Thursday, 12 February 2015

Tithes and Offerings: A Question of Faith and Law

It has occurred to me that the concept of tithing is as varied as the stars of the sky and churches of the land. In one instance, it is a given law; another, an offering of faith; and even another, done away with completely. Even after, it becomes a question of where it goes, what it’s used for, and what it constitutes.
Fortunately, we have the scriptures as our guide – and, today, I’d like to go through each of the recorded instances and references to the concept of tithes and offerings.

Cain and Abel
Genesis 4:3-7 “3And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. 4And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering: 5But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. 6And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? And why is thou countenance fallen? 7If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.”

In an interesting light, we see that the first record of tithes comes in the form of an offering to the Lord through the sons of Adam and Eve. First was Cain’s offering, which was ‘fruit of the ground’. Second was Abel’s offering, which was ‘the firstlings of his flock’.

Why, becomes the question, was Abel’s offering respected and Cain’s not? We learn that Abel’s offering, given by faith, was more excellent than Cain’s (Heb 11:4). Is this because Abel’s was the first of his flock, the fattest and choicest, and Cain’s not? Or is it something more? Personally, I never accepted that God would reject Cain’s offering on such a foundation. Namely, because Cain’s offering was not an animal, it was fruit of the ground – here the scriptures say to simply tithe the fruit of the ground, and to tithe the firstlings of the flock (Deut 14:23).

In these latter days, however, we are fortunate enough to have the Book of Moses, as an extract revealed to Joseph Smith. In it we learn the following:

Moses 5:18 “And Cain loved Satan more than God. And Satan commanded him, saying: Make an offering unto the Lord.”

Here is our first prime example. Cain’s offering was not given in the name of the Lord, an offering which will not be accepted (D&C132:9). And, from a basic evaluation of Cain’s countenance, we see that his offering to God was not a willing sacrifice. Abel’s was.

So, from the first example of tithes paid, an offering to God, we see that only freely given offerings, given in the name of the Lord, are accepted by God.

Abraham to Melchizedek, and the Levites
Genesis 14:18-20 “18And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. 19And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: 20And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.”

In context, the tithes Abram paid were from the stolen goods he retrieved (Gen 14:11-12, 16) and which were his (Gen 14:23). Interestingly enough, Hebrews 7:4 alludes to him taking the spoils of his conquest when Genesis 14:23 clearly tells us he did not take that which was not his; understanding the story, as portrayed in Genesis 14, rectifies the confusion that may arise in Hebrews 7:4.

Hebrews 7:2-11 “2To whom Abraham also gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is King of peace; 3Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually. 4Now consider how great this man was, unto who even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils. 5And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham: 6But whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises. 7And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better. 8And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth. 9And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, payed tithes in Abraham. 10For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him. 11If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?”

Here we see that Abraham paid ‘a tenth part of all’ as his tithes. This was of all that he possessed. We also see that the sons of Levi were ‘to take tithes of the people according to the law’. Therefore, we see the first account of tithes as being a commandment of the law and not simply an offering to the Lord. It is also seen that Levi “payed tithes in Abraham” – noting that Levi was only born long after Abraham’s death. By paying tithes ‘in Abraham’, they were paying tithes to Melchizedek. And this is where the confusion begins.

‘Without father, without mother, without descent’? Where did that come from?

JST, Hebrews 7:3 “For this Melchizedek was ordained a priest after the order of the Son of God, which order was without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life. And all those who are ordained unto this priesthood are made like unto the Son of God, abiding a priest continually.”

Now that makes sense. The sons of Levi received their priesthood through descent, having father and mother, having death. We see that after the sons of Levi took the tithes of the people, they payed tithes ‘in Abraham’, to Melchizedek. This order of priesthood was without lineage; righteousness was thus the prerequisite, not birth. We thus see how those ‘whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham’.

How is this important? Well, it is important in knowing the order of the Church. It is important in knowing where the tithes and offerings go and who receives them, and in what order. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, tithes and offerings go straight to the bishopric, the presiding Melchizedek priesthood holders. In some cases, young men (Aaronic priesthood holders) are designated to receive tithes and offerings from the members to give to the bishopric thereafter. This is the order of things and thus we see the need for the priesthood, even in administering to the storehouse of the Lord.

So that is the order, followed even today. With Abraham’s payment of tithes, and Melchizedek taking upon the high priesthood, confirmed in Alma 13:14-15:

14Yeah, humble yourselves even as the people in the days of Melchizedek, who was also a high priest after this same order which I have spoken, who also took upon him the high priesthood forever. 15And it was this same Melchizedek to whom Abraham paid tithes; yea, even our father Abraham paid tithes of one-tenth part of all he possessed.”

Genesis 28:20-22 “20And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, 21So that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God: 22And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.”

Now we witness the first account of tithes as a covenant; a covenant between God and Jacob (aka Israel). Jacob vows to set aside a tenth of that which he receives, while God is there to be with him, while God keeps him in his way, giving food to eat, and clothes to wear.

