Chapter 20: STEWARDSHIP


Seventh-day Adventists Believe...

We are God's stewards, entrusted by Him with time and

opportunities, abilities and possessions, and the blessings

of the earth and its resources. We are responsible to Him

for their proper use. We acknowledge God's ownership by

faithful service to Him and our fellowmen, and by returning

tithes and giving offerings for the proclamation of His

gospel and the support and growth of His church. Stewardship

is a privilege given to us by God for nurture in love and

the victory over selfishness and covetousness. The steward

rejoices in the blessings that come to others as a result of

his faithfulness.--Fundamental Beliefs, 20.

 

STEWARDSHIP

More than anything else living a Christian life means

surrender--a giving up of ourselves and an accepting of

Christ. As we see how Jesus surrendered and gave Himself up

for us, we cry out, "What can I do for You?"

Then, just when we think we have made a full commitment,

a full surrender, something happens that demonstrates how

shallow our commitment is. As we discover new areas of our

lives to turn over to God, our commitment grows. Then, ever

so gently, He brings to our attention another area where

self needs to surrender. And so life goes on through a

series of Christian recommitments that go deeper and deeper

into our very selves, our lifestyles, how we act and react.

When we give all that we are and have to God, to whom it

all belongs anyway (1 Cor. 3:21-4:2), He accepts it but then

puts us back in charge of it, making us stewards, or

caretakers, of everything that we "possess." Then our

tendency to live comfortable, selfish lives is broken by our

realization that our Lord was naked, imprisoned, and a

stranger. And His enduring "Go ye therefore, and teach all

nations" makes the church's activities--sharing, teaching,

preaching, baptizing--more precious to us. Because of Him we

seek to be faithful stewards.

What Is Stewardship?

"Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy

Spirit...and you are not your own? For you were bought at a

price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your

spirit, which are God's" (1 Cor. 6:19,20). At high cost we

were purchased, redeemed. We belong to God. But such was

mere reclaiming, for He made us; we have belonged to Him

from the beginning because "In the beginning God created..."

(Gen. 1:1). The Scriptures clearly state that "the earth is

the Lord's and all its fullness, the world and those who

dwell therein" (Ps. 24:1).

At Creation God shared His possessions with humanity, and

He continues to be the true owner of the world, its

inhabitants, and its goods (Ps. 24:1). At the cross He

reclaimed as His own that which man had surrendered to Satan

at the Fall (1 Cor. 6:19-20). He has now appointed His

people to serve as stewards of His possessions.

A steward is a person "entrusted with the management of

the household or estate of another." Stewardship is "the

position, duties, or service of a steward."(*1) To the

Christian, stewardship means "man's responsibility for, and

use of, everything entrusted to him by God--life, physical

being, time, talents and abilities, material possessions,

opportunities to be of service to others, and his knowledge

of truth."(*2) Christians serve as managers over God's

possessions and view life as a divine opportunity "to learn

to be faithful stewards, thereby qualifying for the higher

stewardship of eternal things in the future life."(*3)

In its larger dimensions, then, stewardship "`involves

the wise and unselfish use of life.'"(*4)

Ways to Acknowledge God's Ownership

Life can be divided into four basic areas, each a gift

from God. He gave us a body, abilities, time, and material

possessions. In addition, we must care for the world around

us, over which we were given dominion.

Stewardship of the Body

God's people are stewards of themselves. We are to love

God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all

our strength, and with all our mind (Luke 10:27).

Christians are privileged to develop their physical and

mental powers to the best of their ability and

opportunities. In so doing they bring honor to God and can

prove a greater blessing to their fellow beings.

(See chapter 21.)

Stewardship of Abilities

Each person has special aptitudes. One may be talented in

the musical realm, another in manual trades such as sewing

or auto mechanics. Some may make friends easily and mingle

well with others, while others may naturally tend toward

more solitary pursuits.

Every talent can be used to glorify either the one who

possesses it or its original Bestower. A person can

diligently perfect a talent for God's glory, or for personal

selfishness.

We ought to cultivate the gifts the Holy Spirit gives

each of us in order to multiply these gifts (Matt. 25).

