Several years ago I wrote some gospel doctrine lessons for Meridian Magazine a LDS online publication. Below is the lesson on the Sabbath Day, Tithing, and Fasting.
Gospel Doctrine Lesson 17
The Law of Tithing and the Law of the Fast
by Robert J. Norman
The Lord has given three laws that are designed to bring both spiritual and temporal blessings into the lives of his people. If the Saints will live all three laws specifically as they are outlined in the scriptures, they will receive the promised blessings that are connected with these laws. They will always be blessed and taken care of by the Lord, even in times of famine. The three laws are, 1. the law of keeping the Sabbath Day holy, 2. the law of tithing and 3. the law of the fast. These laws and the blessings that attend them are outlined in the following scriptures: Sabbath Day - D&C 59; tithing - Malachi 3:8-12 & D&C 119; fasting - Isaiah 58.
The Lord has allowed us to bring into our lives some of the blessings of the millennium long before the millennial era is ushered in. The Sabbath day can be treated as a mini-millennium in our individual lives. As the Lord has reserved one thousand years out of seven thousand years as the final Sabbath of the earth so that all of the spiritual preparations can be made to turn the earth into the Celestial Kingdom, so we can use the Sabbath day to make our spiritual preparations to become Celestial beings.
The Millennium symbolizes a sabbatical in human history (cf. D&C 77:12; Moses 7:64), analogous to the role of the weekly Sabbath (cf. Ex. 20:8‑11). The millennial period is patterned after the Lord's period of rest following the six creative periods (cf. Gen. 2:1‑3).[i]
When white-winged peace would spread her wings abroad, and grim-visaged war would sit at her feet and learn wisdom for a thousand years. We think that time is drawing nigh; that the Almighty has set His hand to accomplish just such a work; that we are living in the Saturday night of the world's history, near the end of that week of Time each day of which is a thousand years, and that the seventh day, or Sabbath, will be the day of rest, the Millennium , the reign of peace and righteousness which the Prophets and the poets have predicted. Orson F. Whitney, May 6, 1982[ii]
A beautiful description of a true Sabbath, keeping it holy, and its relationship to the Millennium is given by the early Christian writer Barnabas:
Further, also, it is written concerning the Sabbath in the Decalogue which [the Lord] spoke, face to face, to Moses on Mount Sinai, "And sanctify ye the Sabbath of the Lord with clean hands and a pure heart." And He says in another place, "If my sons keep the Sabbath, then will I cause my mercy to rest upon them." The Sabbath is mentioned at the beginning of the creation [thus]: "And God made in six days the works of His hands, and made an end on the seventh day, and rested on it, and sanctified it." Attend, my children, to the meaning of this expression, "He finished in six days." This implieth that the Lord will finish all things in six thousand years, for a day is with Him a thousand years. And He Himself testifieth, saying, "Behold, to-day will be as a thousand years." Therefore, my children, in six days, that is, in six thousand years, all things will be finished. "And He rested on the seventh day." This meaneth: when His Son, coming [again], shall destroy the time of the wicked man, and judge the ungodly, and change the-sun, and the moon, and the stars, then shall He truly rest on the seventh day. Moreover, He says, "Thou shalt sanctify it with pure hands and a pure heart." If, therefore, any one can now sanctify the day which God hath sanctified, except he is pure in heart in all things, we are deceived. Behold, therefore: certainly then one properly resting sanctifies it, when we ourselves, having received the promise, wickedness no longer existing, and all things having been made new by the Lord, shall be able to work righteousness. Then we shall be able to sanctify it, having been first sanctified ourselves. Further, He says to them, "Your new moons and your Sabbath I cannot endure." Ye perceive how He speaks: Your present Sabbaths are not acceptable to Me, but that is which I have made, [namely this,] when, giving rest to all things, I shall make a beginning of the eighth day, that is, a beginning of another world. Wherefore, also, we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead. And when He had manifested Himself, He ascended into the heavens.[iii]
D&C 59:16-19, lists all of the blessings God is willing to give to those who keep the Sabbath as he outlined it in D&C 59:9-15. These are powerful and important blessings and express an Eden-like atmosphere for those who receive the blessings. The promise says that the fullness of the earth will be given to the faithful. These blessings not only have temporal value as food, raiment, housing, etc., but also have great spiritual and aesthetic values to gladden the heart, please the eye, and enliven the soul. The beauty of the Lord’s work is that he is able to blend so many wonders and blessings into his acts of creation, temporal and spiritual along with beauty.
