Should I Tithe While Paying Down Debt?

Article by R. Joseph Ritter, Jr. CFP® EA

This is a really good question, and frankly, it is a question the Bible does not address, at least not directly. This question affects many people because the use of debt is widespread, a vast number of people are in over their heads in debt, and unfortunately, financial strain has come to know no boundaries between the religious faithful and the non-religious.

Under a heavy load of debt, tithing is the least of your concerns. Instead, focus must be placed on why you are under such a heavy load of debt. Yes, you should be tithing, but what are you doing with the other 90%? We can’t take the attitude that 10% is the Lord’s, 90% is ours to keep and do whatever we want with it, and expect God to bless us. All of our money came from God because the ability to earn the income came from God. The materials used to build your car and your home came from resources God created. The clothing you wear, food you eat and furniture you use all came from resources God made. We are simply borrowers, or stewards, of God’s assets. It’s not ours to keep!

We brought nothing into this world and will take nothing out (Job 1:21, Psalm 49:17, Ecclesiastes 5:15). If your debt is related to the accumulation or purchase of material things, you are chasing after that which will perish. A focus on increasing your material wealth is a lost cause. God brought us into this world with nothing and promises that we can’t take any of this world’s material pleasures with us. In other words, we don’t own it!

Knowing this, then why are you amassing so much debt? It reveals the true desires of your heart because you are attempting to lay up treasure here on earth, which you are assured numerous times is not ours to lay up (Matthew 6:20-21). Again, in a situation such as this, whether you are tithing or not is not the first sin. There is an underlying cause for the debt that could very well point to the first sin. Tithing without addressing this underlying cause will not make you right with the Lord.

If you are under a heavy debt load, then let’s examine why that is. You very well could be living a lifestyle that is not God-honoring. We can very quickly get into coveting, idolatry, seeking satisfaction through materialism, envy, wasting God’s resources, spending for the thrill (an unhealthy, addictive habit), and a host of other issues that must be reconciled first. You can tithe all you want, but until reconciliation takes place on the underlying cause of your debt, whether or not you tithe will not be the deciding factor on your spirituality.

The prudent steps to take are to reconcile those issues, work on a plan to pay down the debt, and then integrate tithing into your budget. Your debt may be a consequence of behavior and an attitude of the heart that are not aligned with Christ. Should the Lord not receive tithes just because you are overwhelmed by the consequences for our decisions? Before you answer that, let’s consider something more positive and hopeful.

There have been remarkable stories of Christians who have faced and accepted the consequences of their behavior, and the Lord has used it for good. For example, a person who commits a crime, in despair becomes a Christian, and accepts his prison sentence may become a wonderful witness for the Lord in prison, touching many lives with the gospel. A life marred by destructive, addictive habits can turn into a vivid witness for the Lord among young people, some of whom will become faithful servants of the Lord because of the testimony.

Once upon a time, my family and I suffered under a load of debt because of unfortunate circumstances and not taking more prudent steps to prevent the debt. The Lord later called me to serve Him in financial counseling among those who are struggling to find a way out. There are times the Lord uses our consequences for good, but to get to that point we first have to face the underlying cause and accept that there are consequences associated with our decisions.

Once you get to this point, ask what the Lord wants to do in your situation. It may be that God has a unique plan for you that you can only know by looking to Him for help to overcome your situation. And it may be that once you address why you are in debt and surrender your heart to the Lord, He will provide what you need to keep up with your obligations, pay down your debt, and tithe. The only way to find out is to try, but as long as the heart isn’t right, no blessings should be expected.

But maybe this is not you. Maybe your debt came from a crisis, a series of setbacks or calamities, disability, loss of employment, medical bills, or some other painful situation you had to face and didn’t know what else to do. There is hope for you because we can help you find a way through and advocate for you with your creditors. We can also help you develop a plan to get through the situation. Sometimes all it takes is a neutral person taking a fresh look at things, and we’re here to help.

I am more than willing to negotiate credit card interest rates, monthly payments and balances on behalf of my clients. However, there needs to be a legitimate, compelling reason for the negotiation. Lenders won’t buy into reducing your debt load just so you can remain in a lifestyle you can’t afford. They also won’t buy into working with you when you are earning an income substantially below your ability. They may buy into negotiating with you over medical bills, a disability, active duty military or a veteran, or if there is a true emergency, especially if the interest rate on the credit card is high. In the absence of a compelling story, your negotiation options are limited.

Once you get to this point, then you can be in a position to address tithing. Sometimes all that is needed is a little help reducing the financial strain to open up a world of other possibilities.

© 2015, 2018 Zacchaeus Financial Counseling, Inc.

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