I really enjoy food, but I also truly enjoy the spirit of Thanksgiving. I love gathering together with family and loved ones in a spirit of gratitude. During these get-togethers there is a particularly palpable sense of human connection. Nothing quite says love and unity like the bustle of people in a kitchen, warm food, and good conversation. I feel I am in Zion when I feel that special sense of place.
As at the Thanksgiving dinner table, we here in this meeting today are also contributing to the building of Zion. According to brother Joseph, the building of Zion is an incredibly important work that is essential to our salvation. So everyone in attendance today is contributing to everyone else’s salvation. So Thanks. I am grateful to you all for being here.
The subject of my talk today is another task, which like spending time with family and attending church, is also essential to the building of Zion. Namely paying tithing.
Doctrine and Covenants Section 119 verse 2 lays out three purposes for which we paying tithing: No. 1, tithing “is for the building of mine ahouse [temples].” No. 2, as I’ve already mentioned, tithing “is for the laying of the foundation of Zion...” And Third, tithing “is for the debts of… my Church.” I’m going to use these three utilitarian purposes for the institution of the tithe as an outline for my talk. First I would like to talk about the function of tithing in terms of building temples. Next and closely related to this, is how paying tithing helps lay the foundation of Zion; and finally, I’d like to discuss how tithing helps pay debts.
So let’s get started by talking about tithing in relation to temples. There is an explicit link between paying tithing and the building of God’s home on Earth - the temple. The money that we give to the bishop each month is used to pay for the construction and upkeep of the beautiful buildings that we erect in order to worship God. Temples are awe-some in both the original sense of the word – meaning awe inspiring – and in contemporary sense of the word – which is to say they are super cool.
Temples have always been places of sacrifice. In ancient times the temple ritual required a sacrifice of the firstling of the flock. The lamb would be layed on an altar and killed in payment for the sins of the one offering the sacrifice. According to Professor Andrew Skinner, of BYU’s Institute for Religious Studies, the Hebrew word for sacrifice is zbeakh; the Hebrew word for altar is mizbeakh meaning place of sacrifice. Professor Skinner goes on to say that “At the altars of the Lord’s temples today, worshippers covenant to sacrifice all they possess for the sake of Lord’s Kingdom.” So, today as in days past, we make sacrifices at altars – places of sacrifice. Kinda of interesting, eh?
These are serious covenants that require serious preparation. In his talk Personal Preparation for Temple Blessings, Elder Russel M. Nelson says that tithing is a “spiritual seperator”: “[It helps] determine if we truly live as children of the covenant…” Paying tithing is a strong indicator of whether we are truly willing to “live in accord with the will of the true and living God or if our hearts are still set [as it says in Alma 7:6] ‘upon riches and vain things of the world’”. Not only does paying tithing contribute to building temples, the law of the tithe is also what Professor Skinner calls, “a schooling process” which teaches us the principle of sacrifice which is requisite to keeping temple covenants. Therefore, in more way than one tithing contributes to the perpetuation and sanctity of God’s House.
Temples are also related to the second purpose of the law of the tithe, which is the laying of the foundation of Zion. So let’s now move to a discussion of tithing in relation to the building of God’s Kingdom. In the Doctrine and Covenants Section 119 verses 4, 6 and 7 brother Joseph lays down the law of tithing. He says the following:
“Verily I say unto you, it shall come to pass that all those who gather unto the land of aZion shall be tithed of their surplus properties… And I say unto you, if my people observe not this law… and by this law sanctify the land of Zion unto me… behold, verily I say unto you, it shall not be a land of aZion unto you.”
Herein, brother Joseph mentions Zion several times. He makes it very clear that tithing is absolutely essential to the creation of God’s Kingdom. Tithing is a foundational principle: Without it, there is no Zion. This begs the question: Why is tithing so incredibly important to the building of the Kingdom?
To answer this question I thought it might be helpful to review the Lord’s definition of Zion as revealed to Moses and then to the prophet Joseph, in Moses chapter 7 verse 8:
“And the Lord called his people Zion because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.”
Here, Zion is defined as a place where the people of God are so united in following Christ and administering to others, that they completely eliminated poverty among their brothers and sisters. This lends itself to a better understanding of Doctrine and Covenants section 105 when we read, “But behold, they… 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.”
As this scripture makes clear, when we are not willing to impart of our substance to the help the poor and afflicted we are not united - our hearts are closed to our God and to the needs of those around us. Zion cannot exist if people are not willing to openly give of themselves and assist others in need. Thus, tithing, along with fast offerings, and other charitable giving, are essential because they teach us to impart of our substance to assist the poor and afflicted. Think for instance, on the Perpetual Education Fund instituted by our beloved President Hinkley. Our tithing funds are right now making much headway towards the great goal of creating “no poor among us” by elevating our disadvantaged brethren into greater prosperity via education.
Also related to the creation of God’s Kingdom on Earth, we learn in Doctrine and Covenants section 64 verse 23 that tithing is part of the sacrifice required by the Lord of his saints in the last days prior to his coming. I think Professor Andrew Skinner’s elucidation of the meaning of the word sacrifice is helpful here. Skinner explains that “[t]he word sacrifice comes from two Latin words put together: sacer meaning sacred and facere meaning to make or do.” (Sacer facer – Sacer fice - Sacrifice) “Thus,” according to Skinner, “sacrifice literally means ‘to make sacred.’” So when we sacrifice one tenth of our earnings, we do so in order to sanctify and purify our labors on Earth and show that we devote all things unto God. Not only does tithing unify us, but the law of the tithe also sets us apart and sanctifies our lives as participants.
