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Gospel Q&A: If God Wants Us to Live by the Spirit of the Law, Why Does Tithing Have a Fixed Amount?

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Gospel Q&A is a series from LDS Daily that strives to answer important gospel questions from readers. Today, we address the following questions: “If we are to live by the spirit of the law, why is there an actual figure we have to strictly adhere to in order to be full-tithe payers? Isn’t the spirit of the law ‘be charitable’? Couldn’t we decide how much we want to donate to the church and have enough to contribute to other foundations that need more support?”

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I’m so glad to address this topic. It touches on a number of gospel principles and I hope that with some quotes and clarity, greater understanding and acceptance of this principle will emerge.

First, I think there may be a misunderstanding as to what “the spirit of the law” really means. President M. Russell Ballard teaches that Satan “plants defiance in our hearts with justification and rationalization, subtly convincing us that it is possible to live the spirit of the law even if we are in violation of its letter.”

Clearly, the call to obey the spirit of the law is to do so in addition to obeying the letter of the law; it’s not a call to supplant the letter of the law with good feelings but little action.

The spirit of the law is much like applying charity to our good works.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 explains:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

In other words, if we taught and spoke with perfect eloquence but did it without charitably loving those we teach, we might as well be whacking a couple of cymbals together for all the good it will do.

We could have prophetic gifts and faith to move mountains, but if our gifts of faith and prophecy come without charitable love, it doesn’t amount to much.

If we sacrifice all our possessions and even ourselves, but our behavior is simply going through the motions and it’s not driven by love, it won’t bring us closer to the Savior or our eternal home with Him.

We should pay our tithing and offerings in the spirit of the law— with love, empathy, true concern for our friends and neighbors, and with a desire to build the Lord’s kingdom and further His work. But these feelings alone amount to praying for those in need, but never actually providing help for people in need.

God only asks for us to pay tithing on our increase. Echoing the words of the hymn, “Because I have been given much, I too must give.”

It is not scripturally supported to believe that our nice thoughts without real intentional action are all God requires. God doesn’t praise mediocrity or half-hearted efforts. In fact, President Nelson has taught, “The Lord loves effort.”

The Ammonite stripling warriors were not protected from death against an army of soldiers bigger and more experienced than they were because they were obedient-ish.

No, “they did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness” (Alma 57:21).


We aren’t perfect, but with tithing, we can actually be exact.

The word tithing literally means “tenth.”

There can be no question as to what the Lord is asking, and what He requires.

We may wonder why we can’t give ten percent toward other worthy causes we want to support and have that suffice for our tithing. It’s perfectly generous to give to these worthy causes. In fact, we should give without the compulsion or commandment to give. Doctrine and Covenants 58:26 teaches us, “For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.” This desire to give to charitable causes outside of tithing is a worthy desire, but we must be careful we are giving generously out of our own funds, and not funding these causes with the Lord’s tenth.

“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). When we use the tenth required for tithing to pay other organizations, we are being very generous–with the Lord’s money. Let us be careful not to use His money to pay for our emergencies or unexpected expenses either, but instead practice sound financial principles so we can be self-reliant when emergencies arise.

Let us live the spirit of the law the only way we really can—by obeying the letter of the law with faith, intention, and charity. Let us not leave blessings on the table as God promises:

“Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in my 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” (3 Nephi 24:10).

This outpouring of blessings may sometimes be financial, such as creative ways to use the groceries we already have in the pantry, or our entire list of groceries being on sale this week, but it might manifest in other ways. Perhaps we have been healthy through a time of year we are usually ill. Or the kids have made uplifting friends at school. Or you feel fulfilled in your home and work life. Or your relationships are improving. But if we are faithful in obeying the commandments, the windows of heaven will most assuredly open to bless us.

Let us live more fully committed to obeying with exactness and watching the blessings from heaven flow.

Disclaimer: While all of my answers will use scriptures and/or words of modern prophets, I do not represent The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I don’t believe any of my answers are comprehensive. I’m just one person using the gospel I have been blessed with to bring hope, peace, and answers to other seekers of truth.

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Rebecca Wright
Rebecca Wright
Becca loves audiobooks, dark chocolate, singing, hiking, walking,  going out with her husband, and raising their chickens and children. She still wants to meet her hero Sheri Dew, see flowing lava and a blue whale in person, and uplift others with her words.

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