My dear People of God,
I am touched by the words of St. Paul: “The love of money is the root of all evil and there are some who, pursuing it, have wandered away from the faith and so given their souls any number of fatal wounds” (1 Timothy 6:10). This brings me to what Jesus Christ himself said about money: “No one can be the slave of two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second, or be attached to the first and despise the second. You cannot be the slave both of God and of money” (Matthew 6:24). This teaching by Jesus Christ and St. Paul can be of serious concern for many, especially for the Igbo people who are said to be too attached to money. It is said that for an Igbo man to be said to be really dead is when money is presented to him and he does not wake up! The Igbo people say: “Ego di mkpa” (Money is important or necessary). In fact money is important and necessary but is not the most important thing. The Igbo people indeed say: “Ndu ka ego” (Life is more than money – more important than money). We can take this view to spirituality – Money is important but eternal life is more important than money. Money can come but will pass away! No wonder the famous Preacher (Qoheleth) stated that he amassed silver and gold, the treasures of kings and provinces... but all was vanity: “What futility it all was, what chasing after the wind! There is nothing to be gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:8,11).
We are aware that the love of money is ruining a lot of people and a lot of things in our country. Corruption, embezzlement of public funds, robbery and kidnapping and reckless use of money are destroying Nigeria. The fight against corruption is going on but the corruption of the most of the fighters and agencies and institutions which are supposed to be fighting the corruption is derailing the fight! Unless there is a fundamental change of attitude to money and what money can buy, corruption will continue to grow and spread in our society. That fundamental change has to be in line with the teaching of Jesus Christ: No one can be a servant of God and at the same time engrossed in the filthy pursuit of money! That does not mean that working for money is evil even though St. Paul wrote to Timothy saying: “'The love of money is the root of all evils' and there are some who, pursuing it, have wandered away from the faith and so given their souls any number of fatal wounds” (1 Timothy 6:10). Indeed, this is a warning for persons who think that religion is a way of making a profit (see 1 Timothy 6:5). We are to look for money and work for money but with honesty and good intentions!
This brings us to the issue of tithes. Tithes were imposed by God. Even before the law about tithes, Melchizedek, the priest of God Most High brought bread and wine and pronounced blessing on Abram and Abram gave him a tenth of everything (see Genesis 14:18-20). Melchizedek and Abram presented what would become religious actions – bread and wine would become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the Holy Eucharist while the tenth given by Abram would become the tithe. God expected the people to pay one tenth of whatever they had as tithe. The orders of God were that all “tithes on land, levied on the produce of the soil or on the fruit of trees, belong to Yahweh; they are consecrated to Yahweh” (Leviticus 27:30). God instructed Moses to tell the Levites: “When from the Israelites you receive the tithe which I have given you from them as your heritage, you will set aside a portion of this aside for Yahweh: a tithe of the tithe” (Numbers 18:25-26). In the Old Testament, tithes were compulsory offering of a tenth of money and other goods to God through the priests and the Levites.
Tithes were also what the people take out of their produce in order to show their respect for Yahweh. There was annual tithe: “Every year, you must take a tithe of what your fields produce from what you have sown and, in the presence of Yahweh your God, in the place where he chooses to give his name a home, you must eat the tithe of your wheat, of your new wine and of your oil, and the first-born of your herd and flock; and so doing, you will learn always to fear Yahweh your God” (Deuteronomy 14:22-23). Tithes of these materials could be converted into money if the distance to carry them to God's House was much and use the money to buy whatever the person liked to eat it in the presence of God (see Deuteronomy 14:24-26). Giving of tithes was a regular practice in Israel. It was reported thus: “As soon as the order had been promulgated, the Israelites provided the first fruits of grain, new wine, olive oil, honey and every other kind of agricultural produce in abundance; they brought in an abundant tithe of everything. The Israelites and Judeans living in the town in the towns of Judah also brought in the tithe of cattle and sheep, and the tithe of sacred gifts consecrated to Yahweh their God, laying them in heaps” (2 Chronicles 31:5-6). This shows that tithe was not only of money. One tenth of various products were given as tithe. The Israelites did give the tithe on their soil to the Levites (Nehemiah 10:38).
Prophet Malachi presented God's demand for tithes: “Return to me and I will return to you, says Yahweh Sabaoth. You ask me, 'How are we to return? Can a human being cheat God?' Yet you try to cheat me! You ask, 'How do we try to cheat you?' Over tithes and contributions. A curse lies on you because you, this whole nation, try to cheat me. Bring the tithes in full to the treasury, so that there is food in my house...” (Malachi 3:7-10). Jesus Christ did not demand the payment of tithes but he mentioned the payment of tithes by Pharisees who still acted in unjust ways: “You pay your tithe of mint and dill and cummin and have neglected the weightier matters of the Law – justice, mercy, good faith!” (Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42). Paying of tithe is not the most important thing but living according to the way of God, the way of love, justice and good faith. In the Old Testament such matter was also presented – people who worshipped idols, committed sin but paid their tithes: “Go to Bethel, and sin, to Gilgal, and sin even harder! Bring your sacrifices each morning, your tithes every third day, burn your thank-offering of leaven and widely publicise your free-will offerings, for this children of Israel, is what makes you happy – declares the Lord Yahweh” (Amos 4:4-5). This does not mean that people should not give their tithe but that they needed to do so as well as lead good lives that were in line with God's commandments. Indeed, the tax collector who made a confession “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” was justified while the Pharisees who boasted, “I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like everyone else, and particularly that I am not like this collector here. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get”, was not justified (see Luke 18:11-14).
