Is It Possible To Give Too Much?

by Kevin on March 21, 2012

Can we ever give too much—to church, to charity, to other people? Usually the question goes in the opposite direction—we don’t give enough.

I’ll admit that on the surface this question seems almost ridiculous, but it is actually possible to give too much. Also, we have to be careful that we don’t attach subjective numbers to the range of what is too much. For one person giving 30% of their income may not be too much; for another giving 5% may be way out of bounds. It all depends on personal circumstances.

The advice from Solomon

“My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor,
if you have shaken hands in pledge for a stranger,
you have been trapped by what you said,
ensnared by the words of your mouth.
So do this, my son, to free yourself,
since you have fallen into your neighbor’s hands:
Go—to the point of exhaustion—[a]
and give your neighbor no rest!
Allow no sleep to your eyes,
no slumber to your eyelids.
Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter,
like a bird from the snare of the fowler.”—Proverbs 6:1-5

This passage doesn’t deal with charitable giving strictly speaking, but it does cover over-extending ourselves, and strange as that might sound, that can include giving as well.

I’ve seen this first hand. Early in my accounting career one of the clients I worked with was a couple who owned various businesses which collectively produced only a modest income. They were devout Christians and committed to giving to the Church and to related causes. Their hearts were certainly in the right place, but unfortunately their finances weren’t. They were giving about 50% of their income each year.

What’s wrong with that? Many of their necessary expenses—income taxes, debt payments, etc—weren’t being paid. They were so committed to their faith that they assumed that as long as they were so generous with their giving that God would take care of their finances. This comes dangerously close to “putting the Lord to the test” (Luke 4:12, Deuteronomy 6:16) and is not well advised. It was evident in the state of their finances, which had deteriorated steadily in the three years that I prepared their income tax returns.

Factors that can (and should) limit giving

You might gather at this point that I’m not a big fan of percentage giving and that’s pretty much true. Percentage giving works best for people who have uncomplicated financial situations. Getting to that point should be a goal for all of us, but there are factors that make percentage giving—and sometimes any giving at all—a form of overextending ourselves. What are those factors?

Unemployment or under-employment. Sometimes we’re in positions where we’re the receivers of charity, not the givers of it. If you’re in a situation where your income is compromised, you’re not in a position to give as generously as you might think you should. You’re probably maintaining some minimal level of survival and if so, that’s where your money needs to be, at least until the crisis passes.

Family obligations. This is subjective of course, but your family shouldn’t do without necessities in order for you to be able to give. Food, medical care, shelter, clothing and basic transportation need to be provided before any money is given out.

Medical problems. Whether the medical issues are yours or a member of your family, you must tend to your obligations at home first. This might be another of those times when you should be on the receiving side of giving, and that’s perfectly OK. You’ll have plenty of time to be a giver once the crisis passes.

High Debt. If you have large debt obligations your ability to give has been compromised. It’s not that your debt is more important than the Church or the people in need around you, but rather that your giving might effectively be borrowed money.

Delinquent credit. If your past due on debt payments, you have obligations that need to be satisfied. If you’re giving, but have obligations you haven’t paid, you’re being charitable with someone else’s money—the people you owe but aren’t paying. Somehow I doubt that God blesses that.

Excessive obligations. This can include debt, but it’s not limited to it. Large (in relation to your income) house payments, car loans and other obligations can cut into your giving. It may be that you’ll need to eliminate the offending obligation(s) from your life before you’ll be able to give at higher levels.

Unemployment/under-employment, family obligations and medical problems are necessary limits to our giving. As responsible stewards of our families, we must take care of those entrusted to us. That may limit or preclude giving many times.

But the rest of the list are limitations we mostly create ourselves, which means we have an obligation to clean them up ourselves. It’s a matter of getting our house in order so that we’re in a position to give without running from our responsibilities. Jesus would have it that way.

“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”—Matthew 6:24

Before we can become as generous with our giving as we’d like to be, we first have to eliminate a few “masters” so that we can properly serve our one, true Master.

Do you think it’s possible to give too much? What other factors do you think could limit our giving?

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