Essays/Articles and Scriptural Studies


In view of the launch of our upcoming pledge-giving program during this Advent season, I am finishing my series on the Biblical basis for the Fifth Precept of the Church, "You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church." Today, we look at 1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19 wherein St. Paul exhorts his missionary companion St. Timothy on money, greed, and stewardship. The context is important: throughout the letter, St. Paul instructs the young bishop about the concrete precepts that are to govern his local Church. Such precepts are consonant with what we see in the life of the early Church in the Book of Acts, wherein stewardship-level giving was exercised in the highest degree. Here we find the Church's Fifth Precept in its primitive form!

In vv. 6-8, St. Paul says this: "There is great gain in godliness with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content." He appears to allude to Job, who lost everything yet remained faithful to God (cf. Job 1:20-22). All things are rightly reckoned gifts from God (cf. Jam. 1:17). Therefore, contentment with one's earthly goods counteracts greed.

In view of the good of this virtue, St. Paul then elaborates the manifold and unforseen dangers of avarice in vv. 9-10: "But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs" (RSV, emphasis mine). How chilling - St. Paul tells us that some believers have lapsed because of avarice! Breaking the 10th Commandment through covetousness can lead to breaking of the 1st Commandment (i.e., it fosters a pernicious kind of idolatry, capable of totally undermining our practice of the faith). 

It is here that we can make a link with our practice of stewardship. Do we cling to our money, however much or little we have? Is the upbuilding of our bank account more important than God and the upbuilding of our parish? Or, do we recognize that our money comes from God as a gift over which we are stewards, not absolute owners? In light of St. Paul's words, and in view of the duty enjoined on all the faithful by the Fifth Precept, we may rightly say that those who do not tithe may be considered quasi -lapsed, for they cling unjustly to their money.

St. Paul continues his treatment on these themes in vv. 17-19, with a special message for "the haves" of this world. He writes, "As for the rich in this world, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on uncertain riches but on God who richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy" (v. 17, RSV). This reiterates his point above, namely, that our wealth is transitory, and must never become the most highly valued good in this life.

The phrase, "the rich in this world" must not be misconstrued as the top 1% we speak of in modern times. Rather, we may argue, on the basis of the generosity of the early Church in Acts, that the principle here may be understood broadly: anyone who has earthly goods in some measure - in contrast to the truly destitute - may be considered "the rich in this world," even if they are not flush with cash (cf. Acts 2:44-45, 4:32-5:11). Put simply, those who can give have a duty to do so (cf. Lk. 3:11). St. Paul's words, then, apply to the majority of those in a typical parish who can tithe, indeed, have a duty to tithe, but fail to do so.

St. Paul continues in vv. 18-19: "They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous, thus laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed" (RSV, emphasis mine). I like the New Vulgate rendering of the emphasized portion: "facile tribuere, communicare," or "to give easily, to share." This is a good rendering of the original Greek text. In other words, St. Paul is talking about money and stewardship-level giving, not deeds of service only. He also appears to allude to Jesus' teaching: "lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (cf. Mt. 6:20-21, RSV). May Christ Himself be our highest treasure, and may we demonstrate this concretely through stewardship-level giving at our parish. 

(David Allen)

Mr. David Allen, M.T.S., is the lay Pastoral Associate for our parish of Mary Immaculate of Lourdes.


About Our Parish

Mary Immaculate of Lourdes is Newton and Needham Massachusetts's oldest Roman Catholic Parish. Founded as Saint Mary's Parish in 1870 it was renamed "Mary Immaculate of Lourdes" when the new Church was dedicated on Thanksgiving Day, 1910. In addition to being a regular territorial parish of the Archdiocese of Boston it is also a "Mission Parish" since 2007 with a special apostolate for the Traditional Latin Mass (1962 Missal).

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