In 1 Kings 17, an enlightening story is recorded from the life of Elijah. The story took place during the time when the land of Israel was under the curse of God and was not receiving any rain or dew because of their rebellion against the God of heaven.
At the beginning of this three and a half year period, when it did not rain, the Lord sent Elijah to hide by the Brook Cherith to escape the grasp of King Ahab who was seeking for him all over the land. However, eventually, the brook dried up, and God gave Elijah further instructions. Notice: “And it happened after a while that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land. Then the word of the Lord came to him, Saying, ‘Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you.’ ” 1 Kings 17: 7–9.
Elijah was sent out of the land of Israel to one of the most wicked areas of the world. There in Zarephath, Elijah met the widow who was out gathering sticks to make a final meal for herself and her son. Despite her desperate situation, this widow shared what little she had with the prophet, and as a result wonderful things happened. The Bible records: “So she went away and did according to the word of Elijah; and she and he and her household ate for many days. The bin of flour was not used up, nor did the jar of oil run dry, according to the word of the Lord which He spoke by Elijah.” 1 Kings 17:15, 16.
And this was not the only blessing she received from the Lord because she willingly gave her all. The story is later told of how her only son died. In her great distress she went to the prophet Elijah and he cried to the Lord and said, “ ‘O, Lord my God, have You also brought tragedy on the widow with whom I lodge, by killing her son?’…Then the Lord heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came back to him, and he revived. And Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper room into the house, and gave him to his mother. And Elijah said, ‘See your son lives.’ Then the woman said to Elijah, ‘Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is the truth.’ ” 1 Kings 17:20–24.
Notice, God sent His prophet to a woman who was very poor; so poor that she was at the point of starvation. When she granted Elijah’s request for a meal, she showed confidence in the man of God that had come and asked a favor of her. Before she received a favor from God, she had to demonstrate her faith.
Isn’t it interesting that God chose to send His servant to such a poor household to be sustained during this difficult time? I am sure there were plenty of rich people close by who had houses and servants and silver and gold, but God ordained that His servant should be sustained by a poor widow woman. It is an amazing thing, but over and over again I have seen the Lord’s work sustained by the widows and the orphans. Why is this? Is it because God needs the resources of the widows and orphans? No. The money is not important to the Lord. It is the motive of the giver that is important in His eyes.
Ellen White wrote about this in Testimonies, vol. 3, 382: “God could have reached His object in saving sinners without the aid of man. He knew that man could not be happy without acting a part in the great work in which he would be cultivating self-denial and benevolence. That man might not lose the blessed results of benevolence, our Redeemer formed the plan of enlisting him as His co-worker.” God could finish the work without any of our help, but it is His desire that we learn the lesson of benevolence and self-denial so He gives us the blessing of assisting with His work.
“Every good thing of earth was placed here by the bountiful hand of God as an expression of His love to man. The poor are His, and the cause of religion is His. He has placed means in the hands of men, that His divine gifts may flow through human channels in doing the work appointed us in saving our fellow men. Everyone has His appointed work in the great field; and yet none should receive the idea that God is dependent upon man. He could speak the word and every son of poverty would be made rich. In a moment of time He could heal the human race of all their diseases. He might dispense with ministers altogether and make angels the ambassadors of His truth. He might have written the truth upon the firmament, or imprinted it upon the leaves of the trees and upon the flowers of the field; or He might with an audible voice have proclaimed it from heaven. But the all wise God did not choose any of these ways. He knew that man must have something to do in order that life might be a blessing to him. The gold and silver are the Lord’s, and He could rain them from heaven if He chose; but instead of this He has made man His steward, entrusting him with means, not to be hoarded, but to be used in benefiting others. He thus makes man the medium through which to distribute His blessings on earth. God planned the system of beneficence in order that man might become, like his Creator, benevolent and unselfish in character, and finally be a partaker with Him of the eternal, glorious reward.” Testimonies, vol. 4, 472, 473.