Even today, similar testimonies are found. Faithful saints across the globe account for times in which the Lord has blessed them with the means to continue, to clothe themselves, to feed themselves, to care for their families, all because they’ve paid an honest tithe.

Even here, we see another important account for the purpose of tithes, even the building up of the House of the Lord. Yea, even in building temples in which the Lord can dwell, in which an outpouring of blessings can be found.

The Law of the Tithe under the Mosaic Law
Leviticus 27:30-33 “30And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s: it is holy unto the Lord. 31And if a man will at all redeem ought of his tithes, he shall add thereto the fifth part thereof. 32And concerning the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, even of whatsoever passeth under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the Lord. 33He shall not search wether it be good or bad, neither shall he change it: and if he change it at all, then both it and the change thereof shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed.”

The most difficult part about explaining Mosaic Law (the Law of Moses) is identifying which parts have been fulfilled in Christ’s Law, and which parts have not. Was the law magnified, or was it done away with completely as many believe?

3 Nephi 15:8 “For behold, the covenant which I have made with my people is not all fulfilled; but the law which was given unto Moses hath an end in me.”

I find this verse particularly interesting in that it states the end of the law given unto Moses, yet that the covenant made with Jacob has not all been fulfilled. Furthermore, when we look at the history of tithes, we find that it extended even before Mosaic Law came into play.

So let’s take a look at tithes under the Law of Moses. One-tenth of everything a person possessed, whether seed or fruit, belonged to the Lord. If one-tenth, exactly, was not given, an incurred fifth part was added to the tithe – there was no such thing as part payments. Even further, a tithe was given of all animals (herds or flocks), and if any change was made to the selected tithe, that change and the original tithe would be added to the full tithe payment. This was the Law of Moses. This was the law which was against us, as it was not considered a gift or offering.

In addition, when taking the entire chapter into context, we see that the previous twenty nine verses, in fact, speak of a law of consecration. Under the Mosaic Law, this law of consecration incurred payment for every individual (man, woman and child), every animal, every crop, every field, even any property that one might have. Further complication came with regards to sanctifying, or giving, one’s land (or part thereof) to have the remainder evaluated for payment. This evaluation was even affected by the year of Jubilee (the year of feasting, when all debts are forgiven). It’s also interesting to see that tithes are paid on the amounts owed under consecration anyway.

In the book of Acts we see how the saints consecrated everything they owned to the Church, fulfilling the law of tithes in the process, as did the Nephites in 4 Nephi. This type of consecration didn’t last long. In early Church history, the saints attempted to live this type of consecration again, but were unable to. Today, Latter-day Saints live this law by consecrating their time, talents and efforts to the Church through callings and member missionary work, humanitarian aid, helping hands projects, generous fast offerings, and much more.

It seems, to me, that the old saying, “God, keep them humble, we’ll keep them poor,” holds true in, or even comes from, these dire laws. Once again showing how the law continually prepared them to rely on Christ (Gal 3:24).

Deuteronomy 14:22 “Thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year.”

So not only a tenth of what they possessed, but also a tenth of their yearly increase.

This brings me back to 3 Nephi 15:8, if the law of Moses has been brought to an end, then that which I have mentioned regarding tithes (and consecration) under the Mosaic law has been brought to an end. What, then, about the remaining verses regarding tithes? What about the covenant between Christ and His people which has yet to be fulfilled?

3 Nephi 5:25 says, “And as he hath covenanted with all the house of Jacob, even so shall the covenant wherewith he hath covenanted with the house of Jacob be fulfilled in his own due time, unto the restoring all the house of Jacob unto the knowledge of the covenant that he hath covenanted with them.”

Granted, this covenant includes the gathering of the tribes of Israel from the four corners of the earth, but earlier we noted the first covenant between Jacob and God as being a covenant of tithes; a covenant each Latter-day Saint enters into upon baptism and confirmation. Under this, the law of tithes stands, the weightiness of the law of tithes under the Law of Moses does not.

Further Evidence to the Law of Tithes
Proverbs 3:9-10 “3Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase: 10So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine.”

Here’s a call to honour the Lord with that which we have and with the firstfruits of our increase or, in other words, first ten percent of our profit. Verse 10 follows with a promise of increased wealth and prosperity; the same call and promise given to Latter-day Saints.

Malachi 3:8-10 “8Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. 9Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. 10Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, 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 is probably our strongest call to pay our tithes. The question that rises is whether you believe the law of Moses includes every other reference given thereby in the Old Testament, or if the law of Moses is, specifically, the laws given by Moses. Now, the best way to find this answer is the typical missionary response, pray about it. You will gain your testimony. You will also be frustrated. At least, I was.

The question to ask yourself is this, why would the Lord find it necessary to include the law of tithes so often throughout the scriptures? If it were not relevant, why then repeat the call to arms?

