The ninth installment of our Proof-texts in Context series will focus on SDA Fundamental #21—Stewardship. For those who would like a more detailed synopsis of why we are publishing this series, please refer to the introduction to the first installment. Without further ado, let’s proceed to our study.
Genesis 2:15—“Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” Stewardship is much broader than just money. Chapter 2 supplements chapter 1 in providing more details of the creation week. God placed Adam in charge of taking care of the Garden of Eden, the epicenter of the new world. The man’s responsibilities included cultivating the land, naming the animals, and, shifting from professional to spiritual, not eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Later that day, the Lord made Eve and betrothed the two.
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1 Chronicles 29:14—“But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You.” These words were pretty much right in the middle of David’s prayer of praise and thanksgiving. Authority was on the verge of transitioning from the giant-killer to his son, Solomon. The chapter—the book—actually ends with the latter’s second anointing as king and the former’s passing into rest. Beforehand, David liberally offered an immense supply of materials for the construction of the temple. Those in the assembly, especially the various dignitaries, reciprocated his munificence and added to the kitty.
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Haggai 1:4–5—“Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate? Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Consider your ways!’” Because I have preached on this chapter before, I’m inclined to pull back many layers of the onion, and in the near future, I plan to write more on this and other minor prophets, but for now, I’ll keep it brief. Chronologically, this incident lines up with Ezra 4 and thereabouts. The Jews suspended the reconstruction of the temple for multiple reasons and turned their efforts to their own interests. God rebuked them for it and executed discipline, then they repented and heeded His call.
Malachi 3:8, 10—“Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. … ‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.’” Many of us may be able to recite these classic verses, verbatim or close to it. The chapter begins with a prophecy that both points to John the Baptist and carries end-time import. God will cleanse His people and make them acceptable in His sight. These verses of attention are the response to the issue of how they are to turn back to the Lord. Another dynamic is that it appears that those who defy Him are living the high life, but He promised that proper order would be restored.
Matthew 23:23—“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.” This is the fifth of eight woes that Christ declared to the religious leaders. It looks like they were doing something right, but also so many things wrong. Tithing is still one of God’s expectations, but those who get an “A” on this test still won’t graduate if they keeping getting “F’s” in other divinely sanctioned virtues, such as justice, mercy, consistency, kindness, etc.
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Romans 12:1—“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” I mentioned the broadness of stewardship a little earlier, and this verse is as all-encompassing as it can get. People will, by extension, place their resources, time, and talents on the altar when they place their entire beings on the altar. Chapter 12 primarily addresses our interactions with each other and is one of the three that includes a representative list of spiritual gifts (see also 1 Cor. 12 and Eph. 4). We must be more liberal with our others-esteem and more conservative with our self-esteem, as well as leave vengeance and justice in God’s hands.
2 Corinthians 9:6–7—“Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Chapters 8 and 9 are knit together to form a subunit. Paul challenged the Corinthians to step up to the plate and swing big when it came to helping their less fortunate brothers and sisters. Giving accomplishes several objectives, besides just assisting the needy, such as influencing the onlookers around our perimeters, thus causing a domino effect, as well as giving the Lord the opportunity to demonstrate His unmatchable bounteousness in fulfilling our lack.
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1 Timothy 6:18–19—“Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.” Paul issued a number of counsels as he closed this letter. Keeping materialism and wealth in proper perspective was a common thread that ran through his farewell. He encouraged contentment and discouraged the exercise of godliness for ulterior motives. He urged benevolence as a safeguard against the pitfalls of the love of money (see v. 10). Paul prompted his readers to think eternally and not temporally.
The Malachi 3 passage is likely the one used most often during offering appeals. That’s fine. It does directly address financial faithfulness. With that said, the next time I am asked to participate in this part of the worship service, I plan on inviting the congregation to turn their Bibles to an alternative chapter 3—Genesis 3.
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I will paraphrase the lies that the devil, through the serpent, fed to Eve: “God was not honest with you. He is trying to withhold something worthwhile from you. You will be better off not listening to Him.” Raise your hands if Satan has messed with your heads in this manner during times, especially lean, tight-budget times, when you wrestled with the notion of returning to the Lord a portion of the assets that He supplied. I imagine countless hands, and mine is one of them.
Do you want to know what I am thinking right now? Are you sure? That can be a wild ride. Okay, I am thinking of the Red Sea. Why? God both created nature and transcends it. Over three millennia ago, He suspended gravity and other phenomena to rescue His people from imminent catastrophe.
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Math is known as an exact science, and 100 is always greater than 90, 85, 80, etc., isn’t it? No, not always. Let’s look back at the times that He suspended simple arithmetic and rewarded our decisions of “sacrifice” by sufficiently providing for our needs. Let’s remember, better than our first parents did, for our own sakes and that of those whom we are trying to lead through the pearly gates, that heaven will only be heaven if we know in mind and heart that we are living eternally with a God who, in both bestowing to us wonderful gifts and, when necessary, stretching our faith, strives to maximize our wellbeing.
Stewardship is one of the vital dimensions of living the Christian faith. We will thus segue to our upcoming examination of SDA Fundamental #22.