Gospel Principles #32 – Tithes and Offerings
Guest Post by Oxymormon girl
I’ve been a Relief Society teacher on and off for about four years now. Through the years, I’ve found that a good Relief Society lesson generally has an even balance between the doctrine found in the lesson manual, my insights as the teacher, and the sister’s comments. But if I am going to skew the balance in any way, it will be to allow the sister’s more time to comment. I feel that Relief Society lessons are much more powerful when we collectively share the insights we have gained through our study and personal experiences. For that reason, I see my main role as a teacher as being one who facilitates a good discussion by using the lesson manual as a jumping off point for thoughtful questions that encourage the sister’s to share their unique perspectives. In the lesson outline below, I’ve provided several possible ides for framing a discussion about tithing that you’re welcome to pick and choose from. (You probably won’t have time to cover it all.)
Introduction to the Lesson
I usually start my lesson by just reviewing basic, key concepts about the gospel principle we are discussing that day. So I’d start by having someone read this section from page 185 of the manual:
In modern times the Prophet Joseph Smith prayed, “O Lord, show unto thy servants how much thou requirest of the properties of thy people for a tithing” (D&C 119, section introduction). The Lord answered: “This shall be the beginning of the tithing of my people. 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” (D&C 119:3–4). The First Presidency has explained that “one-tenth of all their interest annually” refers to our income (see First Presidency letter, Mar. 19, 1970).
Interestingly enough, the word “tithe” comes from the Old English word tegotha meaning “tenth.” (NOTE: I would just define tithing as 10% and not go any deeper than that in my lesson. It’s a good idea to avoid getting into a discussion about whether “tenth” can be defined as “net” or “gross” or some other definition. The church has made it clear that these kinds of decisions are best left up to the individual under the guidance of the Spirit.)
This isn’t a question that I have an answer for, but have you ever wondered why the Lord chose 10% rather than some other number such as 3% or 7%? Do you have any opinions about why that might be? Give the sisters an opportunity to respond to the question. (This question will probably elicit a couple of funny remarks about 10% being easier for those of us who are mathematically-challenged, such as myself.)
When everyone has finished responding, I’ll mention that I once read an interesting insight from Lauren F. Winner about why the Lord possibly requires 10%:
A 2005 Barna study suggested that “the typical individual gave away about 3% of their income.” That figure is significantly less than the biblical standard of 10%. Why do Americans only give away 3% of our income? Because, though 3% might pinch, it doesn’t pinch very much. 10% is harder. A commitment to give away 10% of your hard-earned salary requires serious self-sacrifice—it might require buying a smaller home, with a smaller mortgage payment. It might require scaling back vacation plans, passing on that trip to Europe and renting a modest house at the beach instead. It might require telling your kids “no” more often. It might require a family of two kids and two adults to own only one car, and that car might not be a shiny, new SUV.
I liked that insight. It lead me to consider that perhaps one of the purposes of tithing is to help us learn how to be more prudent, to live within our means, and to avoid becoming too worldly or materialistic.
We Should Give Willingly
Next I would have someone read this section from page 186:
It is important to give willingly. “When one pays his tithing without enjoyment he is robbed of a part of the blessing. He must learn to give cheerfully, willingly and joyfully, and his gift will be blessed” (Stephen L Richards, The Law of Tithing [pamphlet, 1983], 8).
The Apostle Paul taught that how we give is as important as what we give. He said, “Let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).
So, as it says here in the manual, we should try to give our tithing cheerfully. One thing that I think is interesting is that prior to the turn of the twentieth century, the members of the church used to pay their tithing “in kind,” which meant that they didn’t always pay the church in cash. For example, if you were a chicken farmer, you paid the church with eggs. If you were a potato farmer, you paid with potatoes, etc. Back in those days, church members tried to pay the church with the best 10% of eggs or the best 10% of potatoes.
Since we give our tithing differently today, we don’t have the same opportunity to give our “best” to the Lord. But one way we can give our best would be to give our tithing with a cheerful heart. (When I mentioned this to my husband, he jokingly suggested that perhaps you could write on the memo of your tithing check that it is “cheerfully given.”)
Now, I don’t know about you, but when I was a little kid and I was only making something like ten dollars a month, it was pretty easy to cheerfully give one dollar to the Lord. But now that I’m older and the checks I write are bigger, sometimes it’s a little more difficult to give with a cheerful countenance. Maybe on occasion I murmur a little bit in my heart. Do you have any suggestions for helping to give cheerfully? Give the sisters an opportunity to respond to that question.
When everyone has finished responding, I might mention that I enjoy going to the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival every year. One of the most popular storytellers at the festival is Donald Davis. He tells a story about how he got his first job as a young teenager and began to notice that the government was taking money out of his paycheck, so that he wasn’t getting the full amount he had earned. He complained loudly to his parents that he didn’t like the government taking his money. So one day his father brought home a gigantic book called the Federal Budget. His parents told Donald to read through that book and find something in the budget he liked and just imagine that all of his money went to pay for that one thing. And after days of skimming through that big, boring book, Donald finally found something he liked: the national park system. So, now when he pays his taxes, he just imagines that all of his money is going to the national parks. (He makes jokes about how he likes to travel the country to go look at his “properties,” such as the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone.)
