The tithe is the tenth part of produce harvested, etc. It is frequent to hear exhortations by radio or television demanding listeners to contribute with the tenth part of their wages, and any another income, for determined organisations or churches, on the basis of verses taken from the Old Testament (in the absolute lack of any reference to this requirement in the New Testament). It is a classic example of verses being taken out of their context for an improper application.
Let us see the three occurrences of the tithe found in the Old Testament:
1. THE TITHE GIVEN BY ABRAM TO MELCHIZEDEK: "And the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley), after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him. "Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him… And Abram gave him a tithe of all. Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, "Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself." But Abram said to the king of Sodom, "… I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, 'I have made Abram rich'— (Genesis 14:17 - 23). We have reference to this event in the New Testament: "For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all… consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils… Even Levy, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak" (Hebrews 7:1-9). Abraham gave Melchizedech, priest of the God most High, a tenth of the booty conquered in the war, "the best spoils". It was not part of his property, nor did Abram intend to keep the remaining portion of the spoils, for immediately after this he gave it to the king of Sodom, from whom it had been previously stolen. There is nothing in the Bible to suggest that Abraham regularly gave a tithe on his harvest. It is, therefore, ridiculous nonsense to conclude that this isolated and unique proof of the superiority of the priest Melchizedek over Abraham and the Levitical priesthood is a valid example to require Christians to pay 10% of their salaries (not spoils of war), to their church or to the preachers on radio and television, as some of these maintain.
2. THE TITHE PROMISED TO THE LORD BY JACOB: "Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me… and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my father's house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God… and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You." (Genesis 28:20-22). Jacob, grandson of Abraham, first admitted that the Lord is God, then proposed a deal: if the Lord fulfilled the conditions required by Jacob, then Jacob would pay Him back the tenth part of what he was given. This is the first and only time we read in the Bible about someone who promises to return to God the tenth part of all that he receives from Him. The importance of this proposal of Jacob, or Israel as God named him later on, is that the Lord accepted it, and fulfilled His part, and on its basis established the ruling of the tithes in the law given to his descendants through Moses. No Christian is recommended to negotiate with the Lord in this way, and less still to consider that he and his brethren in the faith are under obligation to pay tithes because of Jacob's contract. From this example we learn that God does not expect a "tithe" before He has blessed the contributor. Jacob declared that he would return the tenth part to God, but how? At that time there was no local church, temple or Levitical priesthood, and there was no way of handing it personally back to God or to an angel. But there were two different ways: eating part of it with his household, with burnt offerings and sacrifices and with rejoicing and thanksgiving to the Lord their God (Deuteronomy 12:6-7), and sharing with the stranger, the orphan and the widow (Deuteronomy 14:29).
3. THE TITHES REQUIRED FROM ISRAEL BY THE LAW OF MOSES: It would be necessary to read the law to verify all its details. The people of Israel was made up of twelve tribes, of which one, that of Levy, supplied the priests and scribes for the work of God and for the instruction of the people. This tribe didn't inherit a piece of land from which it might obtain its sustenance from the soil, and the tithes were destined mainly to sustain them, and to maintain the temple. The tithes were collected only from farmers, who paid tithes on agricultural products of fields and trees, and on increases in herds and flocks, two tithes being collected each year, and a further tithe every third year. Those who were not farmers paid only half a shekel at Passover: there were no tithes on salaries and on financial gains. The imposition of tithes was part of the law of Moses, and could only exist while the law of Moses was in force. The law of Moses ceased when Jesus Christ died on the cross, giving rise to the New Testament with His blood.
With the New Testament, the payment of tithes by the children of God ceased completely, because:
As the Lord Jesus had declared, the Israelite temple was totally destroyed (Matthew 24:1-2). Only the Levitical priests could receive the tithes, they exist no more.
God does not inhabit temples made by the hands of men (Acts 17:24).
The true Christians, the saints, are now the temple of God according to the New Testament (2 Corinthians 6:16).
As there are no more temples, there is also no priesthood in the temple, each believer being a new priesthood (1 Peter 2:9).
It is not required from the believer to give a tenth of his salary to God, or of his gains, but that he deliver all he is and has (Romans 12:1), he himself being the temple inhabited by God. He does not need an intermediary or intercessor, Jesus Christ being his perfect intercessor and High Priest seated at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven (Hebrews 7:28-8:1). The collecting of financial "tithes" only appeared in churches many centuries after the beginning of Christianity, to sustain the religious institutions which were formed. They are totally different from the tithes of the Old Testament, so we cannot use texts in the Old Testament to defend them.
In principle, the financial contribution of saints to the work of Christ is not made in function of some obligatory percentage, equal for all, but each contributes in the measure in which he has prospered. Some may give a lot, some little and some even nothing. God loves who gives joyfully (2 Corinthians 9:7). Each may give his contribution towards one or more specific purposes in the work of God, for example: Paul in his time recommended to the saints in Corinth that they each week put apart a contribution towards those who suffered in Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:1-4). Many will prefer to make anonymous gift offerings in obedience to the principle found in Matthew 6:3. It isn't necessary, and hardly ever advisable, to enter into a commitment with the recipient.
The Bible does not teach anywhere that the contribution must be made entirely to the local church, to a mission, entity or any person. On the contrary, the recommendation of Paul is in the sense that it ought to be kept apart, in private, to be provided as and when needed. We need to help in the maintenance of our local church, but this does not mean handing it all over to it. The Bible specifies that the elders who rule well be should be counted worthy of double honour (remuneration), especially those who work in the word and doctrine (1 Timothy 5:17, Galatians 6:6). The needs which come to our knowledge can be varied, and sometimes unexpected. As stewards of what God has put in our charge, let us be wise with the manner in which we apply it. .
Nobody has the right to assume authority over what is of our responsibility, less still to dictate what will be our contribution to a particular work. On the other hand, there are brethren who offer their time and ability to the Lord to forward our contribution to its destination, like the apostle Paul, and we do well in using their services, giving thanks to God for them.