TITHING AND THE STEWARDSHIP LIFE
By: G. Ernest Thomas
Tithing is part of the larger principle which followers of Jesus know as Christian Stewardship. Tithing is important, but is only one part of that broader concept. The idea of Christian Stewardship, in contrast to the tithe, includes three basic principles: (1) God is the owner of all of life; (2) each individual is a steward of all that God has entrusted to him; and, (3) each person must give an accounting of his stewardship.
It is important for those who tithe to clearly perceive the relationship of their regular giving to the rest of the dedication which they are privileged to make to God.
While in its narrow sense tithing refers to the setting aside of a tenth of a Christian’s income for God’s work, it has nevertheless been true that tithers, as they have practiced the stewardship of their money, have felt he urgent need to dedicate their time, their talents, and their lives to God as well.
The nature of tithing is such that the tither quickly accepts this larger concept of stewardship. Tithing is an acknowledgment of God’s ownership, and of God’s continued concern for His world. The fact that a faithful
steward puts aside ten percent of what he earns as an act of worship is a sign of his recognition that all the remainder has been given by the Heavenly Father to His children. He cannot halt with the idea that only a
small section of his total personality, as represented by his money, is sacred. His tithe is the indication of his confident belief in the holiness of all of life.
How Money Is Earned
As part of his larger stewardship a tither is concerned with the ways by which he earns money, and with the use which he makes of the nine-tenths which remain after he sets aside his tithe.
Christian stewards do not shape all their efforts and desires to the end that they may increase their material goods, even if they do put aside a tenth of the larger funds which such efforts bring to them.
Tolstoi, in the story of a peasant named Pakhom, dramatically portrayed the human disaster which results from a greedy pursuit of wealth. As first seen, Pakhom, a Russian farmer, was happy in the simple joys of everyday living. He had a wife, children, and a small farm. He possessed no great fortune or lands, but he did have peace and contentment. Then a cousin came to visit. The man looked with scorn upon Pakhom’s small farm. He made him feel that he had nothing, and was nobody, unless he owned broad acres. From
that hour Pakhom knew no satisfaction or rest. He gave himself without reserve to buying more land. It became the passion of his life. Tolstoi lets us see the result of such striving. Joyous laughter ceased to be heard in Pakhom’s home. He lost everything he had considered precious, even life itself, because of his greedy desire for wealth.
The Christian who is endeavoring to be a steward of all he possesses will naturally be concerned with the motives which dominate him as he seeks to make his living. He will constantly bring the purposes and methods by which he secures money under the searching light of Christ’s teachings and presence.
John H. Ryder, an advertising executive, tells how the discovery of his partnership with God led to a change in the methods which he used in his business. He says, “I tried to offer up area after area of my life to God, especially my work at the office, seeking only to do His will as He revealed it to me. I simply wanted to serve God now, and my office was the place where I spent the most time and exerted the most influence.”
It is inevitable that a Christian steward should examine his business and professional practice. He cannot avoid questioning whether his work is in keeping with the idea of trusteeship for all of life. To tithe an income does not excuse any follower of Jesus from the need to earnestly question whether or not the source of his money is in keeping with the concept of God’s ownership.
How Use Other Money
Nor can the Christian steward fail to be concerned with the use which he makes of the rest of his money after he has tithed. He cannot live as if that amount is his own. Christian stewardship requires a sense of
obligation for all the money which comes into the possession of a follower of Jesus.
Someone has told of a twelve-year-old boy who, on a certain Sunday, was to be baptized. It was an important day in his life, for he himself had made the decision to accept Christ and to enter the Church. That Sunday morning, when his father went into the boy’s room, he found that the lad had opened the bank in which he kept the savings from his paper route and was stuffing his pockets with nickels, dimes, and pennies. “What are you doing?” asked the father sternly. The lad looked a little embarrassed. “I thought that when I am baptized today it might be good to have my money baptized too,” he said.
That was a reasonable conclusion to draw concerning the relationship of money to a spiritual experience. Every faithful steward should want all that he has to receive the seal of divine approval whether it is used for taxes, for household needs, for luxuries, or for the Church.
In the light of such a stewardship a Christian will often have a larger proportion of his income than a tenth to God’s work when he becomes aware of the vast treasures which God has placed at his disposal. The tithe is an acknowledgment, and a historic measure, but it was never intended to mark the end of giving.