Maybe that strategy could help us give tithing a little more cheerfully. Have the sisters come up with a list of the things that our tithing money helps pay for. Write their responses on the board as they come up with them. (If they get stuck while coming up with the list, they can use the list from the lesson manual on pages 186-187 for reference.) When the list is complete, ask: Can you find something on this list that you feel happy to have your tithing money pay for?
The sisters will probably put “temples” on the list at some point. Last year in one of my Sunday School classes when we were learning about Solomon’s Temple, the teacher asked us why we make our temples so ornate, elaborate, and beautiful. It costs a lot of money to build a temple. Wouldn’t it be better to spend that money on the poor? We ended up having a very through-provoking discussion about that question (it’s stayed in my memory and it’s been almost a year since we studied it). It might be interesting to have a discussion about that as part of your Relief Society lesson. For example, one of the interesting comments someone made was that we need to give first to the Lord. When we give Him our very best, He expands the usefulness of everything else we have and are. When we give to the Lord first, we are more able to effectively give to the poor around us.
The Blessings of Tithing
As an introduction to this section of the lesson, I’d mention that the prophet Joseph F. Smith frequently spoke about the courage and faithfulness of his mother Mary Fielding Smith, the widow of Hyrum Smith. He told an interesting story about her faithfulness in paying tithes:
My mother was a widow, with a large family to provide for. One spring when we opened our potato pits she had her boys get a load of the best potatoes, and she took them to the tithing office; potatoes were scarce that season. I was a little boy at the time, and drove the team. When we drove up to the steps of the tithing office, ready to unload the potatoes, one of the clerks came out and said to my mother, “Widow Smith, it’s a shame that you should have to pay tithing.” … He chided my mother for paying her tithing, called her anything but wise or prudent; and said there were others who were strong and able to work that were supported from the tithing office. My mother turned upon him and said: “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. By keeping this and other laws, I expect to prosper and to be able to provide for my family” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1900, p. 48).
Next, I would have someone read from page 187 of the manual:
The Lord promises to bless us as we faithfully pay our tithes and offerings. He said, “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith … 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” (Malachi 3:10).
The lesson manual says that the blessings of paying tithing are both material and spiritual. In what ways have you been blessed either temporally or spiritually by paying tithing? Have you put the Lord’s challenge to “prove” him on the principle of tithing? Do you have any personal experiences to share? Give the sisters an opportunity to respond to the question. I imagine that this will take up a very large portion of the lesson because nearly everyone has a tithing experience to share. However, if the discussion does stall, you might consider sharing one of your favorite stories from this Ensign article entitled “Not Room Enough to Receive It” in which many members throughout the world share their experiences getting blessings from paying tithing.
(NOTE: In this section of the lesson when discussing the blessings of tithing, I would try to avoid falling into “prosperity theology,” which is the idea that people are wealthy because they are righteous or poor because they are wicked. It’s for that reason that I would emphasize that some of the blessings that come from paying tithing are often spiritual, not necessarily financial.)
Another interesting side note to be aware of is that another instance in which God referred to opening up the windows of heaven was when talking about the Flood (see Genesis 7:11). So, when God speaks about opening up the windows of heaven and pouring out blessings in Malachi 3:10, He might mean that he will pour out a flood of blessings, a torrential downpour of blessings so great you will not be able to receive it. That’s a cool metaphor, in my opinion.
If you still have time to kill at the end of the lesson, I really liked this question from the manual: In what ways is tithing a principle of faith more than a principle of finances? I think that could lead to a really interesting discussion.
I would conclude by reading this quote by Neal A. Maxwell:
I am going to preach a hard doctrine to you now. The submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. It is a hard doctrine, but it is true. The many other things we give to God, however nice that may be of us, are actually things He has already given us, and He has loaned them to us. But when we begin to submit ourselves by letting our wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him. And that hard doctrine lies at the center of discipleship. There is a part of us that is ultimately sovereign, the mind and heart, where we really do decide which way to go and what to do. And when we submit to His will, then we’ve really given Him the one thing He asks of us (“Sharing Insights from My Life,” BYU Devotional, January 12, 1999).
I would close by saying that it’s important to remember that everything we have is not really ours. They are things He has already given us. He asks such a small thing in return when he asks for our ten percent. But really, it’s about training ourselves to become true disciples, to learn how to eventually give the bigger sacrifice of our wills.
I find that I study and learn quite a bit when I’m preparing for my lessons, but only about 10% of what I study or think about actually makes it into my lesson. (There’s that pesky 10% again!) Here’s some interesting resources for further study:
- Dallin H. Oaks: “Tithing” (Ensign, May 1994) – He shares a story similar to Joseph F. Smith’s about learning the principle of tithing from his own widowed mother.
- Prepare by Living Providently and Paying Tithes and Offerings – quotes from General Authorities about paying tithes; my favorite of which is from Bonnie D. Parkin about how paying tithing helps us learn fiscal management.
- Arthur Brooks’ “Why Giving Matters” (BYU Forum, Feburary 24, 2009).
- Wikipedia’s History of Tithes
Note: This lesson was originally written for the Relief Society audience in 2010-2011, when the Gospel Principles manual was temporarily used as curriculum for Relief Society, Elders Quorum and High Priest classes. The lesson may require adaptation for Gospel Principles classes, which are mixed gender and primarily serve new members and investigators of the church.