As I write, the world is in turmoil as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. The American stock markets have crashed and have been on a volatile roller-coaster ride ever since. Stay-at-home orders were issued across the country by governors attempting to contain the spread of the virus. The media are reporting on millions of people applying for unemployment as jobless rates soar. Ironically, only a few weeks before the arrival of the biological invader, the same media was reporting the highest employment rate since the Second World War. Some economists wildly project a drop in GDP of 3 to 30 percent, and the IMF recently predicted that the world economy in 2020 will suffer its worst year since the Great Depression.
The economic impacts of the pandemic overlook its human cost. Families have been torn apart as the virus has torn through homes, resulting in fear, isolation, the loss of loved ones, and the inability to hold weddings, funerals, and other milestone events. Many are also coming to terms with the emotional impact of unemployment as they search for a way to provide financially for their families.
Nonprofits are not immune from the effects of the pandemic, as across the nation nonprofit facilities have been closed or repurposed. Church buildings, used to gathering congregants for worship, are now drive-through food pantries or collection centers. Pastors have been forced to find new ways of ministering to their flocks, developing new technological skills overnight as they shift to streaming worship services over the Internet. Many churches and other nonprofits are reporting that their funding has slowed or even stopped. Some church leaders project that up to 5 percent of church congregations will close.
This is grim reading, even for a pessimist. As we think about the current situation, how can principles of generosity be applied to our current situation? Are stewardship and generosity still relevant in a time of crisis? Are tithes and offerings still even theologically sound concepts? I believe that not only are these concepts still relevant, but they are vital to our Christian experience.
There are six key principles of stewardship and generosity in God’s kingdom that Adventist Christians need to remember:
- Giving our firstfruits is an affirmation that God is both the Creator and the Redeemer of this world.
- Stewardship is an act of faith, recognizing that God has provided and that He will always provide.
- Generosity is part of our transformation from selfish, sinful human beings into a reflection of the character of God—a part of our sanctification.
- Generosity requires that we develop a systematic and consistent approach to giving.
- Each of us has an individual responsibility to be generous through stewardship.
- Stewardship and generosity are tools through which the church remains engaged and relevant as it carries out its mission to preach the end-time gospel message.
Giving Affirms God’s Role as Creator and Redeemer
God is the ultimate example of love and generosity. Genesis 1 and 2 record the liberality with which God created the heavens and the earth, in which everything was good. Adam and Eve were created in the Garden of Eden to enjoy not only a relationship with their Creator God but also His handiwork. God invited them to take and develop what He had created and to make new things from it and be procreative as they populated the world. Genesis 3 records the entry of sin into the world. Although dominion over the earth passed to Satan, at the cross Christ reclaimed the sovereignty that Adam and Eve had forfeited.
Throughout the Bible, sinful humanity is reminded that God is the Creator and Owner of all in this world. “‘The silver is mine, and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty” (Hag. 2:8). The psalmist writes, “For every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the insects in the fields are mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it” (Ps. 50:10-12).
“In the end, godly stewardship is all about lordship.” When we return our generous tithes and offerings, we are affirming our belief that everything in this world belongs to God, not to us. He created it, and He has entrusted it to us. We give because we are God-centered, not human-centered.
Stewardship Is an Act of Faith
In today’s world, worldviews such as materialism, modernism, and postmodernism are widespread. Many mistakenly believe that humanism holds the answer to their questions, can take away their pain, and can resolve any issues and challenges that they might face. Science has become the panacea that many look to as a remedy for humanity’s ills. While every worldview requires faith in something, the Christian worldview requires faith in and submission to God as Lord. Christian faith transcends our knowledge and belief and is lived out in the choices that we make, including our decision to give generously. When we exercise our faith by incorporating stewardship and generosity into our lives, we actively recognize that God has always provided for us and that He will continue to provide for us.
