The Law of Tithing

A couple of weeks ago when I first started working on today’s lesson, I told my wife that I fear what I am about to teach will make some of us fairly uncomfortable. Because it certainly made me uncomfortable as I started to dig a little deeper into The Law of Tithing and the Law of the Fast.

Three weeks ago, I taught about the Law of Consecration—the law that says you give everything over and above that which you need to sustain you and your family back to the Lord. In fact, not to misquote the Lord, here is exactly what he said:

D&C 42:55

If thou obtainest more than that which would be for thy support, thou shalt give it into my storehouse.

That’s probably the most concise scriptural definition of the Law that I have seen. Are we still supposed to obey it? Twenty years ago, here’s what President Hinckley said:

The law of sacrifice and the law of consecration were not done away with and are still in effect. Gordon B. Hinckley, Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997), 639.

However, even though it has been taught correctly by modern prophets and sits in harmony with all printed revelations, it is still not widely practiced by members of the Church.

Frankly, as we learn in Section 105, it is because of our collective unwillingness to obey this celestial law of our own free will and choice, that Zion has not yet been built in Missouri.

It is as if we are the ancient Israelites wandering around in the desert for 40 years before we get to enter the promised land. But in our case, we’re at 178 years and still counting. We’re obviously a little slower than our Hebrew ancestors. In fact, most of us are still unwilling to sacrifice our golden calves.

Mormon Mythbusters

So with this in mind, let’s first bust a Mormon myth—something we think is true but isn’t substantiated by the scriptures. And here it is:

The Lord revealed the Law of Consecration to the early Saints. The Saints tried to live it. They couldn’t live it, for whatever reason, perhaps it was persecution, being driven out of their lands, selfishness, etc.

So far this is all true. But here is where it goes awry:

The Lord withdrew the Law of Consecration (the higher law) and the Lord gave the Law of Tithing (the lower law). Tithing is now a preparatory law that helps us learn and prepare for receiving the higher Law of Consecration again someday in the future.

This last part is the myth. The Law of Consecration has never been withdrawn. We are still commanded to give our surplus—our over-abundance—to the Lord. Period.

Tithing, on the other hand, actually builds on the Law of Consecration. It requires even more than giving our surplus—it requires a sacrifice of our needs. After all, we are also under covenant to obey the Law of Sacrifice. And a sacrifice isn’t a sacrifice unless it hurts.

The Law of Tithing

Let me explain what I mean about the Law of Tithing building upon the Law of Consecration. To help with the explanation, let’s carefully examine Section 119, which contains the Law of Tithing as revealed to the prophet Joseph. Perhaps this is the most misunderstood revelation in the entire church—even though it is only seven verses long.

For historical context, this revelation was given in 1838 at a time when the Church (as well as the rest of the United States) was in a financial crisis. The Saints had been commanded to live the law of Consecration, while simultaneously building homes and temples, as well as taking care of the poor and the needy. So to keep from going into debt, the bishops of the church began to ask for a voluntary tithe from their members, using Malachi 3:10 as their scriptural foundation.

Malachi 3:10

10 Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.

What a “tithe: meant though, varied from congregation to congregation, so Joseph asked the Lord for standardization and clarification. In fact, these are the words he used:

O Lord! Show unto thy servants how much thou requirest of the properties of thy people for a tithing.

Most people assumed tithing referenced all free-will offerings or contributions to Church funds. Because he had been studying Hebrew for years, Joseph knew that the word for tithing was mah-as-ayr or מַעֲשֵׂר which meant a tenth part. But it also meant the holy part—the consecrated part—the complete part that belongs to the Lord.

So in answer to this prayer, the Lord delivered this revelation:

D&C 119:1

1 Verily, thus saith the Lord, I require all their surplus property to be put into the hands of the bishop of my church in Zion,

Here we see that the Lord requires all of the Saints surplus properties to be placed in the bishop’s storehouse. Does this sound familiar? This is nothing more than a restatement and reiteration of the Law of Consecration. Nothing has been revoked or suspended here. The Lord is merely reiterating this law. Nothing is mentioned of a “higher” or “lower” law.

D&C 119:2

2 For the building of mine house, and for the laying of the foundation of Zion and for the priesthood, and for the debts of the Presidency of my Church.

