Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

Christian Stewardship

Written by Rev. C. Pronk
Next to our health there is perhaps nothing that is more important to us than money. Making and spending money occupies a large part of our life. We cannot do without it. We need money to purchase food, clothing, shelter, transportation, and other things to maintain a reasonable standard of living. There is the church and school and charitable organizations that ask for our support as well. In addition, we need to put some money in our savings account or retirement plan such as an IRA or RSP. Also a certain amount is needed for recreation, hobbies, sports activities, vacations, etc. How do we know what we should spend our money on and how much should we allocate to each of the above? These are very important questions, especially when we realize that it is not our money, but the LordÕs. We are all stewards under God.
What Is Christian Stewardship?
Basically, it means managing what we own, including the money that God has entrusted to us. God is the Creator of all things and He has put us on earth to have dominion over all things. In Genesis 1 we read that God blessed man and gave him dominion over the animals and over the birds and the fish, in fact over all things! But man fell into sin and ceased being a steward for God. In his sinful state man now uses GodÕs good gifts for his own benefit. We all do that by nature. This will change only when the Lord comes into our life and saves us. Then, as the apostle Paul says, we become new creatures in Christ, and are restored into the original stewardship entrusted to man at creation. Then we will begin to live for God again--for His church, His kingdom and His cause.

In Bible times a steward was an administrator, either of a family or of an estate; very often that person would be a slave. An example is Eliezer, the servant of Abraham and Isaac. Joseph is another example. In Genesis 39 we read how Joseph, after his brothers had sold him, was taken to Egypt where he became the steward of Potiphar. These stewards were compensated. They were given free room and board, but they did not own anything. Even though they had the free use of all kinds of things, nothing really belonged to them; everything was their masterÕs property.

Here we have the key to understanding what Christian stewardship is. If we are believers, we are servants, or actually slaves of Christ. ÒYe are not your own,Ó the apostle says. You donÕt belong to yourself; you have been purchased by the Lord Jesus Christ. This is echoed in the first LordÕs Day of our Heidelberg Catechism, where it is said that our only comfort consists of the fact that we are no longer our own but belong to our faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ, who has purchased us with His blood. At the end of that long answer, it states that it is His Holy Spirit who makes us heartily willing to serve Him. Whatever we possess actually belongs to the Lord.

Robert Dabney, an American Presbyterian minister from the 19th century, writes in one of his books, ÒOur property is essentially a trust fund and the whole of it is be used for the benefit of the owner.Ó According to Dabney, we should not even ask how much is for the Lord and how much may I use for myself. There is to be no division at all and there is no line to be drawn between GodÕs portion and our portion, for all is GodÕs and all is to be employed for God. We are to serve the Lord with our bodies, souls and minds, our energies, talents, gifts and affections, as well as our material possessions.

Our Material Possessions Belong to God
Talking about money may not sound spiritual. Yet it is very spiritual, rightly understood. When we read the Bible, whether it is the Old or the New Testament, the subject is very often money. Jesus frequently spoke of money. For instance, in Matthew 6 He specifically tells us what our attitude should be towards money. The apostles also, following the example of their Lord, do the same thing. It is actually very spiritual to talk about money.

Why did Jesus talk about money so much? Not because He was money-minded, far from it, but because He knew that our attitude to money is a key to our character. That is why the Saviour stated that it is very hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Why? Because he is so attached to his possessions. As Jesus said in the parable of the Sower, it is riches that so easily choke out the Word. Money can be, and often is, a tremendous obstacle for people to enter the kingdom of God. On the other hand, wealth can be used for good. Money is not always and only a negative thing; it can be used in a positive way. But it can be a positive force only if it is used under the lordship of Christ. If not, it can easily become a curse, which it is for many people.

Spending Our Money
Whether we are rich or poor, the love of money, not money itself, the apostle Paul says, Òis the root of all evil.Ó That is why it is so important that we are good stewards of the money God has given us. The way you and I look at money, and the way we save or spend it, tells a lot about our spiritual state. This applies especially to the way we spend our money. It shows us whose we really are and whom we really serve.

Christian stewardship means that we spend our money wisely, and then our first concern should always be the Lord and His cause. When we receive our pay cheque, we must conscientiously consider how to spend it. We must decide first of all, so much is for the church, so much for missions, so much for the Christian school, so much for whatever other good Christian cause there may be, and then spend the rest wisely on ourselves and our families. When we do this, we are good stewards of the Gospel.

