Many Christians are drowning in debt, struggling to make ends meet, and living from check to check.
Some Christians are taught that if they tithe 10% of their income, God will protect them from financial hardship and prosper them financially. However, reality is that many Christians who believe in tithing and faithfully give 10% of their income are struggling financially, and some of them are pondering whether they should give 10% of their income or pay their bills.
Some religious leaders would advise them to “keep tithing and trust God to provide.” This is unbiblical, unsound, financially irresponsible advice which shows no regard or concern for the authority of Scripture and the well-being of God’s people. Here is why:
1. If the staff at your church discovers that you are struggling financially and in urgent need — their immediate response should be to “care for the flock of God” and find a way to meet your need(s).
Meeting your need(s) might entail them reaching into their own pocket (if they have the money), raising an offering from the congregation, cutting a check from the church, or contacting non-profit organizations to see if they can help.
The staff at your church should be charitable and focused on finding a way to meet your needs and ease your burdens. Not focused on receiving 10% of your income and encouraging you not to pay your bills so that they can use your money to cover the church’s expenses while your bills/debt go unpaid and pile up.
“Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
“Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.” (Philippians 2:4-5)
Telling someone to “keep tithing and trust God to provide” sounds ‘spiritual’ and ‘sacrificial,’ but it is actually pseudo-spiritual and apathetic, because there is no tangible action being taken to ease the burdens of others. This was one of Jesus’ problems with the Pharisees:
“They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.” (Matthew 23:4)
Telling someone who is financially strapped and in urgent need to use their bill money to give what they cannot afford, while offering them no tangible material assistance puts an unbearable religious demand on their shoulders. It crushes them. It is financial oppression, financial exploitation, and spiritual abuse.
Anyone who instructs a believer in urgent need to “keep tithing and trust God to provide” is no different than the person in James 2:14-17 who sees a brother or sister in need and says “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well” and doesn’t help them. What good will such advice do? Faith without good works is dead. It’s not good enough to talk about faith if we don’t show it with our actions.
“If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.” (1 John 3:17-18)
“Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’ “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’ “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:41-46)
2. Telling people to tithe 10% of their income before they pay their bills contradicts the spiritual principle of taking care of our household first.
It also contradicts the spiritual principle that human beings are more important to God than religious rituals and temples made by human hands [e.g., church-buildings].
Scripture teaches that we are to take care of our own household first before we try to take care of anyone or anything else.
We see this principle in God’s standard for shepherds. A man must take care of his own family first in order to qualify to be a shepherd. The reasoning behind this is, how can someone be trusted to take care of God’s household if he does not take care of their personal household?
This spiritual principle applies not only to shepherds specifically, but to all Christians generally. Paul the apostle had strong words for believers who neglected their own household. In 1 Timothy 5:8, he said that a man who does not provide for his own, especially for those of his own household, is worse than an unbeliever. Although the word “he” is used in this passage, it applies to all believers, both male and female.
Whether you are a man or a woman, if you neglect your own household in order to give 10% of your income to a religious leader or religious organization, you are being worse than an unbeliever — because even unbelievers take care of their own household as their first and foremost priority and understand that it would be irresponsible and immoral to neglect their own household in order to allocate their income elsewhere.
Do not neglect your own household in order to give 10% of your income to a religious leader or religious organization, especially considering that research shows that religious organizations tend to spend most donations on operating costs, not charity or evangelism.
Some religious leaders would say that you are “putting God first” “demonstrating great faith” “being obedient to God” and “being a living sacrifice” by forking over 10% of your income before you pay your bills. This is false.
Paying the bills of a religious organization before you pay your own bills demonstrates misplaced priorities due to false teaching — not putting God first, demonstrating great faith, obedience to God, and being a living sacrifice. Obeying God is better than making religious sacrifices that He did not command us to make in His word. (1 Samuel 15:22).
Ensuring that the expenses of a religious organization are covered before you make sure that your own expenses are covered is out of order and backwards. Paying the utilities of a building that no one lives in, while not paying the utilities of the building where you and your family live is negligent and irresponsible.
If you get evicted or your utilities are shut off, can you sleep in the church building? Will church staff take you in and provide for you while you live with them? Or will you end up staying at a homeless shelter, living in your car, or sleeping on someone’s couch while church staff tells you to “keep tithing and trust God to provide”?
