"Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings." (Malachi 3:8.)
Although the prophet Malachi voiced this declaration of God more than 2,000 years ago, there is no question that his counsel applies to us today as much as it did to the Hebrews of his day.
The law of tithing is first mentioned in the Old Testament in the context of Abram [or Abraham] paying tithing to Melchizedek. (See Gen. 14:20.) Tithing is mentioned frequently throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament. Some might erroneously conclude that the law of tithing was part of the Law of Moses that the Savior fulfilled with His atoning sacrifice. Evidence that this is not true rests in the fact that the resurrected Christ, in teaching the Nephites the gospel plan, quoted the same words recorded in Malachi 3:8. (See 3 Ne. 24:8.)
In our dispensation, the Prophet Joseph Smith inquired: "O Lord, show unto thy servants how much thou requirest of the properties of thy people for a `tithing.' " (See heading, Doctrine and Covenants, Section 119.) This is the response the Prophet received:
"Verily, thus saith the Lord, I require all their surplus property to be put into the hands of the bishop of my church in Zion,
"For the building of mine own house, and for the laying of the foundation of Zion and for the priesthood, and for the debts of the Presidency of my Church.
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.
"Verily I say unto you, it shall come to pass that all those who gather unto the land of Zion shall be tithed of their surplus properties, and shall observe this law, or they shall not be found worthy to abide among you.
"And I say unto you, if my people observe not this law, to keep it holy, and by this law sanctify the land of Zion unto me, that my statutes and my judgments may be kept thereon, that it may be most holy, behold, verily I say unto you, it shall not be a land of Zion unto you.
"And this shall be an ensample unto all the stakes of Zion. Even so. Amen." (D&C 119:1-7.)
President Joseph F. Smith said: "By this principle (tithing) the loyalty of the people of the 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 ye shall know whether we are faithful or unfaithful. . . . " (Gospel Doctrine, Deseret Book, 1970 edition, p. 225.)
The Lord said: "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him." (John 14:21.)
As with all other commandments, our decision to heed the law of tithing is entirely voluntary. Neither the Lord nor His servants will force any of us to pay tithing.
Tithing is a principle that needs to be understood by children as well as by adults. Parents or guardians, in helping children learn to give of themselves through tithing, might consider a lesson from the Bible in which King David was instructed by a prophet to build an altar and make an offering unto the Lord in the threshing floor of Araunah. When David tried to purchase the site, Araunah wanted to give it to David, along with the oxen for the burnt offering. David responded: "Nay; but I will surely buy it of thee at a price: neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the Lord my God of that which doth cost me nothing." (See 2 Sam. 24:1-24.)
David demonstrated that there is no value in an offering to the Lord that costs the presenter nothing. Likewise, little is accomplished if adults merely hand young children money to put into a tithing envelope. Somehow, parents or guardians, teachers and other leaders need to communicate that for an offering to be appropriate it must truly come from the individual.
If we understand the importance of obeying the Lord's commandment to pay our tithes, and if we comprehend the extent of the blessings - spiritual far more than material - we will heed this law willingly and cheerfully. We should keep in mind that the Lord, who created this earth and who could certainly provide other ways to financially subsidize His Church if He so desired, needs our tithing far less than we need the spiritual strength and other blessings that come through obedience to this law.