Good stewards use their gifts liberally in order to bring

fuller benefit to their master.

Stewardship of Time

As faithful stewards, we glorify God by a wise use of

time. "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as

working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you

will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is

the Lord Christ you are serving" (Col. 3:23, 24, NIV).

The Bible admonishes us not to behave "as fools but as

wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil" (Eph.

5:15,16). Like Jesus, we must be about our Father's business

(Luke 2:49). Because time is God's gift, each moment is

precious. It is given to form character for eternal life.

Faithful stewardship of our time means using it to get to

know our Lord, to help our fellowmen, and to share the

gospel.

When, at Creation, God gave time to us, He reserved the

seventh-day Sabbath as holy time for communion with Him.

But six days were provided for the human family to engage in

useful employment.

Stewardship of Material Possessions

God gave our first parents the responsibility of subduing

the earth, governing the animal kingdom, and caring for the

Garden of Eden (Gen. 1:28; 2:15). All this was theirs not

only to enjoy, but to manage.

One restriction was placed on them. They were not to eat

of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This tree

provided a constant reminder that God was the owner and

final authority over the earth. Respecting this restriction,

the first pair demonstrated their faith in and loyalty to

Him.

After the Fall, God could no longer test through the tree

of knowledge. But humanity still needed a constant reminder

that God is the source of every good and perfect gift (James

1:17) and that it is He who provides us with the power to

get wealth (Deut. 8:18). To remind us that He is the source

of every blessing, God instituted a system of tithes and

offerings.

This system eventually provided the financial means for

supporting the priesthood of the Israelite temple.

Seventh-day Adventists have adoped the Levitical model as a

sound, Biblical method for financing a worldwide outreach of

the gospel. God has ordained that sharing the good news is

to be dependent on the efforts and offerings of His people.

He calls them to become unselfish colaborers with Him by

giving tithes and offerings to Him.

1. Tithes.

As one seventh of our time (the Sabbath) belongs to God,

so does one tenth of all material things we acquire.

Scripture tells us that the tithe is "holy to the Lord,"

symbolizing God's ownership of everything (Lev. 27:30,32).

It is to be returned to Him as His own.

The tithing system is beautiful in its simplicity. Its

equity is revealed in its proportional claim on the rich and

on the poor. In proportion as God has given us the use of

His property, so we are to return to Him a tithe.

When God calls for the tithe (Mal. 3:10), He makes no

appeal to gratitude or generosity. Although gratitude should

be a part of all our expressions to God, we tithe because

God has commanded it. The tithe belongs to the Lord, and He

requests that we return it to Him.

a. Examples of tithing.

Tithing is an accepted practice throughout Scripture.

Abraham gave Melchizedek, the priest of God Most High, "a

tithe of all" (Gen. 14:20). By doing so, he acknowledged

Melchizedek's divine priesthood and showed that he was well

acquainted with this sacred institution. This casual

reference to tithing indicates that it was already an

established custom at that early date.

Evidently Jacob also understood the tithing requirement.

As an exile and fugitive, he vowed to the Lord, "`Of all

that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You'" (Gen.

28:22). And after the Exodus, when Israel was established as

a nation, God reaffirmed the law of tithing as a divine

institution on which Israel's prosperity depended (Lev.

27:30-32; Num. 18:24,26,28; Deut. 12:6,11,17).

Far from abrogating this institution, the New Testament

assumes its validity. Jesus approved of tithing and

condemned those who violate its spirit (Matt. 23:23). While

the ceremonial laws regulating the sacrificial offerings

symbolizing Christ's atoning sacrifice ended at His death,

the tithing law did not.

Because Abraham is the father of all believers, he is the

model for tithe paying for Christians. As Abraham paid tithe

to Melchizedek, the priest of the Most High God, so New

Testament believers give tithe to Christ, our High Priest

according to the order of Melchizedek

(Heb. 5:9,10; 7:1-22).(*5)

b. Use of tithes.

Tithes are sacred and are to be used for sacred purposes

only. The Lord commanded, "`A tithe of everything from the

land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees,

belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord....The entire

tithe of the herd and flock...will be holy to the Lord'"

(Lev. 27:30-32, NIV). "`Bring all the tithes into the

storehouse,'" He said, "`that there may be food in My

house'" (Mal 3:10).

