What is the tithe? Our word tithe derives from an Old English word meaning “tenth.” Essentially, it means ten percent of one’s gross increase, given to the Lord’s work. The ideal of the tithe runs throughout the Scriptures. It is found in both the Old Testament and New Testament, was practiced by God’s people even before the time of Moses and the Law, and was endorsed by Jesus Christ.
The first mention of a tithe is in Genesis 14:20, when Abraham offered up a tithe to Melchizedek, the king of Salem (Jerusalem) and the priest of God. Jacob pledged to the Lord at Bethel (Genesis 28:22) a tenth of everything that the Lord would give him.
The tithe was formalized in the Law of Moses in Leviticus 27:30. In fact, under the Mosaic covenant, the Israelites were commanded to give a triple tithe (cf. Deuteronomy 14:22, 28, 29). This triple tithe supported the priests, the Levites, and the needs of the poor, and served in lieu of a tax. Tithes were often referred to as the “firstfruits” (Proverbs 3:9-10; 2 Chronicles 5-6). The offerings to the Lord were to be the first and best of the blessings He had bestowed. God condemned those who sought to rob Him by not giving as they were instructed (Malachi 3:8-10), and who offered up moldy bread and sick sheep (Malachi 1:12-14).
In the New Testament, Jesus faulted the Pharisees for their care in tithing even of their anise seeds, and ignoring justice, mercy, and faith; but then He affirmed the principle of the tithe. Giving generously in proportion to God’s blessing was encouraged by the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 16:2), and Christians are urged to give joyfully (or more accurately, hilariously) in 2 Corinthians 9:6-11. God’s bounty is the focus, and our joy is increased when we think “how much can I give?” rather than “how much must I give?”
Tithes are to be directed “into the storehouse” (Malachi 3:10). Under the Law, that was the Tabernacle or the Temple–the focal point of the right worship of God. The New Testament equivalent is the local church, where the believer should concentrate his giving. We do not find in Scripture where the tithe was designated anywhere else but the local church.
God promises blessing for faithfully tithing: blessing for God, blessing for His work, and blessing for His people. Malachi 3:10 is the only place in Scripture where the believer is told to prove God. If we honor God with our substance, He shows that He exists, and that He still works great things beyond our best expectations.