Q: I can’t decide how much to give. Part of me wants to give a large, reckless number, and another part of me knows I’ll need some money for expenses coming up.
That’s normal. I believe it’s in part because the Bible has several overarching themes about money that it holds in creative tension. One biblical theme about money?is what I would call the “Prudence” theme: work hard and prepare now for future need (Proverbs 6:6-8
) and provide for your family (1 Timothy 5:8
). Another biblical theme is the “Carefree” theme: don’t store up treasures on earth (Matthew 6:19), give to the needy (Matthew 6:2
), and don’t worry about your food and clothing (Matthew 6:25-27
How do you honor both themes? That requires a lot of prayer and conversation with wise spiritual friends and mentors. You’ll know you’ve reached the right number, though, because it will have these three qualities:
- It’s not sparing but generous: “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Corinthians 9:6).
- It’s not under compulsion but freely chosen: “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion” (2 Corinthians 9:7). You should be able to say of your gift: “I chose this. I wanted this. I wasn’t manipulated or guilt-ed into it.”
- It’s not given reluctantly but cheerfully: “… not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).
Q: I want to give to this initiative, but I have a lot of debts to pay off. What should I do?
A: One reason debt is such a pain is that it limits our freedom; it cuts off our choices. I believe that Christians must honor their creditors and pay off their debts: as Paul taught, “Let no debt remain outstanding” (Romans 13:8). And Jesus teaches in Mark 7:9-13 that it’s not right to use a charitable donation as a way to avoid our prior commitment to love our neighbor. So the painful reality is that paying off your debts must be a high priority for your financial life.
Having said that, I do not advise waiting until your debts are fully paid off before giving to God. You need to give for your spiritual health, for your connection to the church, and for your own dignity. As my own pastor preached so memorably, “God will deny no one the honor of giving.” Your giving will be lower than you want it to be right now, but over time, as you pay down debts, you will regain the freedom to give more.
Q: What if I want to give more, and my spouse wants to give less?
A: It’s funny how that happens. In matters of giving, one person is usually the accelerator and the other is the brake. God must think the car needs both!
The Bible places such a high premium on unity in marriage (“the two shall become one”) that I think couples should keep talking until they reach a number they both feel good about. There must be zero coercion. This may mean that the person who wants to give less gradually comes to accept the higher number; or it may mean the person who wants to give more yields the right of way and accepts the lower number, knowing that this is the number that can be given with joy and with unity. It’s in this kind of decision where married people learn how to do what Paul said: “submit to one another” and to “bear with the failings of the weak.”
What I’ve seen is that when couples bring this spirit to “how much should we give?” they end up closer to each other.