Sabbath Sanctification: A Tithing of Our Time, an Offering unto the Lord

Adrian Juchau, “Sabbath Sanctification: A Tithing of Our Time, an Offering unto the Lord,” in Selections from the Religious Education Student Symposium, 2004 (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2004), 47–61.

Sabbath Sanctification: A Tithing of Our Time, an Offering unto the Lord

Adrian Juchau

Since the creation of the earth, the Sabbath has been blessed and set apart by God as a special day of rest and remembrance. Although the first recorded instance of the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy does not appear in the ancient text until the law was given to Moses, Latter-day Saints believe that “the Sabbath was a holy day before the giving of the law, even from the earliest of times . . . for the Sabbath is an eternal principle, and would have existed from the days of Adam, whenever the gospel was on the earth among men” (Bible Dictionary, “Sabbath,” 75).

The significance of the Sabbath is simple: throughout the generations of time, it has been a sign between the Lord and His people. Those who chose to keep the Sabbath holy were blessed and sanctified by the Lord, and their souls were replenished (see Exodus 31:13–17). Conversely, the consequence imposed for failing to keep the Sabbath holy were severe, for it was punishable by death. In our day, disobedience to this commandment results not in physical death but in a spiritual death, or separation from God, as we are consequently cut off from His presence (see for example, Alma 9:13).

Today, prophets of God have called upon His people to keep the sacred covenant of the Sabbath and have warned of God’s displeasure with those who do not. Elder Mark E. Petersen declared: “The Almighty provided that we should observe a sacred Sabbath each week. We have flouted this law to his face, and most of us have turned his holy day into one of pleasure or of ‘business as usual,’ and yet the Sabbath was given as a symbol of allegiance to our Creator.” [1]

Countless others echo the Lord’s clarion call to keep His Holy day sacred, yet many fail to give heed to this divine mandate. Perhaps the problem lies in the fact that we as a people do not yet understand the importance of Sabbath observance and the covenants associated with it. Because of a lack of awareness and understanding, great blessings and promises go unrealized. In this paper, I propose a lens by which we can see the Sabbath with a clearer vision of what the Lord intends for His holy day. I suggest that the Sabbath is a tithing of our time and that individuals will draw ever nearer to God as they give the Lord’s day back to Him. Moreover, the Sabbath provides an opportunity for us to come to Christ as we renew sacred covenants and offer our hearts to Him. As our understanding of these truths deepens and our devotion to God is manifest in the diligent application of these principles, we qualify ourselves to receive an outpouring of the blessings of heaven and prepare ourselves to enter into the presence of God.

The Sabbath: A Sign of God’s Covenant People

Jehovah said that the house of Israel “shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever” (Exodus 31:1–17). As the scriptures and our latter-day leaders suggest, the Sabbath continues to serve as a covenantal token of the measure of our devotion to God. President James E. Faust teaches us that the way in which we observe the Sabbath is ultimately an “expression of our love for God.” [2] Elder Petersen suggests that our attitude toward the Sabbath directly corresponds with our feelings for the Savior:

We can readily see that observance of the Sabbath is an indication of the depth of our conversion. Our observance or nonobservance of the Sabbath is an unerring measure of our attitude toward the Lord personally and toward his suffering in Gethsemane, his death on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead. It is a sign of whether we are Christians in very deed, or whether our conversion is so shallow that commemoration of his atoning sacrifice means little or nothing to us. [3]

Arnold K. Garr, professor of Church history and doctrine, concurs: “Sabbath observance is a good sign of a person’s religiosity. If [people] think enough to keep the Sabbath day holy, then they would likely be living . . . other precepts of their religion.” [4] Thus, it is reasonable to consider that even as ordinances are an external expression of an internal commitment to gospel principles, [5] so too are our outward behaviors on the Sabbath indicative of an inward commitment to Christ.

