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Should You Tithe When Times are Hard?

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I received a reader question this week that I thought I would share with everyone for a few reasons: to answer the reader’s question, hopefully help others, and extend the conversation. You see, not all financial questions are about pure number crunching, and this is one of those occasions. Please feel free to add to the discussion after you read the article.

Hello Ryan,

I am going to have a major medical procedure in 12-18 months, which will require us to move to a major metropolitan area for several months. Apartments there cost about $2,300 per month, which doesn’t leave us much time to save up for this expense. Would you save your tithing money to pay for the apartment, or still give your tithe?

We are trying to follow Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps and we are still in the debt snowball stage. I really appreciate your response.

Thank You,

SW

should you tithe?

Should you tithe when times are tough?

Hello SW,

I am sorry to hear about your upcoming medical procedure and I wish you the best with this procedure and your health. While it is unfortunate that you will have to undergo a major medical procedure, you have been blessed with the knowledge of what the procedure is and roughly when it will happen. That does not make it any easier to have to go through, but it does give you a small advantage in being able to plan for it.

Now let’s talk a little bit about the financial planning aspect of your situation.

A brief introduction to Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps

For those who aren’t familiar with Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps, it is part of his Financial Peace University methodology. To follow the Baby Steps, one must first make a conscious decision to get out of debt, then follow his 7 step process:

The last few steps can be done simultaneously. Dave Ramsey’s teachings are steeped in Christianity, and one of the things he advocates is tithing 10% of your income to God.

An important thing to remember is that while Ramsey’s Baby Steps are an effective way to get out of debt and build wealth, they are also only a guide and it can be modified to meet your needs.

Trying to save and pay down debt at the same time

Your situation is a little complex because you are dealing with the uncertainty of your medical condition while trying to save and pay down debt at the same time.

Saving and paying down debt at the same time can be done, but it becomes more difficult when you need to save a lot of money in a short time period, such as trying to save money to pay for an expensive apartment in a large city, and preparing to undergo an expensive medical procedure.

There is a lot we don’t know about your financial situation, but these are a few general tips that can help you or others in a similar situation.

Create a budget: One of the first things you should do if you haven’t already, is to create a budget. This way you will know where your current expenses are, how much income you have, and where your money is going. Once your budget is in place, you should use that as a tool to help you spend less and look for ways to earn more money, both now and in the future.

Spend less: Go through your budget and find ways you can cut expenses. Also consider the apartment you are saving for. $2,300 per month for an apartment is very high, even for some major cities. I used to live in Houston, and nice apartments on the outskirts of town could be had for half that price. It pays to shop around.

Earn More: Finding new sources of income is another way you can help your debt snowball or help increase your savings. It doesn’t even need to be a lot of extra money – every little bit can make a difference. You can earn extra money by selling unneeded items, working part time, doing freelance work or consulting, completing online surveys, etc. Of course, I make it sound easy. It isn’t necessarily easy, but it doesn’t need to be hard either.

Consider scaling back on your debt snowball. Dave Ramsey advocates using a debt snowball to pay off debt because it is a quick and effective way to reduce debt and make tangible victories. But Ramsey also doesn’t recommend using a debt snowball until you are current with your bills and have a basic emergency fund in place.

If you continue your debt snowball you will make good progress on your debt, but you may be setting yourself up for future debt if you won’t be able to pay for the apartment. If you decrease your debt snowball and only pay the minimums on your monthly debts, you can save the difference for an apartment fund so you don’t need to take on additional debt when you move to the city for the medical procedure. I would only look at this as a short term solution, but one that may be necessary to avoid future debt.

Reach out to your church. Someone in your church group may be able to put you in touch with someone in the city where you will have your medical procedure. They may know of more affordable houses or apartments for rent, or there may even be a family in the area willing to host you for a few months. While it may seem awkward to inquire about something like this, these kinds of arrangements are not unheard of in church communities.

Should you tithe when times are hard?

Tithing is a very personal thing, and it is not something that I, or anyone else, can tell you to do. My advice is to understand your beliefs on tithing, talk this over with your family and religious leader, pray about it, and make the decision you feel is the right decision to make. In the end, the decision is between you and God.

Of course I can’t send you on your way after only telling you to talk it over and pray about it. So I researched the web and talked to some of my friends and found several other articles about tithing, many of which you may find helpful.

Can you stop tithing when money is tight? Believing in God means you believe you will be provided for no matter what the circumstances. My friend Lynnae writes about Unemployment, Tithing, and God’s Provision. Her story is an anecdote about how God works in unexpected ways.

FMF answers some questions about tithing, and mentions you should continue to tithe even during tough economic times. He continues with more posts about tithing in the 21st century, and and more thoughts on tithing.