In all of God’s dealings with His creatures, His purpose is our sanctification, the development of our characters that we might become like Him in character—unselfish and benevolent. It is His desire that our constant impulse will be to do something to bless someone else. And if we follow His instructions, with humble faith and obedience, the result will be the perfection of our characters. The problem is that so often we are haphazard or lackadaisical and do not follow God’s instructions exactly. Then we do not reap the benefits that He desires to bestow on us.
The Tithing Plan
God has given implicit instructions in regard to our stewardship of both time and money. The fourth commandment deals with time and the tithing plan, taught throughout the Old and New Testaments, giving us instruction about our money.
Tithe is first mentioned in regard to Abraham in Genesis 14. Here the Bible records that Abraham “gave him [Melchizedek] a tithe of all.” So it is clear that Abraham understood the tithing plan.
In Genesis 28 we read concerning the experience of Jacob: “Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God. And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.’ ” Genesis 28:20–22. Jacob also understood the tithing plan.
The Lord gave Moses very explicit instructions about the use of the tithe. He said, “Behold I have given the children of Levi all the tithes in Israel as an inheritance in return for the work which they perform, the work of the tabernacle of meeting.” Numbers 18:21.
Because the Levities were faithful to God during the golden-calf apostasy, the Lord gave them a special blessing—the responsibility of the care of the sanctuary. Instead of giving them an inheritance of property, in the Promised Land, the Lord instructed that they should be sustained by the tithe.
Paul wrote about this in 1 Corinthians 9:13–14: “Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.”
The apostle taught that just as the Levites, in the Old Covenant, received the tithes for the work that they did in the sanctuary, those who preach the gospel, in the New Covenant, are to live of the gospel (from the tithe). The Bible clearly tells us how and for what purposes the tithe is to be spent. Through God’s special messenger for the last days the Lord sent even more explicit instructions about where the tithe is and is not to be used. We will look at several important passages.
“The Lord has specified: the tenth of all your possessions is Mine; your gifts and offerings are to be brought into the treasury, to be used to advance My cause, to send the living preacher to open the Scriptures to those who sit in darkness.” The Youth’s Instructor, August 26, 1897.
“ And He says to us, ‘A portion of the money I have enabled you to gain is Mine. Put it into the treasury in tithes, in gifts and offerings, that there may be meat in Mine house,—that there may be something to sustain those who carry the gospel of My grace to the world.’ ” The Review and Herald, May 9, 1893.
“Instruction has been given me that there is a withholding of the tithe that should be faithfully brought into the Lord’s Treasury, for the support of the ministers and missionaries who are opening the Scriptures to the people and working from house to house.” The Review and Herald, April 20, 1905.
“The people today are to remember that the house of worship is God’s property and that it is to be scrupulously cared for. But the funds for this work are not to come from the tithe. The tithe is to be used for one purpose—to sustain the ministers whom the Lord has appointed to do His work.” Echoes from the Field, June 21, 1905.
Ellen White made it clear that these ministers, or workers, could be men or women. When there were some who insisted that minister’s wives should not be paid even though they were working just as effectively as their husbands, she gave this strong rebuke. “There are ministers’ wives…who have been devoted, earnest, whole soul workers, giving Bible readings and praying with families, helping along by personal efforts just as successfully as their husbands. These women give their whole time, and are told that they receive nothing for their labors because their husbands receive their wages. I tell them to go forward and all such decisions shall be reversed.
“The Word says, ‘The laborer is worthy of his hire.’ When any such decision as this is made, I will in the name of the Lord, protest. I will feel it my duty to create a fund from my tithe money, to pay these women who are accomplishing just as essential work as the ministers are doing, and this tithe I will reserve for work in the same line as that of the ministers, hunting for souls, fishing for souls. I know that the faithful women should be paid wages proportionate to the pay received by ministers. They carry the burden of souls, and should not be treated unjustly. These sisters are giving their time to educating those newly come to the faith, and hire their own work done, and pay those who work for them. All these things must be adjusted and set in order, and justice be done to all.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 21, 360.