The Lord in His infinite mercy has blessed His children with abundance. Therefore, when He asks for some of our allotment back, we should not hesitate to respond to His call. Those who make the attempt to gratefully give back to Him, who has given all, find that despite their noblest efforts, they yet remain unprofitable servants (see Mosiah 2:22–25). Nevertheless, having been given so much, we are asked to give back a small portion of the bounteous blessings bestowed upon us.

A Tithe of Our Time: The Commandment and Its Promise

One of the ways the Lord has asked us to give back to Him is through tithing. Tithing is a specific kind of offering that the Lord has required of His people. It is a set amount of our increase set aside for a specific purpose. Failure to pay tithing results in withheld blessings. The major guiding principle of the law of tithing is that individuals are to give back to the Lord one-tenth of all that He has given them. The Bible Dictionary suggests that tithing need not be on material goods alone but can also apply to intangibles, such as time and service. “The word [tithing] denotes a tenth part, given for the service of God” (Bible Dictionary, “Tithing,” 785). Thoughtful disciples of Christ recognize that God has given us a multiplicity of blessings above and beyond that which we physically possess. Every breath we breathe, and every second of every day, is a gift from God. Thus we see that it may be appropriate to consider our time as a part of our increase to be tithed.

A tithing of time is not new to Latter-day Saints. In the early days of the Church, members participated in the law of tithing by “donating one day in ten as tithing labor,” contributing to the building of the Nauvoo Temple and other public works projects. [6] After the pioneers’ exodus west, the Saints could pay their tithes with money, in kind, or with their time. [7] Time, then, seems to be a tithable commodity. Thus, in our day, we would do well to consider the need to pay a full tithing of our time. In the language of mathematics, doing our duty to God during the waking hours of the Lord’s day fulfills the requirement to keep it holy. Consider the fact that there are 18 hours in a week. If we were to calculate what would constitute a tithing of time, we find that somewhere between sixteen and seventeen hours would suffice. As most individuals tend to sleep for seven to eight hours a day, the remainder of the day may appropriately constitute a tithe of our time. We would do well to evaluate how we spend our time on the Sabbath. Do we reserve the entire day for the Lord, or are we quick to forget whose time we are on after we have paid the small price of three hours at Church? We must not take from God what rightfully belongs to Him. He has asked that we set aside one day a week to worship Him and Him alone. Thus, sincere Sabbath worship can become a tithing of our time if we will simply give back to Him the small portion He requires of us.

Great blessings are promised to those who choose to obey the law of tithing and actively apply its principles. The Lord revealed to Joseph Smith that those who pay their tithing will be preserved at the time of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (see D&C 4:23). Elsewhere in the written word we find that for those who offer an honest tithe, the Lord will “open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:10). This prophetic promise, first uttered by Malachi and later reiterated by the Savior to the Nephites, is further illuminated by a thorough examination of the text. We often overlook many of the other blessings associated with this passage. They include the fact that God will “rebuke the devourer . . . and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground” and that “ye shall be a delightsome land,” and “all nations shall call you blessed” (Malachi 3:11–12), all of which speak of blessings of abundance and prosperity. Interestingly, a closer look at the Greek Septuagint furthers this notion as it suggests that the word windows may be better rendered as floodgates (see Malachi 3:10, LXX). This enlightening image more accurately portrays the magnitude of the blessings in store for those who are willing to pay the price the Lord has asked of them. Like a dam holding back a raging river, the heavens are bursting at the seams ready to pour blessings into the lives of those who are willing to pay the price.

While seemingly temporal commandments tend to yield temporal blessings, we can be assured that greater spiritual blessings are in store for those who live the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law. Consider President Harold B. Lee’s emphasis on the most significant blessings tithe payers can receive: “The promise following obedience to [the law of tithing] is that the windows of heaven would be open and blessings would be poured out that we would hardly be able to contain. The opening of the windows of heaven, of course, means revelation from God to him who is willing thus to sacrifice.” [8]

Camille Fronk, associate professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, tells of the blessings of revelation that come to those who keep God’s command to give back to Him a small part of what He has given us: “Revelation is the blessing that facilitates every other blessing, . . . blessings that are not had through any other way. [The promise is an] abundance of everything that God has given, that we would never be wont that way. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s in quantity, but it’s just so incredible having our eyes opened and having that kind of direction in our life.” [9]

Those who view the Lord’s day as a tithe of time will find it easier to pay the price of keeping the Sabbath holy and will experience the rewards that are sure to follow. Those who honor this sacred time open wide the gates of heaven to a multitude of spiritual blessings, including revelation from on high.

