Tithe and Offerings - It All About Worship
Biblical stewardship is the total commitment of the heart to God. This includes the returning of the Lord’s tithe and the giving of freewill offerings as an expression of our spiritual worship. In the bigger picture of Christian stewardship, this part of our response is very often referred to as “financial stewardship.” Financial stewardship, however, would also include the responsible use of the rest of our earned income and blessings after we’ve returned tithe and given our offerings. For the purpose of this article, I will limit this discussion to the study of tithe and offerings and how financial giving is practiced globally within the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
There are seven theological realities that help establish a biblical framework for understanding the returning of tithe and the giving of offerings by God's people as they worship Him, in Scripture.
There are seven theological realities that help establish a biblical framework for understanding the returning of tithe and the giving of offerings by God's people as they worship Him, in Scripture. They are:
1. An acknowledgement of God’s creatorship of the universe and the world that we live in. Genesis 1:1, for example, starts with the assertion: “In the beginning, God.”
2. An expression of partnership with the Divine. As God’s stewards, we live and exist for His purpose. We are entrusted with the responsibility of taking care of all of His resources in the world (Genesis 1:26,28).
3. Making a statement of commitment to the rule of Jesus in the world and in their personal lives (Matt. 6:33).
4. A recognition of the blessings of God that come to us because of His goodness and abundant grace in Christ Jesus (John 1:14,16-17).
5. A response of love and gratitude that is generated from the heart (I John 4:19). “We love Him because He first loved us.”
6. A demonstration, in thanksgiving, of their faith and trust in God, the Provider and Sustainer of life (Phil. 4:19).
7. The living of a covenant relationship with God where He is both Savior and Lord (Jer. 29:12,13).
The Lord’s Tithe—An Expression of Our Faithfulness
Leviticus 27:32 provides the primary principle for tithe and tithing in the Bible. Tithe is a fixed portion, a “tenth,” or ten percent of our total income and increase from “everything.” While it is true that God owns everything in the world, He, as the Owner, has made a special claim on this percentage of our income. It is His portion and property. We are able to return it because of the blessings He has already bestowed upon us. From a theological perspective, we don’t "pay" tithe, because this would assume that the money is ours. Tithe is “returned” to the rightful Owner, and that Owner is God.
One other critical aspect of tithe that needs to be stated here is the fact that God specifies the place (storehouse) to which tithe must be returned, and who (Levites and priests) is to be supported with His property.
Other important biblical principles of tithe include the following: It is holy to God; it is a spiritual response even though we may return it in monetary form; it is an act of worship whereby we acknowledge His sovereignty and it is an expression of our faithfulness to Him. It is a matter of a “right” relationship with God (Mal. 3:7).
One other critical aspect of tithe that needs to be stated here is the fact that God specifies the place (storehouse) to which tithe must be returned, and who (Levites and priests) is to be supported with His property. In this sense, God was very particular with tithe and it was to be used for a special purpose.
Freewill Offerings – Our Best for God
Tithe and offerings, in many ways are similar but they are also very different. For example, whereas tithe is about a specific quantity of the whole (our increase), offerings are about the quality of the gift. Notice this instruction from God to His people, Israel, “If any of you—either an Israelite or an alien living in Israel—presents a gift for a burnt offering to the Lord, either to fulfill a vow or as a freewill offering, you must present a male without defect. . .” (Lev. 22:18,19). The primary principle of offerings is that we give God our best in recognition of who He is--the Giver of all good gifts (Jas. 1:17).
Now the question in regard to this expectation of God of us—to give Him our best—is this: “How do I determine my best?” The Bible provides two elements that can assist us with this matter. The first is that we must give God an offering in proportion to the reception of His many blessings (Deut. 16:17). The second is that we give from a joyful heart (2 Cor. 8:12; 9:6,7). It is a personal choice in response to God’s greatest and best gift ever given to humanity and that is Jesus Christ His Son (John 3:16). In practice, our best in offerings could be a percentage higher then ten percent (more than tithe); it could be another ten percent (equal to tithe); or it may mean a percentage lower or less then ten percent of our earnings. For offerings, the amount is immaterial because there is no limit to our giving. It’s about the quality—our best—that we give to God. In the case of the widow who gave her two mites at the temple, she gave all (Luke 21:4). The real measure of our giving is not about what is given, but on what is left after we give. Stewardship is “All of me in response to all of God.”
Seventh-day Adventists practice “systematic giving.” Here is how this works in real life.
1. By systematic giving, we are saying that we must give prior thought and prayerful consideration to the process and to the amount we give in offerings. The process, for example, may include consultation with other members of your family well before the Sabbath to ensure that we are giving God our best and that we are giving from a heart of gratitude. It is planned giving.
2. Systematic giving means that the Lord’s tithe is put aside first when we receive our income. By following this principle, we can save ourselves from using God’s money for other things.
3. With the Lord’s money or tithe, being put away first, we can now set aside our regular offerings as part of our corporate worship.
4. The Bible encourages Christians to give financial support to the needs of the poor and other worthy causes. This ought to be part of our financial stewardship.
5. Systematic giving considers the ministry needs of God’s Church both locally and globally. This is one of the strengths of the Adventist offering system.
6. Systematic giving is about “regular” giving. The amount does not matter. It is the heart and the motive of giving that is important.
7. Systematic giving always focuses on Jesus and His sacrifice for us. He gave His all.
God Expects Both in Tithe and Offerings
While God expects us, His people, to return to Him His tithe and our offerings of thanksgiving as expression of our worship, it would seem to me that from His perspective, offerings are more important. When we are faithfully returning tithe to God, we are simply giving Him what belongs to Him. In this way, we have not really given God anything. Christian generosity and giving comes as a response to God’s grace. It is shown by what we do and give beyond returning tithe. It’s the real measure of our love for God. More importantly, our giving must also show our care and concern for those persons who are less fortunate than us—the poor and the marginalized of society.
In Christian stewardship, God invites us to a life that we share together with Him. Yes, we may give Him our treasures, but He is more interested in our heart, our total being. This is the best we can offer Him. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship” (Rom. 12:1).