In the sixth century before Christ, the wealthiest man in the world was Croesus, the king of Lydia. He is credited with issuing the first true gold coins for general circulation. One day he asked the philosopher Salon, “Who is the happiest man in the world?”
Salon’s answer, as recorded by the Greek historian Herodotus, went something like this: “To live well, you must prepare to die well.”
There’s something tragically wrong with a society that is obsessed with making money. Seeking happiness in material things leads us down the road to nowhere. Attempting to fill our lives with things just leaves us empty. Salon was right: what happens at the end of your life is what really matters.
Norman Cousins, the editor of the Saturday Review, made a very perceptive statement 40 years ago—and it’s even more true now: “We are so busy extending ourselves and increasing the size and ornamentation of our personal kingdom that we have hardly considered that no age in history has had so many loose props under it as our own.”
We’re so busy buying that we’ve failed to realize that there are some moral screws loose in our society. The foundation is cracking. We just might be investing our money in all the wrong places.
The Bible presents eternal financial principles that make sense. It reveals financial secrets that most of the world doesn’t know. It encourages us to reevaluate our priorities—to seek the eternal rather than the earthly.
Who really owns the world?
The Bible is crystal clear that the real Owner of the world and everything in it is God. The psalmist Asaph understood this well. He records God saying that “every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the insects in the fields are mine. . . . For the world is mine, and all that is in it” (Psalm 50:10–12). And just in case we missed the obvious financial implications: “ ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the LORD Almighty” (Haggai 2:8).
So what is God’s justification for this claim of total ownership? Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, He said “My own hand laid the foundations of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens.” “But now, this is what the LORD says—he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine’ ” (Isaiah 48:13; 43:1).
God is reminding us that He created everything seen and unseen, including every one of us. But He isn’t an absent Creator who wound up the mechanism of the universe and left us to our own devices. Instead, He has redeemed us—purchased our freedom—and He is calling us to an ongoing relationship with Him.
“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed,” wrote the apostle Peter to the early Christians, “but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:18, 19). When God created this world, He entrusted its care to Adam and Eve. But when these first humans chose to distrust God, they surrendered their custodianship to the usurper, Lucifer, who had spoken through the serpent in the garden (Genesis 3). From that point, Lucifer, whom we call the devil, or Satan, claimed lordship over the earth.
But Christ’s sinless life and substitutionary death fully paid the ransom for the sins of Adam and Eve and every human since them. The cross sealed Satan’s fate and pledged complete restoration for this planet. So God was confirmed as the true Owner of this world, both by Creation and by Redemption. Everything we have is a gift of His grace. Thus, once again, we are custodians, or stewards, of everything entrusted to us by God: our planet; our community; our family; our possessions; and, yes, our money.
A good steward
The apostle Paul wrote that “it is required in stewards that one be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2, NKJV).* A steward is one who manages another person’s property, finances, and other affairs. And that is what we are: stewards under God. For we do not own this world or anything in it. He does, and He expects us to care for what He owns.
How we manage what God has given us can have eternal consequences. Consider these words of Jesus: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much” (Luke 16:10). God entrusts each of us with a portion of His goods to manage. Everything we have is a trust from the King of the universe, including finances. God is testing us with earthly possessions to see whether we can be trusted with heavenly riches.
The tenth—holy to the Lord
God said, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house” (Malachi 3:10). In ancient times, each of Israel’s 12 tribes was allotted a parcel of land, except for the priestly tribe of Levi, which had duties to attend to in the temple, “my house.” The Levites were therefore dependent; they could survive only if the other tribes supported them with regular donations of food and other necessities—these were called “tithes,” and they amounted to one-tenth of each family’s produce or income.
The Lord commanded the Israelites to return to God “a tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees” because the tithe “belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD. . . . Every tithe of the herd and flock—every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd’s rod—will be holy to the LORD” (Leviticus 27:30, 32).
The tithing system is eminently equitable. Those who earn more pay more and those who earn only a little pay only a little. Today we tend to deal in dollars rather than fruits, vegetables, and sheep, but believers in many Christian denominations have continued to honor this biblical tithing principle, devoting a tenth of their income to support their church’s leadership. Notice, also, that the people were to “return tithe” rather than pay the tithe. This language is a reminder that God is the true Owner of everything we possess. When we tithe, we are simply returning to Him a small portion of what He already owns.
“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me,” the prophet Malachi recorded God saying.
“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’
“ ‘In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the LORD Almighty ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it’ ” (Malachi 3:8–10).
In effect, God is saying that if we are faithful in returning the tithe to Him—the one-tenth that is holy—He will make the other nine-tenths go further than if we’d kept the entire amount we’d earned for ourselves.
Certainly, we all need to eat, we need clothes, and we need to make house payments or pay our rent. And God knows this. But He also says, in effect, “Test Me! If you return 10 percent just to see if it works, I promise that you will never be sorry.” God is asking you for a chance to prove His promise.
We know that the patriarchs Abraham and Jacob were faithful in returning to God an honest tithe (Genesis 14:18–20; 28:20–22), and I dare say that so were Moses and David, Peter and Paul, and all the other heroes of faith in the Bible.
And beyond the pages of the Bible, many Christians have found real-life blessings in honoring God by obeying His Word in this respect. Some of America’s greatest business leaders put God’s plan to the test and found that tithing pays financially as well as spiritually. You might recognize names such as William Colgate, John D. Rockefeller Sr., Henry Heinz, J. C. Penney, and Milton Hershey. Many of these men’s companies are now household brand names around the world. And all of them were tithers.
This isn’t to say that rivers of gold will immediately flow into the lap of anyone who begins to tithe. God calls many of us to live simple lives and possibly even to suffer for Him—but His promise and the experience of believers up to the present clearly demonstrates that tithing makes financial sense.
The tithe is the Lord’s tenth, sacred to His treasury, but freewill gifts in addition to the tithe also serve as a barometer of our character and spiritual condition. As the great Protestant reformer Martin Luther once observed, “There are three conversions necessary—the conversion of the heart, of the mind, and of the purse.”
There are many good causes that deserve our frequent and generous support, but the Bible repeatedly reminds us of one cause in particular: the poor. In Bible times, poverty often resulted from overwhelming debt or the death of a parent, leaving widows and orphans to fend for themselves. Travelers and foreigners, who faced prejudice and didn’t own land, were also vulnerable. Today we might use words like “single parents,” “foster children,” the “unemployed,” the “homeless,” and “migrants.”
God’s Word calls on believers to “defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed” (Psalm 82:3). There’s a message of social action here, and it’s clear that our support of the poor should be practical and financial: “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward them for what they have done” (Proverbs 19:17). Again, there’s a promise of blessing for those who honor this financial principle and give—generously and willingly.
The Bible encourages us to reevaluate our priorities—to seek the eternal rather than the earthly. God’s Word leads us to make investments that will pay off in the long run. You can’t out-give God! For He’ll give it right back to you. And then some.
Mark Finley has shared Bible truth around the world in person and via broadcast media. He is assistant to the president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Silver Spring, Maryland, USA.
This article is adapted with permission from the book What the Bible Says About, published in 2012 by Pacific Press®, which is also the publisher of Signs of the Times®.
* Bible texts marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved