To understand the principle behind the mandatory tithe, you must first understand this truth of reality: God owns everything.
Christians tend to argue over whether the tithe is mandatory or not, but it seems that we seldom consider it from top to bottom. I’ll attempt to do that briefly in this article to present a fuller picture.
God, as creator of the heavens and the earth, is also the owner of all things. Scripture testifies to this throughout:
For every beast of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know all the birds of the hills,
and all that moves in the field is mine. (Psalm 50:10-11 ESV)
The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein (Psalm 24:1 ESV)
The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours;
the world and all that is in it, you have founded them. (Psalm 89:11 ESV)
Who has first given to me, that I should repay him?
Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine. (Job 41:11 ESV)
Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. (1 Chronicles 29:11 ESV)
GOING BACK TO THE GARDEN
Consider the garden of Eden. After creating the heavens and the earth and giving order and form to a watery creation that at first did not have them, God planted the garden of Eden. He created man and woman and placed them there as well. He created man as the last act in his creation, after he had brought forth the bounties of nature and established all of the amenities of Paradise. He did us a favor; he showed his love for mankind by not casting us down into a world of chaos and formless hostility overrun by vicious and bloodthirsty beasts.
After gently placing them into this garden Paradise, he delegated authority of ownership of the garden to them. Why? So that they could work it and keep
it (Gen. 2:15). To what purpose? As a training ground that would prepare them for their task of dominion:
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and
over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28 ESV)
He gave Adam and Eve “every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit” so that they “shall have them for food.” (Gen. 1:29 ESV)
They could eat of every tree of the garden and anywhere else on the face of the earth. All, that is, except one.
God set apart a single tree on the entire planet: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He forbade them to eat of it. In effect, he set a boundary around that tree: an ethical boundary established by his decree. In other words, he established the boundaries of good and evil by his law.
Man was to operate on “this” side of the ethical boundary. The tree was physical, but the boundary was not. The boundary was judicial.
The tree of knowledge was God’s sacred property. He would do with it as he saw fit. The rest of the property was delegated to Adam and Eve for their use. He was expressing another one of his rules: You shall not steal. He established property rights.
This tree surely reminded Adam and Eve of a great many things, but one thing it certainly reminded them of was that God was the legal owner of all things. They were reminded of this by the fact that, though all other things in the garden had been given to them, this particular tree was outside of their jurisdiction. Perhaps they could pretend that they owned everything, but when they looked at that tree they would have to face reality.
Of all the trees on the face of the earth, just this one single tree was off-limits. Adam and Eve simply had to acknowledge their obedience to the Lord by paying their token respects to this judicial boundary.
By obeying God’s law, they were essentially saying this: “Lord, we acknowledge that you are the creator of the heavens and the earth, and that you own all things and have generously awarded us stewardship of your property. To show our gratitude and respect for all that you’ve done for us, we are going to obey your rules and laws. We won’t eat of the tree of knowledge.”
COVENANTAL REPRESENTATIVES – DELEGATION OF AUTHORITY
This is the principle of delegation, an aspect of covenantal hierarchy. God is sovereign; there is no greater power or authority in all the universe. He owns all things. He created man in his image and delegated ownership to him as his earthly representative. Man, as God’s image and earthly representative, was to have dominion over creation and progressively subdue it to God’s glory, but he was to do it while playing by the rules.
He had to obey God’s laws.
But the tree also should have reminded Adam and Eve of something else: Satan was also subordinate to God. Not only that, Satan was a mere creature, and he was therefore subordinate to man as well. Satan, being the vile fiend that he is, didn’t like this, so he put together a plan to overturn the hierarchy.
Man was placed on the earth originally to be God’s legal representative: his agent. So Satan sent a legal representative of his own into the front lines: the serpent. He sent his agent to Adam’s subordinate, his wife. By his crafty tongue, he managed to overturn Adam’s hierarchy.
Instead of Adam’s wife receiving orders from her legal representative, Adam (her husband), she gave the orders to him: “Eat this fruit. This convincing creature says it’s really going to be okay.”
