March 23, 2011

All to Jesus

Israel was in a deplorable state when God called Malachi to the prophetic ministry. God’s people had departed from their Lord in nearly every aspect of their lives. They had disobeyed; they had flaunted God’s commands.
Malachi describes the spiritual condition of the people with these words: “ ‘I will come near to you in judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me,’ says the Lord Almighty. . . . ‘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” (Mal. 3:5-7). God accused His people of robbing Him in regard to tithes and offerings. He used strong words to describe the consequences of their disobedience. “You are under a curse . . . because you are robbing me” (verse 9).
Although Israel was guilty of many serious transgressions of the covenant, it is significant that God singled out stewardship as the starting point, the first step in the reformation they had to make if they were to come back to Him. What strategy was God using in trying to reclaim Israel? God in His wisdom and foreknowledge was apparently confident that other needed reforms would follow, if His people resumed being faithful in regard to tithe and offerings. Perhaps another reason God focused on financial stewardship is that it is the most objective and measurable dimensions of one’s commitment and loyalty to God.
2011 1509 page14Ellen White on Financial Stewardship
Ellen White had an incredible burden for stewardship in regard to tithes and offerings. She wrote with great passion about this important subject. There are probably few other subjects on which she wrote more extensively over the many years of her ministry.
The compilation Counsels on Stewardship covers nearly every facet of financial stewardship. The material in this book has been gleaned from her many articles that appeared in the Review, chapters taken from the Testimonies for the Church, and other books that she authored. If all of us would read only the first 100 pages of this book with an open heart, I imagine we would be convicted and converted to practice faithfulness in regard to tithes and offerings.
Returning Tithe on Total Income
In returning to Him, God called His people to “bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house” (verse 10). Other translations use the words “all the tithes” or “full tithes.” Ellen White used in her writings the words “honest tithe.” This implies that some of the people were paying tithe on only a portion of their income. In God’s eyes they were robbing Him. Offerings are also a very important component of the financial stewardship equation; they provide funding for church needs for which tithe cannot be used, especially at the local church level. Some fail to realize that it is possible to rob God in offerings as well as in tithe. Tithes and offerings are God’s resources for the proclamation of the gospel throughout the world.
Are We Robbing God?
The April 14, 1960, issue of The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald contained an article by H.M.S. Richards, Sr. entitled “Tips or Tithes.” Notice this quote: “Do we give God the tithe of our income, or do we give Him only a tip now and then? Are we more careful with our tipping than we are in our tithing?” The word tithe means “tenth.” If we are not returning to God a tenth of our income, we are really not tithing.
Following my retirement from the General Conference I did part-time church auditing for one of the conferences in the Southern Union Conference for several years. In reviewing the tithe envelopes of numerous church members, I was impressed that many were not returning tithe on their total income. Even though I did not know any of them personally, or had any knowledge of their earnings, it was obvious that if their total family income was only 10 times their tithe, they would not have been able to support their families. Such members were actually robbing God even though they were paying some tithe.
Tithing Principles and Guidelines
In 1984 the General Conference published the first-ever comprehensive counsel on tithing, entitled Tithing Principles and Guidelines. A 17-member committee, composed of church leaders and lay members, made what was probably the most exhaustive study of the subject of tithing that has ever been undertaken by the Adventist Church. This was done in response to requests from church leaders for some definitive guidelines for members to use in computing their tithe.
One of the major issues that was given considerable study by this committee was what actually constitutes personal income. The recommendation reads: “Personal income is salary, hourly wages, tips, commissions, benefits, individual profits from a business or a professional operation, investment income, pension benefits and inheritances, to name only a few. . . . Tithe should be computed on the gross amount of a wage or salary earner’s income before legally required or other employee authorized deductions. This includes federal and state income taxes, which provide for services and other benefits of responsible citizenship.”
“Amounts withheld from wages for retirement programs, such as individual retirement accounts, tax sheltered annuities, or other retirement plans, including Social Security, does not reduce personal income. When one begins to receive benefits from such retirement plans, an amount equal to the personal contributions can be subtracted before one begins to return tithe on the benefits received.”1
Shortchanging Ourselves
Supporting God’s work is only one side of the financial stewardship coin. God not only invites us to become partners in the proclamation of the gospel, but has also ordained financial stewardship as a means of bringing rich material and spiritual blessings into the lives of His children, as the second part of Malachi 3:10 suggests. Note Ellen White’s take on this aspect: “When they [Israel] robbed God in tithes and in offerings they were made to realize that they were not only robbing Him but themselves, for He limited His blessings to them just in proportion as they limited their offerings to Him.”2
When God promised to protect and bless the tithepayer’s crops, what was the real promise? That He would protect and safeguard the livelihood of such persons. Consider some of the specific blessings that people who are faithful in their stewardship experience:
1 Faithful financial stewardship helps us develop and maintain a proper perspective regarding money and wealth. We look upon money as the means to provide for our real needs and the advancement of God’s work. We are protected from developing a love of money, which the Bible teaches is the root of all evil.

