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Q. Must one tithe/give when they are in debt?

I read your post on tithing. I agree that we should give more than 10%. Yet the Bible says God loves a cheerful giver. So I see your reaching back into the Old Testament for tithing. I am not out to rob God, yet I give what I can. You said that God does not want our leftovers. I agree. Yet I am in debt to my eyeballs right now and wont be better for a while. How do I tithe when I am in so much debt? Do I rob my debtors? There is only so much money I have. I hate money because it is such a thorn.

Thank you.




Believe me, I understand the practical implications of this problem, particularly from our seminary days, when our monthly obligations exceeded our monthly income.

Let’s start by asking whether this is really an issue about tithing, or whether it is about giving. Are the requirements about tithing in the Old Testament Law really binding on Christians today? If so, we are talking about more than a mere ten percent.

Nowhere in the New Testament do I find teaching about giving directly rooted in the Old Testament Law. Otherwise, tithing would be much more complicated. Here is the way the New Testament deals with giving:

7 “And as you go, preach, saying,The kingdom of heaven is at hand. 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give. (Matthew 10:7-8)

42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. 43 Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; 44 for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on. (Mark 12:42-44, NASB)

“Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. (Luke 6:30)

38 “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” (Luke 6:38)

16 And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man was very productive. 17 “And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 ‘And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.’” 20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ 21 “So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21)

33 “So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.” (Luke 14:33)

10 “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. 11 “Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? 12 “And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” 14 Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him. (Luke 16:10-14)

8 Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” 9 And Jesus said to him, Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. (Luke 19:8-9)

41 So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. 42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. 44 And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. (Acts 2:41-45)

34 For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales 35 and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4:34-35)

33 “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. 34 “You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. 35 “In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:33-35)

1 Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. 2 On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come. (1 Corinthians 16:1-2)

1 Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, 2 that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. 3 For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, 4 begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, 5 and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. (2 Corinthians 8:1-5)

28 He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. (Ephesians 4:28)

Let me make just four observations from the texts above.

First, if one thinks that the New Testament lowers the bar in terms of what is required or expected of the saints regarding giving they would be wrong. Jesus raises the bar (as He does in the Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 5-7). It isn’t just a percentage our Lord expects, it is our wise use of it all.

Second, it all belongs to God and we are the stewards of it. All of the resources God places in our hands are to be used for His glory and the advance of His kingdom.

Third, we are to work hard, manage the resources He has given us as good stewards, and realize that our handling of small things (i.e. money) in this life has a significant impact on our rewards in heaven (see Luke 16 above and Matthew 25:21-23). It is often our misuse of money that leaves us unable to give.

Fourth, God seems to be particularly pleased when those with very limited means give sacrificially (1 Kings 17:8ff.; Mark 12:42-44; 2 Corinthians 8:1-5).

Allow me one more observation, that I believe to be crucial: When we come to faith in Jesus Christ, we should become givers by nature – giving should become our nature. Why is this so? Because God is, by nature, a giving God (see John 3:15), and when we come to faith we take on His nature (2 Peter 1:4; Romans 8:29). Giving is (or should be) our predisposition, and we should not have to be brow-beaten or guilt-tripped into giving. It is not guilt, or even duty, that should prompt our giving, but grace, God’s grace. Look back at the birth of the church in the Book of Acts and you will see that the early church was immediately characterized by its generosity and giving, just as the later church (e.g. the Macedonians – 2 Corinthians 8 & 9) were. We should be seeking opportunities to give (see Philippians 4:10), and thus we should be setting money aside to respond to these opportunities (1 Corinthians 16:1-2).

Having said this, I think Paul is clear that we are not obligated to give what we don’t have:

12 For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. 13 For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality— 14 at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality; 15 as it is written, “HE WHO gathered MUCH DID NOT HAVE TOO MUCH, AND HE WHO gathered LITTLE HAD NO LACK” (2 Corinthians 8:12-15).

My suggestion is that you purpose to give something, even though it is less than you might wish. This will involve some sacrifice on your part (not your creditors). It may require cutting back on something that is not a true necessity, but you should make every effort to give something. God know that some will be poor and that they will have less to give. I’m thinking here of the Old Testament, and its provision for the poor by granting a more affordable sacrifice:

20 “The priest shall offer up the burnt offering and the grain offering on the altar. Thus the priest shall make atonement for him, and he will be clean. 21 “But if he is poor and his means are insufficient, then he is to take one male lamb for a guilt offering as a wave offering to make atonement for him, and one-tenth of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering, and a log of oil, 22 and two turtledoves or two young pigeons which are within his means, the one shall be a sin offering and the other a burnt offering (Leviticus 14:20-22).

Having pointed this out, notice that in the case of the small, half shekel, contribution, it remains the same for rich or poor. The assumption seems to be that even though one may be poor, he can afford a small contribution:

14 Everyone who is numbered, from twenty years old and over, shall give the contribution to the LORD. 15 The rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less than the half shekel, when you give the contribution to the LORD to make atonement for yourselves (Exodus 30:14-15).

Going back to the personal experience and convictions of my wife and I, we at one time had a monthly income that was half of our income needs. We gave first, and let the deficit fall in the area of our food budget. I can’t tell you the encouragement we received when the Lord provided in so many ways, and our children got to see His provision. I should add that I was working as many hours as possible to support my family.

In the final analysis, however, this is a matter of personal conviction and Paul makes it clear that we are not obligated to give when we don’t have it to give. I would never encourage credit card giving for those in debt.


Related Topics: Basics for Christians, Finance, Tithing

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