At the end of the 1800s, the Church faced a staggering financial debt, exceeding one million dollars. This financial obligation weighed heavily on Joseph F. Smith’s mind. At the October 1899 general conference he said: “We have had much valuable instruction in relation to our duties as Latter-day Saints, not only concerning the law of tithing, but also in reference to other things, which are as important in their place as the law of tithing. There is nothing, however, of greater importance to the welfare of the Church at present than the consideration of this law, by which means will be placed in the storehouse of the Lord, to meet the necessities of the people.”1
One afternoon seven years later, President Smith came from his office and found his daughter Rachel in the front hall of the Beehive House.
“Where is your mother?” he inquired.
“I don’t know.”
“Where could she be?”
“I don’t know.”
“When will she be here?”
“I don’t know, Papa, I don’t know much. I just got home from school.”
“Well, baby,” he said, “I wanted your mother to be the first to know, but since you don’t know anything I will tell you.” In his hand he held a piece of paper.
“Do you see this paper?”
“It means the Church is at last out of debt.” He smiled. “So now you really know something!”2
God requires one-tenth of our increase to be put into His storehouse; and this is given as a standing law to all of the Stakes of Zion.3
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 it 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.4
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, and who does nothing toward the accomplishment of the temporal advancement of the kingdom of God. He contributes nothing, either, toward spreading the gospel to the nations of the earth, and he neglects to do that which would entitle him to receive the blessings and ordinances of the gospel.5
The observance of the law of tithing is voluntary. I can pay my tithing or not, as I choose. It is a matter of choice with me, whether I will do it or not do it; but, feeling as I do, loyal to the Church, loyal to its interests, believing that it is right and just to observe the law of tithing I do observe it—on the same principle that I think it is right for me to observe the law of repentance, and of baptism, for the remission of sins.6
We who have not paid our tithing in the past, and are therefore under obligations to the Lord, which we are not in position to discharge, the Lord requires that no longer at our hands, but will forgive us for the past if we will observe this law honestly in the future. That is generous and kind, and I feel grateful for it.7
I have said, and I will repeat it here, that a man or woman who will always pay his or her tithing will never apostatize. It does not make any difference how small or how large it may be; it is a law of the Lord; it is a source of revenue for the Church; it is God’s requirement, and He has said that those who will not observe it are not worthy of an inheritance in Zion. No man will ever apostatize so long as he will pay his tithing. It is reasonable. Why? Because as long as he has faith to pay his tithing he has faith in the Church and in the principles of the Gospel, and there is some good in him, and there is some light in him. As long as he will do this the tempter will not overcome him and will not lead him astray.8
The Lord … gave the law of tithing, in order that there might be means in the storehouse of the Lord for the carrying out of the purposes he had in view; for the gathering of the poor, for the spreading of the gospel to the nations of the earth, for the maintenance of those who were required to give their constant attention, day in and day out, to the work of the Lord, and for whom it was necessary to make some provision. Without this law these things could not be done, neither could temples be built and maintained, nor the poor fed and clothed. Therefore the law of tithing is necessary for the Church, so much so that the Lord has laid great stress upon it.10
[Tithing] is being used to keep up the ordinances of the house of God in … temples. Thousands and thousands of dollars of it are being used in educating the youth of Zion and in maintaining the Church schools. Thousands of dollars are being expended to feed and clothe the poor, and to take care of those who are dependent upon the Church. They look to their “mother” for succor and support, and it is right and proper that the Church should provide for its own poor and indigent, feeble and helpless, so far as possible.11
The Lord has revealed how this means [tithing] shall be cared for, and managed; namely, by the Presidency of the Church and the High Council of the Church (that is, the Twelve Apostles), and the Presiding Bishopric of the Church. I think there is wisdom in this. It is not left for one man to dispose of it, or to handle it alone, not by any means. It devolves upon at least eighteen men, men of wisdom, of faith, of ability, as these eighteen men are. I say it devolves upon them to dispose of the tithes of the people and to use them for whatever purpose in their judgment and wisdom will accomplish the most good for the Church; … this fund of tithing is disposed of by these men whom the Lord has designated as having authority to do it, for the necessities and benefit of the Church.12
The Lord … especially demands of the men who stand at the head of this Church and who are responsible for the guidance and direction of the people of God that they shall see to it that the law of God [tithing] is kept. It is our duty to do this. … It becomes obligatory upon the leaders of the Church to say something upon this principle, that not only the people may do their duty in regard to this law, but that there may be something in the storehouse of the Lord with which to meet the necessities of the people; for the necessities of the Church are the necessities of the people. The members of the Church constitute the Church, and therefore whatever obligation the Church is under, it rests upon each individual member of the Church proportionate to his means. The Lord requires of us that we shall see that His law is kept among the people.13
I want to say to my brethren and sisters here this morning, that in my opinion there never was a time when the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were living better lives, were more faithful and more diligent, than they are today. We have various means of judging of this. One very accurate way of knowing is the fact that the law of tithing is being observed. … This is a good indication that the Latter-day Saints are doing their duty, that they have faith in the Gospel, that they are willing to keep the commandments of God, and that they are working up to the line more faithfully perhaps than ever before.
