Principles of Stewardship

Marvelous are the ways of God, and inscruta­ble His providences until He opens them to the ken of man. So it has always been. And thus it proves to be with the unexpected wealth of principles and precepts enfolded in man's stew­ardship of God's possessions.

Former Editor of The Ministry Magazine

Text: "Therefore take no thought, I saying, What shall we eat? or, What I shall we drink? or, Wherewithal I shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom o£ God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matt. 6:31- 33).

"Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment" (Matt. 22:37, 38).

WHEN Christopher Columbus sailed from the Spanish Port of Palos, he expected his westward course to bring him to the magic coast of India. But God had planned infinitely greater things than Columbus had anticipated. When the keel of the Pinta touched the sands of Salvador, he had discovered something vastly more wonderful than the fabled treasures of the East. He had opened the door to the marvelous American Continent, hidden through ages and generations that it might be the birthplace of spiritual liberty and of this last-day Advent Movement.

Marvelous are the ways of God, and inscruta­ble His providences until He opens them to the ken of man. So it has always been. And thus it proves to be with the unexpected wealth of principles and precepts enfolded in man's stew­ardship of God's possessions. Launching into a new study of tithing has opened up, for me at least, a whole new hemisphere of wondrous spir­itual blessings through the all-comprehensive truth of stewardship.

This mighty principle neither begins nor ends xvith money. Tithing is stewardship as far as it goes. But stewardship in its larger aspects is the all-inclusive principle of the whole of life. It is not a theory nor a philosophy, but a working program. It is in verity the Christian law of liv­ing. It forms the Christian appraisal of privi­lege, opportunity, power, and talent. It is neces­sary to an adequate understanding of life, and essential to a true, vital religious experience. It is not simply a matter of mental assent, but is an act of the will and a definite, decisive trans­action touching the whole perimeter of life.

The Christian principle of stewardship can­not be rightly understood or practiced without recognition of the divine Person to whom we are accountable. But when God is acknowl­edged as owner of all a man's possessions, He Himself will come into a man's life as coun­selor and lord. Let a person once see this and realize its practical implications, and God be­comes a presence, personal and real, and the man's entire conception of and relation to life is revolutionized. Life is glorified by the vast-ness of the wondrous relationship. Man be­comes conscious of the high compulsion of loyalty as the motivating force of life. Such a one feels the thrill of actual fellowship with God.

Such a view of life involves proportioning life's resources to meet life's obligations. Every aspect of a man's life is thus to be trained and developed and fitted for service. Our strength, talent, time, and all is laid upon the altar to be administered as a trust from God. Thus the heart of stewardship is partnership with the Divine. It recognizes the fatherhood of the Creator, and finds expression in loving concern for each of His creatures. When life is so re­garded, mere rules of conduct are superseded by the sway of mighty principles, and life can never be the same thereafter.

Stewardship a Trust With Established Terms

We are stewards of our personality—that in­tangible yet intensely real force that operates on other people. We are stewards of life, the whole of it—inside, outside, everything. All is lifted to a new and vastly higher level. Such stewardship involves a man's attitude toward all the things he controls. It is related to ma­terial things because material things have a definite bearing upon the higher life. Thus we come to sense the spiritual origin, purpose, and meaning of our possessions. Stewardship brings business under the reign of the golden rule in­stead of into the clutches of the rule of gold.

All business for the steward therefore be­comes God's business. Whether a man be in the ministry, the mission field, in professional or business life, or engaged in manual labor, every calling, if it be God's call, is a sacred and holy calling. Business for him is then business for God and with God. Christ thus becomes the master craftsman of every trade, the yoke­fellow in life's responsibilities.

Stewardship shows the true relationship be­ltween a man and his money—that relation be­ing a trust, with the terms already established. Thus the handling of money becomes a great sacrament. As we are stewards of all that passes through our hands, we are under eternal obliga­tion to use all as God wants. While the tithe is the common test of stewardship, the other test is the use a man makes of the principal. This consciousness of divine ownership of all sancti­fies the nine tenths that remain. It puts the check on selfish spending, and injects a whole­some, sacred ideal into this modern riot of ex­travagance.

Thus the tithe emerges as the basis of ac­knowledging the all-comprehensive ownership and sovereignty of God. The principle of tithe inheres in this mutual relationship. The law of the tithe states the provision, but does not give the reason. But it was instituted as a perpetual safeguard lest we fall into thinking that we own the values in our possession.

Tithing More Than Maintaining Church Budgets

Some of us have seemingly had the concep­tion that tithing is little more than an efficient business system for supporting the church. This sweeping principle of stewardship is too often narrowed to a mere financial plan, whereas it is a fundamental provision, underlying the whole meaning of life itself. God has in mind something infinitely larger than church budgets. One may pay tithe and yet be far from the spirit of stewardship. Mere meticulous tithing will never save the soul. It has no personal value unless it is but the outward expression of an in­ward grace.

True tithing is simply the symbol of utter consecration. It involves a new vision of rela­tionships and values. It ushers in a new sense of accountability toward God and a new recog­nition of responsibility toward man. It is simply the first and second "great commandments" in daily operation. The principle of stewardship in its broader sense is essential to all coopera­tion between God and man. That God chose to place His powers and resources under the law of stewardship in creation is one of the most impressive facts in the universe.

