Lets look at the Historical and Cultural Setting:
It must be remembered that the laws of tithing were written for an agrarian society that had no currency. Translations that say “money” are not accurate in that the word is usually silver although sometimes gold. No coins or money as we know it existed. It is not until the ninth and tenth centuries BC that we begin to see coins in the archaeological record being used for trade.
Tithes were counted, weighed, and measured in the form of animals, grain, and produce generally 3 times a year; then brought to the Temple every third year.
“At the end of every three years you shall bring forth all the tithe of your produce in the same year, and lay it up within your towns;” Deut. 14:28
“…and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” Gen. 14:20 [see also Lev 27:30-32; Num 18:21-28; Deut 14:22-23; Ezek. 45:11-14]
A very small portion was used for burnt offerings. The bulk of the tithe was given as income to the Priests and Levites for their income as they had no inheritance of land within Israel. Out of the animal tithe the Priests increased their income by running tannery businesses from which they then paid a tithe on their increase. The other Levites lived among the people in the various towns to minister by teaching and caring for the widows, orphans, and the sojourners.
Another aspect of tithing was basically having a party! Taking a portion of ones tithe and buying food and drink which was shared with everyone, from the Levite within your town to your maid and manservant and the traveler; rejoicing in the Lord.
“And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to bring the tithe, when the LORD your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the LORD your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money,(silver) and bind up the money in your hand, and go to the place which the LORD your God chooses, and spend the money (silver) for whatever you desire, oxen, or sheep, or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves; and you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household.” Deut. 14:24-26 [see also Deut 12:5-19; 14:27-29; 26:12-15]
“When thou hast made an end of tithing all the tithes of thine increase the third year, which is the year of tithing, and hast given it unto the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat within thy gates, and be filled” Deut. 26:12
You were not to tithe from the seed corn, but the increase only. For us this would be from the net not the gross.
Additional References: Amos 4:4; Mal 3:8,10; Neh 10:37-38; 12:44; 13:5, 12; 2Chr 31:5-6, 12
As we move into the New Testament:
We are not instructed anywhere in the New Testament to tithe. What we do find is that the congregations were making “contribution” for the poor among the congregations.
“For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem” Rom. 15:26 [see also 1Cor. 16:1]
The point is: “he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work. As it is written, “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures for ever.” He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your resources and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for great generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God; for the rendering of this service not only supplies the wants of the saints but also overflows in many thanksgivings to God. Under the test of this service, you will glorify God by your obedience in acknowledging the gospel of Christ, and by the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others; while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” 2 Cor. 9:6-15
Those who were to give were “cheerful givers” and not under compulsion. They gave out of their increase for those in need. The congregations had appointed those who would store and distribute the contributions; most of which were food and clothing, not money. It was specifically requested that this activity, that of collecting contributions, was to be conducted on the first day of the week NOT the Sabbath.
“On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that contributions need not be made when I come.” 1Cor. 16:2
Was it expected that all in the gathering would have increase from which to contribute?
“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; he who teaches, in his teaching; he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” Rom. 12:6-8
What about our priests/ pastors/ teachers …?
“for the scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” 1 Tim. 5:18
All laborers deserve to be paid, just as we deserve to be paid for the time we put in. Let us keep in mind however, that even the priest of Israel did not depend solely on the sacrifices for their income. They took that income and increased it through actual work; the tanneries. Also the tithing that went to the Levites came only out of the increase. In other words; if you deduct your expenses from your income what is left is either profit [increase] or loss. You cannot tithe out of a loss or you become one of the poor who must be taken care of.
Today in our society we have turned over the distribution of contributions to the government. Our government collects from each of us through taxes to care for the widows, orphans, and poor.
Our society has also created a system of usury which enables us to have sooner, what we cannot afford now. Through credit and mortgages we can acquire houses and cars which are a good thing in our lives, and most would say necessary. But if we owe large quantities of money to a lender then aren’t we the same as the slave. We are working and receiving pay but because of our large debt the money does not really belong to us.
“ Were you a slave when called? Never mind. But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.” 1Cor. 7:21
“… and be dependent on nobody.” 1Th. 4:9-12
If we are taxed to care for the poor and in debt there is no increase for us to tithe from.
Therefore it is not required but up to each individual as to whether or not they are first financially able and then secondly wish to cheerfully support some church, missionary or pastor. But if we are to seek to be free of slavery [debt] maybe we should work on getting out of debt first then pay out of our increase for ministry of our choice.
One other thought to consider; Christ told us that when we help someone along their way, with food, clothing, or with some other need they have, we have done this “unto Him”. Is this not also a form of tithing? It is giving of whatever increase we have in our hands.
Invite some lonely soul to dinner. Give you’re no longer needed clothing and furniture to the charity. Help some financially strapped family pay a bill or put gas in their car. Go talk to the elderly or windowed and see if they need some help with chores.
Being a cheerful giver does not have to hurt financially and may be as close as your next door neighbor.