The original tithe was the amount given by the 11 tribes of Israel to the 12th tribe, Levi, because Levi was given no land. Instead, they were commanded to be the tribe of priests, caring for the tabernacle and then the temple. Land was money, so instead of land, the Levites, who wouldn’t have time to farm land or raise livestock, were given a tithe of everyone else’s produce.
The author of Hebrews makes the point that while Jews gave their tithe to the temple and thereby to the Levites, the first tithe was given by Abraham to Melchizedek generations before there even was a Levi let alone a tribe of Levi. This first tithe was give for a different reason – because Melchizedek was worthy of it. It goes on to say that since Jesus wasn’t of the tribe of Levi (He was of the tribe of Judah), He could not be a Levitical priest. Therefore, Jesus’ priesthood was like that of Melchizedek.
Because of this, we owe Jesus our tithes not because we have to support Him as a Levite, but because He is worthy of our giving. And so, the concept of the tithe remains, according to the author of Hebrews. What does this mean specifically?
When we give our tithes – let me learn from Paul here and digress for a moment. The word “tithe” literally means “10%”, so if we are not giving at least 10% of our income (I’ll let you argue with God over whether that is gross or net), we cannot claim to be tithing. We may be giving if, like the average church-goer, we give 3.4%, but we are not tithing and cannot claim to be doing so
When we give our tithes, we give them not out of duty because God has required us to give to the Levites, but simply because Jesus, like Melchizedek, is worthy of our giving. We give out of thanksgiving, with joy (“the Lord loves a cheerful giver”), and freely.
Can you imagine what we could do if every person in our church began to tithe? Oh, the ministry we could do.