It is a tragedy ever to limit the principle of stewardship to a financial system. Nevertheless, the usual reference revolves about receipts, and the amount rolling into the treasury. Such a perversion is an act of violence against a far-reaching provision. It cheapens a great message. For when this great stewardship truth, which has its origin in the mind and will of God, is proclaimed in the setting simply of a tax or revenue, it loses its true force. The primary purpose of tithing in the plan of God is not to raise money, but to build and enrich character.

To become a steward means to accept respon­sibility, and to accept responsibility strengthens character. Money is merely the by-product, but it will be the inevitable by-product. The hour has come when this whole question of tithing should be lifted out of any narrow, mercenary, metallic setting onto the sure foundation prin­ciples of stewardship.

Tithing a Test of Sincerity

I have less and less of a desire to stress the money side as primary, but to place as upper­most God's paramount purpose of character building, for it possesses character-building power. Then the money part will be sure and steadfast. The foundation of all character is this sense of dependence upon, and responsibility to, God as creator aancl owner of all. God is thus preparing men for eternity through part­nership with Himself in time, and the tithe is the test of a steward's sincerity. So we may say that the tithe is not so much a law as the tan­gible expression of a foundational principle, which, in turn, rests upon our inescapable re­lationship of creature to Creator. It is incapable of being abrogated as long as this relationship obtains. The principle is simply that of putting God and His kingdom first, as enunciated in the introductory text.

Such a constant, conscious concept of mind or attitude of spirit, dominating the life, conse­crates all acts and attitudes of life from which other things, such as money, naturally and in­evitably flow. It becomes the regulative principle of our existence. Such a consecration is the cor­nerstone of all character transformation. And our individual well-being is the inevitable prod­uct of such relationship. Thus the divine pro­gram of stewardship is a lifelong process of training men through the medium of material things, of which money is most potent. In its financial aspect, stewardship becomes the Chris­tian interpretation of money—its acquisition, handling, and disbursing.

In its tithing phase it is the acknowledgment of God's ownership, the token of our consecra­tion, the pledge of our allegiance, and the wit­ness of our faith. It is not simply an intelligent act, but an attitude that controls action.

Stewardship is seeking first the kingdom! With many, self, home, business, pleasure, come first. "After all these things do the Gentiles seek." It is pre-eminently the passion and policy of the world. After time and attention have been given to these things, if anything is left it is given to God. God's plan is to reverse the order, to change the center of gravity. So it has to do with daily living. It shifts the center of life. That is its object and outcome. When this is done, God guarantees to add "all these things" —our material needs. Therefore tithing is not an isolated act by itself. It connects vitally with every other Christian duty and truth.

Three Underlying, Basic Principles

With this thought in view, let us now attempt to get back of the question of simply paying our tithes, and consider the underlying princi­ples of stewardship, which are three in number; let us get below the surface and see the three­fold, basic groundwork upon which God places this whole obligation of money, and upon that triple foundation build the structure.

The first principle is: God Is the Absolute Owner of All Things. He is absolute, because He has the power to create without restraint, and to possess without dependence. He is owner because He is creator. "By him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or pow­ers: all things were created by him, and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist" (Col. 1:16, 17).

If we trace back the title deeds of all estates to the original ownership, we find "in the be­ginning God." He has never renounced His proprietary rights to the things He has created. Across every title deed executed is written in indelible letters, "The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein" (Ps. 24:1). The Most High has never conveyed away His right and title as ab­solute owner. He has allowed many generations to use His possessions, but has never surren­dered His ownership. They are all to be held at the call of the owner. That is the starting point of stewardship. Everything relating to the handling or use of money is to be looked at from that point of view. In civil engineering all measurements are from a base line, which is the ocean level. God's ownership is the true base line for a proper survey of the whole terri­tory of stewardship.

Second, since God is owner and absolute pro­prietor, We Are His Stewards. Now a steward is a person entrusted with the management of affairs or possessions not his own. He is the guardian of another's goods, not the owner. He is never to forget this, but administers ac­cording to the desire of the owner. A steward is one who keeps watch and ward. His possessions are delegated possessions. They are comparable to the "pounds" delivered to the stewards in the parable of Luke 19:12, 13, to whom the owner said, "Occupy till I come." None considered the pounds their own. Even the unfaithful one spoke of "thy pound." It was not a gift, but a trust. Likewise we are trustees with specified privileges and responsibilities. "To have is to owe, not to own"; hence the appropriateness of the admonition, "Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful" (1 Cor. 4:2).

Daniel Webster, when asked what was the greatest thought that had ever entered his mind, said significantly, "My accountability to God Almighty." To appropriate and use wrongly what God has committed in trust to us is no less a sin and crime than for a cashier to ap­propriate trust funds for his own use. And, as in the parable of the pounds, the day of reckoning will come. We can no more escape the claims of stewardship than we can "death and taxes." Stewards and stewardship go to­gether just like citizens and citizenship. Both spell responsibility. So our stewardship is the second great corollary principle.

