I once read a definition of debt as “excessive charity.” My initial reaction was to disagree with the statement, as I tend to think of debt as resulting from either living beyond one’s means or from hardships, such as the loss of a job. I had never considered that some people might be in debt due to giving away too much of their money. I don’t have any idea what portion of America’s debt-riddled masses might have gotten into that state through excessive charity. I am still inclined to believe that most consumer debt results from the desire to ‘have our cake now and pay for it later’ and the hardships that have been imposed by our recent and ongoing economic crisis.
Nevertheless, an examine of when to give to charity and how much to give is an important part of our discussion of honoring God with our money. The Bible is clear that those who have more resources than they need are to share with those less fortunate than themselves. Many people are tempted to give to every good cause. And there are many, many good causes to which we feel obligated to donate. In fact, the IRS reports that there are 1.5 million tax-exempt organizations in the United States. They each represent a ‘good’ cause that we might be tempted to support. To protect our budgets and not go into debt through giving, it is important to have a plan for giving and standards to determine the causes or groups to which one will donate.
Here are some considerations to keep in mind when planning charitable donations:
1) Tithing is the first priority. Christians are directed to tithe one-tenth of the income to the work of the church. Giving to other charities should be above and beyond tithing. God clearly distinguished tithes from other giving, as in Deuteronomy 12:11, “Then to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name—there you are to bring everything I command you: your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, and all the choice possessions you have vowed to the Lord.”
2) Determine what you can afford to give. Everyone should have a budget and giving to charitable causes should be included. Those who have more excessive income should be more generous than those with less. Don’t try to ‘out give’ others. In 1 Corinthians 16:2, Paul reminded us that giving should be based on income, “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.”
3) Give for the right reasons. The right reason to give is because you identify with the charity and feel led to support it. The wrong reason is to receive the praise of men through recognition and status. Jesus told his followers, “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” (Matthew 6:2)
4) Pray for God to direct your giving. As you pray, God will lay burden’s on your heart. You cannot give to every good cause. God only expects you to give as He instructs you. In Exodus 25:2, God commanded the Israelites to bring an offering. “You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to.”
5) Give to charities that share your values. As a Christian, I have an obligation to use the money God has provide to me in a wise manner. This includes supporting charities that further God’s kingdom. It also includes giving to causes that don’t directly support our Christian mission but that are not in conflict with it. Such causes might fund medical research or help to protect our environment.
6) Seek our charities that have low administrative costs. Using God’s money wisely involves giving to charities that are well-managed and whose administrator are not receiving exorbitant salaries. All tax-exempt charities must provide information on what percent of donations is used for administrative and fundraising expenses. This number should be less than about 15 – 20%.
I encourage everyone to give within their means and as God leads them to the causes that move your heart. I firmly believe that if everyone does their part, many needs will be met.
What is your position on giving to charity? What charitable organizations do you support?