So why do we consecrate? As we learned in sections 51, 70, 72, 78, 82, 104, and 105, it is for the building of temples, for the establishment of Zion, and the building up of the kingdom of God on earth. Again, nothing is revoked, only “the law” reiterated, the same as it had been given many times before.

Therefore, how was the Church to find revenue to pay its debts? By having its members live the Law of Consecration.

D&C 119:3

3 And this shall be the beginning of the tithing of my people.

Did you hear that? Let me restate it. And this, meaning living the Law of Consecration, is the beginning of the tithing of my people. In other words, we’re not talking about 10 percent of our income, but it is referring to all our surpluses. The stuff we don’t need to survive, but the stuff that poorer people need to survive. I’m not sure how else we can interpret that verse, can you? Let’s go on.

D&C 119:4

4 And after that, those who have thus been tithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually; and this shall be a standing law unto them forever, for my holy priesthood, saith the Lord.

Let’s look carefully at these words. The way I read it is after the Saints have given of their surpluses, after they have “thus been tithed” then they shall pay an additional 10 percent of their interest annually.

Again, the word tithed refers to the consecration of surpluses under the Law of Consecration, not a tenth part, or ten percent of your income.

In other words, after you have given all your surpluses to the bishop, and you have no more surplus left over, what you are left with is what you need to survive. After consecrating, you are left with an amount that is “sufficient for your needs.” It is from this amount that you now tithe.

And this amount, because it is comes from your needs, is a true sacrifice. This offering will hurt. The other offering, by definition, was more than you needed. This offering, comes from what you need. So with the Law of Tithing, the Lord is requiring more, not less of the Saints. And furthermore, this is to be a standing law unto us forever.

Okay, let’s go back to the scriptures. We’ll pick back up with verse 5.

D&C 119:5

5 Verily I say unto you, it shall come to pass that all those who gather unto the land of Zion shall be tithed of their surplus properties, and shall observe this law, or they shall not be found worthy to abide among you.

It seems as though the Lord is repeating himself. Hmm. I wonder if that is because we don’t quite get it yet. So to be perfectly clear, we are to consecrate our surplus properties, which he calls a tithe, and if we don’t then we shall not be worthy to hang with the Saints. That seems pretty strict, doesn’t it? But it is for a reason. Let’s visit D&C 105:5 for a second:

D&C 105:5

5 And Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom; otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself.

In other words, Zion will not be built until we first really start consecrating our surplus properties, because this is a celestal law and the Lord cannot dwell in a non-celestial place that was built and inhabited by non-celestial citizens.

Here’s what Lorenzo Snow said about this. He said:

[The Saints are] not justified in anticipating the privilege of returning to build up the center stake of Zion, until we shall have shown obedience to the law of consecration. [The Saints are] not permitted to enter the land from whence we were expelled, till our hearts are prepared to honor this law, and we become sanctified through the practice of the truth. Journal of Discourses, 16:276.

In section 57, the Lord declared that the center stake of Zion was to be built in Independence, Missouri. Have you ever wondered why the headquarters of the Church is still in Salt Lake City? Well let’s find the answer in Section 105.

D&C 105:6-10

6 And my people must needs be chastened until they learn obedience, if it must needs be, by the things which they suffer.

7 I speak not concerning those who are appointed to lead my people, who are the first elders of my church, for they are not all under this condemnation;

8 But I speak concerning my churches abroad—there are many who will say: Where is their God? Behold, he will deliver them in time of trouble, otherwise we will not go up unto Zion, and will keep our moneys.

9 Therefore, in consequence of the transgressions of my people, it is expedient in me that mine elders should wait for a little season for the redemption of Zion—

10 That they themselves may be prepared, and that my people may be taught more perfectly, and have experience, and know more perfectly concerning their duty, and the things which I require at their hands…

And so we wait, like modern Israelites traipsing around the Great Basin desert, getting better and better at consecrating with each passing year.

Now, let’s go back to Section 119 and finish out this revelation. We’re on verse 6.

D&C 119:6

6 And I say unto you, if my people observe not this law, to keep it holy, and by this law sanctify the land of Zion unto me, that my statutes and my judgments may be kept thereon, that it may be most holy, behold, verily I say unto you, it shall not be a land of Zion unto you.