Why We Lack Ministers
Ellen White warned that a great mistake is made when the tithe is withdrawn from the object for which it is to be used and she described the results that have followed. “There is a lack of ministers because ministers have not been encouraged. Some ministers who have been sent to foreign lands, to enter fields never before worked, have been given the instruction, ‘You must sustain yourselves. We have not the means with which to support you.’ This ought not to be if the tithe, with gifts and offerings, was brought into the treasury. When a man enters the ministry, he is to be paid from the tithe enough to sustain his family. He is not to feel that he is a beggar.…The tithe is sacred, reserved by God for Himself. It is to be brought into His treasury to be used to sustain the gospel laborers in their work.
“The tithe is to be used for the support of the ministry. The opening of new fields requires more ministerial efficiency than we now have and there must be means in the treasury.” Echoes from the Field, June 21, 1905.
We are living in strange times. Now, probably more than any previous time in Adventism, this plain instruction is being overlooked and people are spending their tithe for all sorts of projects. And the result is that people that are trained to do Bible work cannot engage in the work full time because they do not receive enough to support their families. Many times I have seen qualified gospel workers spending their days working as computer technicians, nurses or carpenters in order to feed and clothe their families and then trying to work for the Lord in the time that remains. At the same time, we receive calls from people all over the country who are seeking for historic Adventist ministers and Bible workers to serve in their churches. The truth is that there are almost no historic Adventist ministers and the reason can be summarized as follows:
The leaders in the revival and reformation movement in Adventism have often refused to organize home churches. And when the home churches were organized, they were not organized into sisterhoods of churches that could help each other. As a result, only those churches large enough to support a pastor of their own could have pastors at all.
Now, if congregational church government is all you have, and that is all that Seventh-day Adventists had at one time, that, of course, is better than total disorganization, but we have never taught congregational church government. We have always believed in full New Testament church organization where the local churches work together for the common good of the cause of God. And we must face the facts squarely. The work of revival and reformation in Adventism is years behind where it could be if all historic Adventist believers would cease the rebellion against New Testament church organization and learn how to work together to plan more organized outreach and distribution of tithe in harmony with inspired counsel. We have to recognize the sad fact that God’s work is lame because of a lack of New Testament church organization.
Of course, the Lord is able to finish His work whether the work is lame or not. We read in Micah 4:6, 7: “‘In that day,’ says the Lord, ‘I will assemble the lame, I will gather the outcast and those whom I have afflicted; I will make the lame a remnant, and the outcast a strong nation; so the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion from now on, even forever.’”
The Lord is able to gather those that are lame, those that are outcasts and have been disfellowshiped from their local churches, into a mighty army to finish His work. The Lord is not dependent on you or me to finish His work. His work will go forward. But the problem is, if we do not follow divine instruction, we will not reap the blessings that God wants us to have. The Lord does not want us to work in a haphazard way. The Lord wants us to come into working order.
The Need for Human Workers
We can spend millions of dollars for all kinds of good projects—radio, television, literature—and I believe in all of these projects, but we will never finish the work with those means alone. The work can only be finished by human workers. That is the way God has ordained it. All of these other methods only plant the seeds, and then human reapers are necessary to gather in the harvest.
A farmer would never spend thousands of dollars to plant a crop which he had no way to harvest. Yet that is what is done in God’s work all the time. People spend hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to plant seeds when there is no provision to send workers to reap the harvest. And then people wonder why there is so little harvest. One of the reasons is because the tithe is not being used to train and hire reapers to go out and reap the harvest.
Ellen White wrote, “The tithe is the Lord’s, and those who meddle with it will be punished with the loss of their heavenly treasure unless they repent. Let the work no longer be hedged up because the tithe has been diverted into various channels other than the one to which the Lord has said it should go.…The opening of new fields requires more ministerial efficiency than we now have, and there must be means in the treasury.” Echoes from the Field, June 21, 1905.
“The light which the Lord has given me on this subject, is that the means in the treasury for the support of the ministers in the different fields is not to be used for any other purpose.” Special Testimonies for Ministers and Workers, 18. (See also Manuscript Releases, vol. 2, 193.)
