A farmer always keeps a portion of each harvest as seed stock to be planted the next season. If he didn't, he would not be able to grow another crop. As Christians, our tithe is our seed stock (2 Corinthians 9:10).
Proverbs 3:9-10 says that we need to honor God by giving Him the first fruits of our produce (income or compensation). Therefore the first portion of our income belongs to God.
It doesn't belong to anyone else—not even creditors.
God's Word makes it clear, however, that a vow (promise) of any kind is not to be taken lightly. Once someone has given his or her word, it becomes a binding contract.
So, before agreeing to any terms, it is assumed that an individual has carefully considered the consequences.
For the current generation, it appears that this concept is infrequently taught and seldom applied. A vow in today's world is often deemed to be something made under one set of circumstances and broken under another.
For example, a vow to pay a creditor is ignored when the purchased product loses its usefulness.
However, Psalm 37:21 says, “The wicked borrows and does not pay back, but the righteous is gracious and gives.”
Therefore, Christians must commit to pay back whatever they've borrowed, regardless of circumstances or how long it takes.
It really makes no difference whether it's a personal note or a business note. Solomon said, “It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay” (Ecclesiastes 5:5).
If you make a vow to pay—you must pay. If debts are made—debts must be paid.
So, if Christians feel that they can either pay their tithe or pay their debts—not both—what does God expect them to do?
A matter of the heart
The principle of tithing is just that—a principle. God is looking for the right attitude in a person's giving.
If there is not a true heart-felt willingness to give back to the Lord a portion of what He has entrusted to us, giving tithes upon tithes would be without purpose.
For people who feel that they cannot afford to give the full tithe because they have too much debt, yet they are willing and want to tithe, perhaps there is an option that can satisfy both situations.
Because God expects us to remain true to biblical principles, if we have made prior vows (in the form of taking on a debt) to man before making a vow to tithe to God, God directs that the vow be maintained in order to present a good witness (see Proverbs 22:1).
In such cases, the tithe should come from the money not already pledged to creditors, but available to disperse.
However, a commitment to give to God would certainly take precedence over any payment to creditors for debts contracted after a pledge was made to tithe.
It is a matter of the heart in giving to God.
Christians should be looking for reasons to give rather than looking for ways not to give.
Even though they may feel that they cannot afford to pay the full tithe, they need to commit to give something to the Lord. Under no circumstances should they refuse to give anything to the Lord.
Perhaps those in debt could start with a smaller amount than 10 percent and remain faithful to that commitment, increasing it as God provides.
Or, until they have relieved themselves of some of their encumbering debt, they could provide some sort of volunteer service to the church or to people in need within the body of Christ.