Many people who want to give charitably and tithe to the local church have been asking me recently what my thoughts are on how to navigate giving versus debt reduction. It’s challenging question that I’ve been asked a lot. This time I reached out to one of my mentors – Ed Underwood – with the thought that he would have wiser, more seasoned reflections. As a result, he wrote the post below sharing some of his thoughts that I think are a helpful conversation starter regardless of where you land on the topic.
Guest Post by Ed Underwood
After conversations with hundreds of Christian seeking guidance concerning their finances, one question occurs more frequently than any other: Does God want us to give to the Lord’s work even when we’re deep in debt?
The underlying assumption is that God is more displeased with debt than He is with Christians who do not engage in their community responsibilities to support the work of the local church. The presenting strategy is, “We need to get our finances under control, then we’ll have enough to give.”
One well-meaning believer pulled me aside after a sermon on stewardship to remind me that a believer should live free from the love of money. I agreed with his statement, but then I asked him some probing questions: What’s the difference between a believer who loves to spend their money and a believer who loves to save their money? Isn’t it possible that both could be putting their trust in money rather than the Lord? Wouldn’t that make them both idolators?
Jesus said plainly in Matthew 6:19-21 that our heart follows our money. It’s not the other way around. It isn’t that I should get my heart right and then I can invest in His kingdom with pure motives. It’s that God knows our flesh is hardwired to trust in money. So, the flow of our money not only reveals what we really believe about our security and happiness, it also pulls our heart toward the final resting place of our money. And that’s true whether the final resting place is an impulse buy that brings temporary happiness or a savings account that makes us feel secure.
I’m unsettled with the “Christians are inferior if they have debt, tear up your credit cards for Jesus” crowd. There are relatively few passages in Scripture that tell followers of the God of the Bible to live debt free. Admittedly, there are verses in Proverbs teaching us the wisdom of managing our money. But this concentration on living debt free as the number one priority of our relationship to our money before God seems to me to be a decidedly first world concept.
For most Christians in our present world and through church history, the pressing problem for them is to find the money to survive. Yet, God is asking them to invest in His kingdom from their poverty. An idolatrous heart is relying on money rather than God. For some reason we’ve decided that those who are building portfolios are more spiritual than those who are living beyond their means.
The solution isn’t to replace one idolatrous view with another idolatrous view. The solution is to change our idolatrous heart. I believe that the only way to rescue, deliver, or save my idolatrous heart from the love of money is to invest in Jesus’ kingdom. When I send my money to my church, a missionary, or a work bringing healing in the name of Christ, my heart follows. I start thinking about the church or the missionary or the work instead of what I could buy or how I could invest.
When someone asks me the question, “Should I give to the Lord’s work even when I’m in debt?” I answer, “Yes, you should.” I know that the only hope for their idolatrous heart is to start investing something in what the Lord is doing on earth. It may only be $20/week, or 4% of their income. But it’s a start on the path toward healing.
Question: How have you seen your investments in the Lord’s work change your heart and your attitude toward your money?