I want to say another thing to you, and I do so by way of congratulation, and that is, that we have, by the blessing of the Lord and the faithfulness of the Saints in paying their tithing, been able to pay off our bonded indebtedness. Today the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints owes not a dollar that it cannot pay at once. At last we are in a position that we can pay as we go. We do not have to borrow any more, and we won’t have to if the Latter-day Saints continue to live their religion and observe this law of tithing. It is the law of revenue to the Church.
Furthermore, I want to say to you, we may not be able to reach it right away, but we expect to see the day when we will not have to ask you for one dollar of donation for any purpose, except that which you volunteer to give of your own accord, because we will have tithes sufficient in the storehouse of the Lord to pay everything that is needful for the advancement of the kingdom of God. … That is the true policy, the true purpose of the Lord in the management of the affairs of His Church.14
No doubt, a good deal more could be read from the scriptures in relation to this principle of tithing, which God has revealed to us in this dispensation, and which he requires at our hands, that we may sanctify, by obedience to his law, this land that it may become indeed a land of Zion unto us; and the promise is, that if we will obey the laws of God, if we will put our trust in him, if we will draw near unto him he will draw near unto us, and he will reward us with his favor and his blessing. He will rebuke the devourer, and he will cause that the earth shall be fruitful, that it shall yield in its strength to the husbandman, the tiller of the soil, and to the herder of flocks. He will increase his kine, and will prosper him upon the right hand and upon the left, and he shall have an abundance, because he puts his trust in God; he draws near unto him, and he is willing to prove him, to see whether he will not open the windows of heaven and pour out blessings upon him that he shall not have room to contain them [see Malachi 3:10]. Let every man who has received the gospel of Jesus Christ receive this saying, and hearken to these words, for all they are worth. Some men may esteem them lightly, and those who do, will, without doubt, fail to draw near, they will neglect to prove the Lord, they will not fulfil the commandments that he has given, and they will never know that God tells the truth, and that he is able to fulfil his word and promise unto his people when they are willing to obey and keep his law. …
… I met a brother—I need not call his name, for he is but one among thousands who can bear the same testimony, not only by the word of mouth but by the evidences of thrift, of prosperity, of progress and of improvement which surround him in the midst of the deserts. This season he has gathered in rich harvests, his farms having produced in abundance, while the farms of many of his neighbors are clogged with weeds, and their harvests have been only one-half or one-third what his has been. How do you account for it? I account for it in the fact that God has blessed him; and so does he, for he is an intelligent man, a man that not only labors wisely and prudently, but in the fear of God, and in the desire of his heart to obey his laws. … He pays his tithing, he remembers his offerings, he is obedient to the laws of God, and he is not afraid to bear testimony to his friends and neighbors that it is through obedience that God has blessed and prospered him, and made him what he is today. He is not the only one; there are others who are prospered in like manner. And I testify that it is because God has blessed him, and his soil, and his labors, that he obtained the increase, and secured the blessings for which he sought and labored. He has acted in good faith with the Lord; the Lord has known his heart, and has blessed him accordingly.15
So I come to the conclusion that the principal thing about tithe paying is obedience to the law, and that more good will come to us through that obedience than to anybody else. We may be worth our tens of thousands, and pay an honest tithing on our income, making our tithing a large amount; yet the good that will come to ourselves by being obedient to the law of God will be far greater in the end than the good which our substance may do to the poor. He is more blessed who giveth alms than is he who receiveth them.
The trouble is, when a man becomes rich he at once begins to feel too poor to be obedient to the laws of God. Riches make men poor when it comes to dealing with the Almighty. The poor man can easily pay his tithing and contribute of his little substance for the benefit of the needy; but if he becomes a millionaire, or anything like it, then his heart begins to narrow up. The result is, he deprives himself of the opportunity of receiving greater manifestations of the kindness and mercy of God unto him, which he could receive through the increased amount of good he could do with his enlarged means.
Obedience is what the Almighty requires. It was obedience that He required of Abraham. I am speaking now of obedience to God, and not to man; and I am at the defiance of any man to prove that obedience to God, even in the paying of tithing, is not better than disobedience—better to the man himself, and better to the whole people. If a man is obedient to this law of tithing, he is entitled to the blessing of God himself and, so far as he is concerned, there are means in the storehouse of the Lord for the feeding of the poor, for the sending of the Gospel abroad, for the building of temples, and for the accomplishment of His purposes; but if he is not obedient to this law, then there is nothing there, and he himself is deprived of the blessing that the Lord would otherwise give to him.16
What is the Lord’s law of tithing? (See also D&C 119:3–4.) What gospel principles do we practice when we pay our tithes? Why is obedience to the law the “principal thing” about paying tithing?
What can Church members do if they have not paid tithing in the past and want now to keep this commandment? What are some reasons that people fall behind in paying their tithing? How might affluence “narrow up” the heart?
What are some of the purposes for which tithing funds are used? How does tithing help to meet the spiritual and temporal necessities of Church members and others?
Who determines how the tithing funds of the Church will be distributed? (See also D&C 120.)
How can the payment of tithing be taught within the family?
What blessings does the Lord promise those who pay their tithes? (See also Malachi 3:10–12.) When and how have you been blessed by obedience to the law of tithing?