(Note: This article is adapted from the Pillars of Zion series. Click here to receive your free PDFs of this 7-book series.)
Jesus said we cannot serve God and mammon. Mammon is “the standard Hebrew word for any kind of financial dealing.” Serving both God and mammon is as impossible as simultaneously walking east and west. The two are polar opposites like love and hate. To the degree that we give our affection to one, we withhold our affection from the other: “either [we] will hate the one, and love the other; or else [we] will hold to the one, and despise the other.”
Neither can we choose to participate in both God’s and Satan’s economies: Zion and mammon. According to Hugh Nibley, “Every step in the direction of increasing one’s personal holdings is a step away from Zion.”
The Test of Riches
The harsh reality is this: life is a test. At the center of that test is money. Our attitude toward our financial dealings serves to prove the condition of our heart, loyalty, character, willingness to sacrifice, and trustworthiness. We can no more avoid this financial test than we can avoid choosing between the relentless opposing forces that try to influence our financial dealings.
But choose we must.
If we fool ourselves into believing that we can succeed in choosing both God and mammon, we are deceived. But that has not deterred people from trying. Most of humanity has attempted to combine God and mammon, but not one person has ever succeeded-and we will not be the first. From the first moment that we make the attempt, we have already chosen Satan and his economy. Jesus’ words are perennially true: “no man can serve two masters.”
So what should we do? Should we take the concept to extremes, take a vow of poverty, shun money, and live lean like medieval monks? Of course not.
“You always do have to handle things,” Hugh Nibley says. “But in what spirit do we do it? Not…by renunciation, for example…. If you refuse to be concerned with these things at all, and say, I’m above all that,’ that’s as great a fault. The things of the world have got to be administered; they must be taken care of, they are to be considered. We have to keep things clean, and in order. That’s required of us. This is a test by which we are being proven. This is the way by which we prepare, always showing that these things will never captivate our hearts, that they will never become our principal concern. That takes a bit of doing, and that is why we have the formula with an eye single to his glory’ (Mormon 8:15). Keep first your eye on the star, then on all the other considerations of the ship. You will have all sorts of problems on the ship, but unless you steer by the star, forget the ship. Sink it. You won’t go anywhere.”
The test of money determines if we can we be trusted with God’s resources-those things that he has placed in our hands for safekeeping and prudent management. As accountable stewards, some pointed questions are always before us:
- Will we choose to remain within the guidelines of stewardship?
- Will we manage the stewardship according to God’s desires or will we “cheat the Lord?”
- Will we redefine the terms of stewardship, claim ownership of the Lord’s property then enlarge and indulge ourselves with the proceeds rather than use the surplus for its intended use: to take care of God’s children and build up the Kingdom of God for the establishment of Zion?
Our answers to these questions determine our passing or failing the mortal test of riches.
Only the Pure in Heart can pass This Test
Without divine intervention, we could not have the power to choose God over mammon. Babylon simply has too great a hold on the hearts of men. Consequently, only the pure in heart that receive a spiritual endowment can make this choice and thereafter live the Law of Consecration. The pure in heart alone receive the spiritual help to view money for what it is and put it in its proper place.
They are children of Zion who do not venture into Babylon and partake of its philosophies. Rather, they enter the temple and make an informed, resolute covenant to receive and manage the Lord’s property in an ordered way; then they return to the world and implement that covenant as the Lord directs.
Clearly, this test is too hard for the natural man. Only those who know and love God can do it. Hence, God or mammon is the ultimate test that determines the condition of the heart and lands us in or out of the Celestial Kingdom. Nibley writes:
“God has always given his people the same choice of either living up to the covenants made with him or being in Satan’s power; there is no middle ground (Moses 4:4). True, we spend this time of probation in a no-man’s-land between the two camps of salvation and damnation, but at every moment of the day and night we must be moving toward the one or the other. Progressive testing takes place along the way in either direction; the same tests in every dispensation and generation mark the progress of the people of God.
