Tithing (Giving) While in Debt

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Seeking God's wisdom when faced with hard choices

The following is a question related to giving/tithing while in debt that a  reader emailed to me:

How do you balance good stewardship and putting God first – or is there a difference?

Let’s say you have gotten into a lot of debt, learned a lot of hard lessons and are doing everything possible to improve your financial situation. You have worked diligently to cut expenses wherever possible and have come up with a budget, including a certain amount to give.  As a result of debt, your budget is so tight that there is not much money, if any, left over after giving, debt, living expenses, etc.

What would you say is being a better steward of the money God gave you? (Understanding that poor stewardship may have put you in the current financial situation, but looking forward with determination, dedication, a proper focus and the understanding that less debt does not mean more spending power.)

1) Pay the amount of tithe you determined appropriate (10%, etc), even if it means making close to minimum payments on bad debt. God should be the first line in your budget, but also could mean wasting thousands of dollars towards interest.  Is this good stewardship?

Or

2) Lowering the amount of giving in order to create an opportunity to pay off debt more quickly. This could result in saving thousands of dollars of interest, but lowers the priority of giving back to God first.  Are you robbing God?

Giving or Tithing While in Debt

First, I think God is honored by the heart with which you ask these questions.  Your question seeks to determine how your relationship with God impacts your finances.  For a person who says they were formerly a ‘poor steward,’ you are showing a healthy spiritual disposition of inquiry.  I believe God is honored by your conscientious consideration as you seek to find what pleases him.

Second, the severity of your debt may (or may not) impact your individual situation.

My response:

I believe tithing is not just a monetary practice (like paying a bill), but it is a spiritual act. Therefore, when we neglect spiritual activities it impacts our relationship with God.  Giving releases us from the heavy grip of money.  Tithing is a spiritual activity that vividly reenacts the reality that God is the owner over all things.  When you stop tithing you miss out on these spiritual blessings.

There is not a single situation in the Bible (that I am aware of) where someone was too poor to tithe.  There are, however, situations where those who were financially struggling gave.  Here are three such examples:

  1. The Widow at Zerephath (1 Kings 17:7-24).  Out of the thousands of people God could have sent Elijah to, he sent Elijah to a woman who was collecting wood to cook her last supper.  God asked the woman to act in faith because God’s strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).
  2. The Widow with two coins (Luke 21:1-4).  Continuing the theme of the widow’s generosity, here Jesus commends this woman’s action.  Surely, many of us would condemn it as poor stewardship, but Jesus speaks positively of her actions.
  3. The Macedonian Christians (2 Cor. 8:1-7).  Once again, we see this theme of commending those who give even in the midst of their poverty.  Again, the overall impression is that this is a positive – not a negative act.

Perhaps the story of the woman who anointed Jesus would be a positive illustration for us (John 13:1-7).  Here the woman’s action does not make sense to those with Jesus.  The extravagance of her gift violates common sense and mathematical sense.  In fact, one of their underlying accusations was that she was a poor steward. The money would have better been used for the poor.  Jesus explains anything done in an effort to honor him cannot not be construed as poor stewardship.  In other words, if you tithe while in debt and your tithe is a gift out of love for Christ, you need not worry that you are being a poor steward.  In fact, Jesus would congratulate you for being a good steward.

Withholding a tithe may be a spiritually unhealthy statement about God’s inability to provide.  Personally, I would rather have a longer journey out of debt while enjoying the blessings of giving.  Furthermore, I only find one scriptural reason to stop tithing – when tithing has become a burden, not a blessing, and you give out of obligation instead of joy (2 Cor. 9:7).  If you are currently in this situation, wrestle in prayer with God, study the scriptures, and trust him to show you the right pathway.