INVERTING THE HIERARCHY
Adam accepted this new hierarchy by agreeing: “Okay, sounds good. Let’s put God’s sovereignty and word to the test. Let’s approach this from a neutral point of view, assume either outcome is equally likely, and see where the truth really lies.”
What if the serpent had been correct? The possibilities were tantalizing: there really was nothing that was off-limits to them. They could be as gods themselves. They would no longer be under the rule and authority of their maker. They would rule themselves and establish their own boundaries.
No more stinking “OFF LIMITS” signs for them!
Obviously things didn’t turn out well for them.
Instead of eating a meal from the tree of life with God, they instead ate a meal with Satan. This was a sacramental meal. You can either eat from God’s table or the table of demons, but not both. Paul was clear about this:
You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he? (1 Corinthians 10:21-22 ESV)
They crossed the boundary line and ate a forbidden meal with demons. By doing so, they violated God’s property rights and visibly subordinated themselves to Satan’s rule. To punish their act of rebellion, as North wrote:
“[God] set up a wider boundary and a more compelling “No Trespassing” sign:
Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the
garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he
was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed
at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubim, and a
flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the
way of the tree of life. (Genesis 3:23–24)
There is no forbidden garden today and no angel bearing a flaming sword. There is instead a meal open to covenantkeepers, a covenantal meal described in the passage (I Corinthians 11) that follows Paul’s warning regarding a covenantal meal with demons (I Corinthians 10). There is a “No Trespassing” sign around the table of demons. This applies to covenant-keepers.” 
This principal also applies to covenant breakers: no trespassing at the Lord’s table (1 Cor. 11:27-29).
What’s the most compelling rival religion to Christianity — in a manner of speaking?
What do men pursue that drives them to do vile or ridiculous things? What will they pursue to no end? We have already seen that we can either serve God or serve demons. If we’re not serving the Lord directly, then we remain subordinate to Satan. Satan knows our weak point. Jesus highlighted it:
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matt. 6:24 ESV)
The King James Version translates “money” as “mammon.”
If we visibly serve God one day a week when we attend church and (depending on your church) partake in a weekly covenant meal with him, who are we visibly serving the other six days of the week? Who should we be serving?
What do men tend to serve when they fervidly indulge in their earthly pursuits and let their fleshly desires rule over them? North wrote “What is mammon? A view of life: ‘More for me in history.'”  Jesus warned of the consequences of this worldview, for he said:
“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26 ESV)
Jesus makes a case here: you will either be inherited (welcomed into Heaven) or disinherited (cast into Hell). “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:21)
Where do men’s hearts lie? Do they steal from God, or do they pay rightful, lawful tribute to their king? Jesus is the true legal heir of all of creation:
“Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor. 15:24-25 ESV)
“but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Hebrews 1:2 ESV)
Jesus Christ is our high priest, our representative before God the Father. By grace through faith we have been adopted into his covenant as members of a chosen race, a royal priesthood (as Peter wrote in 1 Pet. 2:9):
“So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Gal. 4:7 ESV)
We are priests. Jesus is our high priest. We are heirs through him, who is the absolute heir of all things.
CHRIST AS THE LEGITIMATE HEIR, WE AS HIS AGENTS
All of this is to say that, as Christians, though we were disinherited through Adam we have been adopted into God’s everlasting covenant and made heirs to the promise through Christ. We are no longer subordinate to Satan, but to Christ. (Satan still remains subordinate to God. He cannot escape his end.)
Therefore, we are visible representatives — agents — of Christ in history. How will Christ put all of his enemies under his feet? Through the spreading of his kingdom by his representatives. This is the working-out in history of the truth of God’s sovereign ownership of all things, and this fact will be made progressively visible in history until God’s kingdom is established all over the world “as the waters cover the sea.” (Is. 11:9, Hab. 2:14)
Here is how this is supposed to work: we go out and win small battles for our King, Jesus Christ, by way of of the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Eph. 6:18). We take possession of the spoils. We return a tenth of the spoils to God by way of our High Priest, Jesus Christ. He gives those tithes and offerings to the Church, and slowly the Church grows as our dominion over history grows.