Before religious organizations existed, God created the individual and the family unit. This means that you and your family are of utmost importance to God and your needs are more important to Him than the expenses of a religious organization. False teaching convinces people to reverse this order and prioritize the expenses of religious organizations over the financial obligations of their own household, which is contrary to the will and word of God.
God would never have you risk an eviction, shut-off notice, repossession, sink further in debt, damage your credit score, and neglect your family all for the sake of keeping an unbiblical financial practice and covering the expenses of a religious organization.
Does it make any sense to pay staff salaries while your fridge is bare, you have no gas to get to work, rent is overdue, and your utilities are behind? Does it make any sense to pay off the mortgage on a church-building while your mortgage is not paid and you are struggling to pay your rent? Does it make sense to pay off the church’s debt while you are drowning in debt and creditors are calling your phone? Would church staff help you pay your mortgage, rent, or debt, or are they just interested in getting 10% of your income so that they can spend most of your money on their operating expenses? This is not good financial stewardship. This is financial irresponsibility cloaked as worship, obedience, and spirituality.
Your needs come before the expenses of a church-building. The church-building is not the house of God — you are. Don’t you know that you are God’s temple and the Holy Spirit lives in you? Church-buildings are temples made with human hands. They aren’t anywhere near as important to God as you are.
Even during the Old Covenant, the needs of the people came before the temple and its religious rituals.
For example, when David and his men were hungry they ate the shewbread, which was not lawful. Yet God permitted it because He values human lives over religious rituals.
Another example would be when Jesus and His disciples picked heads of grain on the Sabbath day. The Pharisees — not knowing the heart of God — accused Jesus and His disciples of breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath day. They failed to realize that Jesus is the Lord over the Sabbath and that He made the Sabbath “. . .to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:23-28).
The same could be said of the tithe. The tithing laws were given to meet the needs of the people (“that there might be MEAT in My house”), and not people to meet the requirements of the tithing laws.
If you study the tithing laws in Scripture, you will see that there were 3 tithes:
The First Tithe which provided food for the Levites and the priests, since they received no inheritance of land in Israel (Numbers 18:21).
The Second Tithe which provided food for festivals in Israel and was eaten/drank by tithers and their family (Deuteronomy 14:22-27).
The Third Tithe which provided food for the poor (Deuteronomy 14:28-29).
These three tithes were carried out over a 7-year cycle, with no tithing during the 7th year because it was a Sabbath year in which the land of Israel rested from sowing and reaping (Leviticus 25:3-7).
Notice that each tithe was eaten by the people. None of the tithes went towards financing the temple or paying salaries. The purpose of the tithe was not to raise money, but to provide food for God’s people and meet their needs.
As you can see, the tithe was similar to the Sabbath day in the sense that it was given to meet the needs of the people.
If someone is using the doctrine of tithing to COVER THE EXPENSES OF A RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATION OR FUND THE LUXURIOUS LIFESTYLE OF A RELIGIOUS LEADER and not to meet the needs of God’s people — they are twisting the purpose of the tithe, ignorant of the heart of God, and putting a religious ritual and man-made temple before human lives.
Poor people weren’t even commanded to tithe under the Old Covenant — they RECEIVED the third tithe as a form of charity. The tithe was to be given by those who owned land — NOT by those who didn’t own land (e.g. Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows). The poor were permitted to glean food from other people’s land because they were POOR. They had no abundance to tithe from!
Many leaders today are oppressing the poor by telling them that they have to tithe 10% of their income before they pay their bills, when in fact, in Scripture, God commanded the third tithe to be GIVEN TO THE POOR. These leaders use slick phrases like “You can’t afford NOT to tithe” and “Give until it hurts” to convince poor people to fork over 10% of their income. Once again, this is financial oppression, financial exploitation, and spiritual abuse. This kind of false teaching grieves the heart of God and moves Him to judgment.
God didn’t command the poor to tithe because they couldn’t afford to. God is against religious leaders who oppress the poor by telling them that they have to tithe 10% of their income (Malachi 3:5). It does not matter if some of the money is being used to help the poor — in God’s Kingdom, we do NOT financially exploit or oppress the poor in order to “help the poor,” “spread the Gospel,” or pay the church’s bills.
