On Tithing/Almsgiving (Augustine)

In one of his sermons on the rich young ruler (Mt. 19:16-24), Augustine had some helpful things to say about wealth and riches. He also brought up Paul’s teaching in 1 Timothy 6:17-19. Here’s part of one of his sermons on the rich young ruler. Note how he answers the question about how much should wealthy Christians tithe.

Must they [the wealthy] then lose all they have? He said, ‘Let them communicate [share]’, not, ‘Let them give the whole.’ Let them keep for themselves as much as is sufficient for them, let them keep more than is sufficient. Let us give a certain portion of it. What portion? A tenth? …The Scribes and Pharisees gave tithes; lest by chance you should think that you are doing any great thing in breaking your bread to the poor; and this is scarcely a thousandth part of your means. And yet I am not finding fault with this; do even this. So hungry and thirsty am I, that I am glad even of these crumbs.

But yet I cannot keep back what He Who died for us said while He was alive: ‘Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.’ He does not deal softly with us; for He is a physician, He cuts to the quick….

The Scribes and Pharisees gave the tenth. How is it with you? Ask yourselves. Consider what you do, and with what means you do it; how much you give, how much you leave for yourselves; what you spend on mercy, what you reserve for luxury. So then, let them [the wealthy] distribute easily, let them communicate [share], let them lay up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may hold on eternal life.

Augustine, Sermons on Selected Lessons of the New Testament, volumes 1 & 2, 85.2.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015