It’s Tuesday afternoon, and Jesus has spent a difficult day in continual conflict with Jewish leaders. Walking through the crowd at the temple for the last time, Jesus observes the long procession of worshippers dressed in finery and moving slowly toward the contribution chest to drop in their offerings as announcers shout the amount given.
The disciples grew up with this as an accepted part of their culture. As they watch, a widow enters the scene. She steps into line feeling alone and inadequate. All eyes watch her move through the line. She would sooner be anyplace else, but she is drawn here to somehow show God how grateful she is.
She drops her two mites and turns to slip away. There is no grand announcement, and the next person is already pushing for a turn. But Jesus knows the real meaning of her humble act: “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on” (Mark 12:44).
A Great Experiment
It is a biblical fact that God is the owner of all He created. He makes us the treasurer of His assets, of all His time, talents and possessions. All He asks is a faithful tithe on each.
I have come to the conclusion that this principle of stewardship is a great experiment of trust. If you haven’t figured that out, you are missing one of the greatest joys in the Christian experience. Ellen White explains, “Our heavenly Father did not originate the plan of systematic benevolence to enrich Himself, but to be a great blessing to man. He saw that this system of beneficence was just what man needed” (Testimonies for the Church., vol. 3, p. 404).
I want to share with you four principles that I feel are essential to good stewardship. John Wesley, that great 18th-century evangelist, promoted these principles throughout his life. These principles come from a God who understands the natural propensity of the human heart towards selfishness and therefore offers a practical means to carry out the principle of faith in Him.
Principle One: Make all you can!
God's directive to His created beings was the ethic of work. In Genesis 1:28, God said, "Go out and subdue the land, and have dominion over it." Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Job, David and Solomon are all examples of the enterprise of this principle.
Ellen White notes, "The physical, mental, and moral well-being of man makes a life of useful labor necessary. 'Be...not slothful in business' is the injunction of the inspired apostle Paul" (Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 400).
This principle of "make all you can" is one of the most dangerous there is. It is so subject to abuse that James addresses the perversions of it, including hoarding, cheating, lying and murder (James 5:1-6). But there are some Biblical guidelines for the implementation of this principle:
1. Is it honest gain? Honesty is vital to the integrity of getting all you can.
2. Is it productive gain? Do you offer value for what you get?
3. Is it building people and society?
4. Does it bring balance in your life in the areas of spiritual growth, health, marriage, family or emotional health?
Money is not evil, yet the unhealthy pursuit of it can be. A number of years ago, one of my closest friends, Ray, had entrepreneurial gifts and used them with amazing success. Over the next several years, I watched the game of "make all you can" consume him. His motives were always pure, but the love of the capitalistic game caused his methods to become increasingly suspect. In the end, he lost everything, including his life.
Make all you can, but love thy neighbor as thyself.
Principle Two: Save all you can!
We Americans love to pamper ourselves! An economic report in Time indicated that from 1990–1997, personal spending among Americans soared by almost 58 percent, yet personal savings declined into the negative. Americans under the age of 35 seem to be most susceptible, boasting personal credit card debt above $3,000 per household.
Adventists should be markedly different from non-Christians in this area. My mother set an example even though she didn't enter the work force until she was in her late 40s. In the next 20 years, she saved enough to carry her expenses through old age while continuing to give generously to the church.
Principle 3: Give all you can!
Here is the great difference between people of the world and Christians—and many times the difference between nominal and living Christians.
One of the richest people of the 20th century was John D. Rockefeller. His personal wealth peaked at a billion dollars when a dollar meant way more than it does now. Someone asked him, "How did you amass such wealth?"
He said, "The principle is simple. I give 10 percent, I save 10 percent, and I live on the rest." He went on to say, "If you can't save 10 percent and you can't give ten percent, you're spending too much money. You need to reduce your lifestyle."
Last week, a member of my church said, "In my 40 years of experience with God, I have found that I cannot out-give God. The more I give, the more He blesses me." He paused and then continued, "I have given an average of 25-30 percent of my income every year for most of my career. Some years I have looked back and asked, 'How could I have given so much? Where did it come from?' Yet God has continued to bless me. It is an amazing journey to be in partnership with the Creator."
Some of you are thinking that there are others who can afford to give much better than you. But let me share with you another biblical principle: God works on percentages. He demands "not equal giving but equal sacrifice" (Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 398).
Principle 4: I Surrender all!
While there is a significance difference between Christians and the world in the first three principles, there is a crucial difference between Christians themselves in this area, and I believe this sets apart those who live by faith and those with divided hearts. In my perspective, this is not about the church at all. It's about spirituality.
Let me be honest with you. In this area of "I surrender all," many of you just don't get it. You neither understand the journey of faith and trust nor the blessings of being a good steward. While the Adventist Church enjoys one of highest per capita giving ratios in the world, I would make an educated guess that less than 30 percent ever return more than a token amount of tithe to God, let alone free-will offerings in support of the church and missions. Yet every month so many of you struggle and have nothing left over to give to God.
The Power of Trust
This is where the life of trust in God comes into active play. This is where the "widow's might" starts. The power of her simple story is the power of trust. It is a statement of the might of complete surrender, of trusting God with childlike innocence.
Even now, some 2,000 years later, God will take a devoted follower of Christ, who surrenders all to Him, and He will honor that trust by pouring out a blessing such as we cannot contain.
Only one question remains. How much do you trust Him?