In the summer of 1838, the Saints were experiencing significant financial difficulties as they attempted to build up the Church in northern Missouri. The Prophet Joseph Smith sought direction from the Lord, and on July 8, 1838, he received the revelations recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 119 and 120. In these revelations, the Lord taught the law of tithing and authorized certain Church leaders to determine how tithing funds are used.
Suggestions for Teaching
The Lord reveals the law of tithing
Invite a student to read aloud the following account told by President Gordon B. Hinckley:
“A woman in São Paulo, Brazil … worked while going to school to provide for her family. I use her own words in telling this story. She says:
“‘The university in which I studied had a regulation that prohibited the students that were in debt from taking tests.’ …
“‘I remember a time when I … faced serious financial difficulties. … When I figured the monthly budget, I noticed that there wouldn’t be enough to pay [both] my tithing and my university. I would have to choose between them. The bimonthly tests would start the following week, and if I didn’t take them I could lose the school year. I felt great agony. … I had a painful decision before me, and I didn’t know what to decide’” (“We Walk by Faith,” Ensign, May 2002, 73).
What would you say to someone in a similar dilemma?
Invite a student to read the continuation of the account:
“‘This feeling consumed my soul and remained with me [for days]. It was then that I remembered that when I was baptized I had agreed to live the law of tithing. I had taken upon myself an obligation, not with the missionaries, but with my Heavenly Father. At that moment, the anguish started to disappear, giving place to a pleasant sensation of tranquility and determination. …
“‘That night when I prayed, I asked the Lord to forgive me for my indecision. On Sunday, … with great pleasure I paid my tithing and offerings. That was a special day. I felt happy and peaceful within myself and with Heavenly Father’” (“We Walk by Faith,” 73).
Ask students to ponder how they might respond in this situation. Invite students to look for principles during their study of the scriptures today that can help them as they experience similar situations.
Explain that beginning in 1837, the Church experienced significant financial difficulties, as did many individual Church members. These financial problems resulted from a national economic depression, mob violence in Missouri and Ohio that drove Saints from their homes, and the unwillingness of some Saints to live the law of consecration. By 1838, with more Saints gathering to Caldwell County, Missouri, the Church needed money to accomplish what the Lord had commanded them to do, such as the building of the temple in Far West. The bishops in Ohio and Missouri had been encouraging the Saints to bring their tithes and offerings to the storehouse.
Invite a student to read the section introduction to Doctrine and Covenants 119 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what Joseph Smith asked at that time.
What did Joseph Smith ask the Lord?
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 119:1–4 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for the Lord’s answer to Joseph Smith’s request.
According to verse 4, what is tithing? (Students should identify the following commandment: The Lord commands us to pay one-tenth of our increase to Him as tithing. You may want to write this commandment on the board.)
To help students understand the meaning of the word interest in verse 4, invite a student to read aloud the following statement by President Howard W. Hunter:
“The law is simply stated as ‘one-tenth of all their interest.’ Interest means profit, compensation, increase. It is the wage of one employed, the profit from the operation of a business, the increase of one who grows or produces, or the income to a person from any other source. The Lord said it is a standing law ‘forever’ as it has been in the past” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1964, 35).
What do you learn from the Lord commanding the Saints to pay tithing at a time when it was difficult for them to do so?
In what ways is paying tithing an act of faith?
To help students understand how to pay tithing, display a Tithing and Other Offerings form. Ask students to imagine that they have just earned some money. Invite a student to suggest an amount.
How much tithing should be paid on that amount of money?
Record the tithing amount in the correct place on the form and ask the following question:
If we divide 10 percent of our income among the different donation categories on the form, have we paid a full tithe? (Make sure students understand that 10 percent of their income should be listed as tithing. Any donations they make to other funds are in addition to that 10 percent.)
Divide students into pairs. Ask them to explain to one another their understanding of how tithing funds are used. Then invite them to read the Lord’s explanation in Doctrine and Covenants 119:2.
According to verse 2, what are tithing funds used for? (Tithing is used “for the building of [the Lord’s] house” [building temples] and “for the laying of the foundation of Zion and for the priesthood” [financing other aspects of the Lord’s work, such as building and maintaining meetinghouses, translating and publishing the scriptures, and supporting missionary and family history work throughout the world]. You may want to point out that today the Church is not in debt. Write the following truth on the board: Tithing funds are used to build temples and to accomplish the work of the Lord.)
The Lord explains the law of tithing
Invite two students to participate in a role play. Assign one student to act as a faithful member of the Church, while the second student assumes the role of someone who is not a member of the Church. Give the second student a piece of paper with the following question written on it: I heard that you give 10 percent of your income to your church. Why would you want to do that?
