the rest of Israel did. The medieval concept of “Noblesse oblige” or the “Nobles obligation” is one that traces back to the days of ancient Israel. Those who were given material blessings by God were called upon to care for the religious orders and those in need.
To not tithe was viewed as actually stealing from God. Putting the desire for more material treasures over caring for those who God had entrusted to your care, including the priesthood, was seen as shirking a God given responsibility.
Malachi 3:8-12 discusses when Israel had chosen to not give the full tithe that they were supposed to give. The Scripture reads “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with the curse; for you rob me, even this whole nation. Bring the whole tithe into the store-house, that there may be food in my house, and test me now in this,” says Yahweh of hosts, “if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough for. I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast its fruit before its time in the field,” says Yahweh of Hosts. ‘All nations shall call you blessed, for you will be a delightful land,” says Yahweh of Hosts.'”
Tithing in the Old Testament however was not just ten percent of your income, there were three different types of tithes to be given. First was the annual tithe, to be paid towards the support of the Levites as found in Numbers 18:21–24 which stated “I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the tent of meeting.. Instead, I give to the Levites as their inheritance the tithes that the Israelites present as an offering to the Lord.”
The next tithe was a feast tithe, which went towards the upkeep of the Temple and religious buildings which is told to us in Deuteronomy 14:22–27. “Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always...Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice. And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own.“
The third and final tithe was a third-year tithe for the poor of the land. Deuteronomy 26:12 says “When thou hast made an end of tithing all the tithes of thine increase the third year, which is the year of tithing, and hast given it unto the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat within thy gates, and be filled”
Those under the Old Covenant were expected to give about a third or more of their income to both religious and social causes, something that few Christians, myself included, have shown themselves willing to do on a daily basis. The first battle of a Christian is to orient our priorities towards God, which starts by being willing to make sacrifices for Christ and advancing His Church through our actions and gifts.
While the issue of tithing is very clear in the Old Testament, many modern Christians feel that tithing no longer applies the New Covenant, something that is blatantly untrue. Matthew 23:23 is the verse most often used to attempt to discredit tithing, the verse reads “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”
To understand this verse we must see that Christ is not condemning the practice of the tithe or abolishing the tithe as shown in Matthew 5:17 when Christ says “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets.” What Christ is condemning is the fact that the Pharisees were not making the tithe not out of faith, fear of God or a desire to help the poor, but simply to mark a box on their spiritual checklist. Following the law without Faith is like watering and pruning a dead tree, good works help nurture our Faith, connection with God and bring others to the Church. Our move to tithe must be made with a humble and contrite spirit, not in arrogance to be a brag about how “holier than thou” we are.
Matthew 23:23 provides a clear example that we will not inherit the kingdom of God based upon works, Faith is what comes first in all things, but due to our Faith we perform good works and provide the “good fruits” that Scripture tells us will be a wellspring from our hearts and souls. Tithing however is reinforced heavily in the New Testament as being a daily part of the Christian walk, it just must be done with the proper spirit.
To be able to tithe and give to the poor is to be a joyful duty of a Christian, not one where like the Pharisees we make faces and complain about how much we are sacrificing. Matthew 6:1-4 states “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” We should give quietly, generously and without fanfare, that is the true spirit of Christian giving.
2 Corinthians 9:7 says that “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” No one should force a brother or sister to tithe or give, that is judgmental for we do not know the situation that our brother or sister is in or if they are giving in such a way that we cannot see, instead we should all feel that it is a pleasure to make a sacrifice of our first fruits to give to those in need.
The modern world is based upon a worship of self and material possession, an anti-Christ worldview that leads to spiritual rot on both the individual and community level. To truly declare “Death to the world” we must not put our trust in the world but in God. Matthew 6:19-21 reads “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
To hoard wealth is a sign of a man who is too attached to the world and his status in it. If we live to die then our orientation will be towards serving others and our God, giving us access to wealth unknown to the material world, one from a spiritual source that is unending.
Saint John Chrysostom says “our money is the Lord’s, however we may have gathered it… Wealth is not for you to waste on prostitutes, drink, fancy food, expensive clothes, and all the other kinds of indolence, but for you to distribute to those in need.” Our money must be spent wisely to take care of our needs, for our families and then for those around us. Gaudy clothes, expensive cars and the other flashy parts of a materialistic lifestyle are not just wastes, they are stealing from the poor who need our help.
The merit of charity is not based upon the amount that you give, but how much you give within your ability. A Legionnaire who works a minimum wage job who can give $50 or $75 weekly to the Church, charity and the Legion would be viewed by God much more positively than a multimillionaire that puts $100 in the offering plate every week. Just as the poor widow giving her two small coins was more moving to Christ than the bags of money the Pharisees were giving, we must look deep inside ourselves and reflect on how much we can truly give, and how much is simply feeling that we are checking our own “to-do” box as part of our Christian life.
While the tithe means “ten percent” a Legionnaire is called to give one hundred percent of everything that he has, up to and including his own life. The tithe and Christian charity can also not be found to be limited only to giving to the Church, but in social causes to help the widow, the poor, the handicapped and other worthy causes. Our time, our talents, and our treasures are all part of the ability for us to give to others. James 1:27 says “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” indicating that part of the Christian tithe is not just financial, but also our time and effort to help those in need.
The Sessional hymn from Matins on Cheesefare Monday says “The gateway to divine repentance has been opened: let us enter eagerly, purified in our bodies and observing abstinence from food and passions, as obedient servants of Christ who has called the world into the heavenly Kingdom. Let us offer to the King of all a tenth part of the whole year, that we may look with love upon His Resurrection.” Giving and tithing is part of the walk of salvation just as prayer and tithing are, the need to give as part of working out our salvation with fear and trembling.
The life of a Legionnaire is not one where worldly glory or material wealth is desired, instead we aim to transform ourselves, our brothers and our sisters and eventually the entire world for Christ. We must be soldiers of the Cross who will bring Orthodoxy and Tradition to the West, a desperately needed antidote to the sickness degeneracy, atheism and modernity that plagues our nations.
To be soldiers however we must not start our fight on the battlefield, but on the battlefield of the soul inside ourselves. This battle begins with us identifying that we want to serve God above all and we manifest this by putting our life in the position of service to His commands, in which charity and tithing are part of our alignment with His will.
If you are desiring to embody the lifestyle of a Legionnaire you should first and foremost begin tithing a full ten percent of your income to your local parish. Then you should look for opportunities to care for the sick, the poor, the widow and the needy through volunteer work either on your own or with civic minded organizations. Finally if your spirit moves you, donate to the Avalon project in order for us to advance the kingdom we are striving to build. If you cannot give money, give time and effort to the Cause, both money and talent are forms of giving.
St. John Chrysostom told his flock “Almsgiving above all else requires money, but even this shines with a brighter luster when the alms are given from our poverty. The widow who paid in the two mites was poorer than any human, but she outdid them all” and with this spirit we must all realize that each and every one of us has something to give to those in need. Charity, abstinence, prayer and duty, these values of a Legionnaire will help you transform yourself and save your soul so may we all give generously, for the kingdom of God awaits those who follow the commandments of our Lord. Heavenly Father, have mercy on me, a sinner.