A Covenantal Offering: The Measure of Man and the Condition of the Heart

Blessings abound when we choose to give to the Lord an offering of the Sabbath as a tithe of our time. However, dedicated disciples do not see Sabbath observance as merely balancing the equation; instead they strive to “offer [their] whole souls as an offering unto him” (Omni 1:2). While tithing exacts one-tenth of our increase and failure to make due on our debt readily results in a loss of blessings, other offerings have no fixed amount of how much to give, nor are there any visible repercussions for not giving. Therefore, while tithing sets a standard by which man’s behavior can be measured, offerings proffer a look into the true measure of man and may in fact reflect the condition of the heart.

Offering oblations. As we explore the depths of the Lord’s day a little further, we come to realize that the Sabbath is a day of renewing covenants and making offerings to the Lord. In the early days of the Church, the Lord gave specific guidance to the Saints to help them better keep the Sabbath holy. “But remember that on this, the Lord’s day, thou shalt offer thine oblations and thy sacraments unto the Most High” (D&C 59:12). Oblations are offerings, whether of time, talents, or means, in service to God and our fellowmen. We may use the sacred time of the Lord’s day to magnify our callings and render selfless service as we visit the sick and afflicted, the widows and fatherless, and others who are in need. The Sabbath, then, becomes a day we can renew our covenant to consecrate our time and talents to build up the kingdom of God and to “bear one another’s burdens . . . mourn with those that mourn . . . and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:8–9).

The sacrament as central symbol of the Sabbath. In addition to offering our oblations, the Lord has repeatedly urged the Saints to “offer up thy sacraments” on His holy day (D&C 59:10). Carefully consider what it means to offer and exactly what is meant by a sacrament. The Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus defines offering as an “expression of willingness to do, give, or pay something.” Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary states that to “offer” is “to present as an act of worship or devotion; to declare one’s readiness or willingness; to make available,” and an “offering” is “a sacrifice ceremonially offered as a part of worship.” Succinctly put, to offer is to submit. Webster’s also states that the term sacrament originates from the Latin sacramentum, which denotes “an oath of allegiance” and is “a formal religious act that is sacred as a sign or symbol of a spiritual reality.” When understood in this context, to “offer up thy sacraments” comes to connote a covenant to willfully submit to God and be available to do whatever He asks. This, then, becomes the gift we can give to Him who gave us all. Clearly we can and ought to give Him the one thing He doesn’t possess and desires most—our will.

When truly understood, the sacrament soon becomes the central symbol of Sabbath worship. A brief look at the history of the sacrament reveals that its primary purpose, as well as that of the Sabbath, is to allow us to make an offering to the Lord. In the days before the meridian of time, priests offered an animal sacrifice to the Lord to make an atonement for the sins of the people (see Exodus 31:15). This was in similitude of the Savior and a foreshadowing of the great and eternal sacrifice yet to be made. The night before He was crucified, the Savior implemented the ordinance of sacrament, which was to serve as a reminder of His body and the blood that would be split for His followers (see Matthew 2:2). Later, when He visited the Nephites in America, He again instituted the sacrament and added that the people no longer needed to offer animal sacrifice but should offer up a broken heart and a contrite spirit (see 3 Nephi 9:20). In our day, Elder M. Russell Ballard has affirmed that when Latter-day Saints come to the sacramental table, reminiscent of the ancient altar, they should come with a broken heart and contrite spirit. “Instead of the Lord requiring our animals or grain, now He wants us to give up all that is ungodly. This higher practice of the law of sacrifice reaches into the inner soul of a person. . . . We [are to] overcome our own selfish desires and put God first in our lives and covenant to serve Him regardless of the cost.” [10] Elder Neal A. Maxwell eloquently emphasized the purpose and nature of the sacramental offering when he said, “So it is that real, personal sacrifice never was placing an animal on the altar. Instead, it is a willingness to put the animal in us upon the altar and letting it be consumed!” [11]