If we starve the Church from the income that lawfully belongs to it, then it cannot grow and expand. Its effectiveness in training new recruits atrophies.
This is a basic, age-old battle tactic: cut off the supply line to your enemy, then wait. Starve them out. When they run out the front gates, finally ready to surrender, put them to the sword. This is what the Germanic “barbarians” did to the mighty city of Rome at the collapse of the Roman Empire.
Satan has mastered this technique well. He has slipped into the garden unnoticed and fed us deceptive lies. The result is that not only has he managed to cut off many of the church’s supply lines, but he has managed to redirect those supply lines — by way of our own authorization! — to fund his armies instead.
It is no wonder why the Church has diminished in influence in not only our personal lives but in culture in the last 200 years. We have been stealing the funds that are lawfully the Church’s — whose head is Christ our King — and sending them instead to our enemy who has been steadily building up the kingdom of Satan by way of the kingdom of Man in our secular humanist society.
Christians have forgotten that there is a battle going on. Satan sure hasn’t. But he’s convinced us that there isn’t. We have grown lazy and complacent. We cower before the enemy. We need to spend time reviewing Paul’s exortation in Ephesians to “put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:11 ESV)
God owns everything. He has delegated to us the authority to own private property. We are to use it towards covenant-keeping purposes for the advancement of the Kingdom of God in order to fulfill our dominion mandate of subduing the earth to his glory. There is no original ownership by man. But we are also not to give what is legally God’s over to Satan and other false gods.
AGAIN, GOD’s OWNERSHIP AND OUR STEWARDSHIP
Man is subordinate to God in all things. Man owns property only in delegated stewardship to God. Jesus spoke on this in the parable of the talents. The servants were lent capital by their master. Their master left.
While he was away, the servants who used this capital to grow his master’s wealth were rewarded, and the worthless servant who buried his talent in the ground was disinherited, cast into the outer darkness; his talent was given to a more responsible servant. (Matt. 25:14-30)
A TIMELESS, UNCHANGING PRINCIPLE
What we see here is a clear principle that has existed from the beginning of creation because it is inextricable from God’s character: God’s ownership. In all of creation, he claims a small, visible portion for himself “that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.” (Deut 8:2 ESV). He delegates the remainder to man to use in pursuit of Kingdom-building.
God has always set aside a portion that says “Off limits.” He also knows that the success that he will bless us with is going to cause us to struggle by way of our fallen nature:
“Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God (Deut. 8:11-14 ESV)
At the sight of our success, we will be tempted to think that we have gained it by ourselves, even though it is God who has done it for us. We will be tempted to say in our hearts “My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.” (Deut. 8:17 ESV)
He warns us that if we do forget him then “Like the nations that the LORD makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the LORD your God.” (Deut. 8:20 ESV)
WALK IN HIS COMMANDMENTS
What does he mean by “obeying his voice”? Clearly he is speaking of his laws and his commandments:
“So you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him.” (Deuteronomy 8:6 ESV)
This is something Adam and Eve did not do. They violated the judicial boundary he established around his holy property in the garden.
One of his commandments says this: “You shall not steal.” (Ex. 20:15 ESV)
Through his prophet Malachi, the Lord accuses Israel of stealing from him:
“Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions.” (Malachi 3:8 ESV)
But why is this true?
Look at what the Spirit wrote through Moses in Leviticus:
“Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the LORD’s; it is holy to the LORD.” (Lev. 27:30 ESV)
We see again:
“And every tithe of herds and flocks, every tenth animal of all that pass under the herdsman’s staff, shall be holy to the LORD.” (Lev. 27:32 ESV)
So does the Lord change? The direct answer is no:
“For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. (Malachi 3:6 ESV)
We can see that, from the beginning, there has always been a portion of creation that has been set apart (made holy) for his own use; he grants covenant-keeping man use of the remainder. This is a principal that goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden.
