If you’re in debt, is it alright not to tithe?
— Alwin, India
Thanks for your question, Alwin! It’s great to have readers in India, and great to have you asking important questions like this.
The short answer to your question is “No, it’s not alright to stop tithing if you’re in debt.”
I’ll explain this answer using two different approaches: first, a biblical approach, followed by a logical approach.
The Biblical Answer
The principle of tithing — giving 10 percent of your income to God — is first introduced in the Old Testament, and then confirmed by Jesus in the New Testament. Tithing is a command from God, but it comes with a promise of blessing if we’re faithful to obey.
There are some people who try to invent reasons why tithing doesn’t apply to us today (and those people will probably berate me in the comments section of this article). But they’re wrong.
Tithing is based on the principles that God owns everything, and that the money and things that we have are really just resources that He has given us to manage for Him. Because He owns everything, He has a right to ask us to set aside some of “our” money for the work of His kingdom. And because He gives us everything we need, we can trust His promises to bless us and provide for us in abundance if we are faithful to Him.
Now, to your question: It seems that you generally accept the commandment to tithe, but you’re asking whether extenuating circumstances like debt ever create a situation in which the commandment doesn’t apply.
If tithing is a principle that comes from scripture, it would take another principle from scripture to negate it or to create an exception to it — just like the only way for a government to repeal a law is with another law. But that second principle that you’re looking for doesn’t exist in scripture. The Bible doesn’t contradict itself, after all, and there’s no teaching in scripture that invalidates the teaching of the tithe.
The Bible does have a few things to say about debt — usually warning us to stay away from it. But it never indicates that being in debt gives us a pass on other financial responsibilities.
Here’s another way to think about it: You wouldn’t claim that your debt releases you from your responsibility to feed your children, would you? Then why would we believe that debt releases us from our spiritual responsibilities?
The Logical Answer
There’s another way of approaching this question and arriving at the same answer, and that is through a simple logical exercise.
Tithing is a principle of good financial management — and part of God’s Master Plan for your money — that goes hand-in-hand with other wise financial behaviors. Debt, on the other hand, almost always comes from financial mistakes and unwise behavior.
When we’re ready to start paying off debt, what we’re really doing is slowly reversing the unwise decisions that we’ve made in the past. The best way to do that is to begin applying wisdom to your financial life.
So, if tithing is part of financial wisdom, and you need financial wisdom to solve the debt problem that you’ve created with foolishness, it follows that tithing should be part of your process.
If it’s not, you’re essentially saying that you’re going to fix one foolish decision by making another foolish decision. When have you ever seen that work?
Changing Hearts and Minds
Getting out of debt isn’t just a mathematical calculation — it’s a process that involves your heart, your mind and your soul. It’s usually undisciplined thinking that gets us into debt in the first place. Escaping debt requires you to discipline your heart and mind, and commit to long-term change.
The best way to get out of debt is to buy in to God’s way of handling money, and do it 100 percent. If you say “I’m going to do all of these other things, but not tithe until I’m out of debt,” you’re not really committing to God’s way of handling money. And if you’re not committed to His methods, you can’t count on seeing His results.
Tithing is a sacrifice, for sure, but it’s the kind of sacrifice that benefits us in the end. Just like physical exercise requires us to sacrifice some energy now to gain long-term health and energy later, tithing is a spiritual and financial exercise that makes us more spiritually and financially healthy in the long run.
Your struggle against debt could be long and arduous, but don’t let one bad decision lead you to another. Trust God’s promise of provision, and then work as hard as you can to get out of debt and walk in financial freedom.
Photo by Steve Hankins. Used under Creative Commons License.