Stewardship Is ...
Lord God, our dear heavenly Father, grant us the wisdom to understand that all things belong to You, because You created them. Grant us the wisdom as well, O Lord, to recognize that we, too, belong to You in view of our redemption. Help us to see that our situation is indeed wonderful, for we can rely upon You and entrust ourselves to You with complete confidence. You will provide for all our needs here in this world, even as You have promised by grace that we will live with You in the next. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Text: Selected Scripture Readings on Stewardship
The study of stewardship is as broad as the proper care of the universe God has entrusted to our keeping and as narrow as the line items on our personal or family budgets. Today we will focus in large part on stewardship is the narrow sense of the financial support of the Lord’s work. We will do so, because in a recent voters’ meeting specifically called to review our annual budget, I made a brief power-point presentation to the voters on this subject, a presentation which they in turn felt should be shared with the members during a worship service. That presentation has been modified to fit into a broader biblical discussion of the financial support of God’s work. We will be considering seven different biblical passages this morning. As we proceed in the presentation, I will be asking a number of probing questions. They are intended to promote self-evaluation and personal reflection. May the Holy Spirit guide our study and bless our minds and hearts as we hear His Word.
I. Stewardship is a Matter of Fact!
In a few moments we will read responsively Psalm 24 and then sing the Liturgical Response of Psalm 100. These two psalms establish the facts that: 1) The earth belongs to God; 2) We too belong to God; 3) We are responsible to God; and 4) We can and are to serve God with gladness of heart. [Read Psalms 24 and 100]
II. Stewardship is a Matter of Faithfulness!
Our 1st Scripture Reading is Matthew 25:14-30. This parable of our Lord and Savior informs us that: 1) All we have and are has been entrusted to us by our Savior Jesus; and 2) Our Savior wants us to use that which has been entrusted to us faithfully. [Read the Scripture reading: Matthew 25:14-30.] The meaning of this Scripture reading is very broad in its application to our personal stewardship. The talents within the parable represent everything that God entrusts to us—our time, our abilities, our physical and financial resources, our opportunities are all included and therefore require our thoughtful consideration. Jesus is the man in the parable, who has gone into a far country—ascended into heaven. He will return on the last day and we will then give an account of our stewardship.
One of the wonderful aspects of stewardship is that it is a matter of faithfulness! God only expects us to use what He has given us. Notice, how both the servants in the parable received the same commendation by the Lord. To one five talents had been given, while to the other only two talents had been given. The servant with five talents secured ten, while the servant with two only secured four. Yet both were told, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things” (Matthew 25:21, 23). God does not expect us to use what He has not give us, but it is both our privilege and responsibility to use everything that God does give us faithfully. The Scriptures reveal to us that when it comes to our financial stewardship, He has given us our resources for four primary purposes: 1) To support His kingdom work; 2) To care for our families; 3) To fulfill our obligations to our government through payments of taxes; and 4) To help those less fortunate within our society. To practice poor stewardship would place us in risk of falling into the category of the third servant, who was given one talent, but simply buried it. We bury our talents when we either fail to use them or misuse them!.
Dear friends, we must all confess to sins in this area, even as we must confess to sins in many other areas of our Christian lives. As we individually review the record of our personal faithfulness or lack thereof in connection with the stewardship of all of the resources entrusted to us by our Savior, may we humble confess our sins, repent of them, rejoice in God’s assured forgiveness, and then pray for the Spirit’s guidance as we strive for greater faithfulness. [Cf.Confession of Sins and Absolution]
III. Stewardship is a Matter of Understanding!
Our 2nd Scripture Reading is 2 Samuel 7:1-17. This text reveals to us that: 1) Faithful stewardship requires an understanding of God’s will; 2) Faithful stewardship also requires prudence on our part in fulfilling God’s will; and 3) All we plan may not be part of God’s will or plan for us—consider the example of King David! [Read the Scripture reading: 2 Samuel 7:1-17.]