It is obedience to the Law of Consecration that we must “observe” and “keep” so that we can sanctify the land and ourselves in the process.

D&C 119:7

7 And this shall be an ensample unto all the stakes of Zion. Even so. Amen.

Amen indeed. Seven verses. It couldn’t be much simpler. Each of the three times the word “tithe” or a form of the word is used, it is referring to the Law of Consecration. So this section may be best understood as part of, not instead of, the Law of Consecration.

Does Tithing Mean 10 Percent of Income?

In fact, if I may be so bold, the Law of Tithing, the way you and I have been taught, that says we should pay 10% of our income, is never mentioned in the scriptures. Nevertheless, today, we, and many of Church leaders, speak of it in these terms.

Now before you think I am on the road to apostasy, let me say that even though we can’t find that “10% of income” passage in the scriptures, that’s okay. You see, that’s why it is so great to have modern prophets and apostles who teach us what we need to know when we need to know it.

For example, in 1970 the First Presidency, led by Joseph Fielding Smith, came out with this policy, which is still found in today’s General Handbook of Instructions.

The simplest statement we know of is the statement of the Lord himself, namely, that the members of the Church should pay ‘one-tenth of all their interest annually,’ which is understood to mean income. No one is justified in making any other statement than this” (First Presidency letter, Mar. 19, 1970)

Now I’m not sure that gets us off the hook. I mean, if you want to be let off the hook, there you go. We’ve always had the letter of the law and the spirit of the law conundrum in the Church. The nice thing is, this law is entirely up to you to interpret.

Brigham Young was present when the Lord revealed section 119. He said he was assigned to “go among the Saints and find out what surplus property the people had, with which to forward the building of the Temple we were commencing at Far West.” Before setting out he asked Joseph, “Who shall be the judge of what is surplus property?” Joseph said, “Let them be the judges themselves.” As a result, some Latter-day Saints offered all their surplus property. Some offered some of it. Some offered none. No one was coerced. And so it remains to this day.

Speaking of Brigham Young, 17 years later, in 1855 he said:

I found the people said they were willing to do about as they were counselled, but upon asking them about their surplus property, most of the men who owned land and cattle would say, “I have got so many hundred acres of land, and I have got so many boys, and I want each of them to have eighty acres, therefore this is not surplus property.” Again, “I have got so many girls, and I do not believe I shall be able to give them more than forty acres each.” “Well, you have got two or three hundred acres left.” “Yes, but I have a brother-in-law coming on, and he will depend on me for a living; my wife’s nephew is also coming on, he is poor, and I shall have to furnish him a farm after he arrives here.”

Some were disposed to do right with their surplus property, and once in a while you would find a man who had a cow which he considered surplus, but generally she was of the class that would kick a person’s hat off, or eyes out, or the wolves had eaten off her teats. You would once in a while find a man who had a horse that he considered surplus, but at the same time he had the ringbone, was broken-winded, spavined in both legs, and had the pole evil at one end of the neck and a fistula at the other, and both knees sprung. (JD, 2:306-307)

So whether you offer 10% of your income, or 10% of what you need to survive, or 10% of your surplus, or even 100% of your surplus—that is entirely up to you and the Lord. He just wants you to learn a few life lessons—eternal life lessons. In fact, here are three lessons that jumped out at me.

Lessons to Learn in Life

First, we need to learn that all things are his. Our spiritual bodies, our physical bodies—all were created by God. The only thing that is truly ours is our thoughts and behaviors. Everything else—absolutely everything we “possess” on this earth—is not actually ours to possess. It is all given as a gift to sustain us while on earth. It’s a loaner. That’s all. So don’t get too attached to it.

You may say, “But what about this phone. I definitely bought this. It cost $750. I own it.” Do you? Did you create the 70 different elements that were used to manufacture your smart phone, or did God do that? Case closed.

The second lesson that jumped out to me was that while we have been commanded by the Lord to be industrious “By the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, until thou shalt return unto the ground” (Moses 4:25), the Lord doesn’t want us to waste our lives hoarding and coveting money and the things money can buy. Money, after all, is the devil’s tool of choice to lead men away from God. The whole concept of “is it easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” comes to mind. Money is simply a tool. If you use it to bless the lives of others—that’s good. If you use it for selfish or wicked purposes—that’s bad.