Sacramental symbolism. Thoughtful contemplation of the rich symbolism associated with the sacrament helps us to have a more meaningful experience with this sacred ordinance. For example, the altar itself evokes images of ancient days. At the temple altar, the priest (which in Hebrew means “an intermediary,” [12] alluding to the Great Mediator) made an offering to the Lord to cleanse the people of their sins. We too can come to the sacramental altar with a broken heart and contrite spirit and lay our sins before God. Anciently, altars were also places where covenants were made. As we partake of the sacrament, we can reflect upon the covenants we have made and strengthen our resolve to keep them in the coming week.

Looking deeper into the symbols of the sacrament, we see more clearly how they are “a tangible reminder of our role and responsibilities, [and] remind [us] of what He has done.” [13] Many of the symbols serve as a type of Christ, pointing us to Him and keeping our thoughts focused on the Atonement. We would be wise to remember that the emblems of the sacrament represent more than Christ’s body and blood. They also represent hours of agony and selfless suffering for the sins we weekly make. As we covenant to always remember Him (see Moroni 4:3, 5:2) we can “remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men . . . and ponder it in [our] hearts” (Moroni 10:3). As we think of the things He did for us, we will not only come to know more about Him, but we will come to know Him; we will not only want to live more like Him, but we will also learn how to do so. Through introspection and self-analysis, we can come to know what we have done that needs to be repented of and learn what we can do to improve spiritually in some way. [14]

If we have put forth an honest effort to prepare for the sacrament, the Lord will reveal to us what we should do better or differently to help us and our family qualify for the celestial kingdom. Sister Fronk believes that the sacrament “has all the elements that enable us to progress.” [15] It allows us to “render an account to [God] on a regular basis” and gives us “an opportunity to see where we stand,” which helps “realign us to do better.” Thoughtful and sincere “contemplation brings up things we need to rectify and helps us realize that we have so much more yet to do. . . . We should leave there with a greater resolve to do what we just promised.” [16] During the sacrament, we must be sure to make specific commitments to ourselves and to God (hence a renewal of covenants) and follow through with them; otherwise all our efforts to prepare for the sacrament would be in vain. Robert L. Millet, former dean of Religious Education at Brigham Young University, adds that when individuals properly prepare for the sacrament and commit to do better in the week to come, “the Sabbath becomes the capstone of our week” and the sacrament “become[s] the culmination of a week’s worth of preparation and a springboard into yet another week of progression.” [17]

Our personal Passover. As we humbly approach the altar, we may rightly ask ourselves what we ought to give the Lord as our sacrificial, or sacramental, offering. Elder David B. Haight has suggested that we may begin by offering our sins to the Lord before we partake of the sacrament so we may be worthy of the blessings it affords, [18] worthy of the opportunity to enter into the presence of God. The sacrament provides the means for individuals to cast their burdens upon the Lord and humbly recognize their imperfections so that with the Lord’s help they may become stronger, better, and more like God.

Because of the serious nature of this sacred ordinance and its implications on personal progression, President Joseph Fielding Smith said that “sacrament meeting is the most sacred, the most holy, of all the meetings of the Church.” [19] Furthermore, President David O. McKay asserted that “no more sacred ordinance has been given to us by the Lord than the administration of the Sacrament.” [20] Elder Jeffrey R. Holland fears that far too many members of the Church do not understand the meaning and magnitude of the Lord’s Supper. “Perhaps we do not always attach that kind of meaning to our weekly sacramental service. How ‘sacred’ and how ‘holy’ is it? Do we see it as our [own personal] passover, remembrance of our safety and deliverance and redemption?” [21] If not, are we really any better than those who crucified our Lord? Do we really think we are in a better position than those who stood idly by watching the Savior suffer or were lukewarm in their commitment to Christ? Do we, like Judas, offer our affections in vain, [22] or do we sincerely approach the sacramental altar in an attitude of submission and surrender, focusing on the Atonement and our pledge to always remember Him?

