Giving Whilst In Debt

I’ve had a couple of people say to me that of course you can give (money) whilst you are in debt, but I’ve kind of had my doubts about whether this is what God would want. The thing is about debt is that we enter an obligation to pay it back even though we don’t know whether we will be able to do so or not (simply because we do not know the future). It occurred to me that it would be good to pay back debt if you are able to do so, because you would be meeting your obligation and it might mean that you don’t default on your debt and fail to meet your obligation.

Also, it’s not even your money to give, really it belongs to the person who lent you money.

So there seemed to me good reason to not give money away whilst you were in debt. But then I was faced with the argument that then we would have a giving crisis in the church and everyone would stop giving. However, today I gave this point some further thought…

… I realised that if you pay off your debt sooner rather than later then you have to repay less money (less interest that is) because of the reduced period over which you were having to pay interest. Thus, over your lifetime, if you did not give whilst you were in debt but rather repaid your debt more quickly, you would be able to give more. You would be giving the lenders less of your money which would mean that you could give more of your money away. So it would appear to be in the interest of all for us to pay off our debts quickly, even if it meant stopping giving whilst we were in debt.

Of course the risk is that if you quickly pay off your debts, therefore ending up with more money you might just spend it on yourself or choose to take out another debt thereby stopping your giving again!

I can’t say that I find voluntarily owing somebody something an overly attractive situation to be in, I can only imagine that it restricts your options in life.Wah-Wah buy

11 thoughts on “Giving Whilst In Debt

  1. re: “Also, it’s not even your money to give, really it belongs to the person who lent you money.”

    Is anything really ours anyway? I’m reminded of the bit in the Anglican liturgy after the offering where we say words to the effect of

    “we only give to God what is his already”

  2. Yeah!!! You’re not wrong!

    Recently I was thinking about private property and ‘the commons’ (shared property, such as the planet – in theory) when I realised that in the new kingdom everything is shared and nothing is privately ours.

    So, if nothing is ours, when we borrow surely we are incurring a shared debt on our brothers and sisters? We treat going into debt as a private matter when actually it affects the whole church. Hmmm, I will have to give this some more thought – thanks Phil.


  3. I recall Tom Sine suggesting in terms of Kingdom values that the church should set up their own mortgage lending service charging no or little interest to the borrowers. Wealthy individuals could help their brothers and sisters instead of sitting on vast amounts of money, investing in dodgy companies, buying shares ( making money without doing anything!! – which Ghandi saw as a one of the major social sins) and generally making money that they most probably don’t need. This would in turn release these younger people to live more balanced lives and also financially contribute sooner to Kingdom concerns.

    In terms of people getting in debt – it is so part of the culture we live in – people are not prepared to wait for gadgets etc – and want them now….. delayed gratification seems to be such an outdated concept – but perhaps still a relevant one….

  4. I like that idea James. I’ve read a couple of books on economics from a Christian persepective and they said that investing in something that you are close to and involved with, and participating in the risk instead of demanding a flat return on investment (as interest) is a really positive thing to do. I can see that helping each other out in the way Tom Sine suggests being really positive.

    Fantastic – more to think through! 🙂

    Yes, I think that people have become far to confident about their ability to repay (perhaps because of the last 14 years of boom) and thus they don’t see a need to wait for what they want.

    I’ve even got a Christian friend on an interest only mortgage – so he’s not even trying to repay the debt!!! I just don’t get it! 🙁



  5. Hi Mark,
    Interesting subject – I have been recently pondering the whole area of tithing (which is giving with a different name) even when things are tight.

    I have discovered through experience that when i tithe 10% despite finances being tight – God seems to bless me. Where does that type of giving fit in it all? Is it that as long as we honour God in the giving?

  6. Hi Suse,

    In my mind ultimately everything we do needs to be because God asks us, ideally we are led by the spirit, which in turn means not being lead by rules (tithe for example).

    Personally I’m rather cynical about tithing as it seems to belong in an era where we didn’t have the ability to have God’s spirit lead us. Bizarrely tithing today is a rather distorted version of tithing in the Old Testament, but the call to give today is far in excess of the requirements of tithing.

    To be honest, many give their lives 100% and don’t see any earthly blessing, but rather see a heavenly blessing. Measuring how well we meet God’s wishes is rather a difficult thing – better to only do what we know he requires – i.e. operate according to the faith we have, however small.

    If that means giving everything when we have little then fantastic – how amazing!

    I note that even Christ told us to give to whom we owe – taxes for example. I would always recommend that people pay off their debts – if it’s not yours then it isn’t yours to give, it should be paid back. I’m not saying that this is a hard and fast rule, but it seems to make sense as a general principle.



  7. Hi James (from Oregon),

    Thanks. Any comment on your experiences in your church with this issue?

    Here is another, previous, post on debt:

    As an extra comment: I find it interesting that in the Old Testament we find debt used as a form of charity – i.e. in circumstances of extreme need, not expecting repayment, etc.



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  9. But Mark … I’ve got a mortgage. Have you? I’ll be in debt on my mortgage until 2029 at the current rate of payment. If I stop my charitable donations, including to my church, I can pay off my mortgage in 2022. Personally and selfishly, that sounds very appealing. My church will suffer, and some charities will be disappointed, but perhaps they will feel better if I tell them I can give to them in 16 years’ time.
    A small example but it shows the difficulty of line-drawing. It’s not hard to think of hundreds of others: e.g., “sorry, I can’t give any money to the Tsunami appeal because someone lent me a fiver for lunch yesterday”.
    “Debt” is far too small a word to use to describe the way people use money nowadays. Globally, I am extremely wealthy compared to billions of other people who are not in debt but are in desperate need. It’s not as simple as a single figure in black or red summing everything up. Unfortunately it’s also about the power that you have – so be a shrewd manager.
    I think, Mark, that I will trade your “general principle” of not giving when in debt for my “general principle” of tithing which you find bizarre. You can be cynical about tithing if you want but Suse, I and many others I know of understand what it does and how it works. You could give it a go…

  10. Hi Dom. No I don’t have a mortgage – We don’t own our own home. Strangely enough, at the moment, it is cheaper to rent than to buy a house (all things considered, including the fact that you don’t own the house at the end).

    A point I was trying to make in the original post implies that in your case you would be able to give more charitable donations by 2029 if you paid off your mortgage as quickly as possible…

    I don’t think that there is anything selfish in trying to pay off a debt.

    I do think that debt is still a useful word – it still helps us appreciate the trouble we can get in to. Take a mortgage for example: Say you take out a mortgage for 200K, say that the value of the property then falls to 30K because of, say, a human flu pandemic and you lose your job (because of global recession caused by the pandemic) and can’t keep up repayments. You lose the house, yet because of the way things work you still owe a bundle of money on the mortgage (a common misconception is that repossession is the end of your debt). You continue to work to pay off the mortgage – if you are lucky you go bankrupt and merely suffer other consequences.

    It seems to me that debt helps us recognise the position we get into. Sure it’s not politically correct, but it is factually correct. I believe that as Christians we are called to be particularly responsible towards other people.

    The general principle isn’t “not giving whilst in debt”, it’s “not getting into debt”. A very simple principle. Tithing is not a principle it is a in dept set of rules. Here is an interesting commentary on tithing:

    Believe me, I’ve done tithing before – I soon realised it didn’t achieve what is asked of me and also it helped maintain the problematic status quo of the church.

    All that we have is God’s – not just 10% of our income.



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