What Is Christian Stewardship?
The Scriptures teach “The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1 ESV). This principle is repeated in I Corinthians 10:26 where we find the words, “The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof” (ESV). The doctrine that God is the creator and owner of all things has significant ramifications to our perspective on life. His ownership includes such tangible assets as our land, food, means of transportation, and all the individuals God puts into our lives. Not to be excluded are our own time, talents, opportunities, and relationships. He is the owner of all.
God has entrusted to each of us, his children, the responsibility to take care of what he has given us. A passage of Scripture that cannot be ignored is Matthew 25:14–30, known as the parable of the talents. The focus of this parable is that as followers of Christ, we are to be wise in how we develop and use what he has delegated to us. The resources over which we are given responsibility vary from person to person, but the instruction for all of us is to be faithful managers of that which he has entrusted to us. He is the benefactor. We are to follow the principles he has laid out as to how his resources are used.
One of the instructions the Scriptures emphasize is the importance of giving of our material goods to the work of the Lord. Scriptures that support this mandate include:
Leviticus 27:30—“Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or the fruit of the trees [income], is the LORD’S; it is holy to the LORD.”
Proverbs 3:9— “Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of your produce [income]; then your barns will be bursting with wine.”
Malachi 3:10—“Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.”
Matthew 23:23b—“For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”
Stewardship is therefore the recognition that the Lord owns all things and has entrusted to us the responsibility of taking care of those resources he has placed in our care. This includes our need to follow the specific instructions he provides about how he would like his resources managed.
Why Should I Give?
The reasons believers should financially give to the work of the Lord are legion. One that deserves our attention is our desire to be obedient to God. Consider Leviticus 27:30–33, from the Pentateuch, which reads: Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees (income), it is the LORD’S. It is holy to the LORD. . . . This passage is very specific in its instruction. Of all that God has given to his people, he requires one tenth be designated directly to his ministry. This instruction to give of one’s income is found throughout the Scriptures, notably Nehemiah 10:37–39, Malachi 3:8–10, and Luke 11:42.
Out of a desire to grow spiritually
Giving of tithes and offerings helps us to recognize that it is our relationship with Christ and the building of his kingdom, not the possession of things, that is of greatest value to us. Matthew 6:19–21 builds on this theme, quoting Christ as saying, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Our level of enthusiasm about giving materially to the things of Christ shouts volumes about our spiritual health. Those who adjust their priorities so that things of spiritual significance take priority encounter an amplified level of maturity and blessing.
Out of love for and worship to God
Not only are we to do what our Lord requires of us, but we should do it out of love and a desire to worship him. In Mark 12:41–44 and Luke 21:1–3 we find the story of a very poor woman who gave all that she owned as an offering. Christ’s implication was that her actions were pure and reflected her love and desire to obediently worship God: Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them.”
We are called by God to be lovingly obedient to him. A practical expression of our obedience and love is to worship him with our tithes and offerings.
Where Should I Give?
In the Old Testament, as today, it is difficult for people to spend time gaining a livelihood and, at the same time, carry out the complete work of the ministry. To resolve this issue, the Lord designated the tribe of Levi to carry out this responsibility for the other eleven tribes. Today our pastoral staff serves us in this capacity. In Deuteronomy 18:3–5 we find instructions for the eleven tribes to take care of the physical needs of the tribe of Levi. “And this shall be the priests’ due from the people, from those offering a sacrifice . . . for the LORD your God has chosen him out of all your tribes to stand and minister in the name of the LORD . . .” Again in Nehemiah 10:39 instruction is given for the priests, called to serve, to be remunerated by those whom they are called to serve. Our giving should therefore include contributions to our local church so it can effectively carry out its ministry.
Consideration should also be given to people who are in need. Deuteronomy 26:12, Proverbs 19:17 and Matthew 25:31–46 focus on the importance of helping those who are without substance.
Ministries that evangelize, congregate, disciple, and provide physical assistance to people groups to whom we cannot personally minister might also be a part of our giving. We have been called to “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” in Mark 16:15. Men and women are needed to travel to other countries, minister to and share the gospel message with the local populace. This ministry and the funding of personnel needed to support these efforts can best be accomplished through the resources provided by God’s people.
Our role in the work of the Lord takes many forms. Our responsibility as followers of Christ is to look to the Scriptures and prayerfully seek guidance as we designate tithes and offerings to the many endeavors that make up our Lord’s ministry.
How Much Should I Give?
A formula is not presented in the Scriptures for the amount a believer should give to the work of the Lord. Minimal standards of 10% are established, but beyond that, giving is based on a believer’s conviction to help in the work of our Lord. Leviticus 27:30–33 is direct in establishing minimal standards. Note how the importance of this act is emphasized by the demand for a penalty payment if the tithe is not paid. It states, “If a man wishes to redeem his tithe,” that is, keep it for himself, “he shall add a fifth to it.” God is requiring 20% interest on any tithe that is not given directly to the work of the Lord. New Testament Scripture in which Christ teaches the importance of tithing, that is giving 10% of one’s income to the work of the Lord, is found in part in Luke 11:42 and Matthew 23:23.
The attitude behind our giving is important. In 2 Corinthians 9:6–8 we find, “The point is this: . . . Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” This passage does not mean we are exempt from giving until we can be cheerful about our obedience. Instead, it is saying we need to develop spiritually to a level of maturity in which we are cheerful about obediently giving to the work of the Lord.
2 Corinthians 8:1–8 addresses further the concept of giving. Verse 7 identifies giving as an act of grace and states the role of giving in our Christian walk. “But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. Some might argue that sacrificial giving is required in order to “excel in this act of grace.” Many personal benefits can be gained from sacrificial giving. After all, it requires the believer to focus attention upon the Lord and his discrimination of provisions. It is also important to remember the importance of balance to all aspects of life. 1 Timothy 5:8 points to the need to fulfill all personal obligations. It reads, “And whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Giving sacrificially in a manner that impacts negatively a healthy family life for a long period of time is not a part of that balance.
Giving should be seen as an act of worship. The amount given is dependent upon the needs and passions of the giver.