- I have often heard Christians describe “conservatism” as though it’s a fruit of the Spirit.
- I know of church leaders who when faced with a decision about a ministry or application of Scripture will seek to identify the conservative choice, because they’ve predetermined that it’s the correct one.
- I’ve been part of a dying church with close to $200,000 in reserve simply to help it through some rainy day in the future.
- I know Christian worried that today’s culture will corrupt our youth. These same people fail to see that culture has influenced their own perception of God.
Churches have a lot of unusual words as part of their normal conversation. One of those words is STEWARDSHIP. The churchy definition of this word is: there’s about to be a sermon on giving more money to the church.
In contrast, the Bible definition of stewardship goes more like this: Everything in Creation belongs to God, and He’s given humanity the responsibility of taking care of it as He would. According to Genesis 1:26 God created humanity in His own image so that we could rule over and care for creation.
Stewardship is a fundamental purpose of human life.
Christians should be people who take this responsibility seriously. We don’t just care for Creation on behalf of God, we carefully manage all the resources that he provides us.
However, many Christians face the temptation to base their role of God’s caretaker, or manager, upon the philosophy of conservatism. We adopt the mindset that our job is to manage God’s resources carefully, and we use words like “frugal, wisdom, and fiscally responsible” to justify our worldview.
Jesus told (at least) two parables that challenge this conservative perspective.
PARABLE 1: The Parable of the Bags of Gold (Matt. 25:14-30)
In this parable describing the kingdom of heaven, three servants were given bags of gold and told to care for it as their boss would. They knew that the boss wanted them to earn a return on the money, but the most conservative servant decided to bury his gold to ensure its safety. When the boss returns from his travels he is irate with the conservative servant.
The lesson here is that God intends us to use the resources he provides to enhance the mission of the kingdom. This involves risk. Conservatism seeks to minimise risk, but in this parable the boss wants his manager to take some risks. The safest option is not the best option.
A key to this story is the statement in v24 “I knew you are a hard man….“. If we are to manage God’s resources the way He would, we need to ground our approach in the character of God. Many Christians have sadly lost sight that our God takes risks.
I’m not suggesting recklessness such as Jesus jumping off the temple roof because God had promised that he wouldn’t break any bones. I’m thinking more of the presence of two trees in the Garden of Eden. As any of us who’ve been through a romantic break-up know… The decision to love involves risk. God is love at his core, so the presence of two trees demonstrates his willingness to risk rejection for the sake of love. As does the third tree on Calvary.
Sometimes churches will be taken advantage of. Sometimes ministry ideas will fall flat. Sometimes we’ll use our gifts to preach or teach and we’ll say things that are wrong. Sometimes we’ll do things that in hindsight were just foolishness. And I’m confident that God says, “I’m so glad you didn’t bury those resources. Dust yourself off. Rub the sore spot. Let’s try again. The reward will be worth the risks.”
PARABLE 2: The Workers in the Vineyard (Matt 20:1-16)
In this story about Gentiles entering the kingdom of God, the farmer recruits workers throughout the day. He promises all of them a day’s pay, regardless of when they start. Needless to say, at the end of the day those who’ve been working since sunrise aren’t thrilled to see those that arrived during afternoon tea receiving the same pay.
While this parable isn’t specifically about stewardship, the dramatic hinge of the story depends upon the audience thinking God is a just God who gives everyone what they have earned. Instead, Jesus surprises everyone by describing God as generous, who’ll give what He wants to who He wants! “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (v15)
Many Christians see stewardship in terms of a bank. God has given us resources. These resources might include the church building, the church treasury, personal wages, individual skills. And in our worldview, we’re the bank. God intends for us to protect his resources and use them very wisely.
This means we have rules about using the church building. This means we don’t give money to people who aren’t good managers of their personal finances. This means we provide for our family first before we give to the church. This means I have to use my skills to work hard to make sure my family is provided for.
But what if our generous God gave us these resources not to act as his stewards by preserving them, but for giving them away? What if he’s saying, “I trust you to distribute these funds as I would distribute them.” What if it’s okay that we have to spend God’s money to repair a hole in the wall of the church building because a group from the community was breaking rules and running and throwing balls when they used it last week? What if generosity is more important that frugality?
God wants us to serve as managers of His resources, but the type of managers we’d expect. He wants us to be risky managers and he wants us to be generous managers.