How Much May We Spend On Ourselves?
When we ask the question, Òhow much shall be given to the Lord and how much shall I keep for myself?Ó we are already asking a wrong question, because everything is the LordÕs and is to be used for His glory and His cause on earth. What I spend on myself, on food and clothing and recreation, is the LordÕs money, which the Lord allows me to spend on myself. I have to feed myself and I need clothing, and recreation too. But all these things are to be used in the service of the Lord and for the benefit of His cause on earth.

Proper Enjoyment
God gave us many things to enjoy. John Calvin spends quite a bit of space in his book, Institutes of the Christian Religion, to explain the many blessings God has given us, also for this life, and not for our sustenance only. We need food to eat; otherwise we starve and will die. But, Calvin says, the Lord Òhas given us also taste buds so that we not only eat food to survive but also to enjoy.Ó Speaking about clothes, Calvin states that the Lord gives us clothes in various colours, just as the flowers of the field and many other things in nature come in different colours and patterns. We are to enjoy these things. God is so good. But we can only enjoy these things in the proper way if we enjoy them in fellowship with the Lord--never apart from Him. If we do that we do exactly what the world does. The world lives for pleasure only. The world never thinks of God and His glory. That is why the apostle Paul speaks of those who are lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God. He was not only talking of the world out there, but alas, also many in the church fit that description.

I may spend money on things that enrich my life. I may go on vacation from time to time. I may also have certain hobbies; but always so that in using these things I use my energy to serve the Lord. When we are tired after a long winter, we look forward to going away for a few days or a few weeks to relax. Ministers need that too. Often, by the end of the winter season, ministers are tired of their busy schedule. A relaxing break can re-energize you to be refreshed and begin again with new zeal and renewed strength.

Moderation
But although the Lord gives us all these wonderful things, He also wants us to use them in moderation. We should not live for vacations and trips. We should not always be thinking of how I can amuse myself, so that we spend a minimum of time at work and a maximum of time doing things for our own pleasure. Here too we need the teaching of the Word of God. We need to remember that we are always under the lordship of Christ and that includes knowing how much time, money and energy we should spend on leisure and recreation.

Biblical Examples
The story of the widowÕs mite in Mark 12 relates that Jesus sat at the entrance to the temple and saw the Pharisees putting their tithe into the moneybox. A widow also came and she put in her mite or penny. The Lord Jesus says that she gave everything she had, whereas the Pharisees gave of their abundance.

The Lord is not, in the first place, concerned about how much we give, but what our motive is in giving. Is our giving motivated by love for Him and His cause? The lesson, obviously, is that we should give sacrificially. The widowÕs example does not mean we have to give everything we own, but it does mean that there will be times when the Lord wants us to give until it hurts.

The rich young ruler was told by Jesus that in order for him to be a disciple he had to sell all that he had. He couldnÕt do this because he was attached to his possessions. I donÕt believe Christ asks this of everyone in a literal sense. But He does require of all would-be disciples that they are willing to give up whatever they are attached to in life, for His sake and the GospelÕs.

The apostle Paul speaks at great length about the generosity of the Macedonians as an example of Christian giving in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. In 2 Corinthians 8, he commends the Macedonian Christians for giving to the LordÕs cause. In that situation it concerned the offering the apostle was taking up for the poor in Jerusalem. The Macedonians gave graciously, generously and joyfully. The apostle Paul makes special mention of the fact that first of all, they gave themselves to the Lord, and then they gave their money.

Paul proceeds to show that the Lord Jesus Christ is our great Example in Christian giving. He became poor, the apostle says, in order to make us, sinners, rich. This is not to be interpreted only spiritually, although that is the focus. Jesus became poor so that we might become rich in Him. This also has implications for Christians and their concern for those in material need. We must be willing to impoverish ourselves in order to help the poor and destitute.

There is no question that the early Christians interpreted it this way. For the most part they were poor. The disciples, too, gave up everything: houses, families, businesses and possessions for the sake of Christ (Matt.19:27-30). Like their Master, they lived out of the hand of God. That was the secret of their power and had a lot to do with the success of the Gospel. In Acts 2 we read that the Christians had Òeverything in commonÓ and that they lived for others.

Affluence
Church history teaches that when the church became rich materially, they became poor spiritually, and lost power. In the Middle Ages the church tried to recapture something of the New Testament condition by instituting various monastic orders. To join a monastery a vow of poverty or chastity (or both) had to be made. This became such a legalistic ritual that eventually the Reformers shied away from this kind of imposed poverty.

Tithing
What about tithing? Is it still required of New Testament Christians? Some say no, because tithing was part of the Mosaic Law and since New Testament Christians are under grace and not law, our giving should be strictly voluntary. I agree that our giving should be voluntary, provided that we give at least as much as the Old Testament believers did. People who hide behind what they call their Òfreedom in ChristÓ interpret this to mean that they are free to give only as much as their conscience tells them, and this often means giving far less than the Old Testament believers.

