Questions to Dialogue about stewardship and student life

As a student, I don’t have a regular job. Should I pay tithe on money that I earn from time to time, or money given to me for my birthday or Christmas?

As stewards/disciples of Jesus we don’t “pay” tithe. To the contrary, we “return” tithe because tithe is God’s property (money); tithe belongs to God! In tithing, we are simply returning to God what is rightfully His.

The Bible clearly teaches that tithe is returned as an act of worship to God; it’s about a spiritual experience between the worshiper and the Creator. In the returning of tithe, you are expressing your faithfulness to the covenant relationship that you have with Jesus Christ. Tithing has nothing to do with being a baptized member, office holder of the church, or a student. It is not even about being employed (full or part time). But it has everything to do with my acknowledgment of Jesus as Savior and Lord of my life even when I’m outside of my home church or country.

Now, to your question. I would say a definite “Yes.” Given the biblical principles (worship, relationship, lordship) shared above, I’ve come to understand that the returning of tithe is not a financial matter but a spiritual act of faith and trust in God. In fact, it’s not a choice but a privilege of being a partner with Him. It’s about loving God. In tithing, I’m acknowledging Him as the Creator of the universe, owner of everything in the world, and sustainer of life. God is also the giver of every good gift, including money from my earnings through work and gifts received from Him through the generosity of others. Little or much, rich or poor, these are not the issues in tithing; rather, it is about my being worshipful and faithful to God.

How does stewardship apply to me as a college student? I need money now and am not in a position to put money in the offering plate, even though I’d like to be able to.

It is unfortunate that many in the church think of stewardship in terms of money only – as tithe and offerings. To the contrary, biblical stewardship is about the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all areas of the believer’s life. This wholistic understanding of stewardship puts the focus back on God, and not on the disciple/steward. It recognizes stewardship as a response of the heart to God; it’s a way of life (lifestyle) under the rulership of Jesus. From this perspective, I’ve come to accept that being a Seventh-day Adventist means that Jesus is Lord of my thoughts, my worship, my leadership, my relationships, my possessions, my body, my finances, my language, and even my studies.

So how does biblical stewardship apply to being a college student? It applies to every facet of one’s life. Stewardship is “all” of me (the totality of my human experience and being) in response to “all” of God.

As a former college student myself, and having studied on two occasions outside of my home country of Samoa, I know very well what it’s like to live and survive on very little or with no money at all. At Fulton College, Fiji, where I did my basic ministerial training, I was blessed to have had the opportunity to work on campus for part of my college fees. Being able to contribute in a little way toward the financial costs of my theological education was a positive thing because it taught me the lessons of self-reliance, the value of work, and taking responsibility for this part of my personal development and life. I was also a recipient of a couple of small scholarships made available through the kind donations of church members from Australia and the United States. My family also sent me money on occasion, and I will always be grateful to God for their support, including these other good Samaritans whose generosity enabled me to finish my studies at Fulton College without any debt. Interestingly, I don’t remember a Sabbath when I didn’t have an offering to give to God as part of my worship. For me, He always supplied my needs, even money to express my thanksgiving and gratitude to Him.

Some years later, while studying at Loma Linda University and Fuller Theological Seminary (both in the United States), I went through a similar experience as I did at Fulton College. At Loma Linda, for example, I worked for the university security department, and I did odd jobs for different Adventist churches such as preaching, conducting training seminars, and evangelistic programs. For the three years of my doctoral program at Fuller, I was privileged to have free accommodation with the El Monte Seventh-day Adventist Church in return for helping the church caretaker look after the church grounds and do janitorial work weekly. This arrangement was providential, and an absolute blessing from God. But in addition to money earned and saved from the work I did, I was also able to manage the little financial resources I had, and carefully use them for what was important (tithe, offerings, university fees) and necessary (basic food items and clothes). Stewardship includes living within one’s means, and not getting into any unnecessary debt.

In retrospect, what helped me in my giving (beyond tithe) as a student then, and even now, is the fact that I gave thought to my offerings and planned accordingly days ahead before the Sabbath. The giving of offerings was never an option; it was an integral part of my Sabbath worship and a privilege to express my gratitude to God for Jesus and for everything He had done for me. Did I ever think of not giving any offerings because of my perceived needs as a student? Yes, many times. Was I always faithful in my financial stewardship? No, but in my failure and unfaithfulness God forgave me, and I experienced His grace to make a new start with Him. Stewardship, I have learned, is not about money only, but also about my willingness to allow Jesus to come into my life and take full control of me. Stewardship is a lifestyle where I surrender every part of me (including my finances) to God 24/7.

Erika Puni, (Ph. D., Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California) is Stewardship Department Director for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. His e-mail is punie@gc.adventist.org.