I woke up early this morning and started my day by reading the Bible. In my daily reading I was up to the prophet Malachi – the last book of the Hebrew Scriptures. I’ve read this many times but this morning something jumped out at me in Malachi 3:7-8, “Return to Me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord of hosts. “But you say, ‘How shall we return?’…In tithes and offerings.”
In this chapter, Malachi the prophet is addressing the fact that many of God’s people had drifted away from Him. Malachi encourages the people to return to God. The people ask the question, “How shall we return?” The answer is not what they – or I – would expect. The first thing God addresses is their financial giving: “In tithes and offerings.”
This is a recurring theme in the Bible because our attitude towards money and material things is a good indicator of the spiritual temperature of our hearts.
Money is such an important topic in the Bible that it is the main subject of nearly half of the parables Jesus told. In addition, one in every seven verses in the New Testament deals with this topic. The Bible offers 500 verses on prayer, fewer than 500 verses on faith, and more than 2,000 verses on money. In fact, 15 percent of everything Jesus ever taught was on the topic of money and possessions – more than His teachings on heaven and hell combined.
Why does the Bible have so much to say about money? The answer is simple, because there is such a strong connection between our spiritual lives and how we think about and handle finance.
I’ve heard it said that you could get a good feel for someone’s spiritual commitment by looking at two pieces of tangible evidence – their diary and their credit card statement. While this may be a bit simplistic, it’s certainly true that how we spend both our time and money is a good reflection of who we are. Given this, is it really so surprising that the Bible talks so much about financial issues?
Jesus put it this way: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Jesus also said, “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.” Mammon is an Aramaic word that is wrongly rendered “money” in some translations. The word means more than that though. Mammon is literally “the worship of material things.” Jesus was teaching that it is impossible to worship material things and God at the same time. No one can serve two masters, He said.
This brings us back to Malachi’s answer to the people’s question “how shall we return” to God? “In tithes and offerings” replied the prophet. That is, by bringing to God the first tenth of any increase or income as well as giving offerings/contributions, we conquer the inbuilt human love of money and we make sure our hearts are focused in the right direction by placing treasure in the right place. It’s really quite simple!