Should I still give if it means I won't have enough left to meet my responsibilities?
There is a situation in the Western world where we are allowed to spend more money than we actually possess. Credit cards, loans, and overdrafts all mean that there can be times when the money we are paying out is more than the money we have coming in. These financial systems aren’t present in all cultures, and it isn’t all that common historically either (where a bartering system would have been the primary way of getting what you need to live), but it does raise a question for Christians in this culture when it comes to giving.
This is the question: “If I am hitting zero (or beyond) in my current account every month, what then should I do about giving?” The reasoning goes something like this: “surely it is wrong for me to give money which will mean that I can’t meet my responsibilities, or will put me in the debt?” Practically, the implication is that I don’t start giving because I am worried that I won’t have enough. Or (if I am already giving), I cut back on my giving in order to make sure I stay above the line.
There is a right part about this. Our conscience tells us, and God’s Word affirms, that God’s people shouldn’t be in debt beyond what they can afford to pay and should pay off any debts they owe:
“26 Do not be one who shakes hands in pledge
or puts up security for debts;
27 if you lack the means to pay,
your very bed will be snatched from under you.
“6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: if you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour. 8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another...”
So it is right to not want to be in debt, and it is right to take care to fulfil your financial responsibilities. But there is also a wrong bit to this reasoning...
The way of thinking described above carries the assumption that we give out of what we have left at the end – after we have spent our money on what we need and want. But the Bible says our giving should come first, before we spend our money on ourselves. We see this principle in both the Old and New Testaments. In Deuteronomy 26 God commands the Israelites to set aside the ‘first-fruits’ of their produce for the year and give it to God, not the leftovers, but the best and first produce they got from the land: Deuteronomy 26:1-4 “When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, 2 take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name 3 and say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” 4 The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God.”
And look at what it says in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 “Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.” Here Paul says to put aside money on the first day of the week (before you have spent it), in order that you might be able to save it up and give it to the poor as a lump sum.
So if we are asking the question: “surely it is wrong for me to give money which will mean that I can’t meet my responsibilities, or will put me in the debt?” then we have actually got our thinking back-to-front and we need to repent (‘repent’ means to turn our thinking around). Giving needs to come first - it’s not an optional extra if we’ve got some to spare, but a command from God that has to be the priority for our money rather than saving or spending. If we give first, then it’s not down to our giving if we are going into debt, but rather because we have spent too much. That’s probably at the heart of the issue for most of us. It’s very unlikely that we are giving too much, but more than likely that we spend more than we need to on things that are luxuries rather than necessities. The Lord has promised to provide all we need, but many of us spend a large proportion of money on things which we could do without. So, if you are struggling with this, why not give yourself a personal audit? See where you can trim your spending that you might be able to give more and still meet your responsibilities – God will always provide what you need and you can trust Him. Listen to the encouragement Paul gives to the Philippians about their generous gifts: Philippians 4:18-19 “They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”