Teachings of Howard W. Hunter Lesson 9: "The Law of Tithing"

by | Apr. 20, 2016

Lesson Helps

I would like to start this lesson’s article by saying that everything in here is a commentary on what President Hunter says in the lesson manual. The difference this week is that I am not filling the article with direct quotes from the lesson, though the sentiments are all there.

Tithing is generally considered to be one of the most basic of commandments. Yet it is also one of the most difficult to obey for many. Anytime you start asking people to empty their purse for something, defensive walls are thrown up and people become very protective. It is this very aspect of tithing that makes it a basic commandment.

Commandments are all about trust in the Lord. They really have very little to do with the actual request. It really is all about the willingness to obey, even when it is uncomfortable. The Lord owns the whole planet. Everything in, on, under, and around this planet was made by him and is owned by him. We are, if you will, playing in his sandbox, with his toys.

Tithing is a law given to those who profess to love the Lord and state they are willing to obey him in all things. He has, in essence, said that everything belongs to him. He blesses us with a certain prosperity in this life, and only requires that we be willing to give back to him, for his own purposes, ten percent of what we have been blessed with.

The Standing Law

The Lord refers to tithing as a “standing law” (D&C 119:4). A standing law is one that doesn’t change. We first see tithing referred to in the Old Testament. The prophets of old paid tithes and offerings, like Abraham paying his tithing to King Melchizedek. The Israelites were commanded to pay tithing to the Levites. The Levites, in turn, paid their tithes in the form of a heave offering to the Lord in the temple. So everyone paid tithing.

This illustrates that the Lord has always required his people to pay a tithe, 10% of their gross income, whether that be in chickens, grain, animals, or cash. Everything we receive during the year is titheable. The only kind of increase the Lord wants nothing to do with is the kind that comes from forbidden places, like gambling (lotteries included), extortion, etc. The Church will not accept money from these sources. Everything else is fair game.

Calculating Tithing

The calculation for tithing is pretty simple. If you earn $1,234.56 and want to know how much tithing you owe, just move the decimal place one position to the left. Your tithing would be $123.46. Notice I rounded up the last number. (Let’s not get stingy with the Lord!)

Spirit of the Tithe

You might have heard someone asking, “Do I have to pay tithing on such and such?” The universal answer is, if it is something you have now, but didn’t have before, then the answer is yes. But no, you don’t have to pay anything.

We pay our tithing not because we “have to.” We pay it because we get to. For someone who hasn’t yet gained a testimony of tithing that is a difficult concept. Where does the money go when I pay my tithing? It goes to building chapels and temples, and the expenses of the Lord’s church. This is all part of contributing to building up the Lord’s kingdom.

Tithing doesn’t bless the Lord. This is an important thing to believe. If the Lord is clever enough to create a world full of gold, silver, and diamonds, don’t you think he could get his hands on some cash if it were really needed? Tithing is a commandment to help us learn to trust Him. By giving our little ten percent for the building up of his kingdom, we are participating in the latter-day work and helping to personally bless the lives of others. This in turn, allows the Lord to give us blessings we wouldn’t otherwise qualify to receive.

I mentioned at the beginning of this article that commandments are all about trust in God. Our obedience to commandments don’t change God, they change us. We learn to trust Him, and his servants. We learn to exercise faith that we will be blessed by the Lord for our obedience. It is important to note that the Lord rarely ever gives us provable evidence that if we do A then his blessing of B follows. We are almost always made to exercise faith that doing A will bring about some form of B, without external evidence that it will happen ahead of time. This is what makes paying tithing so difficult at first.

Tithing is just like any other commandment that takes personal sacrifice. There are definite blessings involved, but it takes time for them to reveal themselves to us. Each person will have a different experience when paying their tithing. Some will notice spiritual blessings that weren’t there before. Others will receive physical blessings, whether they be monetary or health or situational blessings. One month the blessings may come in the form of financial help, the next month we may have greater peace in our home.

The Lord has promised us that he will “open the windows of heaven” and pour out blessings upon our heads so that there won’t be room enough to receive them all. That is not something that happens all at once. As we pay our tithing and show that we are willing to obey God’s commandment, He begins the process of blessing us with whatever He sees we need. We don’t get to put in requests. He chooses our blessings.

Once we have paid our tithing for a while, and for some it may be a couple of months, and for others a couple of years, we will begin to see that our life is so much more rich and full of little miracles. This is how the blessings of tithing reveal themselves to us.

Personal example: I was struggling in poverty for many years, and I found myself on more than one occasion faced with the sorry choice of either paying my tithing or paying my rent. I was already stressed over my lack of income. I had poured over my expenses time and time again. I knew just how much I had in the bank, and I had every bill I owned laying in front of me. I had done the math a dozen times. Funny how doing it over and over again doesn’t seem to change the outcome.

I finally determined that I was going to have to choose between the Lord and my landlord. I chose to put my faith in the Lord, assuming that if I put Him first he would bless me to deal with whatever came afterward. I paid my tithing and held my breath. Within a week a check arrived in the mail I had not known was coming. It was a complete surprise. It was just enough for me to be able to make my rent. We still didn’t have much for food, but we had a place to stay.

This has happened to me more than once. On more than one occasion I have paid my tithing knowing I didn’t have enough to cover that and rent, only to find that my rent check cleared anyway. I have never figured out how the Lord does math, because it certainly baffles me. I have received many blessings of a personal nature as well that I have directly attributed to the payment of my tithing, but I won’t get into those here.

Tithing is an Obligation

As much as it is a privilege to be able to pay tithing, it is also very much an obligation. The purpose of making covenants is to change us into the kind of people who can become like Christ. That process is made possible because of the covenants we make and keep. Tithing is one of the first lessons we learn in making and keeping covenants. It is a basic law that helps us learn to dedicate our personal resources to the building up of the Lord’s kingdom.

Final Thoughts

As much as tithing is a law and commandment, as well as an obligation, it is also a wonderful learning tool that contributes to our eternal salvation. It is a law, that when consistently obeyed, blesses us on a continual basis for the rest of our lives.

Give tithing a chance. Decide to put your trust in the promises of your Maker. Believe that when you pay your tithing the Lord will show you in his own way and time that your trust is justified and worthy of any sacrifice required to pay your tithing. There is no such thing as being too poor to pay tithing. The Lord never claimed that the widow’s mite in the New Testament was uncalled for. It was just the opposite. He praised her for still giving what little she had because of the sacrifice required to pay her tithing. The Savior actually discounted the riches poured into the Temple treasury by the wealthy people because they made no sacrifice. They could easily afford to make their contribution.

Tithing is meant to be a sacrifice, which is something that we make sacred because it is a stretch for us. If it was easy it wouldn’t be a sacrifice. The Lord delights in a cheerful giver, and as we gain a testimony of paying our tithing, we too will become cheerful givers, no matter what the cost.

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