Meeting Needs Beyond Our Own

What does the Bible tell us regarding our financial priorities?

Since money is a tool that can be used for good or bad, it's important that we understand God's instructions in the Bible on how we are to use it. But before considering the specific principles and commands He gives, we need to understand God's perspective regarding the use of our money and His fundamental requirements of us in this regard.

God's ownership and assignment of labor

God reveals that He is the Creator of heaven and earth. As such, everything belongs to Him. "All the earth is Mine," He declares (Exodus 19:5). This includes all precious metals (Haggai 2:8), animals (Psalm 50:11) and people (Ezekiel 18:4)—each one of us.

When God made man in His image (Genesis 1:26-27), He "put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it" (Genesis 2:15). So Adam had work to do. His job was to care for this area in which God had placed him.

After Adam sinned by eating of the fruit God had forbidden, he was expelled from Eden but still had to work—only his work would be much harder, to the point of drudgery.

God told him: "Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return" (Genesis 3:17-19). Still, expended effort would bring with it certain rewards, including continuing livelihood.

Like Adam, we must work to sustain our lives. Human beings, however, are not self-sufficient. Thankfully, God continues to help us, providing for us in ways we cannot. "He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the service of man, that he may bring forth food from the earth," He tells us (Psalm 104:14).

When we enjoy the fruit of our labors, we should remember that everything we have is ultimately a gift from God, the Maker of everything. "As for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, and given him power to eat of it, to receive his heritage and rejoice in his labor—this is the gift of God" (Ecclesiastes 5:19).

Working hard and enjoying the resulting fruits of one's labor are godly principles most people understand and accept as a fundamental part of life. (To understand God's expectation of us to work, see The Bible and Work.)

The work of God

Yet human beings are not the only ones who work. So do beings in the spirit realm—both angels and God. Jesus Christ said specifically that God the Father works (John 5:17). As a spirit being (John 4:24), God does not need food, shelter and clothing to survive. His work is spiritual and humanitarian.

John 3:16 summarizes God's motivation for everything He does toward mankind: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." God's work in fulfilling His plan for mankind, which He began before the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:34; Revelation 13:8; 2 Timothy 1:9), continues.

Similarly, God expects spiritual and humanitarian work of us. Just as we work to sustain ourselves physically, we must work for a greater spiritual purpose. The apostle Paul tells us, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). We cannot earn salvation by human efforts, but God makes it clear that we were also created to do "good works" that have a vital spiritual dimension.

The money we earn from our physical and mental efforts can be profitably used to support important spiritual concepts and endeavors. Let's examine and understand an important biblical principle the early Church practiced.

Our financial priority

Throughout the ages God has seen to it that a true message of hope has been preserved and spread. He first used His patriarchs, prophets and priests to convey the message. Now, in this age, He uses His Church, His called-out assembly of followers. Jesus Christ commissioned His followers to proclaim the "gospel of the kingdom of God" to all nations, leading others to become disciples (Mark 1:14-15; Matthew 24:14; 28:19-20).

Christ's message—the gospel, meaning good news—encompasses far more than many understand. (To discover the biblical truth about the message Jesus proclaimed, be sure to read our booklet The Gospel of the Kingdom.)

This is the message the world desperately needs to hear. And Christ's followers have the responsibility of ensuring that it goes forth. Along with our fervent prayers and, in some cases, direct participation, dedicating a portion of our incomes to this noble cause helps the good news, this message of hope, to be proclaimed far and wide.

When Jesus sent out His disciples to spread the gospel of the Kingdom (Matthew 10:1), He said, "Freely you have received, freely give" (verse 8). The disciples did not have to charge others to provide for their physical needs because those needs were voluntarily supplied by those who heard their message (Matthew 10:11; Luke 9:3-4). As Paul later wrote, "Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel" (1 Corinthians 9:14).

The question naturally arises, how much should we contribute to further Christ's commission to proclaim the gospel and train disciples? People may debate this answer endlessly, but God has already given a specific answer—a tithe or tenth, meaning 10 percent of our income (Leviticus 27:32). In instructing the ancient Israelites how to manage their financial affairs, God said, "All the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord's. It is holy to the Lord" (Leviticus 27:30).

This passage shows us that this tithe belongs to God. It is His. It is not ours to do with as we please. Because God owns everything, He has the right to retain whatever He chooses. In reality, He is requesting only that we return to Him a portion of what He has already given to us.

God allows us to keep the greatest portion of the physical blessings He provides us. He asks only that we return a percentage, a tenth, to Him in acknowledgment that He is the source of all good things. If we ignore this principle, we will rob ourselves of God's blessings (Malachi 3:8-9).

During His earthly ministry, Jesus Christ upheld the practice of tithing (Matthew 23:23). Let us, then, examine this scriptural practice in more detail.