If a person did decide to postpone tithing I would suggest implementing the following guidelines:

  1. I would suggest you sit down with a respected leader in your church.  Discuss your considerations openly.  This will first provide you some feedback, and second it will provide you with some accountability.
  2. It must be done with the belief that this action is both pleasing to God and honoring to your family.  Do not stop tithing if greed or selfishness is your motivation.
  3. It must be for a short predetermined period of time.  Remind yourself that you are not forming a new habit, but instead temporarily accepting a little lack of equilibrium with the desire to get back into a normal habit of giving.
  4. Be sure you know exactly why you went into debt.  Otherwise, you will likely forgo tithing and end up further into debt.
  5. Be sure you are following a plan to get out of debt.  Don’t just quit tithing with a hope that one day you will be out of debt and able to tithe again.  Have a detailed game plan.  Otherwise you will never get out of debt and subsequently probably never resume your tithing.

To be clear, I do not suggest you stop tithing while you are trying to get out of debt.  But if you choose not to accept this advice, you need to be sure the proper boundaries are in place so that you can return as quickly as possible to practicing this spiritual discipline.

Anyone agree or even disagree? Anyone have any other thoughts or ideas for this reader?  Any other biblical stories that you think would provide some biblical insight into how we should answer this question?

Comments

  1. JT says

    There is no point in looking at spiritual issues like tithing from a legalistic manner. I too being from a non-denominational background interchangeably view tithing and giving as the same thing. When you tithe or give, it is a conscious effort to trust God for your provision. The blessings you receive from God come in many forms besides money; you can benefit from divine health for your family, a happy life etc. You have removed money from a position of power over you and submitted to God. Also, I keep reading theological arguments and legalistic doctrines talking about how the tithe was only for the priests of Israel etc. Honestly, using common sense, how can the preaching of the gospel be funded if we are not funding our own churches? When you received your salvation, it’s was through the Holy Spirit yes, but also through the faithful giving of somebody who paid for that microphone/tv broadcast/ Internet website/”free” bible that brought you the Word. I’m not in ministry, but you probably arrive at your church, drop your kids off at Sunday school into the care of church staff then enter the service to enjoy it then leave for home to enjoy your Sunday brunch. So how do you think the church you attend bought/maintains that building? The chairs, flowers, musical instruments, technology, microphones, choir gowns, printed programmes, Sunday school facilities, cleaned toilets, water, lights, full time staff in attendance etc. that you enjoy are all funded by that tithe. And yes, the full time pastor/s and his family also rely on an income from that collection plate to look after their needs, their children and possibly obligations to an elderly parent or two. The majority of pastors are living like paupers. Only a few mega church pastors have big incomes and it’s mostly from books they have written; like mega-church pastor Joel Osteen does not even earn a salary for from the collection plate as he lives off the books he has written. Many of you who have great lives probably don’t know that a pastor’s work is 7 days a week with personal counseling sessions during the week at all hours of the day and often with no regard to his personal time and other really essential services such as visiting the sick in hospital (needs car and fuel) among other endless thankless duties that they perform. So next time you begrudge that tithe, perhaps you should remember that other tithing church members are paying for you and your kids to enjoy those pastoral services. If you feel your pastor is misusing your money buy buying himself another Rolls Royce then move churches! Furthermore, the argument that tithing should be in sheep and grain is simply non-sensical. Of course at that time that was what wealth was, so for most people today in the modern world, your wealth is what you are earning at work, which in most cases is money. In rural villages in Africa they often still pay their tithes in chickens and grain which the church either distributes to widows or sells to pay for benches or repair broken windows or whatever. Those too poor to tithe in kind give of their time, perhaps half a day molding bricks for the new church hall or whatever. But more than a practical purpose to give, it’s important to remember that you can’t outgive God. If your life has taken a turn for the worse since you began tithing, consider that this could be a demonic attack meant to discourage you from doing something that will result in you being blessed. So consider engaging in spiritual warfare prayers to target difficulties. Rather than telling God to sort it out or asking why, use your God-given authority to rebuke and command the devil out of your situation. Fast and pray for breakthroughs. Google spiritual warfare for great prayers on how to fight. We are heirs of the kingdom and once we are out of the baby Christian phase, you are expected to fight in prayer against difficult problems, praying in the name of Jesus Christ. Jesus spent a great amount of time commanding demons out of people’s lives and we can do the same for ourselves to practise, train and develop our faith for when we have to help others get free. Command the devil out like Jesus taught the deciples. Out of your finances, out of your home that won’t sell. This made a difference in my life when I studied this type of praying on sites like ministeringdeliverance.com. Also, don’t give the tithe like you are trying to bribe God (God I pay this tithe to get you to give me money) or trying to pay for your own sin (I sinned this week so a tithe will sort it out). Your salvation was already provided by the blood of Jesus. So examine your motives.