If we really want to feel free we should feel free to give more than the Old Testament believers did. The Old Testament tithe should be a floor and not a ceiling. It should be a starting point, but not a limit. Believers in the Gospel age should not give less than believers under the law. Concerning the tithe, some say, I am not under the law. But if you accept a standard lower than the law, you are neither under grace nor under the law, but under disgrace.

Some are so stuck on the word tithe (one-tenth) that they assume this is all we need to give. But when you study tithing, you will find that Israel paid at least two tithes every year and another one every third year (cf. Lev.27:30-33; Deut.14:22-27, 28, 29).

The Lord Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for the way in which they paid their tithes, but not for the fact they paid tithes. In Matthew 23:23 our Saviour says: ÒWoe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.Ó JesusÕ criticism was not that they gave tithes, but that they thought that was all that was required. They omitted the more important things, such as showing mercy and faith or faithfulness. The Lord Jesus was supportive of the tithe. No wonder that all the early church fathers practiced tithing and advocated this practice. It was only after the Reformation, that the fear of legalism drove the Reformers to de-emphasize the necessity of the tithe. Nevertheless, many in Reformed churches continue to practice it until this very day, and certainly that is not wrong.

Withholding The LordÕs Money
There are many Christians who give more than a tithe. When you add up all the money you give to church, school and to missions, and perhaps other causes, you may well exceed a tenth of your income. Realistically, many also give less. This is a serious failure, and grieves the Lord and impoverishes our souls. God Ôs Word demonstrates this. Whenever Israel failed to give their tithe to the Lord, His judgments came upon them. Conversely, when revival came, one of the first things that took place was that the people brought their tithes to the Lord. This happened during the great revival under king Hezekiah and later under the reformers Ezra and Nehemiah. The people became willing to give their tithes to the Lord again.

The Blessing Of Giving
When David realizes GodÕs greatness, he exclaims, ÒThine, O LORD, is the greatness, and the power, and the gloryÉÓ (1 Chronicles 29: 11). The immediate result was that he wanted to build a temple for the Lord and he dedicated much of his silver and gold for that purpose. Even though not he, but Solomon was allowed to build that temple, David collected an enormous amount of money and precious stones for that purpose. Similarly, when we like David may see how great God is and how merciful in His dealings with us, miserable and selfish sons and daughters of Adam, this will also constrain us to offer ourselves in service to Him. With Paul on the road to Damascus when he met the risen Lord, we will ask: ÒWhat wilt Thou have me to do?Ó

Summary
By way of a summary, based on 1 Corinthians 16 and 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, these are several attitudes that should characterize our giving.

Giving should be proportionate. In 1 Corinthians 16:2 the apostle Paul says: ÒUpon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.Ó We should give proportionately, as God has prospered. This will vary from time to time and year to year. Give according to the blessings He has given us. If we have a poor year, give accordingly.

We should also learn to give systematically. ÒUpon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store.Ó This means that during the week, before we come to church, we should already have thought about what we are going to give to the Lord on His day. We should put aside so much for the church, and if there is a collection for the school--so much for the school and other causes. It should be systematic and not haphazard. Some are in the habit of writing a cheque once per year, at Christmas time, and the idea is to get a tax receipt. There is nothing wrong with that as such, but let our giving not just be once per year or several times per year, but every LordÕs Day. Giving is an act of worship and should be done prayerfully.

Giving should be sacrificial (2 Cor.8:1,2). The Macedonian Christians gave beyond their means as they were poor and obviously needed the money for themselves. So their giving Òabounded unto the riches of their liberalityÓ (2 Cor.8:1,2).

Giving should be done cheerfully and voluntarily. In 2 Corinthians 8:2,5 Paul speaks of their joy and in 2 Corinthians 9:7 he states: ÒEvery man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.Ó And they were willing Òof themselves.Ó (2 Cor.8:3).

A Test of Faith
Our giving to the Lord is a test of our faith. Christ taught His disciples that their righteousness should exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees. This applies spiritually, but also materially. If the Pharisees gave so conscientiously of their income to the Lord, exactly to the letter of the law and even beyond that, then we certainly should exceed this by our voluntary, freewill, loving, cheerful, sacrificial giving. The Lord does not demand so much from us. Rather He wants our all. If we are believers and know something of the life of grace, we understand that He has given His all to us in Christ. Then we will understand what Isaac Watts meant in his famous hymn: ÒWere the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small, love so amazing so divine demands my soul, my life, my all.Ó May God guide us in this very important subject of giving to the Lord.

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