Examples of righteousness

The first mention of tithing in the Bible is in Genesis 14. Here, Abram (later renamed Abraham in Genesis 17:5), the same person later extolled as a model of faith and behavior for Christians (Galatians 3:29; Romans 4:11), engaged in a rescue mission to free his nephew Lot, who had been taken captive (Genesis 14:1-14).

After successfully rescuing Lot and recovering various goods, Abram met with Melchizedek, "the priest of God," and "gave him a tithe of all" (verses 16-20). Note that Abraham tithed on everything—not just agricultural produce as some have concluded.

Later we read of Abraham's grandson Jacob making this promise to God: "Of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You" (Genesis 28:22). The practice of tithing, we see, predated the national covenant God later made with the Israelites. (To understand the significance of this fact, see Does the New Covenant Abolish Tithing?)

As time passed, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob grew into the nation of Israel. After rescuing them from slavery in Egypt, God instructed the Israelites on how to be a holy nation (Exodus 19:6). Part of their obedience that would make them "a special treasure to Me above all people" (verse 5) entailed tithing on the "increase" God gave them year by year (Deuteronomy 14:22).

This basic biblical principle applies in our world. A farmer has certain expenses like seed, fertilizer, fuel, cost of equipment and perhaps rent or mortgage payments for the land he farms. The amount of increase is determined by subtracting the costs of doing business from the payment he receives for his harvest. Similar calculations would apply in most endeavors, whether we are self-employed or work for someone else.

Change in the law's application

After an individual determined the tithe, or tenth, of his increase, God instructed that this increase was to be given to the Levites, who were responsible for taking care of the tabernacle (Numbers 1:50-53). After receiving the tithes, they, too, were expected to tithe on their increase (Numbers 18:26; Nehemiah 10:38).

Since Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection, He has "become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek" (Hebrews 6:20). Jesus serves in the same priestly order as Melchizedek, to whom Abraham paid tithes long ago. (Indeed, as our booklet Who Is God? explains, Melchizedek was an Old Testament appearance of the One who became Jesus Christ.) This change from the Levitical priesthood back to the Melchizedek order required other changes.

As Hebrews 7:12 says, "For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law." The physical priesthood of the Levites was superseded by the spiritual priesthood of Jesus Christ. The priestly services at the temple, which were supported by tithes, came to an end when the Romans captured Jerusalem and destroyed the temple in A.D. 70.

Today Jesus Christ is our spiritual High Priest, and His ministers have the responsibility of serving God's people. God's tithes are now to be given to those who are faithfully continuing His work.

Acknowledging God's blessings with His tithe and honoring Him with offerings is the first step in setting up a financial plan grounded in biblical principles. As Proverbs 3:9 tells us: "Honor the Lord with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase; so your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine." (To learn more about this scriptural teaching, be sure to read our booklet What Does the Bible Teach About Tithing?)

Providing for the needy

Early in the history of mankind, God intended for us to be our "brother's keeper." Though Cain failed to understand this principle (Genesis 4:9), God made it clear in His instructions to Israel: "For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, 'You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land'" (Deuteronomy 15:11).

The principle of helping the needy goes back to God's original instruction for people to care for each other. Jesus Himself said that serving others and having love for one another were honorable, identifying characteristics of His followers (Matthew 25:31-46; John 13:34-35).

As we are able, at times we need to provide additional help to the needy. As the apostle John wrote: "But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth" (1 John 3:17-18). Proverbs 3:27 adds, "Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in the power of your hand to do so."

When we give to people in need, we follow the example of our Creator, whose nature is love toward others (John 3:16; 1 John 4:8). God wants us to develop the same loving, caring concern He has for all humankind. Describing this giving attitude, Paul wrote, "Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need" (Ephesians 4:28).

Charitable giving, then, is another fundamental step in a godly financial plan.

Supporting your family

Next, let's turn our attention to the family. Paul wrote about the need to provide for your nearest of kin: "If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Timothy 5:8). God expects families and relatives to take care of each other if they are able, before asking others for help. Refusing or neglecting to obey this principle is an affront to God and His instruction.

Jesus Christ roundly condemned any who would neglect God's instruction to care for their families (Mark 7:6-13; also see "What Is Corban?). Regrettably, some fail to support their families. Fathers and mothers who refuse to provide for their children violate God's most basic financial responsibilities and principles and bring untold hardships on their offspring. The same is true for children who refuse to help their aged parents when they are in need.

Jesus used the principle of providing for family members to illustrate God's love for us as His children: "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!" (Matthew 7:11).

Now that we have an idea of how God expects us to use our financial resources, let's look at specifics on how to establish and maintain a workable financial plan.


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