I've only been in one church in my life where tithing was seen as a mark of good Christian conduct to the point to where if you didn't do it, you were judged for it. Unfortunately, it was one of the churches at which I was a minister. I neither encouraged it nor observed it. Hence, we were judged for not participating. Of course, little did the people who were judging us for our lack of participation in it realize that they were never doing it either. I say this because there is a lot of confusion about what the tithe actually was in the Bible and how we are to apply the principle of the tithe in the modern church (I do think the right principle is a necessity, but the wrong one is evil and a sin). What I always wanted to ask them is, Did Christ tithe? We are told that He became poor for our sakes, and that the foxes have holes and the birds have nests, but He had nowhere to lay His head. He was given gifts and money to live (they had a treasury to live off of), but we are never told that He tithes from it (nor should He have if we know the law of tithing).
So what we need to first do is ask two questions, What was a tithe in the Bible, and What is it for? If we fail to ask these two questions, we fail to have anything to correctly apply to our modern day, and then, the word "tithe" is just a falsely defined word that is being used to manipulate people.
So let's answer the first question, What was a tithe? The first thing about the tithe is likely something you already know. It was ten percent, but ten percent of what? This might surprise you to know, but a tithe was not money. It was food. The Israelites were to gather ten percent of whatever livestock they raised (Lev 27:32) or crops they grew (v. 30) and give it to its recipients (also see Deut 14:22). If the journey to the temple was too far, the Israelite was allowed to sell his tithe (i.e., food) and buy a variety of food for himself and eat as a feast to the Lord (Deut 14:24-28). If the tithe had anything to do with money, one would find it odd to suggest that someone sell money to get money. Of course, the tithe was never money. Even in Christ's day, the Pharisees are tithing, not just main food products, but even mint, dill, and cummin, which are spices. So the number one reason people today don't tithe is because the tithe is food. When is the last time you saw someone dump ten percent of the contents in their refrigerator in the offering plate? It would be a great statement about the tithe if you ever wanted to do it. The next time a televangelist tells you to send him ten percent, send him a bushel of wheat and a cow.
Now, you might say, but that was their form of money back then, so we now give ten percent of our form of money today. Actually, that is the furthest thing from the truth. Their form of money is our form of money. We just saw that a person could sell his tithe to get money. If you wanted to buy food, you needed money. If you wanted to buy property, you needed money. If you wanted to buy clothes, you needed money. Slaves cost twenty shekels. The earliest documents we have from the ancient Near East are accounting texts, where money transactions are being recorded. It's simply false to say that it was different then because of money. So what we can glean from this is that we do not tithe today. The tithe no longer exists.
But why might this be? Are we in sin because we don't tithe anymore? I think we need to answer the second question first before we answer that. So who was the tithe for? It was for three groups of people: the Levitical Priests (Num 18:26-28), the Levites as a tribe (Neh 10:37; Num 18:21-24), and the poor (Deut 14:27-29). The tithe of all of Israel was first given to the Levites as a tribe, since they had no land inheritance given to them. They had no way of raising livestock or farming. They were not given land because the tabernacle was their inheritance. Even though all Levites didn't take care of the tabernacle/temple, God set the tribe apart because it is from them that the priests would be chosen. Hence, their lives could be sustained by the tithing of food that was brought in. The tribe then gave a tenth of that tenth (a tithe of the tithe) to those serving in the Priesthood, so that the priests had food to eat (Neh 10:38-39). The poor were taken care of by going to those farms that were too far from the temple, and would store up food at their own residence, allowing both Levites and the poor (i.e., the traveler, the widow, the fatherless, as examples of those who have no food) who lived by to come and get food for themselves (Deut 14:29). The only one of these three groups that further tithe what they are given is the Levitical tribe, since they are the mediators between the people and the priests. The final recipients of the tithe do not tithe. They eat it.
So the tithe is food for the Levites and the priests, and the poor benefit as well from it. The questions are these: Do we have Levites anymore? The answer is, No. Do we have Levitical priests anymore? The answer is, No. Do we have the poor still? The answer is, Yes. Now, in application, we need to ask, Do we have something equivalent to the Levites today? The answer is, No. Do we have something equivalent to priests today? The answer is, Yes. So we have something like priests and the poor still with us. So why not still have a tithe?
I would answer by saying, We need to look to the New Testament as our guide in order to know what we should be doing with the tithe, since the group through which the tithe was given (i.e., the Levites) no longer exists as a tribe that Christians support.
In the New Testament, there is no mention of tithing as a requirement for Christians, likely because the Levitical tribe and priesthood are not their responsibility; but the two groups: those who are like priests and the poor are to be taken care of. Hence, we see that the principle of the tithe is that ministers and the poor are to be provided for by those in the Church, as they are without other means to live. This can be done both in sharing possessions and food, as well as giving money to support the lives of these groups.