And the third lesson is that that members of the celestial kingdom need to fully understand how to obey and sacrifice—after all, the Father sacrificed his fully obedient firstborn son for us. The Son willingly sacrificed his will to obey the will of the Father. If you haven’t learned by now that life is all about sacrificing your wants and needs on behalf of your loved ones, then you’ll certainly learn that lesson in the eternities—for that is what celestial citizens do. And you know what, it brings them massive amounts of joy.

So those are three of the lessons that I can see. There are many more of course. Perhaps you’ve identified some of your own.

So Do I Pay 10% or More?

Today in the Church we seem to interpret tithing as 10% only, and not a penny more. All I’m doing in this lesson is trying to show that the revelation on tithing does not prescribe that necessarily. It is more nuanced than that, as we’ve seen up close.

Yes, we should certainly follow our leaders and pay the 10% of our increase—whatever that means to you—but we should also not forget that we are to make other free-will offerings—which can be financial, but also certainly includes your time, talents, tongues, tools, trades, trucks, textiles, turkeys, tomatoes, travels, tans—everything else we “possess” is available for us to sacrifice for the building up of the kingdom of God.

The Brethren have taught us this principle of sacrifice and consecration plainly and clearly and repeatedly over the years. In fact, if you want a take-home assignment, this evening go over to the Church’s website and do a quick search of conference talks for the word “consecrate” and you will find plenty of evidence that we are still under covenant to obey this law.

The Law of the Fast

Technically, today’s lesson was also supposed to be about the Law of the Fast, but because the time has gone by too fast, I’ll leave it up to you to study. As a diabetic, I’ve never been a great faster anyway. But I can fast from other worldly things besides food. And I can certainly pay a fast offering.

In fact, modern prophets have repeated taught us to give a generous fast offering; an offering that could equal as much or far more than our tithing. President Marion G. Romney taught, “What prohibits us from giving as much in fast offerings as we would have given in surpluses under the United Order? Nothing but our own limitations” (Improvement Era, 1966, 537).

Of course, living the laws of God, including the Law of Obedience, the Law of Sacrifice, the Law of Consecration and the Law of Tithing, has always been voluntary and subject to your own interpretations. Just be careful you don’t rob God—it won’t end well. As a matter-of-fact, you might get all fired-up over your fate.

Besides, the earthly-to-heavenly exchange rate is pretty awesome. Who wouldn’t exchange all we have for all that the Father hath? Who wouldn’t want to trade the things of this world for what the revelations call the “riches of eternity” (D&C 38:39). Only those who are short-sighted, that’s who. I pray that the Lord will help us see these laws a little more clearly so that we may abide the day of his coming.

References

  • A Companion to Your Study of the New Testament: The Four Gospels by Daniel H. Ludlow
  • A Comprehensive History of the Church by B.H. Roberts (CHC)
  • All Things Are the Lord’s: The Law of Consecration in the Doctrine and Covenants: https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/selected-articles/all-things-are-lord-s-law-consecration-doctrine-and-covenants
  • Answers to Gospel Questions, Volume 1, by Joseph Fielding Smith
  • Approaching Zion by Hugh Nibley
  • Church History & Modern Revelation by Joseph Fielding Smith
  • Conference Reports (CR)
  • Gospel Doctrine by Joseph F. Smith
  • Great Basin Kingdom by Leonard J. Arrington.
  • History of the Church (HC)
  • Journal of Discourses (JD)
  • Studies in Scripture, Volume 1, edited by Robert L. Millet and Kent P. Jackson
  • The Mormon Experience by Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton
I am a teacher in my local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saint congregation. This lesson is based on D&C 59:13–14, 21; 119; 120; Isaiah 58:6–12; Malachi 3:8–12; Matthew 6:16–18. The objective is to help us strengthen our desire to pay a full tithe and live the law of the fast. This lesson was presented on 21 May 2017 and corresponds with lesson 17 in the LDS Gospel Doctrine: Doctrine and Covenants and Church History class.

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