I’ve touched on tithing while in debt before but it’s time to revisit this topic. To directly answer whether you should tithe while in debt – the answer is, no. You should not tithe while in debt. We should focus on our entire stewardship path which includes spending, saving, and giving. I explain why this is important moving forward.
George Müller offers a lesson about tithing while in debt
I recently came across an article on George Müller. If you are not familiar with him, he founded an orphanage in England and helped care for over 10,000 orphans in his lifetime. He also established 117 schools. A truly remarkable person. We can learn a lot about giving and debt by learning about this man and his ministry.
George Müller launched his orphanages on freewill donations. Below is a story about a donation he received from a donor that was in financial trouble. His response is not like one you will witness in modern times.
January 1, 1840. About one o’clock this morning, I received a sealed envelope with some money in it for the orphans. The individual who gave it was deeply in debt, and I was aware that she had been repeatedly asked by her creditors for payment. I resolved to return the envelope without opening it because no one has a right to give while in debt. I did this although I knew there was not enough on hand to meet the expenses of the day.https://www.georgemuller.org/devotional/january-1-1840
I often hear a question wondering how churches can be supported without enforcing a tithe. The answer to this question is not a mystery. Muller was a man who did not rely on tithing to fund his entire ministry. Thousands, if not millions of ministries thrive on the support of freewill donations. This is besides the point of the article, but worthy of mentioning.
George Muller lived on integrity and faith. He expected others to live their life with these principles as well. He understood that stewardship is a holistic mindset. Debt and generosity are not exclusive to one another. It’s important to understand that if God wants a ministry to grow, he will provide the means for it. He’s much bigger than your measly 10% that you feel guilted to give. It’s not about you and your feelings. God’s reputation is more important.
Is Debt Wrong for Christians?
Using the word “wrong” is too vague, since we really want to know if debt is a sin for Christians. No, debt is not wrong or sinful for Christians. There are no laws in the bible that explicitly command us to stay out of debt. The error on our part is sinful desires or trusting bad advice prior to the debt. Debt is only a symptom. We should always address the cause whether it creates debt or not.
We should not make debt the object of our focus. Some of us could fall into the trap of being lackadaisical in our spending and stewardship management because we don’t see any symptoms yet. Debt can be like cancer that could take years of poor habits to finally catch up to you.
The book of Proverbs offers a lot of advice and wisdom, but at what point do we distinguish between breaking God’s command and not following biblical advice? Proverbs 22:26-27 is a popular verse that comes to mind.
This is where principles come into play. God wants investors, not givers. Remember the parable where the master gave silver to three servants and went on a journey? Two out of three increased the master’s wealth, while the third buried it. The master rebuked the third servant regardless of receiving 100% of it back.
We all start off in this world in debt. Nothing we have is our own. We are borrowing what God has given us including our own bodies. With it, he expects us to invest in his kingdom.
There are a lot of opinions about whether Christians should have zero debt. I am just one of those opinions. If you have unsecured debt, then you need to focus on paying that off instead of focusing on tithing or giving. Part of paying that off is making sure you behave with your spending in general. If debt is costing you less than your investments are paying, then it makes sense to make sure you are giving before investing.
Overall, this is a very simple way of looking at a complex topic. Everyone is different and every situation is as well. The question I ask myself is will this decision improve the lives of others? If the answer is “yes”, then more often than not, you’re taking the right step.
Is Tithing right for Christians?
Giving 10% (tithe) is not required of Christians. Tithing wasn’t even required from Israel. There are many articles that explain why, so I don’t want to go into depth here. I do want to point out that the poor in Israel received tithes – they did not pay them.
Although we aren’t commanded to give 10% of our earnings to God, he does expect us to be givers. Don’t look at the requirement to not tithe as an opportunity to be stingy.
In the Old Testament, God required Israelite farmers and herdsmen to give the tithe regardless if they were in debt or not. This is not so for us because the Holy Spirit guides us under a different covenant. There is no absolute requirement to give a tithe regardless of your situation.
Tithing does not make a wrong a right
We cannot give in order to absolve ourselves from the stain of debt. Making sure your church ministry you support is in the black while you go in the red is unwise thinking. Do not believe the lie that you will be compounding your sins if you don’t give while in debt.
I assume that most of us get into debt due to foolish purchase decisions and not preparing for unexpected costs with savings. So, for most of us, the fault lies in us. Paying bills instead of giving money to your church is not an additional sin on top of poor stewardship decisions.
If you still make unnecessary purchases and also do not give while in debt, then it’s not the lack of giving that’s the problem. It’s a lack of perspective about what God expects of us as stewards.
Give in other ways
While you are in debt, it does not mean that you sit on your hands. There are other ways to give. Here are only a few:
- Give something you own to someone who needs it more than you.
- Send words of encouragement
We all have something other than money and possessions that you can give away. It could be knowledge, a talent, or a hobby that could be used to give. We are all functioning parts of the body. Giving money to your church so a few members can take on the entire job of the body is not how it’s supposed to be. We are all participators.
Get a plan to get out of debt
That’s it. Get a plan to get out of debt. Maybe I’ll write up an article on this topic one day, but for years of my life, I was in debt. Besides a mortgage on my home, I am debt free. I couldn’t express how much anxiety and stress has been lifted off my shoulder.
If you get out of debt, you probably wouldn’t need to look up articles about whether we should give while in debt. I’d like to hear stories about others and how they’ve been freed to give willingly and freed from the bondage of debt. Please share your story below.
Pastor Greg says
This is a great article, especially the parts about not tithing when in debt but still making frivolous purchases, and alternate ways to tithe.
First – If you don’t get out of debt you soon won’t be able to tithe at all. You cannot take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself. The same applies to a church and congregation, or even an entire nation.
Second – HOWEVER!; You may be in deep debt because you aren’t tithing. Tithing requires some budgeting skills, so maybe figuring out how to tithe while in serious debt is God’s way of teaching you better stewardship of your finances. And as this article states; There are other ways to give other than financially. And remember that the widow “..gave all she had.”
God’s Peace to All