We are told in Matthew 19:21 that Jesus tells the "Rich Young Ruler" to go sell his possessions and give the money to the poor so that he has treasure in heaven (of course, he doesn't do it). This command, however, is fulfilled by the Lord's church in Acts 2:25. We are told by Paul that churches in Achaia and Macedonia sent contributions to the poor in other churches. We are told that the Jerusalem council's primary exhortation to Paul as he was going out was that he remember the poor (i.e., to remember to take care of them) (Gal 2:9-10). James says that true religion takes care of a family that has lost its bread-winner in some way as long as the duration of this loss lasts (usually until the woman could remarry) (James 1:27--"visiting" in the NT has to do with bringing provisions for someone, not just showing up). John tells us that the love of God is evident only in a person who opens his heart to a fellow Christian in need (1 John 3:17). In fact, this is the reason given to Christians as to why they should work hard if they are able, i.e., so that they can give to anyone who might be in need (Eph 4:28).
But that's the poor. What about ministers? Well, ministers are like priests. They are poor because their lot in life is praying for, and working hard at preaching and teaching the Word of God to, the Church. Hence, Paul, who still works because wicked men attribute false motives to him, still argues that this is a crime against him. Nonetheless, he willing does it, but it is clear that he shouldn't have to. He says in First Corinthians 9:5-14:
Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working [implying that the other apostles do not work extra jobs]? Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard, and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock? I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? For it is written in the Law of Moses, "You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing." God is not concerned about oxen, is He? Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher [to thresh] in hope of sharing [the crops.] If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we should reap material things from you? If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things, that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the [food] of the temple, [and] those who attend regularly to the altar have their share with the altar? So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel .
In First Timothy 5:17-18, Paul reiterates this by saying:
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing," and "The laborer is worthy of his wages."
Notice that "honor" here means "money," as it does in Matthew 15:4-6. This is also indicated by the analogy he again uses of the ox at the threshing floor he used in First Corinthians to talk about money. Of course, the phrase, "the worker is worthy of his wages" again highlights that we are talking about money here. The elders, i.e., those who work hard at preaching and teaching, are to receive double the monetary income of the average individual in the congregation (something most churches are not obeying because of their own man-made opinions of what is sufficient for pastors to receive).
So the principle is that the poor and ministers of the gospel should be supported financially and provisionally. What this tell us is that the poor and ministers are not to be the ones doing the giving, since they are not the ones who are able to give. The tithe was given by those who had land to work. The provisions and money in the NT is given by those who have it. It is not a requirement, nor has it ever been a requirement, placed upon the recipients, but upon those who are the ones put in a position to give.
There is no mention of the tithe, however, in the NT texts, so is there a requirement for the church to give a ten percent donation of their earnings to the poor and to ministers? The answer is, No. Paul explains in Second Corinthians 8, that the churches in Macedonia gave according to their ability and even a little beyond on their own accord. He then argues that people give according to what they have, not according to what they do not have. Essentially, he argues, people should give according to what they are able so that "he who [gathered] much did not have too much, and he who [gathered] little had no lack." In other words, giving is in accord with what one has to give.
If someone is poor, let them receive. If someone has little, let them give little. If someone has much, let them give much. It is a sin to tell a poor man, or he who has little, to give much; and it is a crime to tell a man who has much to give little. Hence, the tithe as it is applied today in some churches, is an evil practice, because it rebels against what Paul says, and commands the poor man to give ten percent of his lack (something he needs to survive) and the man who is well off to give no real sacrifice at all (since ten percent of his money doesn't even cut into his living expenses at all--or as Christ told the disciples of lesser sacrifices, "they give from their surplus"). So it has the poor who need the money, give everything, and the rich who don't, give nothing of significance. Instead, the NT would have everyone, who is a giver, give according to what God has entrusted to them, and the recipients simply receive it in order to survive. The way the tithe is practiced today, it robs from the recipients and then judges them for not giving enough, all the while allowing the well off to give chump change to feel good about themselves. Ten percent of an $80,000 income leaves the person with $72,000 to live on. Ten percent of an income of $15,000 leaves $13,500 for the person to live on. So the money given is less, but the ability to live is less as well. The person who makes only $15,000 a year can't survive on that as it is. Is he to be judged by the person living on $72,000 a year after his tithe? Mē genoito!
Now, I am not saying that you should not give ten percent. Maybe that is the amount that allows you to live and give to others on top of that; but ten percent of a giver's income who needs all of it to survive is too much, and ten percent of a well off person's income, who has plenty of excess, is too little when God has given him so much for the very purpose of supporting the poor and ministers of the gospel.
So the principle of the tithe that we should apply today is this: that the poor and ministers should be supported by those who have the ability to take in a sufficient income (or has possessions to share) to support both themselves and others. Whatever that looks like will vary from person to person. As for the actual tithe, no one observes it anymore, not even the legalists who think they are. So let's do away with the law of the tithe, and apply its principle in love. For it is only then that we will show ourselves as lovers of God and His people through tangible means, rather than lovers of self through tangible means. Give until it hurts, but judge not the poor or ministers who give spiritually rather than financially, for they are Christ who, without your support, has nowhere to lay His head.