The idea that the believer is meant to eat his or her tithe instead if giving it to church is based on a major misconception. In the Old Testament, there were three sorts of tithes to be paid from the people, besides those from the Levites to the priests;
1. The first category of tithe was for Levites – for their maintenance.
“Behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tithes in Israel as an inheritance in return for the work which they perform, the work of the tabernacle of meeting.”
Numbers 18:21 NKJV
The tithe was for the upkeep of the priests and Levites:
“Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this,” Says the Lord of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it.”
Malachi 3:10 NKJV
The Israelites give a 10th of their income (whether spoils of war, or cash or crops) to the Levites. The Levites in turn give a 10th of what they receive from all Israel to the priests (which includes the gatekeepers of the temple, the singers and musicians etc). The reason the scriptures says to bring the tithes to the store houses of the temple is because these priests and caretakers of the temple all dwell in the temple quarters.
Take the following scriptures for example:
“To bring the firstfruits of our dough, our offerings, the fruit from all kinds of trees, the new wine and oil, to the priests, to the storerooms of the house of our God; and to bring the tithes of our land to the Levites, for the Levites should receive the tithes in all our farming communities. And the priest, the descendant of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive tithes; and the Levites shall bring up a tenth of the tithes to the house of our God, to the rooms of the storehouse. For the children of Israel and the children of Levi shall bring the offering of the grain, of the new wine and the oil, to the storerooms where the articles of the sanctuary are, where the priests who minister and the gatekeepers and the singers are; and we will not neglect the house of our God”.
Nehemiah 10:37-39 NKJV
2. The second category of tithe was meant to make provisions for the Lord’s feasts and sacrifices, such as
The New Moons, and the three appointed yearly feasts—
The Feast of Unleavened Bread,
The Feast of Weeks, and
The Feast of Tabernacles, (See 2 Chronicles 8:13)
It is this category of tithes that were to be eaten by the offerors along with the Levites at Jerusalem.
“You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year. And you shall eat before the Lord your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide, the tithe of your grain and your new wine and your oil, of the firstborn of your herds and your flocks, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. But if the journey is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, or if the place where the Lord your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, when the Lord your God has blessed you, then you shall exchange it for money, take the money in your hand, and go to the place which the Lord your God chooses. And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household. You shall not forsake the Levite who is within your gates, for he has no part nor inheritance with you.”
Deuteronomy 14:22-27 NKJV
The eating of the tithes that is being referred to here is the feasts if the Lord. That’s why the New Testament says “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”.
Romans 14:17 NKJV
And notice again that it ends it with an emphasis on the Levites. The tithe collected here must also cater for them.
3. Besides these two categories of tithes discussed above, there is a third type of tithe for the poor. It was given every third year. To be eaten at their own dwellings,
“At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates. And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.”
Deuteronomy 14:28-29 NKJV
Just as in the Old Testament, they had three different purposes for which tithes were used, in like manner, the
New Testament has an equivalent of each three.
The first category of tithe;
In the Old Testament, for the Levites and priests that service the temple.
In the New Testament, it is for the pastoral team.
The second category of tithe;
In the Old Testament, it is for the feasts of the Lord.
In the New Testament, it’s for our programs and events such as outreaches, crusades, conferences etc.
The third category of tithe;
In the Old Testament, it was for the poor, and it was collected and given to the poor every three years.
In the New Testament, it is still for the poor, however, we do not wait three years to collect this because work of charity is done on a regular basis.
In the Old Testament, three different types of tithes were collected, but in the New Testament, only one type is collected. This tithe is then used for the same three purposes as it was used in the Old Testament.
I hope this was helpful.
The next post on tithe would address the issue of its relevance in the New Testament.