It is clear that Jesus Christ did not condemn the payment of tithes. And it is also clear that he did not impose tithes. His statement about his position to the Law will help us to understand what Christians should do about giving of tithes: “Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them. In truth I tell you, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, not one little stroke, is to disappear from the Law until all its purpose is achieved” (Matthew 5:17-18). The decision of the apostles and elders at the meeting at Jerusalem will also help us to understand what Christians are expected to do about tithes: “It has been decided by the Holy Spirit and by ourselves not to impose on you any burden beyond these essentials: 'you are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from illicit marriages. Avoid these, and you will do what is right, Farewell'” (Acts 15:28-29). This means that paying of tithes was not imposed on all Christians. But those Christians who wanted to give tithes could do that freely and would gain the blessing promised by God to those who paid their tithes fully: “Bring the tithes in full to the treasury, so that there is food in my house, put me to the test now like this, says Yahweh Sabaoth, and see if I do not open the floodgates of heaven for you and pour out an abundant blessing for you” (Malachi 3:10). Christians are not obliged to pay or give tithes but the payment of tithes is not forbidden. Those who pay or give tithes with sincere and good life will receive God's blessings, “for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).
Some Christian groups declare tithes as an obligation and demand that Christians must pay their tithes. Of course, it is understood that some think that religion is for monetary profit (see 1 Timothy 6:5) and such “Christians” and “Christian” bodies, assemblies, churches use tithes for making money and for winning huge amounts of money for themselves. They therefore teach that Christians must pay tithes. It is not surprising. St. Peter and St. Paul warned about such “Christians” (see 1 Timothy 6:5-10; Titus 1:11; 1 Peter 5:2; 2 Peter 2:3). The Catholic Church, on the other hand, gives Catholics the freedom to freely pay or give tithes. In the 1917 Code of Canon Law, the Catholic Church stated in Canon 1502, “Ad decimarum et primitiarum solutionem quod attinet, peculiaria statuta ac laudabiles consuetudines in unaquaque regione serventur” (In what pertains to the payment of tenth-parts [tithes] and the first fruits, the special statutes and laudable customs in each region are observed). It is clear that there is no universal obligation about tithes and first-fruits. Each region of the Catholic Church should observe what they want. It is clear that the 1983 Code has no law about tithing. That does not mean that paying of tithes had been forbidden or abandoned. Tithing remains free for Catholics who want to show their generosity and who want to receive God's promised blessings.
In the Catholic Diocese of Nnewi, we introduced the paying of tithes in the spirit of the word of God in the New Testament and according to the law of the Catholic Church. Members of Christ's faithful, including diocesan clerics, are free to pay their tithes to the Church. We decided that the payment of tithes would not be for the personal benefit of the Bishop or priests but for the Church. Tithes are collected in parishes every Sunday after Holy Communion and paid to the rectory account. This account is for the official maintenance of priests and not for private or personal use of priests. The money collected as tithes is accounted for monthly by every parish priest and the tithe of tithes paid directly to the diocesan account. Tithe of tithes is one tenth of the tithes received in a month by each parish.
I encourage every member of Christ's faithful including diocesan clerics to give freely to the Church what they earn whether money or goods. The words of St. Paul will help us to give freely and generously: “But remember: anyone who sows sparsely will reap sparsely as well – and anyone who sows generously will reap generously as well. Each should give as much as he has decided on his own initiative, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. God is perfectly able to enrich you with every grace, so that you always have enough for every conceivable need, and your resources overflow in all kinds of good work” (2 Corinthians 9:6-9). Pay your tithes and give freely to the Church and God will bless you! Priests, be careful not to misuse the tithes and freewill offerings of the people. As people consecrated to God avoid exploitation of the people, especially in matters concerning money for St. Paul warned that “The love of money is the root of all evils and there are some who, pursuing it, have wandered away from the faith and so given their souls any number of fatal wounds” (1 Timothy 6:10). Live like someone dedicated to God: “You must aim to be upright and religious, filled with faith and love, perseverance and gentleness” (1Timothy 6:11). And carry out your ministry “as God wants, not for sordid money” (1 Peter 5:2). May God grant all of us the proper spirit to give and/or to use material things and money in the way that agrees with the mind of God!