We do not take Scripture out of context, promote religious error, make emotional appeals, or engage in any unethical, immoral, or ungodly fundraising methods in order to raise donations for operating expenses or church activities. We do not inflict financial, psychological, emotional, physical, or spiritual harm upon anyone so that “good may come” and try to justify it by saying that we are financing “kingdom building.” In God’s Kingdom, the end does not justify the means. If we are using unbiblical and unethical fundraising methods, then we need to question just whose kingdom we are actually building. God or man’s?
3. Telling people to “keep tithing and trust God to provide” sets a poor example of Christlike leadership.
Jesus said that the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve others and give His life as a ransom for many.
The Lord did not put His needs before people who were in need. He selflessly put the needs of others before Himself. This is “the mind of Christ.”
Elders are suppose to demonstrate the mind of Christ and set a godly example for God’s flock by serving selflessly like the Lord.
Telling someone who is in need to give 10% of their income (to an organization) does not serve them in any way, shape, or form. But rather, it serves the organization and leaders who financially benefit from it.
Some of these organizations are well-off. Yet they feel comfortable telling single parents, widows, college students, financially stressed middle class families, and poor families to “pay their tithe” first and forgo paying their bills. This is selfish and the exact opposite of serving like Christ.
4. Telling people to “keep tithing and trust God to provide” oppresses the poor.
While some Christians testify that they gave 10% of their income before paying their bills and their needs were still met, many others testify that they gave 10% of their income before paying their bills only to experience financial hardship.
This oppression of the poor is the dark side of ‘tithing’ that many people don’t hear about.
The purpose of the tithe was not to oppress the poor and put them in the predicament of deciding whether they will tithe or pay their bills. One of the main purposes of the tithe was to feed the poor and RELIEVE them of their burdens.
One of the reasons why God told the Levitical priests that they were “cursed with a curse”in Malachi 3 was because they kept the best of the tithe for themselves and didn’t put it in the storehouse, thereby oppressing the poor, the fatherless, and the widows.
The Lord said that He would draw near the Levitical priests for judgment and to be a swift witness against them. This is the part of Malachi that many religious leaders skip over during tithes and offering time.
“‘Thus says the Lord God, “Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding the flock.” (Ezekiel 34:2-3)
5. Telling people to “keep tithing and trust God to provide” encourages Christians to be financially irresponsible, which sends a poor witness to people around us.
Financial responsibility is a part of our Christian witness.
By taking care of our household, we demonstrate love, discipline, honesty/integrity, and maturity.
Sending 10% of your income to a religious organization while neglecting your own household sends a message that Christians are financially irresponsible, gullible, lack integrity, and do not take care of our financial obligations.
Integrity means keeping our financial agreements by paying our bills and paying down our debts if we owe anyone. Scripture speaks against not paying people when we have the resources to do so.
I’m not saying that being in debt is automatically sinful. I understand that we can fall into the trap of making poor financial decisions and unexpected expenses can take us by surprise. But it is irresponsible to forgo paying your bills/debt if you have the funds to pay them off, and then give your income to a religious organization or religious leader.
Some Christians will give their bill money to a religious organization or religious leader, and then hope that God will bail them out of their financial problems and make them wealthy instead of simply taking care of their financial obligations.
Some have given dozens of thousands of dollars (or more) in ‘tithes’ to organizations instead of taking care of their household, paying off their debt, and leaving an inheritance for their children. This does not make any sense whatsoever. Monetary ‘tithing’ and positive confession are no substitute for good old fashioned financial responsibility.
Rather than telling struggling believers to “keep tithing and trust God to provide” — religious leaders should take their own advice by trusting God to provide for their organizations and tell struggling congregants to use the money that God provided for them to pay their bills.
If God truly called someone to minister and start a church, He will sustain it HIS WAY (through sound doctrine and cheerful giving), not by oppressing, exploiting, or abusing anyone through false teaching.
Click here for the next article in this series.
If you are struggling financially and you attend a church where the leaders are more concerned about receiving 10% of your income than you paying your bills, that might be a sign that it’s time for you to find a new fellowship.