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What is a…
tithe

This is an Old Testament Hebrew practice, by which a 10th of the produce of the earth was consecrated and set apart for special purposes. It apparently began with Abraham.

The dedication of a 10th to God was recognized as a duty before the time of Moses. Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek (Genesis 14:20; Hebrews 7:6) and Jacob vowed to the Lord,

“Of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.”

Levitical laws about tithing

For the Israelites, there was not just one tithe, but multiple tithes amounting to at least 23-28%.

Every Jew was required by the Levitical law to pay 3 tithes of his property…

  1. one tithe for the Levites
  2. one for the use of the temple and the great feasts
  3. one for the poor of the land —Matthew G. Easton

And beyond the tithes, there were other contributions, vow offering, freewill offerings, and the mandatory giving of the firstborn of their herd or flock to the Lord (Deuteronomy 12:5-6). The Israelites were also expected to do other things to help support orphans, destitute widows and other impoverished people.

The first Mosaic law on tithing is found in Leviticus 27:30-32

“Every tithe of the land,
whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees,
is the Lord's;
it is holy to the Lord.

If a man wishes to redeem some of his tithe, he shall add a fifth to it.

And every tithe of herds and flocks, every tenth animal of all that pass under the herdsman’s staff, shall be holy to the Lord. —Leviticus 27:30-32 ESV

Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy specify the legal destination of the tithes.

At that time the theocratic government was also the civil government, so the tithes probably also included taxes. —Dr. Henry M. Morris, The Defender's Study Bible (Iowa Falls, Iowa: World Publishing, 1995)

About the Levites and tithes

One tithe went to support the Levites, because the Tribe of Levi (the Levites) did not receive income producing land in Canaan, as did all the other tribes. The Levites had a special call to God’s service; they were soley dedicated to the service of God—in the Tabernacle and the Temple—they were not farmers or herders or shopkeepers. They needed some source of income to survive. The Lord provided this…

“To the Levites I have given every tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service that they do, their service in the tent of meeting, so that the people of Israel do not come near the tent of meeting, lest they bear sin and die.

But the Levites shall do the service of the tent of meeting, and they shall bear their iniquity. It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, and among the people of Israel they shall have no inheritance. For the tithe of the people of Israel, which they present as a contribution to the Lord, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance. Therefore I have said of them that they shall have no inheritance among the people of Israel.” —Numbers 18:21-24 ESV

The Levites were also commanded by God to tithe…

“Moreover, you [Moses] shall speak and say to the Levites,

‘When you take from the people of Israel the tithe that I have given you from them for your inheritance, then you shall present a contribution from it to the Lord, a tithe of the tithe.

And your contribution shall be counted to you as though it were the grain of the threshing floor, and as the fullness of the winepress.

So you shall also present a contribution to the Lord from all your tithes, which you receive from the people of Israel. And from it you shall give the Lord's contribution to Aaron the priest. —Numbers 18:26-28 ESV

The paying of the tithes was an important part of the Jewish religious worship. In the days of Hezekiah, one of the first results of the reformation of their religion was the eagerness with which the people brought in their tithes (2 Chronicles 31:5-6).

The neglect of this duty was sternly rebuked by the prophets (Amos 4:4; Mal. 3:8-10). —Matthew G. Easton

Scripture does not command followers of Christ to give a 10th of anything

New Testament Scripture does not bind the Christian Church to tithing. Nevertheless, desires that Christians not neglect providing a means of living for those whose lives are fully devoted to proclaiming the Gospel

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 from the altar?

So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel. —1 Corinthians 9:13-14 NASB

So, the principle of supporting those devoted to God’s full-time service remains, although no specific percentage is commanded in the New Testament. As Christians, we are to be motivated by love of God and man, and ought to give abundantly in the cause of spreading the Gospel and in the service of God in support of work that is truly good and righteous.

Certainly, we should not be miserly, concerned only with selfish goals. If anything, the need to have people devoted to God’s service is even greater than in Old Testament times, so Christians should give as the Lord enables them, perhaps even going beyond the ancient Hebrews in consecrating both themselves and their substance to God.

The amount or percentage is no longer compulsory; it is totally a matter of free will—and a private matter between the Believer and His Savior.

Why we give

We are to remember that we are aliens in this world, our true home is above, and so our lives should not be focused on the temporary pleasure and pursuits of worldliness, but rather on the goals of the Kingdom of God. And, if our efforts are provided in God’s service out of a heart of true love and devotion, and not done for matters of pride or seeking personal honor, our Lord promises to abundantly reward, in Eternity, our every good effort in His service.

2 Corinthians 9:5-15 (NASB) strongly commends those Christians who give generously and joyfully in God’s service,

…a bountiful gift and not affected by covetousness.

…Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.

Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; as it is written,

“He scattered abroad, he gave to the poor,
His righteousness endures forever.”

Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God.

For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God.

Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all, while they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

Support of a local pastor

Supporting a local pastor to the living standard of those he is serving is not such an unreachable goal when one realizes that it merely takes 10 local Believers giving a 10th of their income.

Also see: Supporting God’s work and His workers—Tips for New and Growing Christians