Which means, God doesn’t want us to be conservative in representing Him while serving His world. Too often we have allowed cultural values of independence, self-determination, and wealth accumulation to influence our perception of God, that in turn influences the way we fulfill our function as God’s stewards.
- Read Genesis 2:15-16 here.
- If you missed Sunday’s sermon (11 July), you can listen to it here.
- Follow the rest of this discussion here.
My sermon theme this week is “The Church of Christ should embrace stewardship.” It’s derived from the logic that if the church (the people) belongs to Christ, then our stuff also belongs to Christ.
As I was researching this topic it occurred to me that stewardship is an underlying principle of God’s relationship with humanity. It was established at Creation as described in Genesis 2:15. God created the Garden of Eden for Adam, and then commissioned him to work in it, and care for it. God gave Adam the garden, but God didn’t give up ownership. He also gave Adam responsibilities along with the gift.
Adam was to “take care” of the garden (NIV). The NLT translates the instruction as “watch over it”, while the CEV reads, “and look after it”. No matter how hard he worked, Adam could never claim that he created the Garden. He was caring for God’s property. He was God’s steward of the Garden.
As I thought about this, the importance of this responsibility struck me. Many of the central tenets of the Christian faith only exist because of The Fall. Without sin, there is no need for grace, or mercy. Forgiveness becomes redundant when there’s no offences. Corrective discipline didn’t exist in the Garden. Although these are wonderful blessings that we receive from God, they would be unnecessary in the absence of sin. They were not part of God’s pure Creation.
God’s initial design for Creation included: Creativity; Love; Tenderness; Order; Beauty; Intimacy; Worship; Work; Productivity; and Stewardship.
I’m not sure of all the implications of this distinction. Are elements of God’s original design somehow more holy or sacred than post-Fall blessings?
However, if we regard history as God working to redeem humanity from the consequences of the Fall and to restore His relationship with humanity until it culminates in a new heaven and a new earth, then restoring God’s created order assumes some additional importance. Somewhere close to the core of our relationship with God, we find the principle of stewardship.
The first and obvious application is that God expects humanity to care for creation. That was God’s initial intent for Adam, what makes us exempt from it?
Most discussion I’ve heard concerning stewardship revolve around our personal finances. That’s certainly an appropriate application, but stewardship doesn’t start and stop with finances. When we say “Amen” to James 1:17 “Every good and perfect gift is from above…” then we’re also undertaking to serve as stewards of those gifts. Let me close by listing a few examples:
- Gift: The Gospel Stewardship: Go and make disciples… (Matt 28:19-20)
- Gift: Freedom Stewardship: Do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature… (Gal 5:13)
- Gift: Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38) Stewardship: …keep in step with the Spirit. (Gal. 5:25)
- Gift: Forgiveness Stewardship: Shouldn’t you have had mercy… just as I had on you? (Matt 18:21-35)
I have just two questions for you today:
1. Are values/principles that we see demonstrated pre-Fall, more significant to us than those introduced to us as a consequence of the Fall?
2. Can you add some examples of Gifts & Stewardship to the list I started here?
As we continue this series on lessons God wants us to learn from economic recession we look at how our Christian faith gives us a different perspective on our situation. The biggest change in perspective involves the term “stewardship”. As the parable in Matthew 25 illustrates, God blesses us in a lot of ways, but he expects us to use these blessings for the benefit of his kingdom.
When we don’t have God in our lives our jobs, our retirement accounts, our investments, etc. exist to make our lives more comfortable or enjoyable. When we don’t acknowledge God’s role in our lives we naturally regard anything we achieve as a result of our skills and efforts. (Strangely, when our lives stink we seem to naturally blame anyone except ourselves!)
Accepting the concept of stewardship loosens our grip on our possessions. We possess them, but we’re holding them for someone else, God. So when economic hardship bites, we’re not so much concerned with what we lose, but how we’re using what we have.
Stewardship also helps us prepare for times of belt tightening. When we consider that we’re spending God’s money not ours, we’re more likely to forego frivolous spending. And the less we spend, the more we can save. We then find ourselves in a better position to get through tight times with less stress. We also find ourselves in a better position to demonstrate God’s love and mercy through our generous living.
Is stewardship a Godly principle you’ve applied in your life? If so, what practical changes has it made? Also, I don’t really like the term “steward” as I can’t think of another context where we use it. Can you think of another word that conveys the same meaning that more people might understand without a lengthy explanation?