2 Faithful financial stewardship imposes a discipline on our spending, the management of the financial resources that are available to us. “Through His blessing He made their [Jewish nation] nine tenths worth more . . . than the entire amount without His blessing.”3

3 The returning of tithe and the giving of offerings fosters a covenant relationship with God. He is the great source, the provider of every good and perfect gift. God has made us stewards of His goods.

4 It is the most effective antidote against covetousness and selfishness that is available to us.

5 It constitutes a very important part of one’s relationship with God. It is the cement that binds us, holds us to God and His church. It keeps us focused on kingdom business.

6 It brings the satisfaction and peace that comes from knowing that we are cooperating with God in the great mission of taking the gospel to the world.

7 It serves as an anchor to the soul. If we are faithful in this area of our lives, we are more likely to be faithful in other areas of our relationship with God and our fellow humankind.

8 Husbands and wives who are united in faithful stewardship are much less likely to have conflicts over the management of the family income.


Making a New Start With God

In Malachi 3 God follows the announcement of a curse with an earnest appeal to His people, Israel, to stop robbing Him, to make a new start, and to renew the covenant with Him. He challenged them to “test” Him (verse 10). This picturesque, figurative language tells so much about the kind of God that we serve, and the resources that are at His command. He is eager to bestow all the blessings that we need and even more than we are able to utilize. God is really saying that His resources are greater than our needs.
There is an urgent need for a major increase in tithe and offerings to finance adequately the work of the church today—especially in the midst of a recession. In recent years conferences in the North American Division have had to reduce personnel and curtail ministries in order to balance their budgets. Many institutions, especially educational, are struggling to survive. Our media ministries are regularly appealing to our members for additional donations in order to sustain and expand their ministries. Many local churches are finding it difficult to cover basic operating expenses; they have very limited funds for outreach programs.
When we speak about revival and reformation, faithful financial stewardship has to be part of the larger picture. We cannot afford to rob God (and ourselves). We want to put God to the test by practicing faithful stewardship in regard to tithes and offerings. If even 25 percent of active members—and hopefully it would be more—who are currently returning no tithe or less than a full tithe responded, there would be a major increase in the funds available to finish the work of proclaiming the everlasting gospel. Just imagine the impact on our spiritual lives. It could bring about the full treasury that Ellen White envisioned if our members were faithful in their financial stewardship. “Great objects are accomplished by this system. If one and all would accept it, each would be made a vigilant and faithful treasurer for God; and there would be no want of means with which to carry forward the great work of sounding the last message of warning to the world. The treasury will be full if all adopt this system.”4
What a thrilling thought. “All to Jesus” will then not only be a wonderful hymn to hum along but a way of life, involving all aspects of our being—including also our pocketbooks.
1 Tithing Principles and Guidelines (1984), pp. 22, 26.
2 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, p. 395.
3 Ibid., p. 404.
4 Ellen G.White, Counsels on Stewardship, p. 73.
William L. Murrill is a retired treasurer of the North American Division and undertreasurer of the General Conference. He lives in Shawnee, Kansas. This article was published March 24, 2011.