I’m going to get right to the point. Tithing as we know it today, in the modern church, is not biblical. Giving, out of the goodness of your heart, is of course biblical, but this is not the same thing as tithing the way the churches expect you to tithe, nor the way the Israelites tithed before Jesus came.
Most churches teach that we should give 10% of our income to the church because the Israelites were commanded to do the same in the Old Testament. Not only is that 10% number incorrect, but even if it were correct, we are not under the law. And if we put ourselves under the law, by trying to obey even one command, then we are refusing the sacrifice of Christ who took on the curse of the law so that we can be free of it. As Christians we live by grace and love, not by law.
Some might say, we are not under the law, but the principle still applies. This is not about principles. This is about what we are actually commanded to do. We are commanded to love, and that love can be expressed by giving of course, but we are not commanded to give specifically 10% of our income to the church. So if you want to adhere to the principle and you think that giving 10% of your income to the church does that for you, then as misguided as that may be, feel free to continue to do so but know that you're putting that onus on yourself. You do not have to give 10% of your income to the church.
Tithing in the Bible
There are three kinds of tithing in the bible.
1. The tithe to the Levites (Numbers 18:21-32)
2. The festival tithe (Deuteronomy 12:5-19)
3. Tithes to the poor (Deuteronomy 14:28-30)
The Tithe to the Levites
When the Israelites entered the promised land, 11 of the 12 tribes received a piece of land as their inheritance. The 12th tribe, the Levites, who had the task of serving as priests for Israel, did not receive any land. This is why 10% of the produce of the land was to be given to the tribe of Levites, since they did not have their own. If a man wanted to give a monetary tithe instead, it had to be 12% not 10% (Leviticus 27:31). Furthermore, the tenth of each herd or flock was also to be given as a tithe.
Also of note is that God commanded this tithe to be given to the Levites as a reward for the work they did in the tabernacle and for bearing the sins of the people (a job which Jesus assumed on the cross) (Numbers 18:21-23).
The Festival Tithe
God ordered feasts for the Israelites where they were to gather together in Jerusalem three times per year (For the feast of tabernacles, passover and the feast of weeks) and bring a tenth of their grain, their new wine, oil and the firstborn of the herds and flocks and rejoice before the Lord in celebration.
If people were unable to make the journey or unable to carry their goods to the feast, they were permitted to sell their goods and use the money to buy for themselves whatever they desired to celebrate before the Lord. As part of this command they were also reminded to include the Levites in the celebration and allow them to partake in the tithe, because they did not have their own land to produce food with which to celebrate.
So this is another 10% of the produce of the land, on top of the original 10% which was to be given to the Levites.
Tithe to the Poor
The third tithe was collected once every three years (and since tithe means 10% this amounted to 3.3% per year) and this was set aside for “the strangers, the fatherless, widows, and Levites living within the gates of the Israelites” so that they may eat and be satisfied. This tithe also came with a blessing from the Lord as a reward for giving the tithe.
Altogether, the tithes amounted to 23.3% of the goods produced from the land. 10% for the Levites, 10% for the three annual feasts, and 3.3% for the poor to celebrate once every three years.
There are a few important points to note here.
1. All three tithes were intended to be produce from the land and herds only, not monetary.
2. The tithes were not given to God, but to people, for reward, celebration and charity.
3. Most importantly, these commands were part of the law, which we are not under.
Translating the Law to Modern Day
If you want to try to obey the law, and substitute today’s pastors for Israelite Levites, then you need a farm. (Of course pastors are not Levites, nor do they compare as not all Levites were priests first of all, and the reason God commanded the tithe be given to them was because they had no land to grow their own food, while every other tribe was given land, and your pastor may actually own some land. But if you insist that your pastor is a "Levite" then continue reading.) Then bring 10% of everything you grow on your farm to church on Sunday and put it in the offering plate. If you can’t carry the fruits and veggies to church (or the offering plate can't hold your watermelon or your goat) then you are permitted to sell it all and then give 12% (not 10%) of your produce. If you don't have a farm but earn your living in a cubicle somewhere then the tithe does not apply to you.
Obviously, I am not suggesting you do this. I am making the point that tithing to your church is very different from what the Israelites did in the Old Testament and you can't translate it to modern day unless you just want to make up your own rules, which is essentially what churches have done.
Tithes Were Never for God
Secondly, tithes were never given to God, so the old argument that “you are stealing from God” if you do not give a tithe to the church is a lie, and if your pastor is still using that line, you need to call him on it. God has his own inheritance, which is his people. He does not need a tithe from our land or our wallets.
We Are Not Under the Law
The third point is by far the most important point here. Jesus fulfilled the law, which means we no longer live by it. Jesus is our priest now, not the Levites. He bore our sins on the cross, so we no longer need Levites to do it for us (and no, pastors are not our modern day Levites). We are all priests in Christ Jesus.
Paul warns that if we choose to live by even one letter of the law, then we are putting ourselves under the entire law and in doing so would be rejecting the sacrifice of Jesus. In Galatians he uses circumcision as the example, but we can assume that this applies to any part of the law.
Galatians 3:10, 5:3
For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law."… I'll say it again. If you are trying to find favor with God by being circumcised, you must obey every regulation in the whole law of Moses.
We are not living under the law. The law lives in and comes forth from our hearts. This is the new covenant. Jesus said the greatest command is to love the Lord your God and your neighbour as yourself. From these flow all the other laws. In other words, we give to the poor and celebrate before the Lord not because we are commanded to, but because we want to because of the love that is in us.
Jesus took away the curse from us. Don’t take it back by trying to obey the law in tithing.
Give Out of Love
Instead, give out of the love that flows from your heart. Give to the church if you want to, but do so out of love for God and for God’s people, not because you believe you are commanded to give a tenth of all you earn.
37 Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’
Just to be clear; I am not saying you should not give money to your church. I’m just saying, if you choose to do so, do it for the right reasons and do not be fooled into thinking that we are under any command to do so. Personally I would rather give to a charity which I know does not spend 80% of its revenue on mortgages, utilities, sound equipment and janitorial services, but maybe that’s just me.