Armando Miranda, Vice President, General Conference of SDA
Summary: If we are saved by faith in Jesus and faith produces trust and trust produces obedience, then salvation is related to obedience in all things, including money. How we relate to material possessions is a spiritual matter.
A new beginning and challenge
In 1972, I was assigned to my first pastorate—a district of ten churches. The main church sanctuary had a seating capacity of at least 400, but only thirty members attended each Sabbath. And just five to seven members came to Wednesday evening prayer meeting. The worst thing was that members were fighting among themselves, which affected their lives in a very negative way.
It was a sad experience to preach to an empty and divided church. I prayed to God for wisdom to help my brothers and sisters. Many times I wept before Him. I tried to do my best—visiting the members, praying, and studying God’s Word with them, encouraging them to trust in and know Jesus—but little was happening.
I began to study the Bible and inspired writings with the members, especially on Wednesday evenings. Some began to come to church, but it was a very difficult situation. One day I prayed and said, “Lord, if you do not help me with your Church, I am lost! You know I am coming to the point of giving up. I do not know what to do for your people to be revived here. Please help me!”
After praying and receiving comfort from God, suddenly, this idea came to my mind: “I have to check the church treasury books! I must see how we are doing with the tithes and offerings.”
As I began to examine the records, I found that the two church elders were unfaithful in giving tithes and offerings, as well as other leaders. I also discovered that the treasurer had taken money for her personal use. Knowing this, I intensified my efforts to try and help these members. I prayed and talked with them about these matters. I also began preaching about how we need to come close to Jesus and be faithful in returning tithes and offerings to God.
God blessed in a special way. Members began to return to God, gave back tithes and offerings, and experienced the blessings of the Lord. They were also compelled to share their faith. By the grace of God, in seven months, forty new people were baptized and the church was revived! And our financial situation was wonderful.
Is there any relationship between finances and salvation? We know salvation is by faith alone, not by works. But obedience is the fruit of salvation. If we are saved by faith in Jesus and faith produces trust and trust produces obedience, then salvation is related to obedience in all things, including money. How we relate to material possessions is a spiritual matter.
The sacredness of tithes and offerings
What is God’s attitude toward tithes and offerings? Concerning the nature of tithe, the Bible says: “It is holy to the Lord” (Lv 27:30). Offerings were also instituted by God as an important part of worship. “… and they shall not appear before the Lord empty handed” (Dt 16:16). “… None shall appear before me empty” (Ex 23:15; 34:20).
Ellen White uses the Sabbath to illustrate the nature of tithe: “For like the Sabbath, a tenth of the increase is sacred” (Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 395). And, “The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God…. In like manner, a tithe of our income is ‘holy unto the Lord’” (Counsels on Stewardship, p.66).
The clear implication is that God reserved to Himself a specific portion of man’s time and means. They became the exclusive possession of God.
God says, “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed me. But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse … because you are robbing me…. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house, says the Lord Almighty, and “see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room ... for it” (Mal 3:8-10).
The determining factor in tithing is not gratitude or generosity, but something much more significant. “This is a matter of simple honesty.… It is a moral responsibility that is not to be controlled by the state of human emotions or tendencies, but by the unwavering principle and value of honesty (Mal 3:8). The tithe is the Lord’s; and He bids us return to Him that which is His own” (Education, p. 139).
The plan of tithes and offerings was introduced by God with the purpose of—
1 Recognizing God’s lordship. “The system of tithes and offerings was intended to impress the minds of men with a great truth—that God is the source of every blessing to His creatures” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 525).
2 Restoring human dignity. Because of the plan of salvation, God declares that He again trusts us with the responsibility of His creation. By bringing our tithe to Him “we are declaring that God is the Possessor of all our property and that He has made us stewards to use it for His glory” (Tithes, The Pacific Recorder, Oct 10, 1901).
3 Being an instrument in character development. The tithing system was instituted by God as “a training adapted to kill out all narrowing selfishness and to cultivate breadth and nobility of character” (Education, p.44).
Our role as stewardship leaders
After briefly reviewing God’s plan for tithes and offerings and its importance in worship, we must ask the following question: “What is the role of the Stewardship Ministries in the Church?”
The Church Manual reads: “The Stewardship Ministries was organized to help members become effective stewards and to assist in the implementation of God’s plan of systematic benevolence throughout the church. Since stewardship responsibility includes the proper management of the entire life, stewardship concepts encourage the proper care and use of the body temple, time, abilities, and material possessions.” (2000 Ed, p. 116).
“The question of stewardship … covers many aspects of the Christian life and experience … but there is no doubt that the stewardship of our means is a vitally important phase of this question.… It involves our recognition of the sovereignty of God, of His ownership of all things, and of the bestowal of His grace upon our hearts” (Ibid, p. 152).
The time has come to complete the mission God has entrusted to us and to prepare for Jesus’ return. Part of this mission is to help members understand what it means to be faithful stewards and partners with God.
God is calling us to faithfully return the tithe and joyfully give our offerings. “If all the tithes of our people flowed into the treasury of the Lord as they should, such blessings would be received that gifts and offerings for sacred purposes would be multiplied tenfold, and thus the channel between God and man would be kept open.” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, p. 474).
There is a Chinese proverb that says: “If you give a fish to a poor man, you are going to feed him for one day. But if you teach him to fish, you will feed him forever.” If we help members to be faithful to God, He will open the windows of heaven upon them. For the sake of the Church He holds dear, and, by His grace, let us focus our ministry on teaching God’s principles of biblical stewardship.