King David wanted to do a good thing! He wanted to build a temple, which in his mind would fit a glorious God. He lived in a home build of beautiful stones and wood and was merely a mortal. God, he thought, should live in something grander than a tent of wood and skins. However, what David forgot was that God in too great and too grand for any building. What building could possibly house God, who fills the universe? No building is grand enough, yet every building—no matter how modest is acceptable to God who uses the buildings of men to remind them of His gracious presence among them.
Yet, building a temple was not part of God’s will for David. As the Lord would later explain—David was a man of war, while his son and successor, Solomon, would be a man of peace. Solomon would later build a temple dedicated to the Lord, but David would not. Instead, God sent the prophet, Nathan, to inform David that God would establish his house by sending the Savior through his family. God, thereby, emphasized His grace and mercy, rather than demanding of David his proposed act of service. David responded in faith—glorifying God, but then spending much time and effort preparing for the task his son, Solomon, would later complete. By the time he died, David had collected much of the materials that would later be used in the temple—a response of David’s love for God in view of His marvelous grace.
How does this apply to our stewardship concerns today at Immanuel? As you may have observed from the bulletin reports of our Sunday offerings, we are running a significant deficit. It is only prudent then that we ask the following questions, as we consider the pertinent facts: Do we have a spending problem? Are we trying to do more than God wants us to do?
IV. Stewardship is a Matter of Obedience!
Our 3rd Scripture Reading is Malachi 3:6-10. [Read Malachi 3:6-7.] What was the situation of the Jewish people in Malachi’s day—some four hundred years before the birth of Christ? These words show us that the people of that day: 1) Professed faith in God and attended worship services; 2) Became preoccupied with the cares and concerns of their daily lives; 3) Failed to look to, trust in and obey their God!
God’s people after the Babylonian Captivity were very different from those who had lived earlier. Prior to the Babylonian Captivity, the Jewish people had fallen into gross idolatry—worshipping Baal and other false gods of their neighbors. After the Babylonian Captivity gross idolatry was no longer a major problem. However, as time passed the religious life of the people became routine. They attended church, but their hearts were not in it. The Lord blessed them, but they soon began to give credit to and depend on themselves, while forgetting to look to God. Their faith was not living and vibrant, and they frequently chose to ignore God’s commands. In these ways, the Jewish people of Malachi’s day were not unlike many Christians today. With what result?
[Read Malachi 3:8-9] Malachi here reveals that God: 1) Accused the people of robbery. They were stealing from Him by not giving the tithe His law demanded; 2) Cursed His people in view of their disobedience, depriving them of His blessing! It is a rather shocking thought—robbing God! One might immediately ask, as did the people of Malachi’s day, how that was even possible? Yet, the people did so by refusing to bring the tithe, which was to be a firstfruit—the very first and the very best of their crops, which implied a dependence upon God to provide for their future. The result was God’s curse. In that agricultural society, it meant depriving the people of the rain necessary to make their crops grow and mature. It involved allowing grasshoppers to come and devour the crops before they could be harvested. In this way—as the people refused to obey, because they felt they could not afford to obey, they were in fact perpetuating the reason for the problem! What was the solution?
[Read Malachi 3:10] Malachi here reveals that God: 1) Urged the people to repent and obey God’s command to bring their tithe offerings; 2) Promised to shower them with blessings beyond their ability even to receive them! The appropriate response to sin—any sin—is repentance. The appropriate response to God’s will—His entire will—is obedience. When we trust in God to provide and respond to Him with faithful and obedient stewardship, He will pour out on us His blessings in such manner that we will overflow with His goodness!
As we consider our current budgetary deficit, it was only proper for the voters to question how we are spending the offerings of God’s people and to call for a review of our budget. This has been done. As we consider that deficit, it is also only proper for all of us to ask additional questions regarding our overall stewardship and support of the Lord’s work. For instance: Do we have a giving problem rather than a spending problem? Is it possible for believers to rob God today, even as it was possible for believers to do so in Malachi’s day? Could the financial problems we face as a congregation today, and even as individuals be linked to unfaithful stewardship? Could those problems be linked to the curse of our God, who is depriving us of his blessings in view of our lack of obedience? If we face a situation similar to that of the people of Malachi’s day, will not the solution be the same—one of repentance, obedience, and trust?
