Ever since I gave my life to Jesus, I’ve wanted to serve him and to help others know him better. I am 47-years old and still learning. One thing I’m still learning is the difference between stewardship and ownership.
One thing I do know is this: All I am and all I have is from God – it’s not mine. The same is true for you.
As Christians, we were meant to be channels of God’s blessing, but too many of us are content to be reservoirs.
I want us to take a short journey through the Bible and see what it says about stewardship. Here’s why … You don’t just need money to live on. You need something to live for.
The principle of stewardship emerges early in the Bible.
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” — Genesis 2:15-17
God gave them every tree to eat from except one. Exercising faithful stewardship meant leaving that one tree alone. In disobeying God, Adam and Eve were acting like owners rather than stewards.
The first murder in the Bible follows Cain and Abel bringing an offering to God.
Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. 4 And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. 6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” — Genesis 4:2-7
What was the difference between the two offerings? Cain waited to see what his crop would be like. Abel killed his first born lamb. This is the principle of bringing God the first fruits of our labor. Why would God ask for first fruits? It’s simple: giving the first fruits requires faith to give the first. Embracing idea of first fruits is a sign of dependence.
The first occasion of tithing appears when Abraham (then Abram) rescued his nephew Lot and then thanked God by giving Melchizedek the priest 10% of his victory spoils.
430 years later, tithing would be included in the Law of Moses. God commanded the Israelites to tithe in order to support the priests.
20 The Lord said to Aaron, “You will have no inheritance in their land, nor will you have any share among them; I am your share and your inheritance among the Israelites. 21 “I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the tent of meeting. — Numbers 18:20-21
The word for tithe literally means tenth. Often in the Bible, 10 is used to represent testing.
- 10 plagues were 10 times God tested Pharaoh’s heart.
- 10 commandments were a test of obedience.
- Daniel was tested 10 times in the first chapter of the book that bears his name.
- Jesus had 10 apostles that tested him (just testing you!).
For believers, sacrificial giving is the ultimate heart test. But it’s also the only area in which Christians are invited to test God.
6 “I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. 7 Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty. “But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’ 8 “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ “In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. 10 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 there will not be room enough to store it. 11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. 12 “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty. — Malachi 3:6-12
Remember this: No one robs God without robbing himself at same time! Martin Luther once wrote: “I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all. But whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.”
Sometimes Christians object to tithing because we are no longer under law but under grace. There are two important things to consider:
- Tithing preceded the giving of the Law by over 400 years.
- Since we have received God’s grace, we should want to do more – not less – for him.
On two different occasions, Jesus addressed this issue.
23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices — mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. — Matthew 23:23
We often stop with the “more important matters of the law” and overlook the fact that Jesus instructed them to continue tithing.
The other occasion is found in the sermon on the mount.
20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. — Matthew 5:20
How righteous were the Pharisees when it came to giving? Not a penny more or a penny less! As people changed by grace, our motivation is different and our desires ought to be greater.
There is a great story about President Lyndon Johnson’s great-grandfather, George W. Baines, who was a 19th century preacher. In the mid 1800’s Baines led General Sam Houston to the Lord. By all accounts, General Houston was vulgar and hot-tempered. Those who observed his conversion knew how remarkable it had been.
The General later offered to pay half of Pastor George Baines’ salary. When someone asked him why, he said, “My pocketbook was baptized along with me.”
That’s understanding you’re under grace and not law.
Personally, I always want to belong to a church that needs money. A church that needs money is one that has a mission. A living, growing, thriving church will always require the continual, consistent, and conscientious financial support of its members.