“Okay Pastor, how much does God want me to give?” This question or some variation of it comes up every time a pastor is asked to talk about stewardship. However, it’s the wrong question! Stewardship is NOT about giving money… at least not in the total sense of the word in Christian parlance. Stewardship also includes concepts of traditional Christian missions and ministries that manage the resources of treasure, time and talents God gives to us out of His grace and mercy.“Okay Pastor, how much does God want me to give?” This question or some variation of it comes up every time a pastor is asked to talk about stewardship. However, it’s the wrong question! Stewardship is NOT about giving money… at least not in the total sense of the word in Christian parlance. Stewardship also includes concepts of traditional Christian missions and ministries that manage the resources of treasure, time and talents God gives to us out of His grace and mercy.
Christian stewardship follows a belief that human beings are created by the same God who created the entire cosmos. A broad concept of stewardship is illustrated in Jesus’ parable of the “talents.” He refers to an amount of money, but by implication uses the word as “abilities” and “time” as well. Unfortunately most Christians only associate “stewardship” with church budgets and building programs. It’s not unusual, but not completely correct.
In his book, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis writes, “Every faculty you have, your power of thinking or of moving your limbs from moment to moment, is given to you by God. If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service, you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already.” We really have nothing to give to God that doesn’t already belong to and has been entrusted to us by God. We, on our own, give only one thing to God – our sin and wretchedness; and even this is a work of the Holy Spirit.
Psalm 24 begins, “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” This is the fundamental principle of biblical stewardship. We’re simply managers acting on His behalf. What is this – Law or Gospel? Our stewardship relationship regarding the management of everything God has placed under our care defines the connection between us as a person, a family, and a congregation with God. Stewardship commits one’s self and possessions to God (for some). But, more realistically, stewardship, more properly understood, is our privilege to bring our service, giftedness, and treasures to Him and His Household.
St Paul writes: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Col. 3:23-24) We do, work, and give, not out of obligation, but because of our eternal inheritance and because Christ Jesus has given it to us out of His grace. Ordering our decision process (“Okay Pastor, how much does God want me to give?”) in this way recognizes that God is responsible for the results of His servants. But, He also ensures that the resources necessary for His work will be given where He needs them. Those visible results of faithful ministry, however, may not be evident for years or even generations.
Christian stewardship responds in a particular way to the call to be a disciple of Christ. It shapes and molds our understanding of our lives and the way in which we live. It allows us to give to the Lord in gratitude for all He has given and done for us. It frees us from being concerned about what we think we need for tomorrow, because God has already provided for that day.
The Bible contains a profound message about the stewardship of the material creation. But our stewardship is much more. It would include a joyful appreciation for our God-given beauty and wonder of nature. It celebrates the respect for human life—shielding life from threat and assault, and making life flourish. It embraces our physical labor, the trades and professions, the arts and sciences in fulfilling our human vocation. Yet, our stewardship of God’s gifts aren’t passive. We celebrate our own redemption and in the redemption of others. We’re also called to be stewards of the Church in being witnesses of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, which is the Church’s essential mission — proclaiming, teaching, and serving as our task. All members of the Church are “living stones” to participate in carrying out the Church’s mission. Parents are entrusted with the responsibility to nurture their children in the faith. The universal Church assumes its high calling to be served and equipped by God’s means of grace and to “…proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous Light.” (I Pt 2:9)
In the New Testament, two Greek words embody the meaning of our English word “stewardship.” The first word is epitropos which means “manager, foreman, or steward.” The second word is oikonomos. It also means “steward, manager, or administrator” and occurs more frequently in the New Testament. We get our English word, “economy” from it. St Paul uses the word oikonomos in its fullest significance where he sees his responsibility for preaching the Gospel as a divine trust (I Cor. 9:17). He refers to his call from God as the administration (stewardship) of the grace of God for a ministry and of the divine mysteries revealed in Christ (Eph 3:2). Paul portrays God as the master of a great household, wisely administering it through Paul himself as the obedient servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.
What Paul means is that once we’re called and become part of the body of Christ, the stewardship required of us is not a result of our power or ability. The strength, inspiration, and growth in the stewardship of our lives come from God through the Holy Spirit. This sanctification in us is God’s doing, otherwise our labor is in vain and the growth in stewardship is a self-righteous, human act.
St. Paul wrote to the Corinthian congregation, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (II Cor 5:20-21) God’s favor toward mankind came out of love, that none should be lost. He spared nothing, but gave His Son for us that Christ Jesus may pay for our redemption. That’s stewardship of the mysteries of God.
In response, the grateful Christian hears the words of Jesus say, “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matt. 10:8) But, further, we hear Paul say, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (II Cor. 9:7) The older gentleman who asked me, “Okay Pastor, how much does God want me to give?,” received the answer from Scripture and a strong suggestion. “Pray. Pray that God would enlighten you as to what He would have you give for the work of His Church.” The older gentleman merely snorted as he spun himself around and walked out the door, “Well, I know what He’s going to say, but I thought He’d cut me some slack!”
God has cut us some slack. Even though the culture seems to be changing, God’s Word does not change. Today’s pastors and congregations are deluged with the clamour of dealing with a colossal egocentricity, a ‘fantastic me,’ a ‘you-owe-it-to-yourself’ attitude, and ‘must continue to be entertained. The fact that there are some values that are external; yet there are some things we must hold on to for a certain hope for the future. God has not counted our sins against us and promised us a place in His eternal Kingdom. As a person redeemed in Christ, why would we burden ourselves with worry about how we will provide for ourselves… outside of God’s provision? Why would we hold on to the Gospel as our own private possession when we know God means it to be proclaimed for all the world? We are and will remain His stewards of all His manifest gifts in this time, that we may delight in the joy of everlasting life in His household forever.
Your servant in Christ +Rev. Roger Paavola