Curtis and Michaelann Martin
From the Oct 2000 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine
There are two steps that will free couples who are struggling with their finances. The first may seem almost crazy; the second may seem unbelievable. Together, these two steps will liberate them to experience the freedom of Christ in this area of their life.
Step one: If you are struggling with not having enough money, you may need to give more away. We know that this sounds crazy, but it very well may be true. Ours is not a “prosperity Gospel” that promises financial wealth in return for faithfulness. Rather, holding on too tightly to our wealth may deprive us of the chance to be blessed by God.
Step two: Live within your financial means, debt-free.
The Tithe That Binds
At the end of our lives, there are two great books that will reveal who we have truly been. The first is the Great Book of Life (cf. Rev. 20:11- 13), which Our Lord will open. The second is our checkbook, which gives a penetrating insight into our values. Why is this? What we do with our money tells a lot about who we are. As we strive to move from a self-willed life to a Christ-centered life, we find that setting things right in our finances is an important step.
The biblical term is tithing. There is a significant amount of confusion about tithing. What is a tithe? Who is it for? How much should I give? According to Scripture, a tithe is a gift offered in support of the priests and priestly people-the Levites (cf. Num. 18:21). Not all Levites were priests. Only the men from age 25 to 55 who could prove that they had ten generations of pure Levitical blood in their veins could be priests, but the whole tribe
was a priestly people. Today, an equivalent might be all priests and those who serve the Church, religious sisters and brothers, missionaries, and other apostolates that build up the Kingdom of God. Even before the tribe of Levi was set apart as priests, we see Abraham offering a tenth of all that he has to the priest Melchizedek as a symbol of his covenant faithfulness to God (cf. Gen. 14:18-20).
A tithe serves two purposes. First, it supports the Church. But, more importantly, a tithe is a symbolic gesture of recognition that all that we have really belongs to God. By offering the first tenth back to God through the Church, we manifest our faith in God, that we trust in Him and not in what He has allowed us to acquire. God’s true desire is to be generous with us, but even more He wants us to imitate Him in generous love.
The Bible shows how central this simple act of faith is to a healthy spiritual life. The prophet Malachi calls the people of Israel to return to God. In his prophecy, he outlines a number of areas where the people have been unfaithful. In fact, the Book of Malachi is wonderful reading for families today, as it deals with such topics as religious loyalty, marital faithfulness, divorce, father/son relationships, and many other timely topics. In the prophecy, God answers the people’s question about why He has been so far away from them:
“From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How are we robbing thee?’ In your tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me; the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my
house; and thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing” (Mal. 3:7-10).
The language of God is very strong. Those who are not tithing are accused of robbing God! Upon closer examination, we find an amazing promise in this passage. Ordinarily it is a sin to “put God to the test” (cf. Deut. 6:16, Mt. 4:7) but here is the one exception. We are encouraged to test God by bringing our whole tithe, so that He may provide us with overflowing blessings. An easy objection might be, “Well this is the Old Testament, it is outdated.” But the preceding verse provides: “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed” (Mal. 3:6). Scripture is clear that our God
is unchanging and He is calling us today to trust Him with our finances.
The beautiful thing is that His challenge comes with a promise. In our marriage, we have taken God at His word on this point and He has proven Himself faithful. Shortly after we were married, we went away to graduate school. Curtis thought God had called him to study theology, but leaving his job in California and becoming a starving student wasn’t easy. By this time we had two children. After much prayer we decided to go, with the understanding that this was a luxury and that Curtis would do what he needed to do to provide for our family. If we missed a single meal then he would drop out of school and
go back to work full-time. During school we remained committed to tithing, despite the difficulty of giving 10 percent when our income was so low.
Finally, the day arrived. We were broke and out of food. Up until this time we had never missed a meal. Curtis knew that the next morning he would have to resign from school. Then we heard a knock on the door. When we opened it, a friend was standing there with a large pot. She said, “I made way too much spaghetti tonight, could you use some?” We had spaghetti that night and again for lunch the next day. That afternoon an unexpected reimbursement check came in the mail. God had provided.
A frequently asked question is: Can I give 2 percent or 5 percent? Of course you can, but if you give 5 percent, that is not a tithe but a “fifthe”! A tithe literally means a tenth, or 10 percent. A tithe is offering back 10 percent of your increase to God. The Church does not require Catholics to tithe. The Code of Canon Law only provides that the faithful are “obliged to assist with the needs of the Church” (canon 222; cf. Catechism, no. 2043).
We have been blessed by God in this area and we invite you to take up His challenge and see if He will not open up the windows of heaven for you as well. The beauty of tithing is that it is one area where we know if we are on track or not. It is our hope that all of our life will be yielded to Christ. But, it is one thing to say, “From now on I won’t lose my temper,” and another thing to do it consistently. Once we made the decision to tithe, it has been easy to see whether we are still on track. The numbers don’t lie.