“(1) Do you, first of all, agree to do things his way rather than your way-to follow the law of God? (2) If so, will you be obedient to him, no matter what he asks of you? (3) Will you, specifically, be willing to sacrifice anything he asks you for? (4) Will you at all times behave morally and soberly? (5) Finally, if God asks you to part with your worldly possessions by consecrating them all to his work, will you give his own back to him to be distributed as he sees fit, not as you think wise?
“That last test has been by far the hardest of all, and few indeed have chosen that strait and narrow way. The rich young man was careful and correct in observing every point of the law-up to that one; but that was too much for him, and the Savior, who refused to compromise or make a deal, could only send him off sorrowing, observing to the apostles that passing that test was so difficult to those possessing the things of the world that only a special dispensation from God could get them by.
The Lord’s Willingness to be Tested
Perhaps because this test requires so much faith, the Lord both promises and offers evidence that if we will live the Law of Consecration, he will take care of us and even prosper us. The law of tithing is one of his proofs: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine 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.”
Paying tithing is always an act of faith. The math doesn’t make sense. Ten minus one is supposed to equal nine, but somehow the product is always more than ten. Clearly, celestial math is baffling in a telestial setting, and only faith can urge us on. But if we will persevere and apply the principle of tithing then experience the pouring out of blessings, we will be prepared to employ that principle to other consecrated offerings, which will require even greater faith.
Alma taught that faith grows like a seed. First, faith takes root in our hearts by hearing the word of God. Then it sprouts and blossoms by continual nourishing, which we are willing to do because we observe incremental proofs that the plant is growing. Over time, the seed becomes a great, fruit-bearing tree.
Tithing is such a tree, and it provides us a way to test the Lord on the principle of consecration; tithing allows us to get to know each other. When we discover that the Lord will not let us down and that he will prosper us, we are willing to take the next step and pay offerings. Once again we discover the Lord’s care and abundance, and as we do, we grow in our appreciation of consecration until we can live the law according to its ideal.
But every step of the way, between initial tithing and eventual total consecration, requires our venturing into the darkness hoping and anticipating that the light will appear. Each step demands giving before we receive, and every time we take another step, it will make absolutely no mathematical sense. The laws in Babylon that govern finance will scream at us to hold back: “It won’t work!” Only our testimony of the celestial laws of tithing and consecrated offerings can provide us the confidence that all will be well and that the outcome will result in safety and abundance. Nibley writes,
“In giving his children the law, God repeatedly specifies that he is placing before them two ways, the ways of life and death, light and darkness. For parallel to the one law runs another. It is part of the plan that Satan should be allowed to try us and to tempt us to see whether we would prove faithful in all things: Who does not live up to every covenant made with the Lord will be in his power (cf. Moses 4:4, 5:23). So we find ourselves drawn in two directions (Moroni 7:11-13). Thus this life becomes a special test of probation set before us in this world-it is an economic one. If the law of consecration is the supreme test of virtue-the final one-money is to be the supreme temptation to vice; sex runs a poor second, but on both counts, this is the time and place for us to meet the challenge of the flesh. It is the weakness of the flesh in both cases to prove our spirits stronger than the pull of matter, to assert our command over the new medium of physical bodies before proceeding onward to another state of existence. As Brigham Young often repeats, “God has given us the things of this world to see what we will do with them.” The test will be whether we will set our hearts on the four things that lead to destruction. Whoever seeks for (1) wealth, (2) power, (3) popularity, and (4) the pleasures of the flesh-anyone who seeks those will be destroyed, says the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 22:23; 3 Nephi 6:15). Need we point out that those four things compose the whole substance of success in the present-day world. They are the things that money will get you.”
Tithing, therefore, is the preparation to become Zionlike; offerings are the opportunity to become Zionlike. In each case, God is willing to be put to the test. The only question remaining is are we? Do we really want to become Zion people or not? Our answer might come down to our choice between God and mammon.
This article is adapted from the Pillars of Zion series. Click here to receive your free PDFs of this 7-book series.