Some Christians worry that claiming a charitable gift as a deduction on an income tax form goes against biblical teaching. The Bible reveals that the motivation behind our giving is what matters to God. If a Christian makes a charitable donation strictly to gain a tax deduction, his or her motive for giving may indeed be wrong. However, if one’s heart intention for giving is pure and in line with God’s Word, there’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of the tax deduction, which is a legitimate benefit that the government has made available to every citizen.
Some Christians are concerned about losing their heavenly reward because of Jesus’ teaching about giving to the needy in the Sermon on the Mount: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:1–4).
Jesus said to give “in secret,” but that does not necessarily make claiming a tax deduction wrong. He was addressing the heart issue of religious hypocrisy in Matthew 6. When people put their generosity on public display or when they are more interested in gaining a reputation as big-hearted benefactors than in serving God, then they sin. Such religious hypocrites have already received their reward—a reputation—and should not expect any further heavenly blessing.
Tax returns are private and confidential documents, and receiving a deduction for charitable giving is nothing like sounding trumpets. It would be highly unlikely that anyone would claim a charitable deduction to show off his or her righteous deed to the IRS. It would be a stretch to say that Christ’s teaching in Matthew 6 about giving in secret applies to claiming a tax deduction for charitable giving.
The government has made a tax benefit available to all charitable donors, and believers are wise stewards to take advantage of it. The Bible teaches us to make the wisest possible use of the resources God has entrusted to our care (Luke 16:1–18). Rather than paying higher taxes to the government, God’s people receive even greater financial opportunity to further the work of God’s kingdom when they make use of legitimate deductions.