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Q. Does debt affect giving in modern times in light of the Israelite tithe and slaves?


Dear ******,

I think you and I are essentially on the same page.

With regard to your first question, the Scriptures (e.g. Leviticus 25) do not specifically address the matter of a Jewish slave/hired man and tithing. But if you stop and think about it, the goal is for him to pay off his master. I don’t think he has any personal assets of his own, which would be the basis for his tithing. His land will be returned to him on the year of Jubilee. Interestingly, if he borrows money from a fellow-Jew he cannot be charged interest (25:37). I would thus assume that one who has no assets would not be subject to the tithe.

In our world today, I would have to regretfully take note of the prosperity preachers, who seem to prey on the poor, promising them wealth if they “send in their check.” The gullible get even more deeply in debt because they think that giving (when they don’t have the money to spare) will pay them back all that they gave and more. If these prosperity preachers were correct, such giving would make sense, but sadly they only make the poor poorer.

I think we would do well to recall that God distinguished between those with means from those with limited means when it came to sacrifices:

6 “‘When the days of her purification are completed for a son or for a daughter, she must bring a one year old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or turtledove for a sin offering to the entrance of the Meeting Tent, to the priest. 7 The priest is to present it before the LORD and make atonement on her behalf, and she will be clean from her flow of blood. This is the law of the one who bears a child, for the male or the female child. 8 If she cannot afford a sheep, then she must take two turtledoves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and one for a sin offering, and the priest is to make atonement on her behalf, and she will be clean’” (Leviticus 12:6-8).

In the New Testament, Paul makes it clear that even when one has purposed to give, he or she is not obligated to give what they do not have:

10 So here is my opinion on this matter: It is to your advantage, since you made a good start last year both in your giving and your desire to give, 11 to finish what you started, so that just as you wanted to do it eagerly, you can also complete it according to your means. 12 For if the eagerness is present, the gift itself is acceptable according to whatever one has, not according to what he does not have. 13 For I do not say this so there would be relief for others and suffering for you, but as a matter of equality. 14 At the present time, your abundance will meet their need, so that one day their abundance may also meet your need, and thus there may be equality, 15 as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little” (2 Corinthians 8:10-15, NET).

I am not in favor of credit card giving. In addition, I fear that many Christians don’t look for opportunities to give because they are so deeply in debt. Once out of debt, a savings account for meeting needs will certainly prepare a person to give, and it will make him or her much more attentive to needs the needs of others.

It seems to me that Paul’s ideal is for saints to save up in order to have the means to give.

1 With regard to the collection for the saints, please follow the directions that I gave to the churches of Galatia: 2 On the first day of the week, each of you should set aside some income and save it to the extent that God has blessed you, so that a collection will not have to be made when I come. 3 Then, when I arrive, I will send those whom you approve with letters of explanation to carry your gift to Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:1-3).

I also take note of Paul’s words here:

20 We did this as a precaution so that no one should blame us in regard to this generous gift we are administering. 21 For we are concerned about what is right not only before the Lord but also before men (2 Corinthians 8:20-21).

I realize that here Paul is speaking in reference to the way collected monies will be delivered and distributed. Nevertheless, I believe the principle stated has a broader application. I believe that unbelieving men would hardly approve of debtors failing to meet their commitments, so that they can give to the Lord. The One who “owns the cattle on a thousand hills” is not running in the red, and thus desperately in need of our gifts.

I would add one last thing as an aside, based upon my early days as a seminary student. It was my experience that those with lesser means were more alert regarding the needs of others than were those who possessed greater assets. (There were a few exceptions, but very few.) As an elder in a generous church (regarding the needs of others) for many years, I have also observed that some of those who were generously ministered to later became generous givers for the needs of others.

I hope this helps,

Bob Deffinbaugh

Related Topics: Cultural Issues, Finance, Tithing

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