As parents of three college-age persons, my wife and I now have an early-year ritual. We file the tax returns, and then we file something called the FAFSA—the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This shows us exactly how much financial aid our kids will not get for college in the coming year.
Once you plug in your financial and tax information, the government spits back your Expected Family Contribution. This produced quite a surprise the first year we did it.
"Look at the number," I said. "It's almost exactly the amount we tithed last year."
We both said, "Hmmm," and then quickly dismissed a thought.
Tithing has been part of our marriage from the beginning. We wouldn't change that, but over 24 years, I'd be lying if I said our accompanying attitude was always great. We've either experienced or witnessed some interesting approaches to tithing. Some were slightly out of balance. Others were seriously twisted. The list goes something like this:
Tithing as a bribe to God. We can't be the only ones who ever thought, We'd better keep tithing because we're afraid of what might happen to us if we stopped. It's sort of like paying off the neighborhood mob boss every month to keep the riffraff out of your store.
I remember hearing a sermon once where the pastor said that God evens everything out—that, for instance, when we tithe, maybe the car doesn't break down so often or the kids don't get sick. Maybe that's true for some, but I've often found the opposite: When we decide to give a little extra, that's the week the car gives out. Sometimes it feels like a test.
Tithing as a padlock. As in, "We'd really like to be able to help that needy person down the street, but all our extra money is locked into that weekly tithe check." We never did this consciously, but thinking back, we certainly did it. I pray we never do it again.
Tithing as a tax deduction. Hey, it crosses all of our minds. Why do you think late December is the biggest income period for churches? Is this wrong? Certainly I won't refuse the deduction, but if tax savings is the prime motivator for giving, then I'm pretty sure it's not honoring God. A good test: Do we think twice about giving—substantially—to someone in need if they're not an IRS-recognized charitable organization?
Tithing as a political weapon. We've seen people withhold their tithe when they didn't like a change in a church's musical styles. Or the youth ministry. Or a pastor's salary. Or any number of other reasons that totally lose the point of giving and that must truly grieve God.