Martin Luther is credited with the statement, “You can’t preach the gospel unless you preach it in the light of the issues with which men struggle.” If this is a true statement then stewardship would certainly fall into the struggles category for many people, even born again people. The Barna Group surveys show that people give away enormous amounts of money and churches receive the largest amount. The survey taken in 2004 also shows “The average amount of money donated to churches was $895 per donor in 2004. On the face of it, that sum appears healthy: it is substantially more than the average amounts over each of the past several years. However, when inflation is factored in, the current dollar average is actually less than the amount that houses of worship received in the late 1990s.” In tracking the practice of “tithing,” which is giving at least ten percent of income, the survey showed only 9% of born again adults tithed to churches in 2004.
One issue that makes stewardship a struggle for Christians is the culture of postmodernism. Dr. Albert Mohler wrote, “The postmodernists reject both the Christian and modernist approaches to the question of truth. According to postmodern theory, truth is not universal, is not objective or absolute and cannot be determined by a commonly accepted method. Instead, postmodernists believe truth is socially constructed, plural, and inaccessible to universal reason.” There are ways in which this thinking has impacted the church’s view of stewardship.
Jill M. Hudson has written a book entitled, When Better Isn’t Enough: Evaluation Tools For The 21st Century Church, published by the Alban Institute. She describes the postmodern culture this way, “No longer are the rules and principles that formerly governed society understood to be passed down through families, religious groups, or community norms. Morals, ethics, and values are created and re-created out of personal experience. Relationships become the crucibles in which values are collaboratively constructed.”
Statistics tell the church there is a problem with stewardship. The philosophy of postmodernism which is permeating our culture shows there is a problem with the people’s worldview. Though our reformed churches may think and feel we are not influenced by such a worldview as described above, we may be unaware of just how much we are. Stewardship presents several challenges for the church and its leadership. Is stewardship something that personal experience can decide? Does the Bible set principles for giving or leave it up to the individual? What about tithing? Has postmodernism affected your views on stewardship?
Wesley K. Willmer has written a book God and Your Stuff, and he writes, “The topic of faith and possessions is explosive-like walking in a snake pit or across a minefield. It is a no-no in many churches. We like to think that what is in our pocket, wallet, or purse is our own business-no one else’s” (pp. 8-9). Do you hear the voice of postmodernism in this statement?
Stewardship is a spiritual matter and should be kept as one of main disciplines of the Christian life. Richard Halverson has often been quoted as saying, “Money is an exact index to a man’s true character. All through Scripture there is an intimate correlation between the development of a man’s character and how he handles money.” Many people don’t like to hear such statements. Randy Alcorn makes the point, “In the Christian community today, there is more blindness, rationalization, and unclear thinking about money than anything else.” (Money, Possessions, and Eternity, p.27).
Where to begin regarding stewardship? The only place for the Christian is the Bible– which does not teach relative, non-absolute truth. Rather it teaches in Francis Schaeffer’s words “true truth.” When it comes to stewardship the first truth is:
I. God Owns It All
Psalm 24:1 “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.” Psalm 50:10-12, “For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine.” This is the framework for stewardship. The Almighty God is Lord of all and owner of all. This truth is foundational and not open to question or debate. From the farthest planet in space to the most remote nation of the earth, all belong to the Creator. From these verses stewards learn they can offer nothing that does not already belong to God. As He says in vs. 12, “If I were hungry I would not tell you.”
The risen Lord Jesus Christ said in commissioning His disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Even such a clear statement about the universal authority of the Lord will be questioned by the postmodern culture. The vain philosophies of the world will seek to give their own interpretation. Remember they are under the arch enemy Satan who challenged God’s authority in the beginning and used it with Adam and Eve.
What follows from this foundational framework is:
II. Man Is A Steward In The Kingdom Of God
In a most poetic fashion God speaks about man’s position as a steward over all creation. Psalm 8:4-9, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the sea. O Lord, our Lord how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
The glory of man who has been created in the image of God is given by God to exercise dominion over the works of God’s hands. He is a vice-regent here on the earth. But man must realize this does not make him the center of the universe so that all things revolve around him. The psalm closes with the words, “O Lord, our Lord how majestic is your name in all the earth.” It is not man’s name that is majestic. The Lord’s name speaks of his person; He does not share that majesty with any other.
Another area of man’s stewardship is taught by the Lord in Matthew 25:14-30 in the parable of the talents. A master was going on a journey so he called his servants and entrusted to them his property. This was a significant amount (some have said a talent could amount to twenty years in wages.) He divided his property (money) according to the ability of each servant. Then after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. This parable supports the stewardship principle that Christians are servants/stewards, not owners, and are going to be held accountable for how they have discharged their responsibilities to their Lord and Master. This story deals directly with financial matters. The master says to the slothful servant, “You ought to have invested my money with the bankers so that I could have received what was my own with interest.” Stewards are called to be industrious and productive in their stewardship. The Lord wants you to be the best you can be for His glory.