We see it again later, after God delivers the Canaanite armies into the hands of Abraham. Wandering around the lands of Canaan as a stranger, searching for Lot, Abraham was acting as God’s agent. God granted him victory, and as a result Abraham laid claims to the spoils of victory.
MELCHIZEDEK, THE PRIESTLY KING
Up until that point, Abram was the highest priest in the land. But after the victory against the pagans, Melchizedek, King and Priest of God Most High, came forth and served a covenantal meal of bread and wine and blessed Abram. Abram was now in the jurisdiction of a higher priest of God than he. As a result, he gave a tenth (tithe) of the victory spoils to Melchizedek as a token symbol that he was subordinate to a higher priest of the God of Heaven and Earth than he was.
He was acknowledging the covenantal hierarchy and his position within its order. He was also honoring God’s property rights.
Just as Adam and Eve should have, but failed to say, earlier, Abram was essentially saying “Lord, I acknowledge that you are the creator of the heavens and the earth, and that you own all things and have generously awarded me stewardship of your property by delivering my enemies into my hands in victory. You have disinherited them so that I may inherit their inheritance. To show my gratitude and respect for all that you’ve done for me, I am going to obey your rules and respect your property rights. I won’t steal the tenth that legally belongs to you.”
He was not going to be accused of robbing God as the covenant-breaking Israelites later were (Mal. 3:8).
The laws established for the priesthood of Levi required tithes that were agricultural in nature. At that time, Israel was largely an agricultural nation.
As time went on, they would become progressively advanced. There would be steady growth in non-agricultural occupations and a decline in agricultural occupations relative to others.
The agricultural tithes supported the Levites and the priests. Eventually the kingdom would outgrow these laws. The population would grow, and the Israelites would spread to lands far and wide beyond that of the Holy Land of Israel.
This pointed to the reality that the laws were not permanent. Not to mention, of course, that the law was given to foreshadow the coming of the Messiah. The land and see laws were Messianic in nature. The priestly sacrifices were reminders of the Messiah to come who would forever propitiate God’s wrath towards us by expiating our sins and reconciling us with him forever. The animal sacrifices, and the seed and land laws, to covenant-keeping Hebrews, in other words, were the Gospel.
Just as Israel looked forward to the coming of Christ, we look backward to him. Both look forward and upward to heavenly promises.
But the Levitical tithing laws were meant to illustrate a fundamental principal inherent in God’s character, existing before sin entered the world, to the Israelites as they worked the land and increased their wealth: God owns everything, and while he delegates authority over most of it to us as his stewards, there is a small portion of our output that he places an “OFF LIMITS” sign around.
The priesthood of Levi was abolished. The superior priesthood of Jesus Christ replaced it, and he is after the order of Melchizedek.
Under Levi’s priesthood, God declared ownership of a tenth of the fruits of the ground and the increase of the herd. The Levites received the tithes of the nation. The Levites then gave a tenth of what they received to the high priest. The high priest did not tithe because there was no priest higher to tithe to.
Under Melchizedek’s priesthood, God declared ownership of a tenth of all that he had given to his covenantal representative. Abram did not tithe to anyone before meeting Melchizedek, and he did not tithe after departing from Melchizedek. He tithed to Melchizedek because he had ventured into his jurisdiction, and Melchizedek was a higher priest than Abram was. Beyond Melchizedek’s jurisdiction, Abram was the highest priest in the land.
Even Levi tithed to Melchizedek “for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.” (Heb. 7:10 ESV)
SUPPORTING EVIDENCE FROM BIBLICAL SYMBOLISM
Jesus Christ is after the order of Melchizedek, through whom God claims a tenth of our increase as God’s legal share.
What is money, anyway, other than a representation of the fruits of our labor? Our monthy income represents our value in a modern economy.