President Joseph F. Smith expressed the importance of tithing as showing loyalty to the Kingdom of God:
ESSENTIAL NATURE OF THE LAW OF TITHING
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. For if a man keep all the law save one point, and he offend in that, he is a transgressor of the law, and he is not entitled to the fulness of the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. But when a man keeps all the law that is revealed, according to his strength, his substance, and his ability, though what he does may be little, it is just as acceptable in the sight of God as if he were able to do a thousand times more.—Apr. C. R., 1900, pp. 47, 48.
THE LAW OF TITHING A TEST
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.—Apr. C. R., 1900, p. 47.[iv]
A close examination of Malachi 3 & 4 will show that it is a message specifically to priesthood holders and covenant Israel. When the Savior quoted these passages to the Nephites, he proclaimed that they had application to “future generations” (3 Nephi 26:2), obviously meaning our dispensation. A close view will show that these two chapters list the requirements for priesthood holders and Israel to be worthy of the Savior’s second coming. The question is specifically asked, “. . . who shall abide the day of his coming . . . ?” (Malachi 3:2; 3 Nephi 24:2). Malachi then proceeds to give a list of requirements for minimum performance of covenant Israel to be prepared for the day that will “burn as an oven” (Malachi 4:1; 3 Nephi 25:1). One of the critical items on the list is the payment of both tithes and offerings. The accusation made against those not paying tithing is robbery or the defrauding of God.
Considering that the saints are to build the New Jerusalem by the law of consecration (D&C 42:32-36) which some day will become the Celestial City, it is easy to understand that one must be living the basics of tithing first. During the millennium the saints must build the earth to a point that they and all that they have done, must be accepted as Celestial, and consecration will be an essential element of their works (D&C 105:5). Therefore, Malachi teaches that covenant Israel must be paying their tithing to be accepted as part of the Lord’s kingdom at his coming.
When the Lord gave his instructions in D&C 64:23, the saints were living the law of consecration at the time. “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.” The word “tithing” in this verse actually refers to the law of consecration which the saint were then living. However, the importance the Lord places on his economic system can readily be seen. The Lord will preserve those who show good faith by sacrificing to build up his Kingdom here on the earth. From these scriptures we can see that tithing has a high priority in the sight of the Lord in testing the faithfulness of his saints. The tithing of today is our doorway back to the greater law of consecration upon which Zion must be built.
There are many ramifications to fasting. Elder Bruce R. McConkie lists some of the reasons for fasting:
Many specific reasons for fasting are found in the scriptures. It is a general obligation imposed by revelation upon church members in good standing. (D. & C. 59:13‑14; 88:76; Luke 5:33‑35; 2 Cor. 6:5; 11: 27.) It is itself a form of the true worship of God. (Luke 2:37; Acts 9:9; Alma 45:1; 4 Ne. 12.) It is proper to fast for the sick (2 Sam. 12:16); for special blessings (Mosiah 27:22‑23); to gain a testimony (Alma 5:46); to gain revelation (Alma 17:3; 3 Ne. 27:1; Ex. 34:28; Deut. 9:9, 18); for the conversion of nonmembers to the truth, (Alma 6:6; 17:9); for guidance in the choice of church officers (Acts 13: 3); as an accompaniment of righteous mourning and sorrow (Alma 28:2‑6; 30:2; Hela. 9:10); as a means of sanctifying one's soul (Hela. 3: 35); and for guidance along the path leading to salvation. (Omni 26.) Temples are houses of fasting. (D. & C. 88:119; 95:16; 109:8, 16.) To be acceptable fasting must conform to the Lord's law and not be done for hypocritical reasons. (Matt. 6:16‑18; 3 Ne. 13:16‑18.)[v]
The Lord instructs the saints to prepare their food on the Sabbath day with singleness of heart that their fasting may be perfect (D&C 59:13). It may seem strange to us that fixing food and fasting are mentioned together. God is inferring that when we go a whole Sabbath day “not doing thine own ways” (Isaiah 58:13), is a form of fasting in and of itself. It is going without something (our ways) in order to build something better (God’s kingdom and learning his way). As mentioned above, the Sabbath is to do the Lord’s work and to prepare his kingdom. Therefore, we are fasting from our own ways. The work of building the kingdom is to be a joy and to cause us to rejoice (D&C 59:14). To the Lord, each Sabbath is a form of fasting in preparation for greater spiritual blessings by focusing on the Lord’s ways. Both Isaiah 58 and D&C 59 associate fasting and the Sabbath day. Both are designed to recreate millennial attitudes and feelings in our souls. Therefore the blessings for keeping them properly, bring millennial type rewards.
