The Divine Law of Tithing
December 1986

“The Divine Law of Tithing,” Ensign, Dec. 1986, 14

The Divine Law of Tithing

This is an edited version of a talk given at the priesthood leadership session of general conference, 4 April 1986.

The law of tithing is part of a celestial law which we must live if we are to attain eternal life and exaltation in the celestial kingdom.

“For he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory. …

“And unto every kingdom is given a law; and unto every law there are certain bounds also and conditions.

“All beings who abide not in those conditions are not justified.” (D&C 88:22, 38–39.)

“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.” (D&C 105:5.)

A Prerequisite to Higher Ordinances

Paying tithing helps to qualify us to receive the higher ordinances of the priesthood. To qualify for eternal life, a person must receive all the ordinances of the priesthood administered in the house of the Lord. Tithing is one of the basic standards of judgment by which it is determined whether a person is worthy to receive these ordinances.

Just over three months after the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith, at the time when the Nauvoo Temple was under construction, Brigham Young wrote in an epistle of the Quorum of the Twelve: “Enter steadily and regularly upon a strict observance of the law of tithing … then come up to the House of the Lord, and be taught in his ways, and walk in his paths.” (History of the Church, 7:282.)

Five days later, Elder John Taylor, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, said in a conference that one of the clerks had asked whether any who had not paid their tithing could be baptized for the dead. Elder Taylor then taught: “It is our duty to pay our tithing, one-tenth of all we possess, and then one-tenth of our increase, and a man who has not paid his tithing is unfit to be baptized for his dead. … It is our duty to pay our tithing. If a man has not faith enough to attend to these little things, he has not faith enough to save himself and his friends.” (History of the Church, 7:292–93; italics added.)

The payment of tithing is one of the evidences that a person is worthy of receiving the ordinances of the temple.

The Lord’s Revenue System

Elder James E. Talmage of the Quorum of the Twelve 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 latter is an all-important purpose, for so far as money is needed for the carrying on of the work of the Church the Lord requires money that is sanctified by the faith of the giver; but blessings beyond estimate … are assured unto him who strictly conforms to the law of the tithe because the Lord hath so commanded.” (James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1924, pp. 528–29; italics added.)

A Test of Faith

Tithing is one of the great tests of the personal righteousness of Church members. President Joseph F. Smith wrote:

“By this principle [tithing] the loyalty of the people of this Church shall be put to the test. By this principle it shall be known who is for the kingdom of God and who is against it. By this principle it shall be seen whose hearts are set on doing the will of God and keeping his commandments, thereby sanctifying the land of Zion unto God, and who are opposed to this principle and have cut themselves off from the blessings of Zion. There is a great deal of importance connected with this principle, for by [our payment of tithes] it shall be known whether we are faithful or unfaithful. In this respect it is as essential as faith in God, as repentance of sin, as baptism for the remission of sin, or as the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. For if a man keep all the law save one point, and he offend in that, he is a transgressor of the law, and he is not entitled to the fulness of the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. But when a man keeps all the law that is revealed, according to his strength, his substance, and his ability, though what he [gives] may be little, it is just as acceptable in the sight of God as if he were able to do a thousand times more.

“The law of tithing is a test by which the people as individuals shall be proved. Any man who fails to observe this principle shall be known as a man who is indifferent to the welfare of Zion, who neglects his duty as a member of the Church. … He neglects to do that which would entitle him to receive the blessings and ordinances of the gospel.” (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1939, pp. 225–26; italics added.)

Elder George Q. Morris of the Quorum of the Twelve taught that paying an honest tithe requires faith:

“I think when people say they haven’t money enough to pay tithing, they should say they haven’t faith enough to pay tithing. It is my conviction that we pay tithing with faith and not with money, because when a man has so much money that he has a large tithing, he can’t pay tithing. He has too much money and too little faith to pay tithing, and just feels he can’t afford it.” (Improvement Era, June 1953, pp. 435–36.)

I would add that some of the less fortunate have too little money and too little faith, and also feel they can’t afford to pay tithing.

No one is too rich or too poor to pay tithing. No one can afford not to pay tithing.

A story about a newly married couple in South America has touched my heart. They lived thousands of miles from a temple. Their income was meager, but their faith was great.

They promised the Lord and each other to first pay a full tithe out of their income. Then they would spend modestly for a small apartment without any furniture, not even a chair or table. What was left over, after their food expenses, would go into a temple travel fund.

More than a year went by. They kept their tithing promise to the Lord and their objective to go to the temple. The young man’s brother, a nonmember, watched their humble faithfulness. One day, like a ministering angel, he came with two airplane tickets so they could fulfill their dreams and go to their beloved temple.

They went to the temple and were sealed; another great blessing came to them when their brother was baptized. He gained a testimony from their example and his own sacrifice. His sacrifice for others opened the door of salvation to his soul.

“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.” (Mal. 3:10; italics added.)

Are we ready to “prove the Lord herewith”? He is waiting.

An Honest Tithe

The Prophet Joseph Smith once asked in supplication: “O Lord! Show unto thy servant how much thou requirest of the properties of thy people for a tithing.” (History of the Church, 3:44.)

On 8 July 1838, the answer to his prayer was given:

“And this shall be the beginning of the tithing of my people [in this dispensation].

“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.” (D&C 119:3–4.)

The law of tithing was given to the whole Church. The First Presidency has written what the law of tithing is for us today: “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, 19 March 1970.)

If we are going to err in the payment of our tithes and offerings, let’s make sure we err on the side of the Lord.

