Sunday, October 13, 2013

Becoming a Friend to the Mammon of Unrighteousness

The following is the parable of the unjust steward as related in Luke 16:1-8 (KJV)
  1. And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods.
  2. And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.
  3. Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed.
  4. I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.
  5. So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord?
  6. And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty.
  7. Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore.
  8. And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.
I've always been puzzled by this parable and never really gave it much thought.  I memorized verse 13 ("No man can serve two masters...") in Luke 16 and always knew it had something to do with the parable, but never quite drew the connection.  I'd like to take a couple minutes to describe how insight can come by taking time to ponder on the scriptures.

I recently read through the New Testament and when I got to this parable I decided that I was going to figure out what it meant.  Why would the Lord praise an unjust steward?  So this is my interpretation of the parable:

A certain man has not been a good worker.  His boss was sick of him wasting his time and money and essentially gave him his two-weeks' notice.  The worker got really worried because he didn't have any other jobs that he could quickly pick up, and he had enough pride to not want to have to beg for subsistence from anyone else.  So he set out a plan to get on the 'A' list of some of his clients so that they would help him out when he was discharged.  He then proceeded to call up all those indebted to his boss and gave each a heavy discount.  Jesus then says that the guy's boss praises him for doing wisely.

That's basically verses 1-8.  Now this is where I really raise an eyebrow.  Is the Lord telling us it's good to be dishonest?  Of course not.  But he's praising a guy who seems like he's cheating his boss one last time, and yet his boss is happy about it?  Verses 9-13 really help clarify what just happened.
  1. And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.
  2. He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.
  3. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?
  4. And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own?
  5. No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one,and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
We are counseled to "make ... friends of the mammon of unrighteousness", which is essentially money, or worldly wealth, or those who hold in high regard wealth, so that when we are in need (not necessarily financially) we will have friends to help us.

A simple example came to me.  I'm frequently put in a position to put this idea into practice.  When I go out to eat, get a haircut, get a babysitter, or pay for any type of service that ultimately has a cost that's partially determined by me, I try to not give the minimal amount (unless I think the service merits the minimal), but I rarely am "generous."  Why is that?  I believe that it's because I hold money ("the mammon of unrighteousness") in high regard and am very possessive of it, not wanting to "impart it freely", essentially coveting it (D&C 19:26).  I would like to consider myself a charitable person.  I set aside money for those in need, lend my time for service, etc., but reading this scripture I realize that I'm still not where I need to be.

More fully understanding this scripture I realize that by not coveting money (clinging to it, being too frugal, etc.) I will be able to make more wicked mammon friends.  Seriously, though, back to the tip example - if I stop trying to give the minimum and just try to be generous (not taking into account how much I'm out if I give 'x' percent) and give what I think would actually make the person happy, I'm freeing myself of this worldly bond and learning better to serve the Master that will be able to reward me with eternal happiness.  Money begins to become a tool to enrich lives other than my own.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Law of Tithing

As a brief introduction to this, I came across an article that really disturbed me.  The author presented many historical examples and provided many lengthy explanations trying to explain the nuts and bolts of tithing, with an air of haughtiness and pride that was rather uncomfortable.  I found myself balking time and again at what he was referring to as changes and perversions that he had witnessed to the law of tithing across the Church. Precious little of what he said could be supported by leaders of the Church, and I thought I'd share some of what I'd encountered along with my simple testimony of this law.

The Law of Tithing has been instituted among the members of the Lord's Church from the beginning of time.  There are verses in the Bible mentioning that Abraham and Jacob paid tithes and even specifically mention the amount of one-tenth.

In latter-day revelation the Lord restored the Law of Tithing, but only because the Saint's were unable live the higher Law of Consecration.  It's short enough to include it all here:
1 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, 
2 For the building of mine house, and for the laying of the foundation of Zion and for the priesthood, and for the debts of the Presidency of my Church. 
3 And this shall be the beginning of the tithing of my people. 
4 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. 
5 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. 
6 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. 
7 And this shall be an ensample unto all the stakes of Zion. Even so. Amen.

What does "interest" mean?  What is a full tithe?

It is interesting that the Lord says he requires all surplus property, and after that, one-tenth of all interest annually.  He then restates this law in verse 5.  Interest is separated as a distinct offering from property.  In a 1970 letter from the First Presidency, they clarify that "one-tenth of all their interest understood to mean income....  No one is justified in making any other statement than this.”

Some contend that the word "interest" means just that, a surplus or extra funds remaining after one has taken care of his basic needs.  This would make sense if we had not had more recent clarifications by some of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency.
  • President Eyring, "The law is that we give to the Lord one-tenth of all our income." (Liahona, June 2011)
  • Elder Hales, "Members who freely give a full 10 percent of their annual income receive all of the promised blessings of tithing." (General Conference, October 2002)
There are numerous other examples.  No where are we told precisely what we have to pay tithing on.  Some say it should be paid on our gross income given that even though we don't see some of it, we benefit from all of it.  We pay taxes to the government for benefits (even if they aren't tangible).  Money gets paid for healthcare, set aside into a retirement fund, etc.  Others come to the conclusion that it should only be paid on what is left over after we take care of our necessities - similar to a business that has to take care of operating expenses before counting any profit.  