In Israel the tithe was used exclusively for the Levites,

who, having received no tribal allotment, were to use all

their time in fostering Israel's worship, ministering at the

sanctuary, and instructing the people in the law of the Lord

(Num. 18:21,24).

After the Crucifixion, when the divinely directed role of

the Levitical priesthood ended, tithes were still to be used

to support the ministry of God's church. Paul illustrated

the principle underlying this by drawing a parallel between

the Levitical service and the newly established gospel

ministry. He stated, "If we have sown spiritual seed among

you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you?

If others have this right of support from you, shouldn't we

have it all the more?...Don't you know that those who work

in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who

serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In

the same way the Lord has commanded that those who preach

the gospel should receive their living from the gospel"

(1 Cor. 9:11-14, NIV).

Church members, then, willingly bring their tithes to the

"storehouse, that there may be food in My house"

(Mal. 3:10)--in other words, so that there are enough funds

in God's church to provide a living for its ministry and to

carry forward the outreach of the gospel.(*6,*7)

2. Offerings.

Grateful Christians cannot limit their contributions to

the church to tithe. In Israel the tabernacle, and later the

Temple, were built from "free will offerings"--offerings

given from willing hearts (Ex. 36:2-7; cf. 1 Chron. 29:14).

And special offerings covered the maintenance expenses of

these places of worship (Ex. 30:12-16; 2 Kings 12:4,5; 2

Chron. 24:4-13; Neh. 10:32,33). The Israelites probably

contributed as much as one fourth to one third of their

income to religious and charitable purposes. Did such heavy

contributions lead to poverty? On the contrary, God promised

to bless them in their faithfulness (Mal. 3:10-12).(*8)

Today, too, the Lord calls for liberal giving as He has

prospered us. Offerings are needed to build, maintain, and

operate churches, and to set up medical missionary work,

demonstrating the practical significance of the gospel.

Should we give as much as did the Israelites, or are

their patterns of giving no longer applicable? In the New

Testament Christ laid down the principle of true

stewardship--that our gifts to God should be in proportion

to the light and privileges we have enjoyed. He said, "For

everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be

required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they

will ask the more" (Luke 12:48). When Christ sent His

followers on a mission He said, "Freely you have received,

freely give" (Matt. 10:8). This principle applies to the

sharing of our financial blessings as well.

Nowhere does the New Testament repeal or relax this

system. As we compare our privileges and blessings with

those of the Israelites, we see that in Jesus our share has

clearly been greater. Our gratitude will find a

corresponding expression through a greater liberality so

that the gospel of salvation can be extended to others?(*9)

The more widely the gospel is proclaimed, the greater

support it needs.

3. The remaining principal.

The principle of stewardship applies to what we retain as

well as to what we give. While the tithe is the basic test

of our stewardship of our temporal material possessions,

(*10) the use we make of the remaining principal tests us as

well.

Our use of material goods reveals how much we love God

and our neighbors. Money can be a power for good: in our

hands it can provide food for the hungry, drink for the

thirsty, and clothing for the naked (Matt. 25:34-40). From

God's perspective money has value mainly as it is used to

provide the necessities of life, to bless others, and to

support His work.

4. Unfaithfulness in tithe and offerings.

Generally speaking, people are ignorant of and neglect

the divine principles of stewardship. Even among Christians

few acknowledge their role as stewards. God's response to

Israel's unfaithfulness gives a clear insight into how He

regards this matter. When they used the tithes and offerings

for their own benefit, He warned that it amounted to theft

(Mal. 3:8) and attributed their lack of prosperity to their

fiscal unfaithfulness: "You are cursed with a curse, for you

have robbed Me, even this whole nation" (Mal. 3:9).

The Lord revealed His patience, love, and mercy by

prefacing His warning with an offer of grace: "`Return to

Me, and I will return to you'" (Mal. 3:7). He offered them

abundant blessing and challenged them to test His

faithfulness. "`Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse,

that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,' says

the Lord Almighty, `and see if I will not throw open the

floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you

will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from

devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not

cast their fruit,' says the Lord Almighty. `Then all the

nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a

delightful land,' says the Lord Almighty"

(Mal. 3:10-12, NIV).

