Question and Answer
Tithing with Debts
My family has been struggling financially. I am self-employed. If my monthly bills (no credit card debt) are more than I make in a month, do I still tithe? Last month I made about $2000. My monthly bills are about $3000. I had to borrow to cover the rest. Do I still tithe the $200 thereby making me short $1200 rather than $1000?
You are in the position that many people are finding themselves today, the money runs out before the month does!
There are some things I need to assume as we talk about your question:
- You are a Christian and see tithing as a biblical conviction but you do not connect your salvation with tithing. In other words, God doesn't save someone because they tithe as though tithing were a necessary work we present to God in order to be accepted by Him. If that is what you think or have been taught, go back to the gospel. We can offer nothing to God to atone for our sins. We are, as the apostle Paul puts it, dead in our transgressions and sins (Eph. 2:1-3). We are condemned for those sins and under God's curse and wrath. No works of the Law, including tithing, can free us from that condemnation, only the Lord Jesus Christ's perfect life and atoning death can save us (Rom. 8:1ff). But when we come to God with nothing except our sorrow for our sins and our trust that Jesus Christ came into the world to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45), then we are accepted and regarded as God's dear children through His only begotten Son (John 3:16).
- You are using your income responsibly, that is, you are seeking to be faithful stewards of what God provides right now. Some people say, "I cannot tithe" because they use the money God has entrusted to them foolishly, but that is not what I hear you saying.
- You are involved in a Bible-preaching, Christ-centered church, a place where you and your family are learning about how to rest in Christ for salvation and then to live for Christ out of gratitude for His salvation. If you are in a church which has a distorted view of either the gospel or biblical principles of giving, then you will be facing additional struggles since some churches, sadly, teach that to receive from God we must first give to God (the so-called "Health and Wealth Gospel" or the "Prosperity Gospel").
So, start out with some baseline ideas:
- God is your heavenly Father. His stated intention is to give his children what they need for life and godliness (Rom. 8:32), so he is not withholding blessing from you if you are not tithing due to circumstances. The people of Israel were able to give but did not because of their selfishness (Mal. 3:6ff). But you are not "robbing God" (Malachi's phrase) if you simply do not have the money to give. You do not lose God's favor if, for a longer or shorter period of time, you cannot tithe.
- Our financial stewardship is much more than tithing, it is the witness we give to unbelievers. If I say I am a Christian and yet refuse to pay my properly due bills, because I am tithing, is that necessarily a good witness to unbelievers? Paying your bills is a vital part of how you honor God.
- God is more interested in the heart attitude than is the size of the check in the offering plate (see Matt. 6:1-4). A person may find it easy to give 10% of $100,000/year while another Christian may very sacrificially give $1 to the Lord's work. Look at this season of your life (and remember it may only be a season) when you can grow in Christ, see more of his loving grace in laying down His life for you (read 2 Cor. 8:9). Could you do something like ask the family to put their spare change in a jar that you give to the Lord? Or to tithe of your time to the church, to prayer, to serving someone else? Could it be a teaching moment when you say, "This month we want to grow in our love for our merciful heavenly Father and pray for the Christians in Haiti (the poorest country in the western hemisphere), thanking him for all we have"?
Do not go into debt to tithe. We tithe out of what the Lord provides, not out of what we do not have. In his providence God has brought you into this time in your lives, but it can be the best time to grow spiritually as you remember, better than most people do, that ultimately, everything we have comes from God's hand.
I hope that these thoughts give you some encouragement. Talk to your pastor, see what counsel he gives, see if there are ways you could tithe time to help at the church or serve others. Study the Scriptures about giving (there are free resources online through Crown Financial Ministries) and ask the Lord to teach you so that you will look back on this time with thanksgiving over the displays of his loving care.
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