This past Sunday I spoke in our ward's sacrament meeting. Here is a copy of my remarks. 😊
There once were two very successful thieves. They had a knack for stealing gold. However, they were both God-fearing men. So, they decided to give part of the gold they robbed to the Church to somehow feel right about their wrongs. The only problem was they couldn't decide how much to give.
The first one thinks for a minute, then draws a foot-long circle on the floor. He lifts his face and says, "God, I'll throw all my loot into the air; whatever lands inside the circle is yours, and what is outside I'll keep for myself." Saying this, he threw all his loot up in the air. As it came down, all but a few of the coins fell outside the circle. He praised God for his generosity and happily collected his share.
The second robber thought even harder than the first. Eventually, he sighed deeply and said, "Lord, forgive me for my sins. I'll throw up all my loot to the heavens. Please keep whatever you want and throw back whatever you think I deserve."
Today I am going to speak about the commandment of Tithing.
Tithing was introduced in the restored Church of Jesus Christ in 1838. That year the saints, through Joseph Smith, asked God how they should be living the law of consecration. Before this time, the Church used tithe and Tithing to refer to any voluntary offering, regardless of the amount. In a July 1838 revelation, the Lord answered the Saints' question with these instructions:
"those who have thus been tithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually." (D&C 119)
Over the past 184 years, the hows of Tithing have changed. Early on, Saints often made in-kind donations, such as animals or food. A couple of years ago, I tried to give my dog to Bishop Kronebusch for Tithing, but he said no. Many Saints in Nauvoo donated one day in ten to work on the temple. In the 20th century, cash became the dominant form of trade, and hence, tithing donations are made predominantly in cash.
In the late 1800's, the Church struggled financially after the United States government seized the Church's assets in an attempt to pressure the Church to cease the practice of plural marriage, and some members became reluctant to pay Tithing for fear their donations would be confiscated.
In 1899, President Lorenzo Snow re-emphasized obedience to the law of Tithing. He declared,
"The time has now come for every Latter-day Saint, who calculates to be prepared for the future and to hold his feet strong upon a proper foundation, to do the will of the Lord and pay his tithing in full."
Today, the commandment is the same. Each of us is invited to return 10% of our interest/increase/income back to God and his Church.
Those funds are spent to build and maintain temples and churches, to translate and publish scriptures, to conduct our worldwide effort to gather Israel, to fund religious education, and to support other Church purposes selected by the designated servants of the Lord (How are Tithing Funds Used?).
For the balance of my remarks, I would like to approach this topic a little differently than it usually is. I would like to present to you several questions I have received regarding the law of Tithing, and present both teachings of prophets and my own thoughts to help provide possible answers to each of these questions.
1. Why can't I just give what I can?
Just after the Church was restored, this was the system. Church members were encouraged to give what they could. But in 1838, God gave us the direction we follow today: "those who have thus been tithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest." (D&C 119)
We know the worth tithe actually means tenth, but God could have chosen any number. And we haven't been given any reason why 10% is the magic number. All we know is that's what we've been asked to give, and if we want to keep the commandments and get the blessings that come with that, then 10% is what we pay.
Last year during Tithing Settlement, I asked everyone who attended why they pay Tithing. I received 32 different answers. But the #1 answer, by far, was "It's a commandment." Through this, my faith was strengthened. You amazing people were telling me that it didn't matter what was being asked. You were obeying because you love God and wanted to follow him.
2. Can I donate the money to the Red Cross or some other good cause?
We, of course, have no monopoly on doing good things. In this past General Conference, President Oaks reminded us that we must do better at recognizing all the good that is being done in the world. And we should do what we can to support good causes both in and outside of the Church. But we are taught clearly that this is not Tithing.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught that,
"We do not pay Tithing by contributing to our favorite charities. The contributions we should make to charities come from our own funds, not from the tithes we are commanded to pay to the storehouse of the Lord."
3. Why does it have to be money? Can't it be something less "worldly"?
Living the gospel of Jesus Christ is ultimately all about sacrifice. And in his wisdom, God asks us to sacrifice those things that seem most important to us.
Food – Word of Wisdom and Fasting
Physical desires – Law of Chastity
Time – Church & Temple Attendance, Callings, Ministering, etc.
Money – Tithing and Fast Offerings
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that,
"A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has the power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation."
So, maybe something less "worldly" could be asked for instead, but what would require the same level of sacrifice and faith?
4. Why would God have us put our family's well-being at risk to pay the Church?
We believe God is bound to provide spiritual and temporal blessings when we follow His commandments, including the commandment to tithe.
Sometimes, a Bishop will encourage a member to pay a full tithe, fully knowing that Fast Offering funds will need to be used to help them survive. To the world, this must seem entirely backward. But according to eternal math, it makes perfect sense.
Ultimately Tithing is a test of faith. We return to the Lord what is asked and trust that God will help us with what we need. We do this even when the math of it doesn't make sense. This is truly what faith is all about.
If you say yes to a calling, even though you are already very busy, you will find the time to accomplish all that is required of you.
If you spend more time with your family, you will be more patient
If you keep commandments that seem to restrict your choices, you will ultimately have more freedom.
If you sacrifice your needs to help others, your burden will be lighter.
And if you pay your Tithing, you will have your needs met.
Elder James E. Faust taught this principle:
"Why should members worldwide, many of whom may not have enough for their daily needs, be encouraged to keep the Lord's law of Tithing? As President Hinckley said in Cebu in the Philippine Islands, if members "even living in poverty … will accept the gospel and live it, pay their tithes and offerings, even though those be meager, … they will have rice in their bowls and clothing on their backs and shelter over their heads. I do not see any other solution.""