Earlier we mentioned that there were two steps to experiencing the freedom of Christ in our financial lives. We warned that the idea of tithing may, at first, appear crazy. The next step, living within our financial means and debt-free, requires us to take a brief look at freedom. As Americans we tend to confuse freedom with independence. After all, did America not gain its freedom with a Declaration of Independence? But the freedom Christ offers is very different from what we might first think. We have just seen that the Bible promises that God will bless us if we offer our tithe as an act of faith. The
blessing God promises will actually increase our freedom, but not our independence. We need to rethink freedom from the Christian perspective.
Several years ago, Curtis injured his ear playing basketball. As the doctor was sowing up his cut, Curtis asked him, “Doc, will I be able to play the violin?” He assured him that he would, and Curtis told him that this was a miracle, because he had never been able to play before! Curtis is not free to play the violin. He has not trained, and has neither the know-how nor the necessary skills. Only those who have committed themselves to training and practicing the violin have the freedom to play one. So too, with authentic freedom, only those who have committed themselves to a Christ-centered life and
are living a life of grace can experience what Jesus called freedom.
During medieval times feudal lords enslaved working serfs. After the serfs labored for months in the field, the lords would simply collect their “share” from them. Modern Americans are proud to be free. However, many of us have unwittingly chosen to become modern-day serfs. Between taxes and servicing our personal debt, many families lose control of two-thirds or more of their income. Couples enticed by the promise of easy credit find themselves enslaved by monthly payments. Between consumer debt (i.e., credit cards), car loans, and home loans, most families have scarcely anything left. There must be a better way. Couples, particularly young couples, need to be aware of how to avoid the trap of “easy credit” and develop good habits of Christian stewardship and
Talk Tips & Action Points
The best place to start is to sit down with your spouse and discuss your financial goals. Then evaluate your current spending habits and monthly expenses. Maybe use Philip Lenahan’s easy booklet and worksheets to develop a livable budget. Keep in mind that it may take a month or two just to get some numbers to work with. After you become familiar with where your money is going, decide on your tithe together, and then set goals. We set short-term goals: paying off our credit cards and not using them anymore, then paying off our car. We set long-term goals as well: paying off our hefty student loans, and now we
are working on the house and actually saving for retirement and college.
It is so important to put this plan of attack into a short-and long-term perspective. It has helped us to talk about the budget every couple of months, too. We have celebrated when each goal has been met, and talking about our plans helps us stay on track. It also reunites us in our common goal and strengthens our marriage in knowing that we are each sacrificing to attain our goals. This is a tall order to ask, but the rewards for investing the time and energy are great!
Finances for Today’s Catholic Family, by Philip Lenahan
Mastering Money in Your Marriage, personal study guide, by Ron Blue
Mastering Your Money, by Ron Blue
The Complete Financial Guide for Young Couples, by Larry Burkett
Debt-Free Living, by Larry Burkett
Read Matthew 23:23. Why does Jesus criticize His audience for tithing? Is He condemning tithing in general? __________________________________________
Read Numbers 18:21 and explain what a tithe is. Who were the priests and priestly people? __________________________________________
In Genesis 14:18-20, to whom does Abraham tithe? Why? Read Hebrews 7:4. Whose gift is referred to as a tithe? __________________________________________
What does Sirach 35:9 teach us? __________________________________________ __________________________________________
According to Malachi 3:7-10, how does God view the failure to tithe? __________________________________________ __________________________________________
Our Lord had some challenging things to say about money management. Let’s look at Luke 18:24 and 1 Timothy 6:10. While these statements may seem harsh,
what do they teach us? Upon a more careful look, do you think money is the problem, or is it a disordered use or love of money?
Scripture teaches about credit in Proverbs 22:7. What does it say about the one who borrows? __________________________________________
Let’s look into the Scriptures to see the teaching on usury. Read Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:36; Nehemiah 5:7-11; Psalm 15:5; and Ezekiel 18:4-9, 13, 17.
What is the common thread these passages
Dollars and Sense
Married couples seem to have a difficult time with money management:
49% don’t pay their bills on time
65% don’t do a good job of staying out of debt
65% don’t balance their checkbook
82% don’t adequately save for the future
Charitable giving averages less than 2% for all Americans and about 1% for American Catholics
A majority of divorces list finances as one of the primary causes.
Financial problems result from many of the same problems that undermine a marriage. Each of us must decide whether we will live a self-willed life, or a Christ-centered life. Our decision will affect both our family and our finances. The Scriptures give us some clear guidelines as to how we can begin turning over every aspect of our lives to the lordship of Christ.
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