Some Christian religions give up something that they relish as a form of fasting for a forty day celebration preceding Easter called Lent. Most references to fasting include going without food or drink for some specified time. Anciently Israel fasted formally by donning sackcloth and ashes as a form of humility to accompany their fast from food and drink. During Isaiah’s life this ritual had become for many just that - a ritual without spiritual meaning or impact. Isaiah instructs Israel in the changes that they needed to make so that their voices may be heard by God (Isaiah 58:4).
Some of the problems with their fasting were as follows (all verses are in Isaiah 58):
1. They made no spiritual preparations for fasting but continued with all of their
pleasures and labors. (Verse 3)
2. Their fasting made them irritable and filled them with animosity toward others.
3. They were only going through the motions of fasting by bowing their heads
and spreading sackcloth and ashes under themselves as a sign of mourning
and humility. (Verse 5)
4. They were finding fault with others and speaking vanity. (Verse 9)
Items that Isaiah suggests that they add to their fasting:
1. Repent of sins during a fast and help others with their yoke of burdens.
2. Give money to help feed the hungry and cloth the naked including those who may be
in need within their own family. (Verse 7)
3. Help satisfy and comfort the afflicted soul. (Verse 9)
The attendant blessings for a true fast are empowering and uplifting:
1. Become the light to the world as commanded in the sermon on the mount.
(Verses 8 & 10)
2. Health will increase. (Verse 8)
3. Gain a reputation of being righteous. (Verse 8)
4. The Lord will protect and be a guard for their most vulnerable areas.
5. The Lord will answer prayers quickly. (Verse 9)
6. The Lord will guide their lives continually. (Verse 11)
7. The Lord will bless their lives and feed them as in the Garden of Eden even
in times of drought. (Verse 11)
8. Their posterity will have the reputation of building and repairing the Kingdom
of God. (Verse 12)
President Marion G. Romney promised the saints both temporal and spiritual blessings for doubling their fast offerings:
If we will double our fast offerings, we shall increase our own prosperity, both spiritually and temporally. This the Lord has promised, and this has been the record. ("Basics of Church Welfare," address to the Priesthood Board, March 6, 1974, p. 10) MPSG1986:117)[vi]
President Spencer W. Kimball also had specific instruction on the payment of fast offerings:
Each member should contribute a generous fast offering for the care of the poor and the needy. This offering should at least be the value of the two meals not eaten while fasting.
"Sometimes we have been a bit penurious and figured that we had for breakfast one egg and that cost so many cents and then we give that to the Lord. I think that when we are affluent, as many of us are, that we ought to be very, very generous. . . .
"I think we should . . . give, instead of the amount saved by our two meals of fasting, perhaps much, much more-ten times more when we are in a position to do it." ( See CR1974Apr:184.) CR1977Oct:126[vii]
Fasting and the payment of fasting offerings is something that can be done even by the poor. When Joseph (who was sold into Egypt by his brothers) was a servant to Potiphar he would fast for three days at a time and give his food and drink to the poor and ill on the streets. He taught his children, “. . . if you pursue self-control and purity with patience and prayer with fasting in humility of heart, the Lord will dwell among you, because he loves self-control. And where the Most High dwells, even if envy befall someone, or slavery or false accusation, the Lord who dwells with him on account of his self-control not only will rescue him from these evils, but will exalt him and glorify him as he did for me.”[viii]
When a Latter-day Saint fully lives the three laws of the Sabbath, tithing, and fasting they will bring untold blessings into their lives both temporal and spiritual.
[i]. Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1-4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 907.
[ii].Brian H. Stuy, ed., Collected Discourses, 5 vols. [Burbank, Calif., and Woodland Hills, Ut.: B.H.S. Publishing, 1987-1992], 3:
[iii].Barnabas, Epistle of Barnabas, Chapter 15, The False and the True Sabbath.
[iv].Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine: Selections from the Sermons and Writings of Joseph F. Smith, compiled by John A. Widtsoe [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1939], 225.
[v].Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p.276 FASTING
[vi]. Rulon T.Burton, We Believe [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1994]
[vii].Rulon T.Burton, We Believe [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1994]
[viii].Charlesworth, James H., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1 [Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1983], “Testaments of the Twelve Partriarchs,” pp. 820-22.