Relief Society Lesson #9: The Law of Tithing
Disclaimer: In teaching this lesson, I would remember that paying tithing is a personal thing involved in an individual’s relationship with God. I think it’s important to be mindful of the sisters in the room and their individual struggles and experiences. Often I find that tithing lessons turn to shaming sessions. Also, too many stories about how people were blessed financially because they paid tithing can cause undue pain to those who have not experienced that or who have struggled with financial duress despite their faithful efforts to pay tithing. Financial blessings don’t just come to those who pay tithing, and financial calamities don’t just come because people weren’t paying tithing. For that reason, I am focusing this lesson on the heart of what tithing is, because I don’t believe our Heavenly Parents withhold love and blessings to those who don’t pay 10% of their income to a certain church.
Why do we pay tithing?
Christ taught us to give, sacrifice, and to take care of our fellow human beings. In Acts 20:35, Paul teaches Christ’s message of giving:
“I have shewed you all things, how that so laboring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” Acts 20:35
How does our tithing help us to do God’s work of lifting and helping our sisters and brothers?
Prevention of poverty, disease, and crime is much better and much cheaper than relief or cure. … The suggestive steps in family welfare are relief of existing distress, prevention of new distress, and the raising of human life to its highest level. Amy Brown Lyman, Relief Society President “Amy Brown Lyman, In Retrospect: Autobiography of Amy Brown Lyman.” 1945, p. 18.
How do our tithes and offerings relieve existing distress? How do they prevent new distress? How do they raise human life to its highest level?
How does our offering help us?
“The payment of tithing strengthens faith, increases spirituality, and spiritual capacity, and solidifies testimony.” Howard W. Hunter Manual
How does paying tithing increase our spiritual capacity and growth?
One way that tithing helps us to increase our spiritual capacity is through our willingness to let go of carnal things and the selfishness that often accompanies those things.
“We may not be asked to sacrifice our homes or our lives, as was the case with the early Saints. We are challenged today to overcome our selfishness.” HWH Manual
“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” Matthew 16:24
Another way that paying tithing increases our spiritual capacity is by creating unity between ourselves and God.
“The principle of tithing should be more than a mathematical, mechanical compliance with the law. The Lord condemned the Pharisees for mechanically tithing herbs without coming into the circumference of spirituality [see Matthew 23:23]. If we pay our tithes because of our love for the Lord, in complete freedom and faith, we narrow our distance from him and our relationship to him becomes intimate. We are released from the bondage of legalism, and we are touched by the spirit and feel a oneness with God.” HWH Manual
How do you make your tithes more meaningful than a compulsory check to the bishop each month? What do you feel in your heart when you give and sacrifice to help lift others in need? How does this help you to feel one with God?
If our Heavenly Parent’s desire is for the abundance of the earth to be enjoyed by every single one of their children so that we can all live in peace, harmony, love, and joy, then we can find oneness with God through this common goal.
What is the LAW of tithing?
Howard W. Hunter mentioned multiple times in the Relief Society Manual that tithing is a law of God. How is tithing a law of God?
“The tithe is God’s law for his children, yet the payment is entirely voluntary. In this respect it does not differ from the law of the Sabbath or from any other of his laws. We may refuse to obey any or all of them. Our obedience is voluntary, but our refusal to pay does not abrogate or repeal the law.” HWH Manual
In being a law, tithing requires all of us to give what we can to benefit the whole. Laws bring with them natural consequences. What are the natural consequences of offering our tithes with willing hearts? Refer back to the questions about how our tithing helps to lift others and how it helps us. Going back to my disclaimer in the beginning, I would stress that these things are natural consequences, not rewards. God does not favor those who pay tithing above those who don’t, as the purpose of tithing is to benefit the whole human race that God loves without respect for persons. Do you think a perfect God would love us less or punish us when we fail in our offerings? If we fail in our willingness to offer what we have to benefit the whole, we can always try and try again. Failure to give a portion of what we have been blessed with does not cause God to punish us, rather it simply and naturally halts our spiritual growth by denying us an opportunity to develop selflessness and unity with God.
How can our little offering make a difference in the world?
These beautiful thoughts were given by Jeffrey R. Holland in a talk that I highly recommend reading in preparation for this lesson:
“Given the monumental challenge of addressing inequality in the world, what can one man or woman do? The Master Himself offered an answer. When prior to His betrayal and Crucifixion, Mary anointed Jesus’ head with an expensive burial ointment, Judas Iscariot protested this extravagance and ‘murmured against her.’
Jesus said: ‘Why trouble ye her? She hath wrought a good work…’
‘She hath done what she could.’
‘She hath done what she could’! What a succinct formula! A journalist once questioned Mother Teresa of Calcutta about her hopeless task of rescuing the destitute in that city. He said that, statistically speaking, she was accomplishing absolutely nothing. This remarkable little woman shot back that her work was about love, not statistics. Notwithstanding the staggering number beyond her reach, she said she could keep the commandment to love God and her neighbor by serving those within her reach with whatever resources she had. ‘What we do is nothing but a drop in the ocean,’ she would say on another occasion. ‘But if we didn’t do it, the ocean would be one drop less [than it is].’ Soberly, the journalist concluded that Christianity is obviously not a statistical endeavor. He reasoned that if there would be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety and nine who need no repentance, then apparently God is not overly preoccupied with percentages.” Jeffrey R. Holland, Are We Not All Beggars? October 2014 Ensign
Tithing is a law of this life, so it’s important to bring our hearts and offerings in alignment with what is right in front of us in this life. Sometimes we live too much for eternity, but our offerings are meant to bless this world and create a celestial glory here among our fellow humans. I would end this lesson with a quote from Chieko Okazaki that touches on this
“No one is hungry in the next life; so if we want to share food with those who weep from hunger, we must do it in this life. No one is cold or naked. If we want to give a pair of shoes to a barefoot child, we must do it in this life. We know that the wicked suffer remorse, but there is no indication in the scriptures that there is grief or loneliness or sorrow among those in paradise. So if we want to give comfort and encouragement, we must do it in mortality.” Chieko Okazaki, Cat’s Cradle, p. 207