Gaye Strathearn, an instructor in the Department of Ancient Scripture, is confident that as we better understand the significance of the sacrament and take the time to prepare for it, we will be kept safe from the wiles of the world and stay on the path that leads to our heavenly home. [23] Clearly, as we willingly covenant to offer our sins and our souls to God, our focus shifts from self to Christ, and we enjoy a greater abundance of blessings preparatory to eternal life.

A Day of Rest: Entering Into His Presence, Partaking of His Glory

 

Finally, in addition to viewing the Sabbath as a tithe of our time and an opportunity to make a covenantal offering to the Lord, we would enhance our observance by honoring the Sabbath as a day of rest. Notably, the Hebrew word translated Sabbath literally means “rest.” [24] President Faust spoke of two ways the Sabbath functions to offer us rest:

The first has to do with the physical need for rest and renewing. Obviously God, who created us, would know more than we do of the limits of our physical and nervous energy and strength.

The second . . . is, in my opinion, of far greater significance. It has to do with the need for regeneration and the strengthening of our spiritual being. God knows that, left completely to our own devices without regular reminders of our spiritual needs, many would degenerate into the preoccupation of satisfying earthly desires and appetites. This need for physical, mental, and spiritual regeneration is met in large measure by faithful observance of the Sabbath day. [25]

Brother Millet adds that the things of the world daily “grind us down” and that the Sabbath provides a necessary “break from the routine” of things of a physical, social, and intellectual nature. [26] Thus, activities that we are accustomed to doing throughout the week may not be appropriate on the Sabbath.

Aside from physical rest, the Sabbath provides the opportunity for individuals to enjoy spiritual rest as well. As we contemplate spiritual rest, we come to understand that in a world where noise pervades and business abounds, the Sabbath gives us a unique opportunity to “be still, and know that [He is] God” (Psalm 4:10). Note that spiritual rest does not mean taking a break from things of a spiritual nature, but instead allows us to actively pursue a state of holiness. The Doctrine and Covenants teaches that God’s rest “is the fulness of his glory” (D&C 84:24). Thus, as we seek to experience God’s rest, we endeavor to enter into the fullness of His presence. Sister Strathearn muses over the irony that the Sabbath has never really been a day of rest and relaxation for her. She has learned that “Sunday is not necessarily a day to catch up on our sleep, but to rest from things of the world, although we usually find ourselves working harder on this day than any other. But it’s a different kind of work—it’s the Lord’s work. Thus, the Sabbath is our weekly opportunity to enter into God’s presence, . . . partake of His glory, and ultimately prepare ourselves for that reality.” [27] Clearly, the Sabbath is much more than a time to take a break from life; it is a time for spiritual renewal and allows us “to climb high on the upward path toward our Heavenly Father.” [28]

We cannot suppose that we can enter into His presence without first paying a price. Indeed, to enjoy the rest of the Lord, we must first engage in the work of the Lord, which work is to assist to bring to pass the eternal life of His children (see Moses 1:39). Thus, we see that offering our time to the Lord entails much more than merely abstaining from certain activities. Rather, to truly give of our time, we must be anxiously engaged in a good cause, utilizing our time and talents and resources for building the kingdom of God on the earth. Truly offering our hearts requires that we first give up our sins, then give of ourselves. It requires that we actively seek out the needs of others and strive to meet those needs to the best of our ability.

The sacrament provides the perfect opportunity to pause and reflect on the condition of our heart and allows us to partake of God’s rest. Ancient altars were not only places of sacrifice and covenant making but also places marked by God’s presence. Sister Fronk reminds us that “the Sabbath and the sacrament are some of the great times that God can teach us, and when He does, we stand on sacred ground. When we enter the chapel for sacrament meeting, are we aware that we are on holy ground and have the opportunity to enter into God’s presence?” [29] Thus, if man allows, the Sabbath can condition the heart preparatory to living a life of consecration. The Sabbath gives us an opportunity to become reconciled to God, renew our covenants with Him, and offer a token of our love and appreciation for all He has done for us. If given with a pure heart, our offerings become holy and acceptable to the Lord (see D&C 124:75). Rather than being cut off from God, we are again worthy to enter His presence and can bask in the fulness of His glory.