    Thanks Craig for a great article.

  2. Paul says

    Hi Craig,

    My church is very clear on their stance on tithing…it is a requirement, it is the 10% that belongs to God, and not giving it to Him is the same as stealing from God. They also show videos of people who start tithing getting checks in the mail, miraculously getting money that more than compensates for their tithes. They talk about “God’s math” being beyond our understanding, and not to worry about your budget not balancing…just tithe.

    About 4 years ago, I started tithing, believing what I had been taught. I cancelled my cable, cancelled my home phone, reduced restaurant expenses, etc. I also became a member of the church at about the same time. About two years ago, I really started ‘wrestling with God’ on this issue. I have extreme credit card debt and I really felt like I should be paying off my debt with ‘gazelle-like intensity’ (as Dave Ramsey puts it). A few months ago, I felt called to stop my tithe for 3 years, and pay off my credit card debt. I felt confident that I was following God’s will.

    Recently, my pastor and I talked about several issues concerning me about our church, and the subject of tithe came up. I shared my story with him, and he said that if I do not start tithing again, that my membership with the church would be revoked. He got out the membership agreement and showed me that tithing was one of the five conditions of membership. I didn’t remember seeing that condition when I joined, but that’s probably because it wasn’t an issue with me at the time.

    So here I am, at a crossroad. Do I do what I truly believe God is telling me to do, and spend the next 3 years getting out of debt, or do I start tithing again in order for the church to not rescind my membership? I have a wife and children who love the church, and moving to a different church or letting my membership be rescinded would hurt them. I feel like I’m being forced to pay a 10% ‘membership fee’ instead of joyfully giving to God. I feel like God is ordaining my decision to reroute my tithe to debt reduction, but Man is judging and pressuring me.

    Also, does anyone else have churches that require 10% tithing as a condition of membership?

    Thank you!

    • says

      Any so-called “church” that requires members to tithe is a “church” one should stay away from. The pastor at your “church” is a false teacher. He is guilty of robbing God’s children.

      Would you rather continue submitting your family to this corruption of the gospel, or would you rather maybe upset your family some and find another church where hopefully truth will be preached?

      I’d rather my family attended NO church services than to be attending services where a false gospel is taught.

    • Coach says

      I feel any church who “forces” you to tithe needs to be subject of investigation. If you are being “forced” to tithe to your church out of guilt or a membership obligation, I truly feel it avoids the sole purpose to tithe. Yes, God says 10%, but what if I wanted to diversify my tithe as I feel God lead me to do? 5% to church, 2% to the needy on the street and 3% to Christ centered charities? I simply would RUN from a church that told me they would revoke my membership if I didn’t tithe to them and them alone.

  3. M C Williams says

    Deuteronomy 14 seems to talk about tithing 23.3%. A tithe of 10% for the Levites (the priests) a tithe of 10% for the religious festivals and a tithe every three years for priests, orphans, strangers and widows. Why do we promote just 10%? About the only time Jesus mentions the tithe is to chide the Pharisees. Why do we make such a big deal about this part of the Law and not circumcision, the Sabbath, and many other parts of the ceremonial code (Law)?

    2 Corinthians 8 and 9 gives a beautiful picture of giving after Jesus fulfilled the Law. Is the present day church model dependent on teaching this part of the Law in order to keep the machine operating?

  4. PUMEZA NGONO says

    Hi Craig

    I am a troubled christian with this issue of tithing,I am one of the christians who believe in tithing and I make sure that I dont rob God in terms of paying my 10% tithe…my problem is I do’nt see any progress in my church and my pastor is using this money for his own purposes….my understanding is that tithes can be used in looking after the church work and the pastor can be paid a certain amount.Our church is a old shack and when I look at my church I always think of my 10% who is suppose to be the part of building the house of God and used for other intentions.Plz help me clarify the use of tithe to me because I am thinking about not paying my 10% anymore to this pastor.

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