5. Why don't I know exactly where the money is going?
The Church lets us know the types of expenses Tithing is used for but does not give us a dollar-by-dollar accounting. This can be a frustrating one for those of us who like to know exactly how the bread gets made.
All financial decisions in the use of the sacred tithing funds are made by The Council on the Disposition of the Tithes, which consists of the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and the Presiding Bishopric. Quoting Elder David A. Bednar, who sits on that council,
"The leaders of the Lord's restored Church feel a tremendous responsibility to care appropriately for the consecrated offerings of Church members. We are keenly aware of the sacred nature of the widow's mite."
I've, of course, never been in any of these meetings, but I feel we would all be amazed at how carefully the tithing funds are used. And I trust this group of faithful and inspired servants of God as much as I trust anyone on earth. And really, that's the point. All parts of the command to tithe are tied to faith.
God is asking us to give part of our hard-earned money back to the Church without any say or real oversight on where it goes. We have to trust that the leaders we have committed to sustain are using our money wisely.
And ultimately, it doesn't matter where the money goes. They could take it all behind the church office buildings and burn it. In fact, there was a time when East Germany was closed off behind the Berlin Wall. The East German government forbid money from leaving the country. The Saints were allowed to pay Tithing as long as the money didn't leave the country. So any tithing that was paid was stuck in an account where it just sat. Amazingly, the Saints of East Germany kept paying their Tithing. They understood the commandment to pay had nothing to do with where the money was spent.
6. Why do I have to pay money to go to the temple?
Elder James E. Talmage said:
"Tithing is the Lord's revenue system, and He requires it of the people, not because He is lacking in gold or silver, but because [we] need to pay it. … The prime … purpose behind the establishment of the law of the tithe is the development of the soul of the tithe-payer, rather than the providing of revenue."
The Church doesn't need your money. God doesn't need your money. If He wanted to, He could finance His work in some other way. He could have whispered into the prophet's ear to buy up all the Alberta oil sands land before the 1960's, bought Apple stock in 2008, or invented the next big thing.
He could—but He doesn't—which means the law of Tithing must have a greater purpose than merely financing the Church. Tithing is about faith, not money.
When a person desires to attend the temple, they are interviewed by a member of the Bishopric. We ask a series of questions to assess a baseline level of worthiness. But the questions are not for us. A person could lie, and because God places the highest value on agency, we wouldn't know.
We are not passing a test to enter the temple. We are not paying Tithing to earn our way into the temple. Instead, we strive to be obedient to all of God's commands to increase our faith to the point where we can appreciate what the temple ordinances represent.
Every commandment serves this purpose. They are not for God, and they are not for the Church. They are for us. Keeping the commandments can keep us out of trouble and lead to happiness in our lives, but more importantly, they are the vehicle in which we gain faith and become what God wants us to become. Tithing is the same. It doesn't change our budget; it changes us.
7. The Church has billions of dollars. #1, Why do we need so much? #2, Why have so much just sitting there when there is so much suffering in the world?
Yes, the Church has lots of money. But how much does it cost to run this worldwide Church?
We currently have 173 temples in operation, and once all the temples in the various stages of planning and construction are finished, we will be at 300. All of which are paid for in full before a shovel hits the dirt.
The Church maintains almost 10,000 church buildings (I estimated based on the total number of units), runs four church-owned schools, and 5,400 family history centres. The Church also subsidizes over 50,000 missionaries, 400,000 seminary students, and 300,000 institute students (Church stats 2021). All of this while donating close to a billion dollars in humanitarian aid.
So, yes, the Church has a lot of money, but its expenses are astronomical. And how would we expect an organization that preaches strict self-reliance and emergency preparedness to its members to handle themselves? Probably the same way.
Quoting Elder David A. Bednar:
"For decades the Church has taught its membership the principle of setting aside additional food, fuel, and money to take care of emergencies that might arise. The Church as an institution simply follows the same principles that are taught repeatedly to the members."
Even back in 1995, President Gordon B. Hinckley informed members of the Church's determination to save for a rainy day:
"Not only are we determined to live within the means of the Church, but each year we put into the reserves of the Church a portion of our annual budget. We are only doing what we have suggested every family do. Should there come a time of economic distress, we would hope to have the means to weather the storm."
As I mentioned earlier, in last year's Tithing Settlement/Declaration, I asked each participant why they paid Tithing. I have summarized the 32 answers I received into 5 Reasons To Pay Tithing:
1. It is a commandment
2. It shows our love and gratitude to our Heavenly Parents.
3. Those who give, get—eternal math.
4. Sacrifice increases faith and enables us to change.
5. We are promised blessings and miracles.
Again quoting Elder David A Bednar:
"Often as we teach and testify about the law of Tithing, we emphasize the immediate, dramatic, and readily recognizable temporal blessings that we receive. And surely such blessings do occur. Yet some of the diverse blessings we obtain as we are obedient to this commandment are significant but subtle. Such blessings can be discerned only if we are both spiritually attentive and observant."
The varied blessings, beyond the strictly temporal, could include:
Discernment and inspiration to identify job opportunities that others might overlook.
An increased capacity to do more with less. To prioritize and simplify.
A greater ability to manage the other 90% of your income.
Or any other area we may need divine assistance.
This principle could be summed up through the aphorism, "A rising tide lifts all boats." I firmly believe God continually desires to bless us in as many ways as possible. And obedience in one area can lead to blessings in many others.
I testify that paying a full tithe has blessed my life in many ways, and I promise that it can bless yours. Our goal as a ward family is to do something to increase our faith. Returning 10% of what God has blessed you with is a perfect example of that. If you have fallen off in this area, please commit today to obey this commandment, that the "windows of heaven" may be opened unto you "that there shall not be room enough to receive it." (Malachi 3:10)
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.