Dear friends, let us each examine our own lives in the area of stewardship and respond to God with faithfulness, knowing that we can depend upon Him to respond to us in gracious and marvelous ways day by day!
V. Stewardship is a Matter of the Heart!
While it is easy and perhaps obvious to make such a statement, there are questions that confront us as New Testament Christians, which are not always easily answered. God has not chosen to give New Testament believers a stewardship “law,” as He did the Old Testament believers. Rather He has given us broad principles to be applied by faith-filled hearts!
Our 4th Scripture Reading is 2 Corinthians 8:1-9; 9:5-8. [Read texts.] What are the principles outlined by St. Paul in these chapters? God says nothing, does He, of a law or command regarding the gifts believers bring to Him during New Testament time. That is because He does not demand a tithe of New Testament believers. Rather He urges us: 1) First to give our hearts to Him! This is what the people of Macedonia did. They understood the great debt they owed their Savior and His claim on their hearts as well as their lives. Once they were determined to live for their Savior, then the gifts they brought truly exceeded what many would have thought had been their ability. God urges us: 2) To rejoice in the riches we receive through Christ! Our utmost motivation as God’s children in this area, as in all others, is the grace we have experienced through Jesus Christ. He came from heaven’s throne—gave up the full use and enjoyment of His position, power, and privileges—He became poor, so that we who by nature are poor by virtue of our many sins, might become rich. He have a relationship with our God through the forgiveness of sins. We have confidence for the presence in view of God’s presence and power in our lives. We have hope for the future in view of God’s promises! God urges us: 3) To respond to His love with generosity and cheerfulness. God evaluates our gifts to Him on the basis of our hearts. Our hearts will motivate us to give generously as we recognize the generosity of our Savior God. Our hearts will move us to give cheerfully, as we recognize the many opportunities God gives us to do things that are truly significant, for we are spreading His Word and thereby helping the Spirit expand His kingdom. God urges us: 4) To depend upon His grace! Did you notice the promise God gives us in the final verse of our reading? When you and I give willingly, generously, and cheerfully, God promises to give us out of His grace everything we need to accomplish the great goals God has for us!
“This is all well and good, Pastor,” you might say, “But how much should I give? How do I know if I am guilty of robbing God. I want to enjoy His blessing.” While the Lord does not give us a specific law in this matter, for God does not want our giving to become a matter of outward routine and thoughtless compliance, we can ask ourselves certain questions, which can guide us as we seek to apply the principles of giving mentioned above. For instance, what does God expect of New Testament Christians? How much should we give for the Lord’s work? Old Testament believers were viewed by God as minors subject to laws, while New Testament believers are viewed as adults freed from those laws. Do we expect more of adults than minors? Does God expect more of us than Old Testament believers? Do we have more or less to be thankful for than Old Testament believers? Should we return a greater or lesser percentage of our income to the Lord than the Old Testament believers?
VI. Stewardship is a Matter of Trust!
Our 5th Scripture Reading is Luke 21:1-4. [Read Luke 21:1-4] This is a very familiar Scripture reading, but what is it exactly that the Lord wants to teach us here? First of all, Jesus does not want to teach us that we are to give everything to God for His work! Even if we were moved to do that, it would not be proper stewardship, for the Lord gives us a variety of responsibilities, all of which we are to fulfill faithfully. Rather, Jesus does teach us that we are to entrust everything to God! If we continue to evaluate the many blessings we receive from God and are truly thankful for them, rather than assuming, for instance, that we would be much better off with more…whatever, and if we continue to evaluate all of the opportunities to fulfill the Lord’s kingdom work, God will move us through His Spirit’s promptings to give generously, willingly, and cheerfully! In closing, consider the following list of some of the many opportunities we have in our kingdom work here at Immanuel—opportunities very few Christians within our church body have: 1) Proclaiming the gospel in many different ways; 2) Providing Christian education on an elementary, secondary, and post-secondary basis; 3) Supporting the sick and dying with messages leading to life-everlasting; 4) Supporting missionaries here in the United States and in foreign countries; 5) Helping fellow Christians—young and old—in many countries in Africa and Asia. God grant us willing, cheerful, and faithful hearts! Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting