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Your Own Household Is First

Question: Siobhan in Boston says her husband is from West Africa and a big giver. He wants to give above a 10% tithe even though they’re getting out of debt. He says they can’t say no to someone in need. Siobhan thinks it may be a bit cultural as well.

Answer: One of the things I figured out about my giving is no matter how much I give, I’m not God. I can’t fix everything. What do you mean “if someone’s in need”? If someone is in need, there is somebody in need within 20 feet of you at any time. You have to get over your Messiah complex that you’re not God. You can’t fix everybody. I can’t help everybody. I mechanically and mathematically can’t do it.

Biblically speaking, the Bible says to take care of your own household first, or you’re worse than an unbeliever. The best way that he can help his extended family and the best way that he can help others is to get himself clear of debt. The borrower is slave to the lender. It’s very difficult to be a generous slave.

What I teach people and what I have lived is if you will live like no one else, later you can give like no one else. But I meet people who are unwise with their giving to the point that they destroy their ability to give. If you mess up your home life because you give so much to the extended family, then you kind of messed up the whole deal. That’s not a cultural thing. Some cultures drive that more than others, and it is driven by if you come out of poverty that it motivates you even more sometimes, sometimes less.

Yes, I want him to be able to help his brother in Africa, but not until he takes care of his own household. That’s not selfish. I’m not suggesting you guys go on a European cruise and don’t help his brother. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m not talking about luxuries. I’m talking about you’ve got to take care of the basic necessities, and the first step to doing that is to get a solid financial plan built with an emergency fund and to be debt-free. Then your family will be in a position that he should be able to help a lot of his family members and even countrymen. I’m okay with that, but even then, you’ll never make enough money … You can’t fix all of West Africa because it’s a cultural thing. You just won’t ever have enough. Even the United States government, which gives billions, will never have enough to fix something financially.

You ought to do what you can do with what you have, and the order of events on giving is always take care of your own household first, and that includes building the basic financial things—not huge luxuries, but it includes that. Then from there forward it includes—once you’re out of debt and you’ve built some wealth—giving at a reasonable level, at a good level, a generous level, and it includes some lifestyle things. I don’t want your family to drive a 25-year-old car and have never enjoyed anything while you make $200,000 a year because you give it all away. I don’t think that’s biblical either. There are people who teach that, but there’s no substance for that in Scripture. Again, I don’t think you ought to consume everything. I think you’ve got to go at it with a generosity.

If you’ll think about it this way, what would you want your children to do as they grow up? What would a loving father want his kids to do? I’ll tell you what I want mine to do. I want them to experience the joy of being generous. I want them to be unbelievably generous, but I want them to be responsible adults too, which means I want them to take care of their own household, and if they work really hard, as their dad, I want them to enjoy a little bit of their wealth, give a bunch of it, and make sure that their household is taken care of. And make sure that they take care of my grandkids. That’s what a loving father wants his kids to do. I want them to enjoy it, to enjoy generosity, and to be wise savers. That’s what your Heavenly Father would do too because He’s a loving father. I don’t want my children to live in poverty so that they can give everything they make away. I think that’s toxic. I really disagree with that. It’s not greedy to enjoy the fruits of your labor to a reasonable degree. There’s no greed in that at all.

You’ve got to balance that out. You can’t be Jesus. He’s Jesus. You can’t do everything for everybody. You can only do what you can do. You start with laying a solid foundation so that you can do more later. That’s my answer. But I don’t know that I can get him to do that. That’s what he should do.

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