More articles on tithing

Pete from Bible Money Matters wrote a two part series about The Bible and tithing: To give or not to give? Here is Part 2.

Glblguy from Gather Little by Little, another Christian financial blog, writes about the benefits of tithing, and Joyful, Sacrificial Tithing.

Steve Pavlina writes about tithing from an emotional standpoint and discusses some of the many benefits one can receive from tithing. He goes on to mention that beyond tithing, there are non-financial ways to give, including offering your time, talents, and other gifts. I encourage you to read this article.

Finally, as you mentioned Dave Ramsey, I thought it appropriate to add his words to the mix. Here is what Dave Ramsey has to say about pausing tithes (this is only a small quote, I encourage you to read the rest):

The Bible does not mention anything about “pausing” tithing. Neither does it say that we will go to Hell if we do not tithe.  The tithe, which is a scriptural mandate, was not instituted for God’s benefit because He already has all the money He needs.  He does not need our money.

…Read the Bible and take from it what you will, and if you tithe, do it out of love for God, not guilt.

This is your decision

This is a decision between you and God and no matter which decision you make, I don’t think anyone will judge you. I pray you find peace and health in the coming months.

Please feel free to continue this discussion in a respectful manner in the comments section.

Photo credit: mtsofan


Published or updated March 20, 2014.
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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Four Pillars

It seems to me that part of the idea behind tithing is to help others in need. If you are the one in need, then tithing doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Your situation is quite exceptional and I think you should look at how much you can really afford and lower your contribution to that amount (which might be zero). Once you get past your operation etc then at some point you can resume your tithing efforts.

Use common sense – if you tithe yourself into bankruptcy then everyone loses.

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2 David

I agree with Four Pillars – you are the one in need now, so tithe yourself until you get better. You need to take care of you, so you can go back to taking care of others when you are better. Put the money away for your own needs right now; it’s what is most important.

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3 plonkee

I would be extremely loathe to stop giving to charity. It would be an admission that I was not the more successful person, but that I needed help. That however, is neither useful nor sensible. We can’t always be the giver, sometimes we have to take as well.

You will no doubt get lots of opinions on this. Consider carefully what you think about tithing. Is part of it an ego thing? Do you feel obligated to tithe to please other people (like your minister)? Do you really feel that you should tithe regardless?

The other thing to mention is that it looks like you will need to save in the region of $1600 a month. That’s a lot of money, and I bet it’s a lot more than your tithe. I suggest that you temporarily halt your progress on your debt snowball to concentrate on not incurring more debt. You may find that you’re still able to tithe.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what anyone says you are going to do what you think is the right thing to do anyway. Given that, I may as well be honest. Yes, you should stop tithing.

Best wishes for the upcoming surgery.

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4 Miranda

Even when we were having huge financial difficulties, my husband and I still tithed. We found that we always had what we needed — even if we didn’t always get what we wanted.

I have a firm belief in the blessings that come (not always monetary) from paying a tithing. However, I do agree that it is a very personal decision that you make for yourself, with God’s help.

Malachi 3:8

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5 Pete

Thanks for linking my two articles, a third guest post on my blog about tithing is linked here.

Tithing is definitely a charged subject and a lot of well-meaning and intelligent people have differing views on the subject – all the way from tithing being a biblical mandate we should still follow – to the supposition that it is old testament law no longer binding for new testament Christians.

I’m still not 100% sure where I fall in there, I think I’m somewhere in between where I don’t necessarily believe it is “law” any longer, but that you probably still should as you’ll be blessed by God when you do.

Interesting post and subject. thanks!

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6 deepali

I have a couple of thoughts for the asker:
first, I live in one of the top 3 most expensive metro areas and I know apartments can be had for less than $2300 here. I wonder if there is some way you can find someone in the city you will be moving to to help you find something cheaper.
second, I think that God likes us to help others, but he also likes us to take care of ourselves. If tithing means taking on extra debt, who does that help, and how does it affect your relationship with God? Also – is there something less important you can cut out if maintaining the tithe is essential to you?
And finally, I’m a strong believer in understanding why we do things. Why do you tithe? What circumstances in your life would change what aspects of your life?

Whatever you do, make sure that you feel ok about doing it. Good luck with the procedure!

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7 Colin Harrington

Tithing is about the principle of first fruits. It is supposed to be an offering unto God.

Consider the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4 (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis%204&version=31) Cain brought fruits of the soil “In the course of time” whereas Abel brought “fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.” We later read that “The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering”

If you were to “Pause” tithing you would not be giving your first-fruits.

No, You should not stop tithing. Ask God to give you favor because you desire to be his and watch him do it.

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8 Steward @ My Family's Money

I think that from a purely financial standpoint the answer is obvious: stop giving.