There are obviously amounts between these two extremes that could be interpreted as a full tithe too.  As we study the words of the prophets and make this a matter of prayer, we will understand for ourselves what it is that we need to do.  The Lord will never punish us, nor will we feel our sacrifice has been in vain if we "freely give a full 10 percent"; however, we will fall short of blessings if we begin to put other expenses before what the Lord has asked of us.

Why can't I choose where my interest goes?

Some wonder why we have to give to the Church at all.  Why not be free to choose which charities to give to?  It's all going to help someone right instead of just going towards some administrative expenses that get covered anyways by the majority of Church members, right?
"We pay tithing, as the Savior taught, by bringing the tithes “into the storehouse” (Mal. 3:10; 3 Ne. 24:10). We do this by paying our tithing to our bishop or branch president. We do not pay tithing by contributing to our favorite charities. The contributions we should make to charities come from our own funds, not from the tithes we are commanded to pay to the storehouse of the Lord." (Oaks, General Conference April 1994)

Does the Lord really want us to pay tithing before we take care of our family?  If we're in the most dire of circumstances, shouldn't we feed our children first?  Isn't tithing supposed to be easy and not a sacrifice?

“My mother was a widow, with a large family to provide for. One spring when we opened our potato pits she had her boys get a load of the best potatoes, and she took them to the tithing office; potatoes were scarce that season. I was a little boy at the time, and drove the team. When we drove up to the steps of the tithing office, ready to unload the potatoes,one of the clerks came out and said to my mother, ‘Widow Smith, it’s a shame that you should have to pay tithing.’ … He chided my mother for paying her tithing, called her anything but wise or prudent; and said there were others who were strong and able to work that were supported from the tithing office. My mother turned upon him and said: ‘William, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. Would you deny me a blessing? If I did not pay my tithing, I should expect the Lord to withhold His blessings from me. I pay my tithing, not only because it is a law of God, but because I expect a blessing by doing it. By keeping this and other laws, I expect to prosper and to be able to provide for my family’” (in Conference Report,Apr. 1900, p. 48). 
Some people say, “I can’t afford to pay tithing.” Those who place their faith in the Lord’s promises say, “I can’t afford not to pay tithing.” (Oaks, General Conference April 1994)
Elder Hales explains that,
"Tithing also teaches us to control our desires and passions for the things of this world. Payment of tithing encourages us to be honest in our dealings with our fellowmen.... The law of tithing prepares us to live the higher law of consecration—to dedicate and give all our time, talents, and resources to the work of the Lord." 
Without putting the Lord first, even before our family, we can't expect to receive the fullness of the blessings that he promises us in two sacred books of scripture.

Does Malachi's warning and promise in Malachi 3:10-12 really apply to us individually?  Or is it only meant for leaders of the Church with financial responsibilities?

Tithing is a commandment with a promise. The words of Malachi,reaffirmed by the Savior, promise those who bring their tithes into the storehouse that the Lord will open “the windows of heaven, and pour[them] out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”The promised blessings are temporal and spiritual. The Lord promises to“rebuke the devourer,” and he also promises tithe payers that “all nations shall call you blessed, for ye shall be a delightsome land” (3 Ne. 24:10–12;see Mal. 3:10–12). 
I believe these are promises to the nations in which we reside. When the people of God withheld their tithes and offerings, Malachi condemned“this whole nation” (Mal. 3:9). Similarly, I believe that when many citizens of a nation are faithful in the payment of tithes, they summon the blessings of heaven upon their entire nation. The Bible teaches that“righteousness exalteth a nation” (Prov. 14:34) and “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (Gal. 5:9; see Matt. 13:33). 
The payment of tithing also brings the individual tithe payer unique spiritual blessings. Tithe paying is evidence that we accept the law of sacrifice. It also prepares us for the law of consecration and the other higher laws of the celestial kingdom. The Lectures on Faith, prepared by the early leaders of the restored Church, part the curtain on that subject when they say: 
“Let us here observe that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for, from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things" (Lectures on Faith, 6:7).
(Oaks, General Conference April 1994)
The Lord found it crucial to share Malachi's promise with the Nephites and personally made sure that it was properly recorded along with the fulfilled prophecies of the resurrection.

I realize that there's a lot of details in the history of the Church that could be brought up to show the mistakes of men with regards to the handling of the tithes of the members, but that doesn't change the fact that the Lord continues to trust the leaders of the Church and has promised us that we will not be led astray. 
“I say to Israel, the Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as president of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the program. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so he will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty. God bless you” (Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, pp. 212–13; see also Official Declaration 1).
Read the scriptures, listen to the latter-day leaders of the Church, pay your tithing and you will receive a witness of the truthfulness and blessings that come with obeying the law of tithing.