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09 Nov '10

Debt and Tithing

Posted by T.J. Addington in money matters, spiritual formation, The heart
One of the encouraging signs among believers today is that many are working to get their financial house in order. After years of living beyond their means, and through the encouragement of a number of helpful financial ministries, budgets are being built, debt is being paid down and many are trying to eliminate all debt – including their mortgages.



This has, however, raised a critical question because in their effort to become debt free many believers are choosing not to tithe until they are debt free – saying, “I will give to God when my own financial house is in order!” How does one respond to that trend? Does one have an obligation to tithe if they are in debt and is it “OK” to take a vacation on tithing until that debt is paid off? It is a good and important question.


On this face of it this may seem a reasonable position but if one probes beneath the surface we are quickly faced with some Biblical realities that challenge our rationale.


The truth of the matter is that getting my financial house in order always starts with choosing to put God first, not last with my finances because our first financial priority according to scripture is that of giving God the first of our income. Saying that I will tithe when all my debts are paid is exactly the opposite of what Scripture teaches about making God the beneficiary of the “first” of my income – which is a gift from Him in the first place. In fact, His portion should be the very first thing that goes on our budgets when we start getting our financial house in order rather than the last. It is ironic that our rationale on this issue is exactly the opposite of God’s teaching.


Paying my bills before I honor Him with the “firstfruits” of my wealth is putting my convenience above my obedience. It is elevating my needs and desires above God’s commands. Scripture actually has a name for that – sin: Choosing my way over His way.


In fact, this is nothing more than a rationalization for disobedience. Consider the case of how many white collar criminals get into trouble. They are short on cash and start to “borrow” money from their employer with the conviction that they will one day pay it back when they are able. It sounds reasonable to them but not to their employer and it always comes at a price (getting caught or living with a guilty conscience). Ironically, there is a direct parallel to our own lives when we choose to “put off” our giving until (like the embezzler) we have enough to pay it.


The prophet Malachi in the last book of the Old Testament calls this “stealing from God.” And it is. He challenges the people who were doing the same thing many of us are (putting our interests above God’s) to bring our treasures to His temple. Consider the following conversation between God and His people where He actually tells His people that in withholding their tithe they are robbing Him.


“I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. 7 Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty.


“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’


“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.


“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’


“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. 0 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. 1 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the LORD Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty (Malachi 3:6-12).


These are strong words and unfortunately words that need to be heard by many of us today who are regularly robbing God by not putting Him first in our financial lives. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to be guilty of robbing God!


Ironically, the text above points out that if we choose to put God first in our finances, He will actually help us meet our other needs. “Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” Here is the principle. When we withhold from Him he withholds from us. When we put Him in His rightful place, He promises to meet our needs. This is the only place in Scripture where we are invited to "test" God and see if He does not come through!


In the ultimate irony, God says that if we want to get our financial house in order, He will actually help us do that – if – we put Him first in our finances. Many believers are trying to get their financial house in order without God’s help because they are “robbing from Him” in the process. Those who put Him first financially find out that He provides for the very needs they are worried about meeting.


Let’s be intellectually honest on this issue. Choosing not to tithe for any reason, debt or otherwise, is disobedience, selective obedience and contrary to what Scripture clearly tells us is our obligation. Obedience is often not convenient. But following Christ is the journey of bringing our lives into alignment with Him and His teaching whether it is convenient or not. If we truly want God’s blessing on our lives, we choose to follow Him even in the hard things and there are hard things because our sinful nature always want us to put our convenience, our pleasure, our needs and our desires above those of God’s.


One final word. Some believers in their quest to be financially independent have made a God out of being “debt free.” Certainly it is better to have no debt than to have debt. But to pour all our energies and money into becoming debt free at the expense of God and obedience in the matter of our tithe is to focus on the wrong thing. First we choose obedience and in our obedience He will help us meet our needs.

This is really a matter of our hearts and whether we want to please God and make Him first, or please ourselves and make ourselves first. We all have the choice.