In Old Testament times the Hebrews were encouraged to bring to the altar free-will offerings in addition to the tithes. The New Testament conception of grace led to the conclusion that followers of Jesus will desire to share a much larger amount of their treasure than that which was the standard in the old covenant.
A dedication to the practice of stewardship inevitably raises the question of how much a Christian should give in addition to the tithe. Certainly he seeks to distribute his nine-tenths wisely and well. He considers how best to use what he has to pay for the customary items which are involved in a budget. Then, after a wise distribution, he gladly gives what is left over for the extension of the Kingdom of God in the world. Sometimes it is a tenth; sometimes it is two or three tenths; sometimes it is even more.
The stewardship of life requires that all money shall be held in sacred trust; and that, in addition to the tithe, free-will offerings shall be laid on the altar as a recognition of God’s goodness and mercy.
Use of Time Also
As part of his total stewardship the tither is also concerned about how he uses his time. The days and years at his disposal are a sacred trust. He is a steward of time as long as he lives.
People in the Twentieth Century are aware of the significance of time as never before in human history. The idea that this is a leisurely and unhurried existence has been replaced by a rush to accomplish desired
purposes immediately, as if there might not be a tomorrow in which to do it.
While Christians have never been characterized by a sense of hurry, those who were stewards of the Christian faith have always felt the urgency to be about meaningful tasks. Time was a sacred trust for John Wesley. He had so much to do, and so little time in which to do it, that he felt a compulsion to be constantly busy doing the Lord’s work.
Men in this century are living with a sense of urgency. Time is holy because it may be limited. The condition of the world is such that the representatives of many of the sciences and religions join in the belief that time as we have known it may have a definite limit. The current means of destruction may obliterate all life from the face of the earth.
A Christian steward who is faithful in the use of his time does not live in fear of the future, but he constantly faces the question of whether or not he is making wise use of the years at his disposal. He asks himself, “Am I being true to God if I devote all my time to work, pleasure and sleep, even if I do tithe my money?”
Some Christians have attempted to tithe their time as well as their material goods. They have endeavored to work out a plan which includes at least ten percent of all leisure hours dedicated to the work of the Kingdom.
A weekday school of religion was desperately in need of a male teacher. The name of a busy real estate agent was mentioned as a possibility. “Oh, he’s too busy for anything like that,” said one who knew him. The other person was not so sure, and suggested that they ask him. The businessman accepted and began regular teaching in the school. When someone inquired how he could spare the time out of his office for such a task, he responded: “There is nothing more important in my life than my influence upon youth in
endeavoring to build Christian character.”
It is such a motive which guides the Christian steward in the use of his time. He recognized that each day is holy because it has been entrusted to him by his Heavenly Father. He seeks to use every hour wisely, setting aside a worthy portion for those activities in the church and community through which he can make an impact for Christ and for the Christian way of life.
Stewards of the Christian faith feel an obligation to use their time properly. In the novel entitled All the King’s Men, Willie Stark, who has wasted so much of his life, says at the end: “We shall go out of history
into history, and the awful responsibility of Time.”
Those who are seeking to follow Christ share a similar sense of accountability for the proper use of time. When we can look back on a week, or a year, with a feeling that we have been faithful stewards of that
period in our lives, we have a sense of holy joy, for we know that the acknowledgment which we have made of God’s goodness requires not only a tenth of our money but a right use of our time.
Dedication of Talents Also
Then, as part of their total stewardship, tithers are concerned about the dedication of their talents. They regard personal abilities to work and to lead as another evidence of God’s loving care. In a spirit of consecration they desire to have those talents utilized in business, in the home, and during leisure hours, in such a manner that they will make a contribution to the Kingdom of God on the earth.
Dr. Selman A. Waksman has given this generation an unforgettable picture of a man who is a good steward of his talents. After countless failures and disappointments, Dr. Waksman discovered streptomycin, the wonder-working antibiotic. When streptomycin was ready to be distributed to the world for the treatment of tuberculosis, typhoid fever, undulant fever, and other dread diseases, the representatives of several large drug concerns approached Dr. Waksman to buy his rights to the product. They were astounded to discover that he would not accept compensation for the substance because he felt that it belongs to humanity. He looks upon his talents as a trust. He feels that the results of his work are not his, but should be shared with all people everywhere. The manufacturers finally prevailed upon him to allow certain profits from streptomycin to go to Rutgers University, where Dr. Waksman labors as a member of the Staff. Incidentally, Rutgers has received more than $800,000 annually from the product since streptomycin was placed on the market.
