We think of tithing as being unique to the LDS Church, but tithing has been a part of the gospel through all ages. The only exceptions were the times when the people were more righteous and lived the Law of Consecration. During these time the people dedicated all their means to the Church and not just a tenth as we do now. In fact the payment of tithing in the LDS Church is a sign that it is the Lord's true Church.
The first mention of the paying of tithing that we have is in Genesis 14:18 where Abraham paid tithing to Melchizedek the King of Salem, after returning victorious from rescuing Lot and the people of Sodom.
People have often asked what is a full tithing. Instead of using a complex formula like the IRS does, the Church gives the simple commandment of the Lord as found in D&C 119:4. Interest is defining as income. It is significant that this definition of tithing is the minimum tithing. We can pay more tithing as indicated by "surplus property."
The scripture that I always think of when tithing is mentioned is Malachi 3:8-10. Jesus gave these same teachings to the Nephites, see 3 Nephi 24:7-11. It is pretty strong words that we are robbing God when we don't pay our tithing. However, it is true that we are taking what belongs to someone else when we don't pay tithing.
There is a fun story told by President George Albert Smith about taking the Lord's tithing.
As he conversed with a wealthy friend who was a member of the Church, the friend brought up the subject of tithing. He said that he didn't pay tithing in the usual way, but instead would put a tenth of his income in the bank each year and use it as he chose to for charitable purposes. "Now, what do you think of that?" he asked.
President Smith responded, "I think you are a very generous man with someone else's property." (Improvement Era, June 1947, p. 357.)
We live in a world where everyone is saying "What's in it for me?" Even paying tithing can be "I could use the windows of heaven opened for me." I guess obeying a commandment, even if the reasons aren't totally pure, is better than not obey at all. However, we can do better and have the attitude "of what am I doing to show my gratitude to the Lord?" In D&C 59:7 the Lord tell us that we need to thank the Lord in all things.
In D&C 59:21 we are told that we need to recognize the Lords hands in our lives. We need to acknowledge the hand of the Lord in helping us get and keep that good job that makes it so we can have the things we need and some of our wants. Or maybe it is not such a good job, but it still makes it so that we can pay the bills. It is easy to say that we have this great job because of our education, without acknowledge the Lord's help along the way. When we are going to school it is easy to pray for the Lord's help and that we can get through that big test. Then when we do well on the test, it is "I did really well on that test?" Also most of us pray to the Lord for help in deciding which career to chose. Then later we are proud of "our" accomplishments. The Lord wants us to be successful, but we need to acknowledge his help along the way. We also need to be appreciative of the blessing of health that makes employment possible.
If we keep any of the Lord's commandments we are blessed. This is especially true of the payment of tithing. In Malachi 3:10 the Lord tells us that He will "... open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it."
One blessing of paying tithing it that we won't be burned at the second coming, D&C 64:23. Because of this scripture, some people have called tithing the Lord's fire insurance.
Many people are blessed financially as a result of paying tithing. Elder Angel Abrea of the Seventy tells the following story:
I remember once in 1957, while I was acting as a new president of a branch in Argentina, I decided to interview the members with respect to the importance of paying tithing. I found myself talking with one good brother of the branch whose name was Jose, who had difficulty paying his tithing. I asked him bluntly, 'Brother Jose, why don't you pay your tithing?' I'm sure Jose didn't expect me to be so direct.
After a moment of silence he responded: 'As you know, President, I have two children. The wage of a laborer is very low. This month I have to buy my children shoes to go to school; and, mathematically, I just don't have enough money.'
In an instant response, I said, 'Jose, I promise you that if you pay your tithing faithfully, your children will have their shoes to go to school, and you will be able to pay for all the needs of your home. I don't know how he will do it, but the Lord always keeps his promises. Besides that, 'I added, 'If you still find that you don't have enough money, I will give you back what you paid in tithing from my own pocket.'
On the way home, I wondered if what I had done was the right thing. Here I was, recently married, just getting started in my career, and faced with my own economic problems. I began to worry about my own shoes, let alone those of Jose's family! Even though when I got home my dear wife wholeheartedly supported me and reassured me that everything would be all right, I must say that that night nobody prayed harder for Brother Jose's economic welfare than I did.
One month later, I once again sat down with Jose. Though the tears in his eyes almost made it impossible for him to speak, he said: 'President, it is incredible. I paid my tithing; I was able to meet all of my obligations, and I even purchased the new shoes for my children, all without an increase in my wage. I know that the Lord keeps his promises!'" Ensign, Nov. 1981 pp. 24-25).
This was a real fun story for me. An interesting point about it is that it shows that sometimes the leaders of the Church have to exercise their faith as much as the members. A principle of tithing, is that paying tithing takes faith more than it takes money.
I would expect that most all of us have had our experiences when the Lord has opened the windows of heaven and given us financial blessing when we were in need. When I was going to graduate school at the U of Mass in Amherst we were having a hard time making ends meet. I was trying to support a family on a small research assistantship, plus doing a few odd jobs around the apartment. We had always paid our tithing and were dedicated to living that principle, so not paying tithing wasn't really a consideration. After much prayer we finally decided that we could make ends meet if took our car off the road. Since the bus services in Amherst was good, it was possible to get by without a car, even if it was a bit inconvenient. Not long after that, my boss wanted me to do some work in the Boston area on a weekly basis. When he found out that I didn't have a car, he increased my wages to pay for getting my car back on the road plus he paid me mileage for each trip to Boston. The old car keep working with very little repair needed, so we ended up being better off financially in addition to having our car back on the road.
Often times the Lord's blessing don't come in the form that we expect. It is easy to want to tell the Lord what blessing we think we deserve, instead of accepting the blessings that he gives us. For example most of would like to be blessed with a fancy new car and house. The Lord's blessing is more likely to be that the old car keeps running for a couple of more years. That way we don't have an excuse to get a new car. Instead of blessing us with that new house, the Lord is more likely to bless us with the knowledge and wisdom to adequately maintain our existing house. We don't get that fancy new car and house, but we do have a comfortable home with adequate transportation..
President Hinckley has said it this way:
Now, do not get me wrong. I do not say that if you pay an honest tithing you will realize your dream of a fine house, a Rolls Royce, and a condominium in Hawaii. The Lord will open the windows of heaven according to our need, and not according to our greed. If we are paying tithing to get rich, we are doing it for the wrong reason.
Ensign, May 1982, 40
Possibly the biggest blessings we receive from paying tithing is that the Lord blesses us with the confidence and self assurance that we don't feel compelled to keep up with the rate of spending of other. In other words the Lord helps us understand and feel that "keeping up with the Jones" isn't necessary for our happiness. I think most of us already know this intellectually, but the feeling part is often more difficult. Without the Lord's blessing of peace it can be very difficult when we see that other people have more financial blessing than we do.
Finally we need to understand that blessing come not only in the Lord's way, but also in the Lord's own time. We need to have patience. We can't just say "I have paid tithing for two whole months now, where is the blessing?" After Joseph Smith had spent months in the cold cramped dungeon of Liberty Jail, he prayed to Heavenly Father pleading for an end to his suffering and that of the Saints. The Lord's answer came In D&C sections 121 and 122. In D&C 122:7 The Lord says "... all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good."
Through the payment of tithing we show our obedience, gratitude, faith and Love to the Lord.