Jeffrey R. Holland in a talk given in November of 2001 further elaborates how the law of the tithe both unifies us as a people and sets us apart from the world as participants in God’s Kingdom on Earth:
“Pay your tithing as a declaration that possession of material goods and the accumulation of worldly wealth are not the uppermost goals of your existence…. Perhaps our most pivotal moments as Latter-day Saints come when we have to swim directly against the current of the culture in which we live. Tithing provides just such a moment. Living in a world that emphasizes material acquisition and cultivates distrust for anyone or anything that has designs on our money, we shed that self-absorption to give freely, trustingly, and generously. By this act, we say—indeed—we are different, that we are God’s peculiar people.”
This doctrine is incredibly exciting to me. The sacrifice entailed in the law of the tithe is a preparation for the full realization of God’s kingdom on Earth – culminating in the complete renunciation of material goods with the reinstatement of the law of consecration. I exhort you to pay your tithing now, so that, as it says in Doctrine and Covenants Section 85 verse 5, you can be numbered among the members of Zion. Only, thus will you be fully ready for Christ’s return.
Finally I’d like to speak for a moment on Tithing and the renunciation of debt.
Elder Holland has said that, “Paying tithing is not a token gift we are somehow charitably bestowing upon God. Paying tithing is discharging a debt.” In Malachi chapter 3 verses 8 through 10 it reads, “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings...” This scripture makes it clear that when I fail to pay my tithing, I am stealing that which is rightfully owed to God. In explaining this debt, Elder Holland points to the words of Elder James E. Talmage who, “once described this as a contract between us and the Lord. He imagined the Lord saying: ‘You have need of many things in this world—food, clothing, and shelter for your family… , the common comforts of life… You shall have the means of acquiring these things; but remember they are mine, and I require of you the payment of a rental upon that which I give into your hands.’” God created our bodies and God created this Earth; therefore everything that is ours, is in fact His property. Every time we pay our tithing, the act should serve as reminder that everything we have is a gift from God. Furthermore, as virtual tenants on God’s Earth we must deliver our tithe or prepare to suffer according to the dictates of the Law.
This tenant agreement seems like kind of a harsh allegory. Fortunately, there is a flip-side to the arrangement: When we pay our tithing, we learn further from Malachi chapter 3 verse 8, that God will “open the windows of heaven, and pour  out a blessing… that there shall not be room to receive it.”
Elder Holland in November of 2001 told the following story to illustrate this principle:
“After she lost her husband in the martyrdom at Nauvoo and made her way west with five fatherless children, Mary Fielding Smith continued in her poverty to pay tithing. When someone at the tithing office inappropriately suggested one day that she should not contribute a tenth of the only potatoes she had been able to raise that year, she cried out to the man, ‘William, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. Would you deny me a blessing? If I did not pay my tithing, I should expect the Lord to withhold His blessings from me. I pay my tithing, not only because it is a law of God, but because I expect a blessing by doing it. [I need a blessing.] By keeping this and other laws, I expect to … be able to provide for my family.’”
While it may seem counter-intuitive that giving up ten percent of everything one has will somehow help them provide for their family, the blessings of tithing (like so many of the principles of the Gospel) rests on sound footing. For instance in Doctrine and Covenants Chapter 64, immediately after the discussion of tithing as “fire insurance,” comes a warning about avoiding debt. This link between paying tithing and avoiding debt, which is suggested in the Doctrine and Covenants, is made explicit in modern revelation.
Robert D. Hales in May 2009 laid down some powerful insight into the relationship between tithing and the avoidance of debt through fiscal responsibility.
First Elder Hales lays out the disease of which excessive debt is the symptom: covetousness. He says,
“We must keep that most basic commandment [found in Exodus chapter 20 verse 17]: ‘Thou shalt not covet’… Some of us feel embarrassed, ashamed, less worthwhile if our family does not have everything the neighbors have. As a result, we go into debt to buy things we can’t afford—and things we do not really need.”
Then Elder Hales explains how the law of the tithe can help us overcome covetousness: “Tithing helps us overcome our desires for the things of this world and willingly make sacrifices for others.” Tithing teaches us to be content with the things of God and not feel such a frantic desire for material possessions. For this reason Elder Hales is correct in saying that “the foundation of provident living is the law of the tithe…” Paying tithing teaches us to budget with this spirit of provident living. Every month this little commitment to God helps put our finances into greater perspective and helps us make sound fiscal decisions.
Elder Hales illustrates this spirit of provident living with a story:
“Our wedding anniversary was approaching, and I wanted to buy [my wife] Mary a fancy coat to show my love and appreciation for our many happy years together. When I asked what she thought of the coat I had in mind, she replied… ‘Where would I wear it?’… Then she taught me an unforgettable lesson. She looked me in the eyes and sweetly asked, “Are you buying this for me or for you?” I pondered her question and realized I was thinking less about her and our family and more about me.”
I relate particularly well to this story; although, I’m much more guilty than Elder Hales. For instance, for my wife’s birthday I bought her a digital camera. She likes it but she knows the reason I got it was because I wanted a camera and sought to hide my fiscal irresponsibility in the guise of generosity. Hopefully during this Christmas season we can all avoid egoism and be both responsible and generous in the way we dispose of our income. I suggest starting by paying your tithing.
This Thanksgiving Season I hope that we can all be grateful for the great abundance we enjoy as citizens of the United States in this amazing age. No other generation has ever participated in such widespread prosperity as we enjoy today – and that is basically true across the world – as standards of living continue to increase in virtually ever nation. I’m extremely grateful to live when I do and to be born into such a fantastic family and to have met and married such a lovely young hotty.
I’ll close by bearing my testimony that the law of the tithe is a really cool commandment, and if we pay it faithfully, submitting and opening ourselves to God’s will, we will be blessed. Our relationships will be more open and loving, we will feel God’s approval and sanctification in our daily lives, and we will stand on firm financial footing even in unstable times. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.