I figure I need to make a full post about it since whenever I have it mentioned in a budget, I get what I call the "Tithe Question". It comes in many forms, but the basic one is "Can't you just hold off the tithe until your out of debt?"
Mathematically, the tithe while in debt does not make any sense in a worldly way. The math says to pay off the debt that is charging you interest first, then the money you saved on interest could be given to the church. I will agree math wise that it is a bad idea to tithe while in debt.
One problem with that viewpoint is when should I exactly start? Should I skip tithing until my mortgage is paid off (6% interest rate there)? With $6K/year of a tithe, I would wipe away $360 of interest in the first year alone (and $360 every year after that). What if I could do an investment that brings in 10% annually? That would be $600 more I could give at the end of the year. Won't I have more to give later on then? When do I give then?
Tithing is about making me more like God. He gives us breath every moment, graces us with still some more time to accept Jesus as our savior to forgive our sins. Tithing is a continual reminder to us that God is in control of our finances and our lives. "'A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD." Lev 27:30
I don't know how long I have to live on this planet. I could die right after typing this or I could be blessed with 80 more years of life. I struggle with the tithe question all the time, I've been able to convince myself at times that the math viewpoint is correct, but the problem is that I don't really track how much I need to give in the future. By myself, I am selfish. With the LORD in me, I am giving and caring.
The other problem with the math question is that there are real needs today, not in the future. Some people may feel that their local church is squandering the money given to them, but there are many churches changing lives today. I know I would have been out of electricity for a couple of months a year ago if my church didn't step up and help. I would have also been out of running water for a while (or used my mortgage payment that was already 2 months behind) if my church didn't help. These were times when I wasn't tithing (so please don't discuss with me about these are examples of why I shouldn't be tithing now).
My major goal right now is yes, get us out of debt, but I don't want that to be the only thing said at my eulogy. I'll cut the other expenses, drive a little less, work a little harder, yet still seek to tithe.
"Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the LORD your God." Ex 23:19