Then, third, God's Ownership and Man's Stewardship Call for a Definite Acknowl­edgment—that one has acquired and is adminis­tering the property of another. For this God has specified the tithe. It is perilous hypocrisy to talk of God's sovereign ownership and man's stewardship, but refuse to make material ac­knowledgment. Mark you, acknowledgment is not the same as recognition of the claim. Recog­nition is a matter of mental acquiescence; ac­knowledgment is discharging the obligation— an act of honor. Nor is this a play upon words. We must acknowledge the sovereignty that we recognize. If we omit this acknowledgment, we commit the sin of presumption.

Tithing an Act of Worship

The true rendering of the tithe is an act of worship. The acknowledgment I bring should signify God's ownership, and ever be rendered in that worshipful spirit. Cast into God's treas­ury in the right spirit, the tithe receives the stamp of the mint of heaven. It is not then simply a pious performance of duty. It is the identification of purpose of man with God. It signifies a spiritual partnership and personal fellowship between God and man, and consti­tutes a visible demonstration thereof. So ren­dered, it is an act of loving faith and obedience far beyond any shibboleth of words.

True worship, either as manifested through prayer or through service, cannot be properly rendered without this obedience. When a man turns over his tithe in this spirit, he personally acknowledges the King eternal, immortal, in­visible. Or, to state it differently, the act is not so much a payment of an obligation as the acknowledgment of his obligation, and is much broader.

It is my solemn conviction that one of the greatest needs of the hour, next to the outpour­ing of the Holy Spirit, is for the remnant church to have a new vision of God's ownership and man's stewardship, and a new experience in practical acknowledgment of that blessed rela­tionship. The Holy Spirit can work fully only through personalities who have consciously ac­cepted this principle of stewardship into their whole lives. We have nothing we did not re­ceive, and we ourselves are not our own; we "are bought with a price" (1 Cor. 6:20). The blood of Christ is not only an expiation, it is our purchase price. And every throb of the pulse, every faculty of the nature, and every possession we hold, is but a grant from God. We must stand on the platform with Paul and declare our allegiance to Him "whose I am, and whom I serve" (Acts 27:23).

Such vision and experience is absolutely nec­essary as a protection to the soul against pagan enslavement to the love of money. Money is the most perilous thing, next to the baser, sen­sual nature, with which we have to cope. It is one of the most dangerous forces existent, for the lure of mammon is stronger than the will of man. When in conflict with the will, the latter goes under but for the grace of God. Man is safe from the subtlety of gold only when this sacred relationship of God, man, and money, as implied in stewardship, has full possession of the life.

Some have the mistaken idea that the devil made the world's money to lure us to disaster. But the devil never made anything of value. God made all things, including all sources of money and wealth, and pronounced them "very good." It is the rebellion, the perversion, the defiance, of sin that has brought the disaster. Money is a measure of values, representing life, labor, and time. But the way in which a man uses money profoundly affects his character. Many a man's money stands between his soul and God, and the bars that shut him out of the kingdom may be found to be of silver and of gold.

Money Is Stored Power

Money is a good servant but a bad master. It is stored power. A power for evil when abused, it can be an even greater power and blessing for good. The question is, In which direction shall it be loosed? There is nothing inherently wrong with gold and silver, else they are a re­buke on the Almighty Himself for having placed these precious metals in the earth. Money is the recognized medium of exchange for the fruits of God's earth and the products of man's toil. It is a necessary and powerful agent identified with everything we daily handle. Money itself is neutral, or nonmoral, in character.

We speak of money as "tainted" and as "filthy lucre." Of course it isn't the money, but the men who are really tainted. While the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, God de­signs that money shall become to His stewards the root of all kinds of good. It is the regenera­tion of men that is needed to assuage the money fever.

The tragedy of the ages is that man, made in the image of God and designed to live forever, should be possessed by the passion for earthly and temporal possessions. Alas, the mists that mantle history are crimsoned with the blood of innumerable hosts slain by the love of money. And it is still monarch, ruling republics, en­slaving empires, dominating hemispheres, and blighting the lives of hosts of even professed Christians.

But it is in accordance with the divine method to rescue the instruments of evil and convert them into the agencies of grace. It is God's design that stewardship shall take money, the very embodiment of the power of this world, its self-interest, covetousness, and pride, and change it into an instrument for God's service and glory. Thus used, it can develop and strengthen our love as it calls us to careful and sympathetic consideration of the needs of those about us. It may be one of the choicest means of continuous fellowship with Christ, through constant renewal and surrender of all to Him. It may become evidence of the earnestness with which we walk before Him in self-denial, faith, and love.

{To be continued)

*** Requests have come from various sources for a reprint of L. E. Froom's 48-page booklet on stew­ardship, published by the Pacific Press in 1929. The value of this material, written by the former secre­tary of the Ministerial Association, lies in its broad treatment of stewardship as including not just money but the whole of life. Thus conceived, stew­ardship becomes an act of devotion to God. Our younger workers, especially, will appreciate the spir­itual emphasis here placed upon the grace of shar­ing and giving for God and man.—Editors.

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