Furthermore, there’s perhaps an argument to be made that, in Biblical symbolism, people are often symbolized as trees. And as God revealed earlier “Every tithe…of the fruit of the trees, is the LORD’s.” Consider the Scriptural evidence:
“You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain” (Ex. 15:17 ESV)
“Tell the righteous that it shall be well with them, for they shall eat the fruit of their deeds.” (Isaiah 3:10 ESV)
“Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:19-20 ESV)
“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. (Matthew 12:33 ESV)
“Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. (Romans 7:4 ESV)
Consider the Mosaic high priest. As Chilton wrote in his excellent book Paradise Restored:
“The High Priest was a living symbol of man fully restored to fellowship with God in the Garden. His forehead was covered with a gold plate, on which was engraved the phrase, HOLY TO THE LORD (Ex. 28:36), as a symbol of the removal of the Curse on Adam’s brow. His breastplate was covered with gold and precious stones (Ex. 28:15-30), and the hem of his robe was ringed with pomegranates and golden bells (Ex. 28:33-35).” 
So the High Priest seemed to be an image of a sanctified man, a holy tree, even to the point of “bearing fruit”: pomegranates.
He was a foreshadow of our savior, Jesus Christ, who is symbolized as a tree from which “the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” (Rom. 6:22)
Contrast this with King Nebuchadnezzar who dreamed of himself as a great tree that grew to the top of Heaven. It was filled with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, but God ordered that this tree be cut down and its leaves stripped. (Dan. 4:10-14)
Jesus Christ is the true Tree of Life, whose fruit nourishes us, whose leaves heal us, and whose magnificent array of branches provides a covering for us so that all those who are heavy laden may come into him and find shade and rest from their labors. (Matt. 11:28)
God owns all of the trees of creation. But he only set apart a portion of them from which he calls his own. The tenth of the fruit they bear belongs to him. The trees are symbolic of his people. We are sanctified in Christ and set apart from the unbelievers. Through the power of the Spirit dwelling in our hearts, we bear the fruits of good works that come through first confessing saving faith in Christ. A tenth of our produce is God’s to be used in the direct service of his Church as he sees fit. The rest are ours to use in building his kingdom:
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10 ESV)
God, as the creator of all things, is the absolute owner of all things. He delegates authority to his covenantal representatives. This means he allows us private ownership as stewards. We do not absolutely own our property; we are managing it on God’s behalf.
God is unchanging. From the very beginning of creation, he has always setup boundaries around that which is his. He has always set apart a small portion of the output from creation and all of our labors which is his. It is off-limits to us.
The principal of this portion is established in Genesis. The amount is established in Genesis under the priesthood of Melchizedek. It is carried forth into Levi’s priesthood in ancient Israel through agricultural output. After Jesus’s resurrection, he assumes his role as High Priest and abolishes Levi’s priesthood. He is a high priest after the order of Melchizedek, who required a tithe on all of Abraham’s increase.
If you do not tithe to your local church, you are taking what is not legally yours: God’s holy tenth. You are, therefore, a thief. Tithing reminds us that we are also under God’s authority for the six days of the week that we do not attend Church. It reminds us that all things are his. It reminds us that he has granted us stewardship of his creation.
Tithing is also a benefit to us in that it helps to keep us out of trouble: the love of money. Paying our tithe keeps us focused on God as our provider. It prevents us from making the grave mistake of thinking that we are responsible for our success in life.
It is a visible token of our subordination to him.
Not paying our tithe means we are taking what’s God’s and giving it to other gods. Instead of paying a tribute to the Lord, we build idols. This can put us on a dangerous path:
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned…If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:5-11 ESV)
1. Gary North, The Covenantal Tithe (Powder Springs, Georgia: American Vision Press, 2011) p.18-19. You can download this book for free in PDF format by clicking here, or you can purchase it from American Vision for $13.
2. Ibid., p.19.
3. David Chilton, Paradise Restored (Tyler, Texas: Dominion Press, 1985) p.44. You can download this book for free in PDF format by clicking here, or you can purchase a hard-cover copy from American Vision for $20.