Stewardship of the Earth

Modern science has made earth one vast laboratory for

research and experimentation. Such research yields many

benefits, but the industrial revolution has also resulted in

air, water, and land pollution. Technology, in some

instances, has manipulated nature rather than managing it

wisely.

We are stewards of this world, and should do everything

to maintain life on all levels by keeping the ecological

balance intact. In His coming advent, Christ will "destroy

those who destroy the earth" (Rev. 11:18). From this

perspective Christian stewards are responsible not only for

their own possessions but for the world around them.

Christ as Steward

Proper stewardship is selflessness; it is complete

self-giving to God and service to humanity. Because of His

love for us Christ endured the cruelty of the cross, the

even deeper pain of rejection by His own, and abysmal

God-forsakenness. In comparison to this gift, what could we

ever give? His was a gift, not of what He had--even though

He had everything--but of Himself. Such is stewardship. To

gaze on that greatest gift is to be drawn out of ourselves,

to become like Him. It will move us to become the caring

church, caring for both those within the communion of

believers and those without. Since Christ died for the

world, stewardship, in its broadest sense, is for the world.

The Blessings of Stewardship

God has placed us in the role of stewards for our

benefit, not for His.

A Personal Blessing

One reason God asks us to continually consecrate to Him

our entire life--time, abilities, body, and material

possessions--is to encourage our own spiritual growth and

character development. As we are kept aware of God's

ownership of everything and the ceaseless love He bestows on

us, our love and gratitude are nurtured.

Faithful stewardship also assists us in gaining victory

over covetousness and selfishness. Covetousness, one of

man's greatest enemies, is condemned in the Decalogue. Jesus

also warned of it: "`Take heed and beware of covetousness,

for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the

things he possesses'" (Luke 12:15). Our giving on a regular

basis helps to root out covetousness and selfishness from

our lives.

Stewardship leads to the development of habits of economy

and efficiency. Having "crucified the flesh with its

passions and desires" (Gal. 5:24), we will use nothing for

selfish gratification. "When the principles of stewardship

are given mastery in the life, the soul is illuminated, the

purpose is fixed, social pleasures are pruned of unwholesome

features, the business life is conducted under the sway of

the golden rule, and soul winning becomes the passion. Such

are the bountiful blessings of God's provisions in a life of

faith and faithfulness."(*11)

A deep satisfaction and joy comes from the assurance that

on everything invested for the salvation of those for whom

He died, the Master inscribes, "`Inasmuch as you did it to

one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me'"

(Matt. 25:40). "There is nothing too precious for us to give

to Jesus. If we return to Him the talents of means which He

has entrusted to our keeping, He will give more into our

hands. Every effort we make for Christ will be rewarded by

Him, and every duty we perform in His name will minister to

our own happiness."(*12)

A Blessing to Others

True stewards bless all whom they contact. They execute

Paul's stewardship injunction, "Command them to do good, to

be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to

share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves

as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may

take hold of the life that is truly life"

(1 Tim. 6:18,19, NIV).

Stewardship involves service to others and being willing

to share anything God has graciously bestowed that might

benefit another. This means that "no longer do we consider

that life consists of how much money we have, the titles we

possess, the important people we know, the house and

neighborhood we live in, and the position and influence we

think we possess."(*13) Real life is knowing God, developing

loving and generous attributes like His, and giving what we

can, according as He has prospered us. To really give in

Christ's spirit is to really live.

A Blessing to the Church

The adoption of the Biblical plan of stewardship is

indispensable for the church. The continual participation of

its members in giving is like exercise--it results in a

strong church body, involved in sharing the blessings Christ

has bestowed on it, and ready to respond to whatever needs

there are in God's cause. The church will have adequate

funds to support the ministry, to expand God's kingdom in

its immediate vicinity, and to extend it to the remote

places of the earth. It will willingly make time, talents,

and means available to God in love and gratitude for His

blessings.