Generosity Is Part of the Process of Sanctification
Acts of generosity help us in our journey to become Christlike. God’s love and grace were Jesus’ motivation to come to this world and offer redemption to all of humanity. Christians are challenged to be like Christ by giving and sharing God’s blessings. “Our transformation has a direction and goal. That goal is Christlikeness,” writes the Christian author, R. Scott Rodin. Acts of generosity lead to the transformation of our choices. Rather than being driven by greed and selfishness, Christian generosity teaches us to desire the best for the people around us and to help them to see Jesus Christ.
Systematic and Consistent Giving Is a Sign of Transformation
One of the hallmarks of Christians becoming transformed into the character of Christ is consistently and systematically returning tithe and offerings. The Old Testament prophet Malachi delivered a stark message in which God accused the Israelites of “robbing” Him (Mal. 3:8). They knew that God owned the tithes and offerings. Rather than stealing from God, generosity means that we always place God first by returning our tithes and offerings, even when we don’t have much to give. Jesus praised the widow’s mite because although it wasn’t much, she gave all that she had (Mark 12:41-44).
Giving Is an Individual Responsibility
Generosity is a personal decision requiring each of us to take action individually. R. Scott Rodin writes, “We are called to imitate Christ in His complete and absolute obedience and generosity toward God.”
As we embrace principles of generosity in our own lives, we have an opportunity to experience God’s faithfulness for ourselves. I learned the truth of this many years ago as a young pastor. My wife and I had not been married long, and I was earning a basic salary—enough to survive on, but not much more. About this time, our conference began a capital stewardship campaign to raise money for evangelism. I felt the Holy Spirit tugging on my heart, impressing me that we needed to make a substantial contribution to the campaign. It seemed like an impossible thing to do. My wife had hopes of going to law school, but we had no idea where the tuition money would come from. We also dreamed of moving out of our small apartment into our own house. Making a substantial pledge to support evangelism meant putting these dreams on hold for the foreseeable future. After praying long and hard, my wife and I decided that we would make the pledge anyway. One week later, my wife received a call from the dean of the law school, offering her a full scholarship that would cover all three years of law school, plus a stipend for books. Not only that, but within a matter of months, we were able to purchase our first house. When we are individually faithful to God, He always responds to our individual needs.
Generosity Is a Tool That Helps Enable the Church to Fulfill its End-Time Mission
Finally, generosity is a means of providing critical financial resources that the church uses to preach the gospel and carry out its end-time ministry. Giving is a response to God’s love. Not long ago, a friend asked me whether it was possible to push people too far in their giving. Can we push people away from giving by talking about the importance of stewardship?
Our church is about more than raising money; we have a unique and vital message to share with the world. The Christian is to make financial gifts to support the ministry and mission of the Christian church. In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul writes to the Corinthian church to remind them of the importance of systematically setting aside their offerings each day to support their fellow believers. These funds were used for ministry and mission, which included paying gospel workers, taking care of the vulnerable in the church, and assisting financially when a disaster occurred. Today, it is crucial for us to remember that our giving is not merely to support a religious institution, but to further God’s work. I can agree with R. Scott Rodin when he aptly writes, “The focus in raising money, then, should be upon assisting Christians to honor and obey God, not on the needs of the organization. It is out of this understanding that biblical approaches to funding ministry should seek to transform stewards to be rich toward God in every area of their lives and not just when they are giving to the particular organization seeking the funds.”
As Adventists, our focus should not be merely on whether all members pay tithes and offerings. Instead, as we fulfill our mission of ministering to people at the end of time, just like Jesus did, people will respond by being financially generous to the church. By becoming financial partners with the church to achieve our mission, to reach as many people as possible before the Second Coming, you, too, can become part of the fabric of the church’s mission and ministry.
 All Bible texts are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright ã 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
 Wesley K. Willmer, A Revolution in Generosity: Transforming Stewards to Be Rich Toward God [Kindle Locations 2234-2236, Moody Publishers] Kindle Edition).
 Ibid., Kindle Locations 910-913.