Michael Harpe, MA, is director of Stewardship Ministries for the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists, Columbia, Maryland, United States.

With COVID-19 have come a new normal and new terminology: social distancing, PPE (personal protective equipment), PPP (Paycheck Protection Program), N95 (the better face mask), contact tracing, and more.

We rely more than ever on our mobile devices, computers, and internet providers to comply with work-from-home directives. We have experienced product shortages, businesses have closed or filed bankruptcy, and unemployment has disrupted family finances. Worst of all, as of the first week of October 2020, the deaths of more than one million people worldwide have been attributed to the virus.

The pandemic has affected the church through fatalities, physical and mental illnesses, and losses in tithe and offerings, forcing cutbacks. When faced with difficult financial challenges, many must choose whether to feed the family or support the gospel through returning tithes and giving offerings. Many consider that a prudent course of stewardship would be to put aside that money to care for the family through these tough times. What to do?

What do you choose?

The word stewardship has too often acquired a negative reputation. Perhaps unintentionally, the focus of stewardship has become transactional (financially skewed) instead of transformational (spiritually balanced). Many of us are introduced to stewardship as a tithe-and-offering break in the worship experience. Yet I would suggest that stewardship is worship, just as much as any other act of worship. Worship means giving our all lovingly to the One who lovingly gave His all for us. It is part of the everlasting gospel that we must preach to the world. “Worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water” (Rev 14:7, NKJV).

Worshiping God should be joyous. After all, the Father is the supreme Giver. Jesus is the Greatest Gift (John 3:16, 17) and our Example. The Holy Spirit is our ultimate Guide. God’s generosity is both revolutionary and relational. Because of our relationship with Him, we will delight to partner with Him in His mission—taking the everlasting gospel to the world.

“God imparts His gifts to us that we also may give, and thus make known His character to the world. Under the Jewish economy, gifts and offerings formed an essential part of God’s worship. The Israelites were taught to devote a tithe of all their income to the service of the sanctuary. Besides this, they were to bring sin offerings, free-will gifts, and offerings of gratitude. These were the means for supporting the ministry of the gospel for that time. God expects no less from us than He expected from His people anciently. The great work for the salvation of souls must be carried forward. In the tithe, with gifts and offerings, He has made provisions for this work.”1

Hence, stewardship is essentially first about relationship! “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33, KJV). Stewardship highlights the relationship between steward (life manager) and Creator (Owner). Emphasizing relational generosity must become the new normal for those who have not viewed stewardship in this light.

Revolutionary generosity

Revolutionary generosity demands that we change our perspective. How does real generosity act, look, and feel in the context of our current reality? I suggest that the focus shift from the financial to the faithful.

When thinking of generosity, many people focus on the size of the gift or the nobility of the cause. But Jesus measures generosity by the condition of the giver’s heart. “ ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ ” (Matt. 6:21 , NIV). Being a matter of the heart, stewardship goes deeper than the value of a dollar. It is a spiritual matter of emulating Him and faithfully managing the resources He has placed at our disposal. Giving it all to Jesus is worship. And worship is a lifestyle. This spirit of generosity correctly exemplifies the principles of biblical stewardship.

We may categorize life management (stewardship) into seven basic stewardship lifestyle philosophies.

  1. Time. Spiritual: relationship-building time with God through prayer and Bible study. Practical: organizational time planning present and future schedules for oneself and family.
  2. Temple—body. Spiritual: “Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost” (1 Cor. 6:19 , KJV). My body is God’s property. Practical: body-health management.
  3. Talent—gifts from God. Spiritual: God endows individuals with skills to do His work. Practical: God gives individuals talents to sustain gainful employment. And Terra—We place care of the planet (terra firma—earth) under talents. God has given humans the ability to take care of every aspect of the planet (stewards of the earth, Gen. 2:15).
  4. Treasure. Spiritual: relationship with God through tithes and offerings. Practical: personal finance/money management/debt relief.
  5. Trust in God. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Prov. 3:5, 6, NIV).
  6. Theology. Biblical foundations and study of stewardship lifestyle principles.
  7. Testimony. Verbalizing what God did, does, and will do.