However, from a Christian standpoint I think that the place to land is to keep giving as God directs. If you look at the example of the Macedonians where “in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty [....] overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part” (2 Corinthians 8:2) and the teachings of Jesus (Luke 21:1-4) it seems pretty clear that giving, even in the hour of need, is good for your soul. It strips you of your dependence on self and casts you upon God.

But that isn’t to say that you should keep giving what you currently do. The only one who will know that for certain is Jesus, and since Christianity is mainly about having a relationship with God through Jesus now is a perfect opportunity to grow closer to him and to know him better.

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9 klein

Remember, you aren’t tithing to God. You are tithing to the your church. There is a big difference. God has provided you with the ability to save for a surgery that you need, and I believe he/she would want you to temporarily forgo the tithing so that you could provide for your own wellbeing. Once you’re healthy and back on your feet financially, why not trying and tithe a little more to make up the difference?
Let me tell you, God isn’t the one who cares, and he didn’t invent tithing. That was a man-made invention so that churches had the power that comes with riches.

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10 Susan

I believe tithing is a matter between the individual and God. Tithing is an issue of trust. Tithing only when times are good is easy, but trust in God really comes in to play when times get rough. It is during the tough times that faith is really allowed to grow (or die, depending on the trust one has in God’s provision).

No, you’re not going to hell because you didn’t tithe; I don’t believe God to be like that. However, I believe that God WILL bless and provide for the individual who tithes out of love and trust. God does bless those who trust in Him with all their hearts. Those blessings may not be evident right away… or even in this lifetime. But reaping the blessings in Heaven is even better because that’s for eternity! These are my beliefs.

Bottom line: loving God and trusting Him with all our hearts will be blessed. It’s what God longs for.

I’d say an essential step in working out this issue is to talk to God about it and see where He leads you.

SW, I hope and pray your medical procedure goes smoothly and you have a quick and full recovery!

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11 Steward @ My Family's Money

Your right, giving should be done freely, sacrificially, generously, joyfully, regularly, and be motivated by love.

In fact, by looking at the example of the New Testament church (especially in Acts and 2 Corinthians), giving seems to be based on the principle of “as much as you can as often as you can.” The apostle Paul even commands in Ephesians 4:28 that we should work – not to eat, not to have clothing, not to have drink – but “so that [you] may have something to share with anyone in need.”

Just because most people use the word “tithe” as a synonym for “giving” doesn’t make them a barbarian infidel. Please talk about things constructively without resorting to name calling.

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12 Russell Earl Kelly

1 Tim 5:8 But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.

You all sound like a pack of barbarian infidels to me. We are talking about an operation and suffering and you want to take the first 10% of a sick man’s paycheck.

Firstfruits were never tithes in the Bible. Read all of Numbers 18, Deuteronomy 26:1-4 and Nehemiah 10:35-37. They were small token gifts.

And tithes were never money. Although money was essential in Genesis and for worship it was never included in any of 16 texts which describe the tithes.

NT post-Calvary giving is: freewill, sacrificial, generous, joyful, regular and motivated by love. The Law has zero glory per 2 Cor 3:10. Look to Jesus for your standards pere 2 Cor 3:18.

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13 Jerry

How about another option. Not sure about the medical prodedure you are having but there is a growing trend involving people traveling outside the country for medical procedures. In some cases the procedures can be done for a dime on the dollar (as in India) and many insurance plans are starting to cover this. It may not be a budget buster and you can continue to tithe…

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14 Jarhead

Wow this has turned from a financial question to a religious discussion about as fast as Russia moved into Georgia. Is tithing only giving to a church because if it is then I guess I am guilty of not tithing. But if tithing is donating to those less fortunate I am OK as I have automatic withdrawals from my paycheck every month to Children’s hospital. I just feel that they can do better with my money than the church also I know that I am helping some of my friends out who have to rely on Children’s Hospital to because their children are handicapped.

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15 Jesse

Wow, talk about a huge discussion…without getting into some massive biblical fight with anyone, I can’t help but think of “God helps those who help themselves.” In this case, helping yourself is putting that money away for the surgery.

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16 Leah Bell

“God helps those who help themselves” is not a biblical quote so it isn’t really pertinent to this discussion. It is just a made up quote some obviously atheistic person came up with to justify their own greed. Probably from Wall Street.

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17 Ryan

Everyone,

Thank you for your comments on this article. Almost every conversation regarding religion (or money) is one that will elicit different responses. There are many views regarding religion and usually many shades of gray. I appreciate you sharing your views with the reader and I hope this article and the insightful comments help her find peace and the answer she seeks.

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18 Pete

Off topic – and interesting little known fact: The quote – “God helps those who help themselves” is often quote as being from the bible, but it is actually a quote from Ben Franklin and it appeared in Poor Richard’s Almanac in 1757.

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19 Ryan

Pete, Very cool! I didn’t know that. :)

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