The question for Christians is What are you doing with the Lord’s money? Does your life testify to the foundational principle that the money you have is really not your own, but belongs to the Lord? Do you see yourself as a steward of the earnings you make, or do you see them as yours to do with as you please? One writer has said, “Stewardship is nothing less than a complete lifestyle, a total accountability and responsibility before God.”(Ronald Vallet, Stewardship Journal). This is reinforced in Mt. 24:45-51 where the Lord describes a faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household and cares for the needs of others by giving them food at the proper time and does not squander the master’s possessions.
III. The Culture Of The World Denies The Scriptural Teaching on Stewardship
When the world tries to deconstruct truth, (by rejecting any universal, absolute, objective truth) then people can look upon themselves as totally free agents who can determine and decide for themselves what is right or wrong. There is no standard outside themselves by which to determine morality and values. They cease to see themselves as stewards and now they see themselves as owners. There is no accountability as epitomized in the old bumper sticker, “He who dies with the most toys wins.”
What is it in the culture of the twenty-first century that denies the biblical principles of stewardship, and tempts Christians to buy into its philosophy? Democratic capitalism in its humanistic form which exalts the individual and his own self-interests has led many to turn away from serving the Lord’s work and helping others. We no longer seek the common good by loving our neighbor as ourselves.
Western Christians struggle with a wealth factor that boggles the mind. We are the wealthiest generation of people who have ever lived. The productivity of our western world is far beyond anything ever seen in history. What are some results of such progress and productivity? C.S. Lewis has pointed out one result: “Prosperity knits a man to the world. He feels he is finding his place in it, while really it is finding its place in him.” The productivity of the industrial revolution led to supply side economics. We can produce more than the demand of people’s needs. This in turn led to the advertising industry built upon the premise to sell more by influencing people to buy more, even if it was not needed. Advertising created in the minds of people more needs, and want of things they did not even know they wanted. TV commercials are a good example of this. And so materialism has invaded the hearts and lives of people so that their self-esteem is tied to how much they have in the way of possessions. In their worship they see themselves as owners and not stewards. What does a man have that he has not received of the Lord? How often should a person ask himself that question?
Along with materialism comes the sin of consumerism. Today economists have developed the consumer price index (cpi) which measures how much things cost and thus affects how much people buy. Here is the way one writer describes consumerism, “Normally, however, consumerism is lamented as a significant behavioral blemish in modern industrial society. It suggests an inordinate concern-some might even say an addiction-with the acquisition, possession and consumption of material goods and services. Even more seriously, consumerism suggests a preoccupation with the immediate gratification of desire. It implies foolishness, superficiality and triviality, and the destruction of personal and social relationships by means of selfishness, individualism, possessiveness and covetousness.”
David Myers reports in a survey that few of us would say “yes” to the question, “Does money buy happiness?” But to the question, “Would a little more money make you a little happier?” many would reply with a smile and nod. “What would improve your quality of life?” Most answered, “More money.” J.D. Rockfeller, Sr. said a long time ago in response to how much money it takes to make a man happy, “Just a little bit more.”
IV. The Church Needs Always To Be Reformed And Reforming In Its Understanding and Practice of Stewardship
This means getting back to Luther’s comments about preaching the gospel in light of issues where men struggle.
- The answer to accumulation is giving to the Lord what is rightfully His. This begins with tithing. The Scriptures teach this in both the O.T. and N.T. by example and by instruction. (Gen. 14:20; Gen. 28:22; Lev. 27:30,31; Deut.14:22-27; Mal. 3:8-11; Mt. 23:23; Lk. 11:42).
- The answer to materialism is preaching that stewardship means you cannot serve two masters, you will love the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon. (Mt. 6:24). In II Cor. 8 and 9 Paul teaches how sacrificial giving to those in need would manifest their love for Christ and others.
- The answer to consumerism is preaching what it means to “hunger and thirst after righteousness,” Mt. 5:6; and Phil. 3:7,8, “whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ…all things I count as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ.” Jim Elliot said in 1956, “He is no fool who gives away what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
- Another answer to consumerism is contentment, Phil. 4:11,12, “…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” Add to Paul’s example I Tim. 6:7ff, “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.
Finally, the reformation of the church depends on how well it heeds the charge of Paul to Timothy in I Tim.6:9,10;17-19. It will take courage for elders and deacons to know the postmodern culture in order to instruct believers the desire to be rich can lead one:
- to fall into temptation,
- to wander from the faith,
- to pierce themselves with many pains.
Those who are rich should be charged:
- not to be prideful nor set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches.
- The only real riches are those stored in heaven where moth and rust cannot destroy. John Wesley said, “I value all things only by the price they shall gain in eternity.”
- To set their hope on God.
- To be rich in good works.
- To be generous and ready to share.
Paul wrote these words for Timothy to preach because even Christians are prone to succumb to the temptation of desiring riches. It takes courage to preach and command such things in a materialistic and consumerist culture. May God give strength and courage to pastors and leaders to call the church to practice biblical stewardship.