Stewardship (life management) for the believer refers to two areas: (1) the member’s personal life and (2) church life, the organization, and institution. It involves relationship building, vision casting, budgeting, returning tithes and offerings, capital campaigning, fundraising, entrepreneurism, and more. Stewardship extends to all the church’s ministries at all levels and is a central biblical teaching, recognized by the Seventh-day Adventist Church as a fundamental belief.

Charles E. Bradford, former North American Division president, observed that stewardship “embraces and connects many of the great doctrines [teachings, principles] of the church and becomes an organizing principle of understanding Scripture. The . . . [biblical teachings of] creation, humanity, redemption and restoration; the . . . [principle of the] Sabbath . . . and the church are inextricably bound up with the idea of stewardship. Stewardship is . . . the root of mission, the basis of sharing the gospel with the world.”2

So, let’s start a new normal—a complete revolution of generosity among God’s people that will lead them to become faithful stewards. “Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2, NKJV).

What did you do with it?

Many are experiencing financial hardships through the duration of the coronavirus pandemic. Difficult decisions have to be made: (1) limit all nonessential spending; (2) attempt to save even a little each paycheck; (3) downsize where possible; (4) dialogue with the bill collectors regarding options available as a result of COVID-19; (5) utilize a local food pantry or church giveaway that may provide for you or your neighbor. If you are in a position to aid these organizations financially (for example, Adventist Community Services or ADRA), then do so.

The burning question on God’s heart is not What do you have? but What are you doing with what you have? This transports us to a higher level in our love relationship with God and our fellow human beings. When stewardship becomes a matter of the heart, it helps me become a cheerful giver.

In the parable of the talents, “the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them” (Matt. 25:19, NKJV). He found that two of his three servants had faithfully invested the funds he had left with them. “Well done,” he declared. This idea of settling accounts is similar to the activity involved in the investigative judgment occurring in our day. God simply asks those who manage His goods an obvious question: What did you do with what I left with you? I told you I was coming back. I left you to care for your family and your environment, I allowed you to manage your health and your wealth, have you taken care of these things to My glory or to yours?

This same Jesus

We stared at our empty cabinets. Funds were low and fees were high. As newlyweds at college, we rejoiced almost uncontrollably when meager funds came in. We would reserve God’s portion (tithe and offering), pay the utilities, and then pray over what remained. Food was scarce, but once or twice the doorbell would ring, and boxes of food would be on the doorstep. We sang songs of joy as we filled bare cabinets, put food in the fridge, and shared with others in our student housing community.

COVID-19 has changed most things, but it hasn’t changed everything. God supplied our needs then, and in God we trust today. The virus may have impacted your health or taken away your business or job, but Jehovah-Jireh, our Provider, will open other ways to survive. God did not promise to deliver the Hebrew boys from the fire, He would sure enough show up in the fire. Restoration may not come in this life, so wear the things of earth loosely. God uses circumstances to develop character—and character transcends this life to the earth made new.

This is stewardship at its best. It is tested in life’s fiery furnaces. “ ‘Test me in this and see if I don’t open up heaven itself to you and pour out blessings beyond your wildest dreams’ ” (Mal. 3:10, The Message). It begins with having a love relationship with God—a relationship demonstrated not by flowery words but by faithful action

The church is a living, breathing, and growing organism—and it is resilient. It will experience challenges, as it has in the past, and it will undergo adjustments, as it has in the past. Followers of Jesus know that they will face tough times—but not alone times. “ ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’ ” (Heb. 13:5, NKJV). The current pandemic will pass, but God is looking for faithfulness both during and after the storm. That’s the new normal that God wants us to experience now.

  1. Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1900), 300.
  2. Charles E. Bradford, “On Stewardship,” in Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology, vol. 12 of the Commentary Reference Series (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 2000), 651–674.

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