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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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)
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
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
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
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
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.
1. Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, 2nd ed.,
1979, p. 1786.
2. SDA Encyclopedia, rev. ed., p. 1425.
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
"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
"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
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.