A Blessing or a Curse
God is able to bless His people when they obey Him, but when they disobey they are under His curse. In the Old Testament, the Lord told His people that they were under a curse because they were not returning the tithe. Notice what it says in Malachi the third chapter. “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse for you have robbed Me, even this whole nation. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house.”
God has a specific purpose for the tithe. Hundreds and thousands of laborers are needed, and God has provided for their support if men will simply listen to the divine instructions. “The Lord regards the tithe as His own, to be used for a certain purpose.…” It “should be used only, to sustain the ministers in new fields as well as in other places.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 1, 193.
“Let none feel at liberty to retain their tithe to use according to their own judgment. They are not to use it for themselves in any emergency nor to apply it as they see fit, even in what they may regard as the Lord’s work.” Testimonies, vol. 9, 247.
We are not to use the tithe haphazardly or just decide we are going to use it on some missionary project that we see fit. We are to look and see what the divine instruction is and follow it.
We must be careful that we do not use the tithe simply for things like church expense. Ellen White gave much counsel on this. She wrote, “The writers supposed that they were authorized to use the tithe-money in meeting the expenses of the church, as these expenses were quite heavy. From that which has been shown me, the tithe is not to be withdrawn from the treasury. Every penny of this money is the Lord’s own sacred treasure to be appropriated for a special use.” Special Testimonies for Ministers and Workers, Number 10, 12.
“I have been shown case after case where men are working in the ministry, who are just as deserving of their wages as those who are employed in the publishing houses, are left without sufficient means to support their families.…Let not those to whom are entrusted responsibilities, allow the treasury that God has appointed to sustain the ministers in the field, to be robbed to supply the expenses incurred in keeping in order and making comfortable the house of God..” Special Testimony to the Oakland and Battle Creek Churches, 11.
A Solemn Warning
In another place this startling warning is given.
“When the Lord’s portion which He has reserved as His own in tithes and offerings is used for common purposes while the church is displaying a love of self-indulgence and selfish gratification, the Lord will not, cannot bless churches and will withdraw His spirit from all who serve themselves and dishonor God.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 21, 185.
This is one of the most frightful statements in the Spirit of Prophecy about the tithe question. If we take the tithe and we misappropriate it, God will not and He cannot bless our churches and He will withdraw His spirit from them.
Is there any use in even having a church if you do not have God’s spirit there? Of course not, “for the presence of the High and Holy One who inhabiteth eternity can alone constitute a church.” Upward Look, 315. Do you realize, then, just how important it is that tithe be used for its divinely intended purpose?
“Those who have used the tithe money to supply the common necessities of the house of God, have taken the money that should go to sustain ministers in doing His work, in preparing the way for Christ’s second appearing. Just as surely as you do this work, you misapply the resources which God has told you to retain in His treasure house, that it may be full to be used in His service. This work is something of which all who have taken a part in should be ashamed. They have used their influence to withdraw from God’s treasury a fund that is consecrated to a sacred purpose. From those who do this, the blessing of the Lord will be removed.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 1, 183. This is a serious matter. Tithe is sacred and we are not to take it and appropriate it to whatever project we deem best. Tithe is to be used to support the gospel ministry.
There is a desperate need among historic Adventists today for the churches to work together so that the tithe is used to enable gospel laborers to go forward. Because of a lack of New Testament organization, people do not know where to send their tithe, so they send it to this ministry or that ministry or it goes to this or that good project, but it is not distributed to the gospel workers in the field, as we are told, in the Spirit of Prophecy, that it should be. A reform must be made before the end of time. We cannot go into the kingdom the way we are right now because we are not in harmony with divine counsel in regard to tithes and offerings.
There is going to be a people who will follow God’s instruction. Maybe it will be just the poor people like the widow of Zarephath. But there is going to be a people that are going to listen to what God says and determine to follow it exactly, and they will receive a priceless blessing from the Lord. But God is not going to use people to finish His work that are taking His tithe and using it to sue the brethren or for all kinds of projects that He has not ordained. It is time for a reform. The question is, How is it going to be with you when the world closes up? Will you be under God’s blessing or under His curse? Part of that depends on how you spend your money and what you do with God’s tithe.