There is no reason why a scientist like Dr. Waksman should feel that his talents are a divine gift any more than Christian lawyers, or physicians, or factory workers, or housewives should regard their abilities as a trust from God.
The providence of the Heavenly Father does not end with the material world. His goodness includes the potential power for service which is in every individual. All talents are a holding from a divine source, designed to be used in the way which will contribute most to His purposes in the world.
A young Christian had a position as secretary in a business concern dealing with labor relations. While doing her work in the office she was forced to listen to a great deal of profanity. Moreover, alcoholic beverages were frequently served. The compensation in the position was excellent, so, for a time, the young woman argued with herself that, since she tithed her income, she was rendering whatever duty she owed to God. Yet she felt a growing sense of dissatisfaction. She began to wonder whether her talents should not be used in some place of service where she could make a contribution of lasting value to the world. Finally she decided that no other choice was open to her. She resigned the position to find another one less remunerative, but in a business where she was able to use her talents for creative and constructive ends.
The tither who looks upon all of life as God’s creation and concern will seek to utilize his abilities with a sense of trust, measuring his opportunities against the possible contribution which he can make to the
Kingdom of God.
Influence Upon Others
As part of his stewardship, the tither will also be concerned with the total impact of his life upon others. He will recognize that his influence should be extended to help make a more Christian world.
Marian Castle, in her Deborah, has David Seerle describe the influence of a certain farmer in these words: “When he left a place he always left the land a little poorer, the gates sagging a little lower, the ruts in the
lane gouged a little deeper.”
Such a concept is the antithesis of Christian stewardship. The steward tithes the money which he earns, but he makes certain that the total impact of his life and influence are on the side of righteousness. Because all
life belongs to God, he wants to use his strength in order that God’s treasure may be kept sacred and so developed that it may bless the lives of His people.
God is acknowledged as the giver of all when a tither sets aside ten percent of what he earns. He is aware that the Heavenly Father has richly endowed His children with an abundance of opportunities for service, and with a vast storehouse of material and physical treasures. In the light of such divine gifts he feels the obligation to use each one with a sense of holy trust. Every day becomes sacred. Material treasures are accepted as an opportunity to better serve the needs of people.
A Christian steward feels an overpowering sense of obligation before the vastness of God’s blessings. He firmly believes that all such gifts demand a dedicated life for as long as he lives.
William Temple was preaching to a great congregation in Edinburgh, Scotland, a few years ago. The people were stirred by his challenge to make a deeper dedication of their lives to Christ. At the conclusion of the
sermon, Bishop Temple announced the hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” The congregation sang with deep feeling. Near the end of the third stanza, Bishop Temple signaled for the organ to stop and, turning to the congregation, he asked the people to read the last verse as their personal dedication. Someone present noticed that, whereas previously the congregation had been singing lustily, the last verse was read in little more than a whisper. Everyone present that night recognized the depth of dedication which was involved in those words:
“Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my life, my love, my all.”
No less a surrender is required of every Christian who would be a faithful steward. The love of God is reflected in the myriad of gifts which He makes available every day. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, the treasures of history, the breadth of material goods, and the personal talents which are entrusted
to each and every individual only suggest the countless ways by which God is blessing His people. In the light of the gifts of such a beneficent and loving Heavenly Father, nothing less than complete surrender will suffice. A faithful Christian becomes inevitably a steward of all that he possesses for as long as he lives.
Understanding of Stewardship
Tithing is an open doorway to the broader understanding of Christian stewardship. Because money is usually the most difficult surrender which any person must make, there are many tithers who have found that the practice of tithing has led into the other areas of Christian stewardship, without conscious thought about the matter. They have discovered that the acknowledgment of God’s gifts through the tithe enabled them to see the greater and more inclusive dedications which are essential if one is to be faithful to the trust which Almighty God has placed upon His people.
Tithing and Christian stewardship are interrelated. Along with the consecration of his money a tither is led to dedicate his time, talents, and life. It is also true that a Christian steward soon recognizes the value and practicability of using the tithe as a minimum measure for the dedication of his possessions.
(The above material was taken from the book Spiritual Life Through Tithing.)
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