Benjamin D. Schoun,General Vice President, General Conference of SDA, World Headquarters
Summary: God has chosen to work through us. We must have such a relationship with Him that we can work as partners and this involves stewardship.
As the General Conference moves into this new quinquennium (2010-2015), one of the chosen emphases is “revival and reformation.” The vision is to intentionally do what we as human beings can to ignite that spark that will bring us closer to Jesus. We need to pray and study the Bible, for instance, to reverse the statistical trend in our denomination to the contrary.1 We must continually be vigilant against falling into Laodicean characteristics. We have a sense of the nearness of Jesus’ coming. We realize that Jesus might have come before this if His people had been alive to receiving the power of the Holy Spirit and His work had been done.2 While finishing the work is in the hands of God, He has chosen to work through us. We must have such a relationship with Him that we can work as partners. That involves stewardship.
"Return to Me, and I Will Return to You"
One of the great revival texts of scripture is Malachi 3:7 (NIV): “Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty. “But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’ ” The word “return” is a parallel word to the word “revival.” It means coming back to God. In Hebrew the word is shûb. It is a frequently used word in the Old Testament, more than a 1,000 times. One Old Testament scholar has written that “better than any other verb [this one word] combines in itself the two requirements of repentance: to turn from evil and to turn to the good.”3 It is often used in a covenant context. “Return” means to repent and come back to God. It also conveys the meaning of the word “reformation,” which means repudiation of all sin, and to affirm the total will of God for one’s life.
In Malachi 3 the focus that God places on this call for his people to return is in regard to stewardship, specifically the tithe and offerings. Apparently, full revival cannot be achieved without including this matter in our consideration. The Old Testament word for “revival” is h?yâ, coming from the root meaning, life or to live, and in this case to come back to life. Revival is coming back to life in Jesus. The consequences of losing life either spiritually or physically are serious. So God’s people are challenged to return to Him to make them alive!
Malachi 3 encompasses more than tithe and offerings. In vss. 2 and 3 there is a comprehensive righteousness referred to. It can be brought about only through the refiner’s fire or the launderer’s soap. It must cleanse the people from sorcery, adultery, and perjury (vs.5). It must transform them away from defrauding laborers, oppressing widows and fatherless children, and depriving aliens from justice. The people must repent from saying harsh, untrue things about God, from questioning His justice and using material motives in their relationship with Him (vss. 13-15).
True revival means total commitment to our God. It includes trust in His decisions, in His timing, and His providential plans. As we draw closer to Him, positive things will begin to happen in our lives. For example, “The great outpouring of the Spirit of God, which lightens the whole earth with His glory, will not come until we have an enlightened people, that know by experience what it means to be laborers together with God. When we have entire, wholehearted consecration to the service of Christ, God will recognize the fact by an outpouring of His Spirit without measure; but this will not be while the largest portion of the church are not laborers together with God. God cannot pour out His Spirit when selfishness and self-indulgence are so manifest.”4
Why Stewardship is Necessary
Not only is the giving of the Holy Spirit connected to the benevolent use of our resources, but God has planned for our protection that stewardship is necessary for us in the whole plan of salvation. “Our Redeemer, who knew man’s danger in regard to covetousness, has provided a safeguard against this dreadful evil. He has arranged the plan of salvation so that it begins and ends in benevolence.”5 Furthermore, “Perfection of character cannot possibly be attained without self-sacrifice."6
If we want to come closer to Jesus Christ, “the very act of giving expands the heart of the giver and unites him more fully to the Redeemer of the world.”7 Whereas, “nothing saps spirituality from the soul more quickly than to enclose it in selfishness and self-caring.”8
Somehow there is an organic connection between the working out of our salvation and the principles of stewardship. Not that practicing generosity in any way earns the forgiveness of our sin. That clearly is in the historic act of Jesus Christ on the cross. But the principles of honesty, benevolence, and generosity create an environment whereby Jesus can work His good in our lives. It plants in our hearts the very nature of Christ. It brings us to the place where we want to help others, where we become useful servants of God in accomplishing His plans for the earth. Without the principles of stewardship operating in our lives we are stunted Christians. Christ is limited in what He can do in our hearts and therefore cannot bring us to the fullness of salvation. Such defects in our salvation experience may even cause us to lose that salvation that we desire.
The Joy of Benevolence
When people practice the principles of stewardship, it changes them. In my experience in fundraising I have often noticed that although people may be hesitant to give a substantial gift, when they do, their lives are filled with joy and peace. A sense of meaning flows into their being. They feel that they have accomplished something significant. And . . . they appear to have a revival event in their lives. They are praising the Lord, thanking us for the opportunity that we brought to them to have a meaningful part of God’s work. They become more supportive of mission and ministry. Mutuality develops between them and those of us who use their funds in the outworking of the ministry. A spiritual result follows in the train of their benevolence.
If, as a church, we are together on doing what we can to seek revival, we as stewardship leaders must bring these principles to the attention of the people. It is a matter of education and awareness, encouragement and invitation. Some of our long-experienced leaders have noted that when a good stewardship program is in place, other facets of the work of the church, such as evangelism, revival, and involvement, will also be healthy. There will be less conflict and greater unity. There is something about this phenomenon that we must not miss.
Our task is to creatively and attractively place these spiritual and practical principles before the people with the right balance of theology and just enough specific instruction so they will know the God-revealed practices to follow without our conveying an insensitive and unspiritual grasping of material resources. Then the Holy Spirit will be able to advance even further the work of revival. For “the spirit of liberality is the spirit of heaven.”9
________________ 1Institute of Church Ministry, Andrews University, “An Analysis of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats of the Seventh-day Adventist Church,” Prepared for The General Conference Strategic Planning Committee, October 2007. This research indicates that a rather low percentage of SDA members spend daily time in Bible study and prayer. 2E. G. White, Evangelism (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1946) 695. 3R. Laird Harris, ed. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980) s.v. Article 2340 shûb, by Victor P. Hamilton, 2:909. 4E. G. White, Counsels on Stewardship (Takoma Park: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1940), 52. 5E. G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1948), 3:548. 6E. G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1948), 9:53. 7White, Counsels on Stewardship, 30. 8Ibid. 27. 9Ibid. 14.