Here’s a question I recently received:
Hi Brett, I have a theological dilemma that I need your advice on. A friend, who is married and has 3 young kids and a wife that isn’t working, has guilt about not being able to tithe.
I have tried all the usual tactics about being under the New Covenant and tithing isn’t required anymore, but that you should give as much as you can. Then he brought up the widow’s offering in Mark 12:41–44, saying that it is excellent in Jesus’ eyes to give to the point that it hurts. I think that’s a valid point. But then I think it’s also a valid argument that God expects him to take care of his family—right? If he takes away from his family to give alms, isn’t that also wrong?
(1) It doesn’t seem Jesus’ point is that on a normative basis we should give until it hurts. Particularly given the immediate context, it seems like the larger point is a comparison between the outward righteousness of the religious authorities not being a true demonstration of love for God and what true love for God does actually look like. So I don’t think we’re obligated to take that passage as a command to give until it hurts, even though there is occasion to do so.
(2) Secondly, your friend is not in a parallel situation to the widow, who does not seem to have family to care for, so you cannot simply draw a direct comparison between the two. Your friend has a wife and kids, so he has to balance giving with his obligations to feed, clothe, and shelter them. The Bible does offer clear guidance on taking care of one’s family.
(3) Giving isn’t just about giving money. When one isn’t in a position to give monetarily, it doesn’t mean he or she has nothing to give. We can give of our time, our service, our current resources like a car, home, etc. So maybe during this season of financial struggle, giving to the Lord’s work looks different from just putting money in the offering plate. Maybe it’s taking a skill he has and offering it to someone else in need.
(4) Lastly, sometimes there is a time and place to give when it hurts. Maybe this is one of those times. But I think this has to be done in harmony with his wife so that they are of one mind. If she doesn’t agree, I would say don’t do it. And they must take into consideration whether or not giving puts their own family in jeopardy. If so, don’t do it.