The Reward of the Righteous

In short, if we will follow the counsel to keep the Lord’s day holy, we will come to think of the Sabbath as a tithe of our time and offer to God our sins, our hearts, and our willingness to serve in any capacity. As we do so, we consequently qualify for the Lord’s rest. Doctrine and Covenants 59:8–10 teaches, “Thou shalt offer a sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in righteousness, even that of a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day; for verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High.” This passage culminates with a glorious promise: “Learn that he who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward, even peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come” (D&C 59:23). If members of the Church try to internalize the deeper meaning of the sacrament and more fully consecrate the Sabbath, the Lord will open the windows and even the floodgates of heaven and reveal to our minds what we must do in order to return to live with Him. The day shall surely come when all who will pay the price He has asked of us may enter into His rest and enjoy the fullness of His glory.

With all that the Father has laid up in store for His children, I ask, Will a man rob God? Will we knowingly take from the Lord that which rightfully belongs to Him? Yet many will ask wherein we have robbed Him, and then shall the scantiness of our tithes and the emptiness of our offerings be revealed. Prophets throughout the ages have testified of the treasures of heaven that come to those who treasure the Sabbath. With them, I witness that people who offer the Lord a tithe of their time and strive for deeper devotion to God through meaningful Sabbath worship will experience peace that surpasses understanding (see Philippians 4:7). These are they who qualify themselves for the royal courts on high, where the countless blessings of heaven are poured out in such abundance that there will not be room enough to receive them.

Notes

[1] Mark E. Petersen, “Warnings from the Past,” Ensign, June 1971, 47.

[2] James E. Faust, “The Lord’s Day,” Ensign, November 1991, 35.

[3] Mark E. Petersen, “The Sabbath Day,” Ensign, May 1975, 49.

[4] Arnold Garr, personal correspondence, March 11, 2003.

[5] See Letter from the First Presidency, October 10, 1988.

[6] Church History in the Fulness of Times, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2000), 242.

[7] Susan Easton Black, personal correspondence, October 27, 2003.

[8] Harold B. Lee, “The Way to Eternal Life,” Ensign, November 1971, 16.

[9] Camille Fronk, personal correspondence, March 13, 2003.

[10] M. Russell Ballard, “The Law of Sacrament,” Ensign, October 1998, 10.

[11] Neal A. Maxwell, “Deny Yourselves of All Ungodliness,” Ensign,May 1995, 68.

[12] James Strong, The New Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001), 127.

[13] Fronk, personal correspondence, March 13, 2003.

[14] Garr, personal correspondence, March 11, 2003.

[15] Fronk, personal correspondence, March 13, 2003.

[16] Fronk, personal correspondence, March 13, 2003.

[17] Robert L. Millet, personal correspondence, March 11, 2003.

[18] See David B. Haight, “The Sacrament,” Ensign, May 1983, 14.

[19] Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1955), 2:340.

[20] David O. McKay, in Conference Report, October 1956, 88.

[21] Jeffrey R. Holland, “‘This Do in Remembrance of Me,’” Ensign, November 1995, 68; emphasis in original.

[22] Judas’s kiss of betrayal echoes of the Savior’s warning that there would be many who “draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me” (Isaiah 29:13).

[23] Gaye Strathearn, personal correpondence, March 13, 2003.

[24] Strong, Concordance, 271.

[25] James E. Faust, “The Lord’s Day,” Ensign, November 1991, 35.

[26] Millet, personal correspondence, March 11, 2003.

[27] Strathearn, personal correspondence, March 13, 2003.

[28] Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982), 216.

[29] Fronk, personal correspondence, March 13, 2003.