In 1 Timothy 5:8 Paul says that a man is “worse than an unbeliever” if he does not provide for his family. This strong and clear instruction is directed specifically to those who are responsible for elderly and dependent family members who are unable to care for themselves. Biblically speaking, there’s no question that we have a responsibility for our children, for our parents, and for others in the immediate family.
But how does this relate to the issue of tithing? Is it right to take money earmarked for the church and redirect it to the needs of your parents? Under the financially strained conditions of today’s economic climate this is likely to become a very real dilemma for an increasing number of believers. And interestingly enough, there is scriptural precedent for resolving it in favor of the claims of the family. The relevant passage is found in Mark 7:9-13:
He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban” (that is, a gift to God) – then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
Jesus responded harshly when the Pharisees raised the question of whether the immediate needs of aging parents should take precedence over “tithes” to the religious establishment. As the text indicates, corban is a Hebrew word denoting a gift specially set aside and devoted to the work of God. The Pharisees taught that one should take care of the “church” – that is, the temple system of their day – first. Jesus’ reaction seems to imply that we have an even more important responsibility to take care of the family.
We’d suggest that, if at all possible, it would be wise to avoid placing yourself in a position where these two obligations end up coming into conflict with one another. Both are biblical commands and admonitions, and both should be faithfully carried out. Here, as in so many other areas, it’s a matter of achieving the proper balance.
We realize, of course, that some couples may be so strapped for funds that they feel as if they have to choose one or the other. The fact is that most of us must eventually either 1) put our parents in some sort of extended care facility, or 2) take them home to live with us until they die. Few people plan for this eventuality, and when it hits it can be fiscally devastating.
Still, we’re of the opinion that it doesn’t have to be an either/or decision. It may simply be a question of doing something differently in some other area of life, such as deferring or canceling a vacation, buying cheaper clothes, postponing an investment opportunity, or driving your old car for another five years. In our estimation, all of these other spending choices should have a lower priority than either tithing or helping parents financially.
If you need help applying these concepts to your situation, don’t hesitate to give our counseling staff a call. They’d be happy to listen to your concerns and assist you with some practical suggestions. They can also provide you with referrals to advisors and counselors who specialize in helping families with financial issues.
Caring for Your Aging Loved Ones
Money and Finances