In view of Christ's assurance that He will return when

the gospel of the kingdom has been proclaimed as "a witness

to all the nations" (Matt. 24:14), all are invited to be

stewards and co-workers with Him. Thus the church's witness

will be a powerful blessing to the world, and its faithful

stewards will be made glad as they see the blessings of the

gospel extended to others.

References

1. Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, 2nd ed.,

1979, p. 1786.

2. SDA Encyclopedia, rev. ed., p. 1425.

3. Ibid.

4. Paul G. Smith, Managing God's Goods (Nashville: Southern

Pub. Assn., 1973), p. 21.

5. See C.G. Tuland, "Tithing in the New Testament,"

Ministry, October 1961, p. 12.

6. E.g. in Exodus 27:20 the Lord gave special instructions

that olive oil was to be provided for the lamps. Supplying

the oil for the place of worship so that it could function

properly was a continual obligation--but this operating

expense did not come from the tithe. See also White,

Counsels on Stewardship (Washington, D.C.: Review and

Herald, 1940), pp. 102,103. She says that Bible teachers in

church-operated schools should be paid from the tithe

(ibid., p. 103), but that it must not be used for other

"school purposes," student loans, or supporting canvassers

and colporteurs (White, Testimonies, vol. 9, pp. 248,249;

White, Selected Messages, book 2, p. 209). These phases of

God's work are to be supported from the offerings.

7. T.H. Jemison made some very practical suggestions on how

to calculate tithes. He wrote, "Tithe on salary is easy to

figure. Ordinarily there are no `business expenses'--that

is, actual expenses in producing the income--to be deducted.

Ten percent of the salary is tithe....

"Tithing business income has some variations from tithing

a salary. A wholesale or retail merchant will deduct the

expenses necessary to conduct his business before figuring

the tithe. This includes the cost of hired help, heat,

light, insurance, rent or property taxes, and similar items.

These deductions do not, of course, include any of his

personal or family living expenses.

"The farmer deducts his costs--wages, fertilizer,

repairs, interest, taxes, and the like. However, the farmer

should consider in his income farm produce used by the

family, as this reduces family living costs and serves as

income.

"Comparable procedures can be followed by the

manufacturer, the investor, or the professional man. The

accurate accounting that is necessary these days in all

businesses makes it easy to compute the tithe on the

increase, or profit, from the business. Some businessmen

include their tithe calculation in their regular bookkeeping

system.

"Sometimes a woman whose husband is not a tithepayer

finds it difficult to know how to relate herself to tithe

paying. In some cases she can pay tithe on the money given

her for household expenses. In other instances this has been

forbidden. In such cases she may be able to tithe only what

extra money she may earn or receive as a gift. `For if there

be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a

man hath, and not according to that he hath not.'

2 Corinthians 8:12" (Christian Beliefs, p. 267).

8. Some Bible students believe that Israel contributed at

least two tithes (some think three) in addition to various

offerings. Regarding the first tithe the Lord had said, "`I

have given the children of Levi all the tithe in Israel as

an inheritance in return for the work which they perform'"

(Num. 18:21). But as to the second tithe He said, "`You

shall eat before the Lord your God, in the place where He

chooses to make His name abide, the tithe of your grain and

your new wine and your oil, of the firstlings of your herds

and your flocks, that you may learn to fear the Lord your

God always'" (Deut. 14:23). For two years out of three, the

Israelites were to bring this tithe, or its equivalent in

money, to the sanctuary. There it would be used to celebrate

the religious festivals and also to provide for the Levites,

strangers, fatherless, and widows. Every third year the

Israelites were to use the second tithe at home to entertain

the Levites and the poor. So the second tithe was used for

charity and hospitality (Deut. 14:27-29; 26:12). See White,

Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 530; "Tithe," SDA Bible

Dictionary, rev. ed., p. 1127.

9. Cf. White, Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 392.

10.From a Biblical perspective possession is not ownership.

Our attitude toward tithing indicates whether we acknowledge

that we are only managers or whether we pretend to be

owners.

11.Froom, "Stewardship in Its Larger Aspects," Ministry,

June 1960, p. 20.

12.White, Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 19.

13.P.G. Smith, p. 72.