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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Is It OK To Stop Tithing To Pay Off Debt?

Is it ok to stop tithing to pay off debt
Is it permissible to stop tithing if you have a mountain of debt to pay off? Is this acceptable to God?

The simple answer is... sure. Cutting back, or stopping, tithing if you're in serious debt is OK. The Bible doesn't say anything about it one way or another. It's clear from Scripture that tithing is very important to God, but it's also clear that He doesn't want us to be in debt. He wants to be able to use us to the fullest extent, but while we are beholden to mortgages and student loans and credit card companies, our potential is hindered. Matthew 6:24 says no one can serve two masters, especially God and money.

The more complicated side of the issue is your heart. Are you truly making every effort to get out of debt? Are you just using your debt as an excuse not to tithe? Those are the kinds of heart questions that make this more of a gray area, but let's take a closer look at what Scripture says about money and tithing, then I'll wrap it up with a few questions for you that should help you decide for yourself whether you should stop tithing.

First off, we should never minimize the importance of giving to the Lord. Sacrificial giving is part of God's plan for every believer. It was created, not for God's benefit, but ours. It was designed to teach us how to keep God first in our lives. Proverbs 3:9 tells us to honor the Lord with the first fruits of our labor, and cautions that those who give minimally with a reluctant heart won't receive the riches of the Lord (2 Corinthians 9:7, Proverbs 11:24).

We see in the Old Testament that tithing was how God chose to meet the material needs of the priests who also worked at meeting the needs of the poor. To this day tithing is how our churches support our pastors and missionaries. I think it is shameful for any Christian to splurge on life comforts and material things for themselves, but not give to support their local church. In Malachi 3:8, God condemned the Israelites for not tithing, saying, "You are robbing Me!"

And, just to clarify, what is a "tithe?" The writer of the book of Hebrews reveals that a tithe is generally considered to be a tenth of your earnings, (Hebrews 7:5). A lot of people wonder, "Is that before or after taxes?" That's a question that scholars have argued about for centuries, but to me the answer is simple: God first. Why? Because he's God! Yes, I know Scripture tells us to give to Caesar what is Caesar's (Mark 12:17), meaning, give the government the taxes it demands, no matter how unfair it seems, but Scripture says to give God the "first fruits," not the government.

So it should be clear to us that tithing is a pretty big deal to God. Unfortunately recent studies have shown that giving among evangelicals over the last decade has declined to Depression-era lows—less than 3% of Christians are giving charitably. That's a staggeringly low number, and it should be an embarrassing statistic to any believer.

Now what about debt? Well, God is pretty serious about that too. The Bible says that people who borrow money become slaves to the lenders (Proverbs 22:7). God hates slavery. He sent his own Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross to free us from slavery to sin. God wants our lives to be lived free in every way—free from addictions, free from selfishness, from spiritual death, free from creditors and debt. We are told to owe no one anything except to love, (Romans 13:8). So, again, the Bible's position is clear: debt is bad.

But tithing is good.

How do we figure this out?

Let's say you're in debt up to your eyeballs—if you don't get the electric bill paid this week it's going to be shut off; creditors are calling your house every day asking for money; you're in deep in a big way. In this case it would not be wrong to decrease giving, or stop giving entirely, temporarily, to pay off debt.

But consider these three questions first:

  1. Are there other areas of spending that I could cut out first? If you're still splurging on expensive coffee, dining out, entertainment, luxury clothes, or other unnecessary things, perhaps the expense of tithing isn't your biggest problem. Perhaps you should cut back in other areas first.

  2. Do I even really want to give to the Lord? God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7), but if you're grumbling and complaining every time you drop a check in the offering plate then that's evidence of a heart issue that goes a lot deeper than tithing or not tithing.

  3. Are there other ways I can give to the Lord during my tithing hiatus? I learned this from my sister a few years ago when she had to take a break from tithing for financial reasons. During that time she tried to serve at church more and give more of her time. You might want to consider doing this until you get your financial feet back under you.

No matter what you decide, be sure to pray about it so that you can be certain that giving up tithing will actually benefit you. Dave Ramsey says that many people have observed that after they stopped tithing their finances actually got worse. In the book of Malachi, God promises that if you do not rob Him of your tithing He will rebuke your devourers and protect you. Might the opposite also be true?

Dave Ramsey also says if you can't live off 90% of your income, then you probably can't live off 100% either, so that 10% that you don't give to the Lord isn't going to help you much anyway. Dani and I have decided to tithe no matter what, and God has graciously enabled us to be able to do that, so I think if you really look at your budget you can find a way to make it work and still give to the Lord. Nobody should beat you up about it if you can't, but pray about it, read the Bible, and if/when you tithe be sure you do it out of a love for God, not guilt.

Keep pinchin' :-)

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