3 Nephi 24:1 “…he commanded them that they should write the words which the Father had given unto Malachi, which we should tell unto them.”

Even after Christ’s resurrection, we were called to read the words of Malachi, yea, and in 3 Nephi 24:8-10, Malachi’s words on tithes are repeated. They must, then, be important, right? Of course. Why else would they be emphasised?

New Testament Specifically
Matthew 6:21 “For where your treasure is, there will your heart will be also.”

By giving of our income, we’re showing that our heart isn’t tied to our money, rather to the building up of the kingdom of God.

Matthew 23:23 shows us the hypocrisy of the Pharisees in that they paid tithes, but did not hold to the more weightier matters of the law, judgement, mercy, and faith. This, pointing out that they should pay tithe, but that they shouldn’t neglect the more important things. This is what constitutes a hypocrite.

Matthew 5:17 “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.”

For example: circumcision of the heart (Rom 2:29); anger without cause (Matthew 5:21-22); lust (Matthew 5:27-28); and many others.

Mark 12:41-44 “41And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. 42And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. 43And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: 44For all they did cast in of their abundances; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.”

I can’t express how much I love this account. Many people get caught up on the ten percent, forgetting that it is merely a standard. In a priesthood meeting, I recall a brother mentioning that, if we are able, we should add more than ten percent. The Lord knows our hearts. We should be giving willingly. We should be giving abundantly.

1 Corinthians 16:1-2 “1Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. 2Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.”

Here Paul is setting in order the manner in which collections are gathered, in other words tithes and offerings collected upon the first day of the week. It becomes apparent that this was a regular practice among the saints and not a question of whether to or not to do.

As a personal stance, I first learnt of tithes and offerings at an interdenominational church long before my membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There I learnt how funds are allocated and what the purpose of tithing is.

First was the salaries of the employed ministry, second was for building maintenance and account payments, third was for missionary efforts, fourth was for outreach programs and donations, with the rest being miscellaneous funds.

For me, it was the missionary effort sponsorship that inspired me to start paying tithes. I remember as the pastor explained, when you arrive at the gates, you will find the souls of men and women you had never met, thanking you for making it possible for missionaries to go out and find them, to save them, and bring them to the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

At The Church of Jesus Christ, however, we have a lay ministry. Congregations are run on a volunteer basis with members supporting themselves by building careers outside of Church callings. This allows tithes and offerings to be used in more meaningful ways, building up temples (see Jacob’s vow), building and maintaining meeting houses, printing scriptures, funding humanitarian efforts, supporting missionary efforts, building storehouses, feeding the hungry, clothing the sick, etc…

In latter-day revelation we learn the following:

D&C 64:23 “Behold, now it is called today until the coming of the Son of Man, and verily it is a day of sacrifice, and a day for the tithing of my people; for he that is tithed shall not be burned at his coming.”

Firstly, we know that obedience is better than sacrifice (1 Sam 15:22), so the law of the tithe is a double blessing in the sense that by following it we are obeying and sacrificing. Second, the promise that we will not burn at the second coming is one powerful motivation; no more guessing about whether or not we will survive that great and treacherous day.

D&C 119:3-4 “And 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, for my holy priesthood, saith the Lord.”

So it is clear, in latter-day revelation that tithing still applies. In fact, even in New Testament verse, we see the practice of offerings to the Church treasury. We learn that we have been called to read the words of Malachi, even after Christ’s resurrection, and we have been given insurmountable promises if we do.

The message is simple, the promise is clear. We give freely, in the name of the Lord, with open hearts. We make a covenant (as did Jacob) upon baptism and confirmation to part with one-tenth (at least) of all that we possess to the building up of the kingdom of God (not people’s pockets). We do this in obedience to God’s commands, sacrificing of ourselves to show the Lord where our treasures lie, knowing that the Lord will be there for us in times of trouble and woe (and not always in the way we expect).

Tithes and offerings; it is a question of faith and law. We act in obedience to laws of God, because we love him (John 14:15). By so doing, we exercise our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, proving Him therewith (Malachi 3:10). Under Christ’s law, we are free from the bonds of the Mosaic Law, being called to impart freely of our substance to the building up of the kingdom of God. Even to the fulfilling of a divinely inspired plan to help those which stand in need. Our hearts are key.

Gordon B. Hinckley had the following to say, “So this is my invitation unto all, think about what you have just read, go back to the scriptures, and pray about it. Test it, even, and see the blessings manifest. There is much of poverty in this land.  I do not know how it can be cured without the aid of a higher power, and it is my testimony that the answer to the problems of Guatemala and the poverty of her people lies in the revealed word of the Lord:  Tithing.  If there is anyone here today who is not paying his or her tithing, I challenge you to deal with the Lord and earn His blessings.  You may feel you cannot afford it. He has made the promise, and His is the power to keep that promise, and it is my testimony that He does keep that promise.”

So this is my invitation unto all, think about what you have just read, go back to the scriptures, and pray about it. Test it, even, and see the blessings manifest.

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