The Determined Dollar

Should You Tithe While Paying off Debt?


The Bible has a lot to say about money, but the modern application of biblical principles can be elusive at times.

If only God would send down a stone tablet with a list of applicable verses for what to do in Baby Step #2 (pay off non-mortgage debt).

It’s a conundrum: you want to give generously, but you also want to pay off this debt ASAP!

What’s a Christian in Baby Step #2 supposed to do? Tithe and pay off the debt slower? Or put giving aside temporarily until the debt is gone?

For Christians, I believe the answer is clear: continue to give even though you are in debt.

Sometimes it’s easier to start with what giving is NOT, so we can get past the surface to see what it’s really about.

God doesn’t need us to give. He lets us give.

The idea that God needs “our” money. Ha! If he needed it he could take it. He owns everything anyway and he doesn’t need our help. (Thank goodness, because I’d cave under the pressure.)

Now that I have young children, God uses them constantly to illustrate the relationship that I have to Him. Case in point: I let my twin girls help me cook. I let them pour in the flour and stir the batter when we make cookies. They help me fold laundry- sort of. You can imagine what that looks like! They love to push the buttons on the washing machine and sweep the floors with their miniature brooms.

I gotta say, this slows me down. I could get the work done so much faster without them. (You probably see where I’m going with this.)

They need my direction and guidance, and they will find a way to mess it up if I don’t show them exactly what to do. But I get the joy of teaching them and watching them beam with accomplishment.

I love getting to include them in my work!

And God does, too. He includes us in what he’s already doing. He invites us to take part.

Giving Cheerfully

When we give a portion of our money, we accept the invitation to be included in what God would do with that precious resource. Don’t wait until you think you have enough- if you have something, you have enough!

This is why God wants us to give cheerfully. If you handed out birthday party invitations, would you want your guests to attend if they didn’t really want to? Of course not!

Likewise, God doesn’t want his invitation to be accepted with a worrisome or negative attitude. It’s a gift to be included. And by God himself. In HIS work!

Debt-freedom is an important goal, but it’s not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal (with money) is to manage it in submission to God, and consistent, regular giving is part of that.

The blessings of giving are way beyond the benefit of any financial savings we could accumulate by withholding our tithe.

In fact, one of the blessings of giving is that it keeps our perspective in check. It gives us that tangible reminder that we are not our own providers. God is. We need to rely on this truth always, but it’s an especially important concept to cling to in Baby Step #2.

God is not the Stock Market. But He is a Faithful Provider!

It’s also important to remember that God is not the stock market. 

That is, we don’t give with the expectation that God will send a check in the mail for double what we put in the Sunday offering. I don’t actually buy into the theology that if you give, God will return it to you in some way.

At the same time, I also believe we can’t outgive God.

What I mean by this is God’s pretty good at showing up and providing in ways we would never expect.

I’ve had so many clients and friends describe how when they give the tithe from the first of their paycheck, that they always seem to have enough. And they have peace with their money. When they don’t, they tend to experience worry, or they spend away what they were planning to give, and the money feels like it just drains away faster.  

I think there’s some level of practical stewardship at play here; tithing requires more intentionality with the budget and keeping our spending priorities in check.

There is also a spiritual transaction that happens when we give. God gives his blessing when when we obey him, and it’s as true with money as with anything else. I’m sure God has and does supernaturally intervene at times. But he also works in the ordinary, and that’s easy to miss if we aren’t paying attention. Tithing helps us to pay attention.

Giving isn’t something you only get to do once you have extra money. Sure you get to give more when you have more (because math) but the spiritual implications of giving go far beyond the amount.

God wants us to give cheerfully as we manage our money with wisdom and to trust that he will provide for all of our needs. Even in the middle of the debt snowball.