Ask the second student to read the question aloud, and invite the first student to respond. After the role play, ask the class how they might have responded. Point out that there are many good answers to this question.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 119:6–7 aloud. Ask the class to look for what is accomplished by obedience to the law of tithing.
According to verse 6, what is accomplished by obedience to the law of tithing? (Sanctifying the land of Zion to the Lord.)
To help students understand this verse, explain that being sanctified refers to becoming free from sin—pure, clean, and holy through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. In addition, remind students that Zion is more than a physical location; it is people who are “pure in heart” (D&C 97:21).
Invite students to summarize the effects of obeying the law of tithing in their own words. Although students may use other words, they should identify the following principle: Paying tithing sanctifies us as individuals and as a Church. Write this principle on the board. You may want to suggest that students write it in the margin of their scriptures.
To help students understand and feel the importance of this principle, ask them to respond to one of the following questions in their class notebooks or scripture study journals:
How has paying tithing helped sanctify you?
In what ways do you think paying tithing would help someone be sanctified?
After sufficient time, invite a few students to explain what they have written. You might also want to share an experience and bear your testimony of the law of tithing.
The Lord organizes a council for the disposition of the tithes
Invite a student to read aloud the introduction to Doctrine and Covenants 120. Ask the class to follow along and look for the purpose of this revelation.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 120:1 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for whom the Lord selected to be part of the council that decides how tithing funds are spent.
Who determines how tithing funds are used?
You may want to explain that the council referred to in Doctrine and Covenants 120 is responsible for overseeing all payments and expenditures for the entire Church. This council is currently known as the Council on the Disposition of the Tithes and is composed of the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and the Presiding Bishopric.
According to Doctrine and Covenants 120:1, how are the members of this council to decide how to use tithing funds? (By the Savior’s “own voice unto them.” In other words, by revelation.)
Invite students to summarize in their own words what this revelation teaches about who directs the use of tithing funds. (Although students may use different words, they should identify the following principle: The Lord directs the use of tithing funds through His chosen servants.)
To help students understand how this principle operates in the Church today, explain that each ward or branch submits its collected tithing funds to Church headquarters. Local leaders do not determine how these sacred funds are used. The Council on the Disposition of the Tithes makes those decisions under the direction of the Lord.
President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke of the deep respect the Council on the Disposition of the Tithes has for tithing funds:
“I keep on the credenza behind my desk a widow’s mite that was given me in Jerusalem many years ago as a reminder, a constant reminder, of the sanctity of the funds with which we have to deal. They come from the widow, they are her offering as well as the tithe of the rich man, and they are to be used with care and discretion for the purposes of the Lord. We treat them carefully and safeguard them and try in every way that we can to see that they are used as we feel the Lord would have them used for the upbuilding of His work and the betterment of people” (“This Thing Was Not Done in a Corner,” Ensign, Nov. 1996, 50).
Invite students to share any additional insights or their testimonies about the law of tithing.
Commentary and Background Information
Doctrine and Covenants 119. The law of tithing
Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained some of the spiritual purposes of paying our tithing:
“The foundation of provident living is the law of the tithe. The primary purpose of this law is to help us develop faith in our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. Tithing helps us overcome our desires for the things of this world and willingly make sacrifices for others. Tithing is the great equitable law, for no matter how rich or poor we are, all of us pay the same one-tenth of our increase annually (see D&C 119:4), and all of us receive blessings so great ‘that there shall not be room enough to receive [them]’ (Malachi 3:10)” (“Becoming Provident Providers Temporally and Spiritually,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2009, 9).
Doctrine and Covenants 120. The Council on the Disposition of the Tithes
Initially, the high council in Missouri was directed to participate in the Council on the Disposition of the Tithes. Later that role was given to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Thus, in the Church today, the Council on the Disposition of the Tithes is composed of the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve, and the Presiding Bishopric.
Elder Robert D. Hales told about his experience as a member of the Council on the Disposition of the Tithes, first as Presiding Bishop and later as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“As revealed by the Lord, the use of tithing is determined by a council comprised of the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and the Presiding Bishopric. The Lord specifically states that the council’s work be directed ‘by mine own voice unto them’ [D&C 120:1]. This council is called the Council on the Disposition of the Tithes.
“It is remarkable to witness this council heed the Lord’s voice. Each member is aware of and participates in all the council’s decisions. No decision is made until the council is unanimous. All tithing funds are spent for the purposes of the Church, including welfare—care for the poor and needy—temples, buildings and upkeep of meetinghouses, education, curriculum—in short, the work of the Lord. …
“To Church members and others throughout the world, I bear my testimony of the Council on the Disposition of the Tithes. I have sat on this council … as the Presiding Bishop of the Church and now as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Without exception, the tithing funds of this Church have been used for His purposes” (“Tithing: A Test of Faith with Eternal Blessings,” Ensign, Nov. 2002, 28).