Elder George Q. Morris said, “If we will pay our honest tithing to God, he will bless us and prosper us and increase our faith, and I believe the Lord has a lot of things to do that he can only do through people who have faith to pay their honest tithing.” (Improvement Era, June 1953, p. 436; italics added.)

When the Prophet inquired as to why Zion’s Camp could not restore the Saints to their possessions in Missouri, the Lord answered in this language:

“Were it not for the transgressions of my people, … they might have been redeemed even now.

“But behold, they have not learned to be obedient to the things which I required at their hands, but are full of all manner of evil, and do not impart of their substance, as becometh saints, to the poor and afflicted among them;

“And are not united according to the union required by the law of the celestial kingdom.” (D&C 105:2–4.)

And then the Lord added:

“And my people must needs be chastened until they learn obedience, if it must needs be, by the things which they suffer.” (D&C 105:6.)

A Law of Equity and Fellowship

All members are treated equally with respect to the law of tithing. Whether rich or poor, each member pays only 10 percent of his or her annual increase, no matter how large or how small the increase might be.

Some years ago, when I was a regional representative, the Church purchased a meetinghouse of another denomination in Bradford, Pennsylvania. The beautiful stained glass, brought from Europe and assembled by artisans, bore the etched name of the donor. The majestic hand-carved pulpit made of cedars of Lebanon displayed the carved initials of the donor. The front pews were named for those prominent families who donated the most money to the building fund.

But the law of tithing does not grant greater blessings for greater gifts. Each member can go into any chapel or participate in any activity and feel equal. The Lord values each contribution equally. Those who pay an honest tithe are in a position to invoke the Lord’s help and expect him to bless and assist them in time of need because of their faithfulness.

Disposition of Tithing

Section 120 of the Doctrine and Covenants [D&C 120] was given the same day as the revelation on the law of tithing to the entire Church. In it the Lord clearly states that tithing should be “disposed of by a council, composed of the First Presidency of my Church, and of the bishop and his council [the Presiding Bishopric], and by my high council [the Quorum of the Twelve]; and by mine own voice unto them.” (Italics added.)

The Lord directs the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve, and the Presiding Bishopric in how to use the sacred tithes of the Saints. This council is called the Council on Disposition of the Tithes.

President George Albert Smith taught a very important lesson on the disposition of tithes. He told of inviting a boyhood friend, whom he had not seen for some time, to accompany him to a stake conference. This friend had achieved success in the financial world. As they were driving home from the conference, he told President Smith about his method of paying tithing. He said that if he made ten thousand dollars, he would put one thousand dollars in the bank for tithing. Then, he said, when someone needed money for a worthwhile cause, he would write a check. “Little by little I exhaust the thousand dollars,” he said, “and every dollar of it has gone where I know it has done good.” Then he asked President Smith what he thought of that plan.

President Smith replied: “I think you are a very generous man with someone else’s property. You have not paid any tithing. You have told me what you have done with the Lord’s money, but you have not told me that you have given anyone a penny of your own. He is the best partner you have in the world. He gives you everything you have, even the air you breathe. He has said you should take one-tenth of what comes to you and give it to the Church as directed by the Lord. You haven’t done that; you have taken your best partner’s money, and have given it away.”

About a month later, the two men met on the street, and President Smith was happy to learn that his friend was paying his tithing as the Lord had directed. (See Improvement Era, June 1947, p. 357.)

Tithing Settlement

At year’s end every Church member has the opportunity to attend a tithing settlement, where they declare whether or not they are full-tithe payers. The bishop or branch president is a witness for the Lord, and he records our declaration for the Church records. The correctness of our declaration is known only to the individual and the Lord.

Tithing settlement is a good time for the bishop to meet not only with full-tithe payers, but also those who contribute less than a full tithe, to teach them the importance of the law of tithing.

It is best for the whole family to come to tithing settlement so each can bear testimony of the blessings that come from paying an honest tithe.

Teaching Our Youth

I hope all of our children will take the opportunity to pay tithing, even though it may be only a few cents. Some of our children do not pay tithing because their parents do not think the amount of money is significant enough to make a contribution. In their teenage years, they may need to contribute to the family budget. They may also be tempted to spend all their money on clothes, entertainment, and vehicles. It is important, however, that we teach the principle of tithing to our children when they are young—by example, in bishop’s interviews, in family home evenings, in auxiliary lessons, in our sacred sacrament meetings, and in home teaching and visiting teaching discussions.

I have interviewed young men and young women who say they are not paying tithing because they are saving for their missions. Is it possible that a missionary can teach a law that he has never lived to those who are brought into the Church? Wouldn’t he teach the law of tithing with more conviction if he had lived the law to the fullest? Because missionaries do not pay tithing on the money they receive in the mission field, it is even possible for them to return home to the pressures of education and supporting a young family and remain unconverted to the law of tithing. Such a person could even grow to maturity, wondering how anyone could be expected to pay tithing on such a great sum of money as he has earned.

As a mission president, it was my experience that all of the missionaries wanted temple recommends as they left the mission field. It was very important to impress upon them that they must live the law of tithing when they returned from the mission field to be worthy of a temple recommend. It was important for them to know that the law of tithing was an integral part of the law of consecration, to give all of our time, talents, and money as necessary to build the kingdom of God.

The Lord teaches that obedience to the law of tithing is necessary for our personal salvation and for the development of our souls. I hope, therefore, that few members of the Church go to their final place of rest without having had the opportunity to pay a full tithe. The promise is that when the Saints tithe fully, the Lord will pour out the blessings of heaven upon his people.

Photo by Steve Bunderson

Illustrated by Scott Snow