First, tithes are practiced in the Jewish Scripture. It was also very specific. It was the giving of a tenth of what the land produced. In other words, if you didn’t farm, you didn’t pay the tithe:
A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD. – Leviticus 27:30
There were also various other tithes based on what year it was ( that totaled to around 23% and not 10% of the harvest). But this regular tithe is what most people consider when they think of tithing. It was an ancient form of taxation. The tithe went to the Temple to support the priest class ( and help support widows and orphans under the care of the Temple). Jesus wouldn’t have paid the tithe as a carpenter. In fact, He was against tithing when it was a focus:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices-mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law-justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. – Matthew 23:23
The most important matters of the law: mercy, justice, and faithfulness were considered more important by Jesus than paying a tithe.
So How Should a Christian Give?
Paul tells us that a Christian should give out of the first day of their labor:
Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. 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 there will be no collecting when I come. –1 Corinthians 16: 1,2
By what did they store from their labors? And to whom did were they giving? Paul? No. Paul was making a collection for the saints, but who were they? The saints Paul is referring to wasn’t the church in Corinth or even the church in Galatia. It wouldn’t make sense for the people in those areas to give to Paul since they could take care of it themselves. Rather, Paul was collecting for the poor at Jerusalem and elsewhere:
But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints. For it hath pleased those of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints who are at Jerusalem. It hath pleased them verily, and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers in their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things. When therefore I have performed this, and have secured to them this fruit, I will come to you on my way to Spain. -Romans 15:25-28
Paul was collecting food. The first Christians gave to the poor and not to a church organization. They gave of their harvest ( hence no need to be out collecting as Paul asks in the Corinthians verse). There is no set amount offered. Paul doesn’t ask for a tithe. He only asks for something as a person prospers on their first day of labor each week with the goal of feeding their poor brethren. Paul wasn’t concerned about collecting funds to run a church as we do today. He was concerned with helping those in need.
Consider what Jesus told the Pharisees about their tithing and what Paul taught. What matters is how we give and not how much or what we give. If a church doesn’t help the poor, the hungry, or those in need, we shouldn’t be giving the church a single penny. We would serve God better in such an instance by giving our money directly to a soup kitchen or even another religious organization that runs a homeless shelter.
So Should We Tithe?
From a doctrinal standpoint, no we shouldn’t tithe. Tithes were based upon the yield of the land and were given to the Temple. Since the Temple doesn’t exist and most of us are not farmers, tithing doesn’t apply.Unfortunately tithing is also a part of the so -called gospel of prosperity (I won’t dignify it with capitals). Many people like to tithe because they think God will return that amount many fold. This is wrong motivation and just plain selfish. It is just like what the Pharisees did in Jesus’ time.
Now, can we tithe if we want? Certainly! Paul teaches that we should lay in store as we prosper on the first day of each week. If you can afford to take a tenth of your income (since most of us don’t harvest anything) then wonderful! However, you have to be certain that the money is going to help those in need and not fund the edifice of a religious organization. Certainly, pastors and preachers need to eat too, but it cannot be the main purpose of the funds. Most of the funds should go toward helping people.
The funds shouldn’t be used to indoctrinate either. Jesus gave unconditional help to those in need. We also need to do so. Compassion converts people to a belief system far better than doctrine.
We also have to remember that we must live as a Christian and not just give like a Christian. Jesus’s lesson for the Pharisees remains as a warning for us. A Christian who lives compassionately but doesn’t give is better than a person who calls themselves Christian, gives much and regularly, but doesn’t live compassionately everyday.
Giving is an act of compassion not of compulsion ( 2 Corinthians 9:5 – 7). We shouldn’t expect anything in return, from those we help or from God. We give because we cannot stand to see others suffer.