Should The Jobless Tithe On Unemployment Benefits?

The Village Green section of Christianity Today magazine which presents answers from leading Christians to pressing questions. CTI asked me to contribute to this question for their March 2011 edition. Here is what I said.

Yes, with generosity!

Perhaps the greatest tragedy of the recent economic meltdown is long-term unemployment, a reality in which many thought they would never find themselves. For the first time, hardworking, well-intentioned individuals are paying their bills with the income they receive from government checks instead of their profession or trade.

During these tough times, it is easy for churchgoing, typically responsible Christians to fall off the radar as they deal with the shame of being unable to provide for themselves or their families. In these times, it is more important than ever that Christians seek out pastors, leaders, and friends who can provide loving community and accountability to be faithful stewards in times of hardship.

Scripture does not speak directly to the topic of tithing on an income that is not your own, so I am reluctant to say firmly, “Yes, give this much.” But the Bible has much to say on the subject of generosity and gratitude.

There are four questions church leaders and others can ask to help someone struggling with tithing on their unemployment benefits.

• Do you see unemployment benefits as part of God’s provision for your life?

• Are you continuing to practice generosity in every area: time, talent, and treasure?

• How does giving a portion of your unemployment benefits differ from giving apportion of your “employed” benefits?

• Would giving a portion of your unemployment benefits demonstrate gratitude that God is providing for you in this season of your life?

Generosity is a condition of the heart. As resources come into the hands of a generous person, he or she can’t help giving them away. It’s second nature. A lifestyle of generosity should not stop when times are hard. If anything, tithing when income is low reinforces gratitude and trust, as it reminds the giver that God can use even the smallest gift to accomplish his will. It also reminds me that I am always dependent on God for my sustenance, whether I have savings in the bank and a regular paycheck or not. This is where Christian community should be most apparent, in encouraging and supporting each other to live out generosity in tough times.

I’m not going to argue that a specific percentage be given, just as I wouldn’t in responding to an employed individual. That is between the individual and God. Living a generous lifestyle is not an obligation but rather an opportunity. It is something I get to do for God’s kingdom, not something I have to do.

As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 9:7–8, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

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