Saturday, July 21, 2012

Tithing and Debt

Leonardo da Vinci Christ Carrying the Cross via Wikimedia Commons

A good way to center any discussion is to think about the Cross.  Jesus willingly went to the cross and suffered a horrible death (Matthew 26:53-54) (Hebrews 10:14).  He did this to offer a us a way to God that was unreachable through our own effort (Romans 3:23-24). Our salvation is a total act of grace and this should fill us with total joy and peace (Ephesians 2:8) (1 Peter 1:8).  Gratitude always trumps guilt as a motivator.

If you call yourself a Christ follower and are not tithing, then you have been stealing from God (Malachi 3:9). This sounds harsh, but there are real consequences for wrong living.  I'm not trying to guilt you into tithing, I just want you to see the reality of what is happening.  Sometimes as Christians we just need to do the right thing even though every fiber of our soul is saying we shouldn't.

The average family has almost $7000 in credit card debt.  Most families in debt tend to not tithe.  If you have no income then there is no need to tithe.  If you have income (even welfare) then you can tithe.  Most people have sufficient income to work their way out of debt, with a serious cost cutting plan.  

I believe that the tithe should be paid before any other debts are paid.   I know this sounds crazy, but if you can't live on 90% then you probably can't live on 100%. Tithing while in debt takes great faith, so you must trust God in this, because this will feel highly illogical. 

 If in debt, the concept of tithing sounds irresponsible, but you need to pay back God first what He has given you.  God wants you to test Him in this (Malachi 3:9-11).  This is the logic of the world: When I get out of debt, then I will tithe.  God’s logic is different, because He can work miracles and if you are in debt, you can use some miracles in your life.  Trust Him by obeying Him.  Remember, the logical side of things doesn’t always apply to issues of faith.  God is able to sustain you, bless you, and allow you move towards fiscal sanity.
Here is an odd mystery: obedience to God takes strength of character that comes from God (Matthew 6:9-13).  When you tithe in the face of debt, God rewards your obedience. One of the fruits of the Spirit that comes to Christians in obedience is self-control.  Self-control will allow you resist those urges to spend on things of short term value, thereby improving your financial state.  Another two amazing fruits of the Spirit are peace and joy.  When fulfilled by God, you will not experience the urge to spend as much because you will be satisfied with what you have.  In fact you will be grateful.  Gratefulness is one of the most powerful motivators in life. 
There is disagreement among some as to what qualifies as debt-free.  In my opinion, being debt-free doesn’t mean a lack of bills.  It also doesn’t mean an absence of loan payments.  For some things (cars, houses) you will need a loan, this is good debt, so don’t assume that all loans are evil.   Debt is a trap that God wants to release you from.  Trust him to set you free, but God does not promise that you will win the lottery. You need God's strength to radically downsize your spending and get out of debt.  Obey God and you will have access to this strength (Galatians 5:16).   

Look to the Cross, understand what you have, feel the warmth of God's love and then go do what He says.