He said: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin [that is, various herbs], and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others [tithes] undone" (Matthew 23:23; compare Luke 11:42, emphasis added throughout).
Here, only days before His death by crucifixion, Christ plainly confirmed that tithing should be practiced, along with spiritual adherence to the "weightier" matters that the scribes and Pharisees were obviously neglecting.
God had earlier instructed the Israelites to support the tribe of Levi for its temple service. They did this by giving the Levites God's tithe—this support providing the means for Israel to worship the Creator and be taught according to His will.
But with the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, the functioning of the Levitical priesthood in the national worship system was not able to continue in the same way. Moreover, Jesus had given the awesome responsibility to proclaim God's truth to the Church He built (Matthew 16:18; Matthew 28:18-20).
Even prior to the temple's destruction, members of God's Church and followers of the gospel message gave monetary and other types of aid to Jesus and His apostles, disciples and later other laborers helping to spread the gospel. The work Christ had given His Church to do had to be supported (1 Corinthians 9:9-14).
Anticipating the end of the national worship system, Hebrews 7:12 refers to a change in the administration of tithing that accompanied a change in the priesthood. In Hebrews 7:1-19 it's explained that the ancestor of the Levites, Abraham, paid tithes to the priest-king Melchizedek—a figure called the "king of righteousness" and "king of peace," with no beginning or end, who was evidently the preincarnate Jesus (see the Bible study aid Who Is God?). And now the tithes would go directly to Melchizedek again through His representatives.
The New Testament Church—the spiritual temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 2:19-22)—was superior to the physical temple that was destroyed when Jerusalem fell to the Roman army. And as the Church's representatives, the New Testament apostles became the recipients of the tithes of God's people (see Acts 4:35-37).
When we carefully explore the New Testament and the experience of the early Church, we should understand that the emergence of the Church did not mean a radical departure from the religious practices of the nation of Israel. Both the apostles Peter and Paul clearly upheld Old Testament teachings (2 Peter 1:20-21; 2 Peter 3:2, 2 Timothy 2:15; 2 Timothy 3:15-17).
Not until several decades after the founding of the New Testament Church does the book of Hebrews clarify the impact this new spiritual administration involving tithing had on the Church.
Because of its continuance in Old Testament practices, though sometimes applied in a new way, for decades the Church was regarded by outsiders as merely another sect of the Jews, but one that believed in the divinity of Jesus Christ. The Church is the spiritual forerunner in Israel's New Covenant relationship with God and is even called "the Israel of God" in Galatians 6:16.
The opportunity for salvation was extended beyond the nation of Israel and offered to non-Israelites—those who would be called into the Church from all nations, being thereby grafted into Israel (see Romans 11:1-36; Ephesians 2:11-19; 1 Peter 2:9-10). This new spiritual nation would provide obedience through a converted heart (Matthew 21:43).
Therefore, no sharp break in the application of laws and principles from the Old Testament is indicated in the New Testament, one third of which is composed of either quotations or allusions from the Hebrew Scriptures. The Church was "built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone" (Ephesians 2:20).
The teachings and specific examples from the Old Testament were written for the benefit of the New Testament Church through the ages (Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11). We should play very close attention to the Hebrew Scriptures. In a prophecy before Christ's second coming, we are admonished to "remember the Law of Moses" (Malachi 4:4).
Tithing is a God-given law. That law (and the proper application of its principles) has continuing relevance for the 21st-century Church, its members and prospective members—everyone who is in contact with God's truth. (To understand the true relationship between the law of God and basic New Testament teaching, see the Bible study aid The New Covenant: Does It Abolish God's Law?)
Supporting the work of God's Church today remains very important. Not only is it proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom of God to all nations (Matthew 24:14), but it is also preparing those who will assist Christ in bringing God's righteousness to this earth during His coming millennial reign. For a more in-depth explanation of tithing, read the online Bible study aid What Does the Bible Teach About Tithing?