We continue our study this morning in the doctrinal series entitled, Foundations of the Faith, which is taking us through our statement of confessed doctrine, the Baptist Faith and Message.The Bible teaches us that each believer is responsible for knowing, claiming and living God's truth as revealed to us in Scripture. It is to that end that we are studying through our doctrinal statement, so that we will be better prepared to articulate these truths with our lips and to embody these truths in our lives.
We come today to article 13, which addresses the topic of stewardship. When the topic of stewardship is mentioned most people automatically think about money. In fact, many churches have renamed their finance committee the "stewardship" committee. While money is one of the primary ways the scripture speaks of stewardship, the truth is that God's concept of stewardship goes far beyond just how we use His money. When you dig a bit deeper, you realize that it speaks to our theology and our understanding of discipleship as a whole. The truth is stewardship speaks about the condition of our hearts.
Under the heading of stewardship, article 13 of the Baptist Faith and Message states the following
Now, as we mentioned, stewardship involves more than merely the use of money. Our doctrinal statement speaks to the reality of our stewardship of the gospel. That is, as 2 Corinthians 5:19 says, God has committed, or entrusted to us the word of reconciliation, or the gospel. As Christians, the greatest thing God has entrusted to us is the message of the gospel. We literally have been given that which is the power of God unto salvation, the saving message of the gospel, which tells us that all are sinners but that God loves us so much, He sent Jesus, His only Son to die in our place on the cross, and by placing our trust in what Jesus did on the cross, and surrendering our lives to Him, asking Him to forgive our sins, we can be set free from the penalty of our sins and have eternal life.
Among all of the things God has entrusted to our care, the gospel is by far the greatest. But when Jesus talks about stewardship, He almost always does so by using money or material wealth as an example. For one reason, it is something to which everyone can related. Because we live in a world obsessed by money and what it can do for us, it is something we all understand. Secondly, Jesus knows that how we use money which is of no real eternal value, will demonstrate where we place our priorities; whether we are living for this world or the world to come. And finally, Jesus knows that because the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils, He knows each of us will be tempted to misuse that which He had entrusted to us, and that this is a good measure of our true devotion to Him.
Understanding that, let's begin with a practical understanding of what stewardship is, then we'll look at some self evident truths which come out of that understanding and finish with some practical suggestions for applying those truths in our Christian life.
I. What is stewardship?
Ron Blue, who wrote Master Your Money, defines stewardship as the "use of God-given resources for the accomplishment of God-given goals."
Another scholar says that (Barry Creamer, Baptist Faith and Message 2000, Blount and Woodell, pg. 137) "Stewardship involves relations between and owner, a steward, a resource and the purpose for which that resource is to be used."
When we talk about stewardship within the context of the Christian life, we mean God is the owner of all things. These resources would be anything and everything He has given us. This would be our salvation, the gospel message, our churches, our education, our time, our energy, our thought life, the words we speak, the house in which we live, the cars we drive, our children, our spouse, our finances, our job. Everything we have. It all belongs to Him and He has entrusted it to us for a specific purpose.
What is that purpose? Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:33 where, after telling us not to chase after the things the world chases after, we are to rather seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto us. In other words, the purpose for which God has entrusted to us, that which He owns, is so that we can be busy about advancing His kingdom.
This obviously includes missions and evangelism, but it also includes benevolence, for Jesus is clear in Matthew 25 that when we help those who have nothing, it is as if we are helping Him. It includes how we spend our time. Americans are obsessed with things that in the eternal scope of things are a waste of time. If all the money American Christians spend on sports and recreation were given to further the kingdom of God, I wonder where our missions endeavors would be?
Stewardship includes our thought life, that is, instead of much of the mindless entertainment with which our culture tells us we must amuse ourselves, we were to think upon and focus upon the things of God, how much more like Jesus would the Church in America be? You see, stewardship is comprehensive. It is using all of our God given resources to accomplish God's purpose and desires here on earth.
That's what stewardship is. It is being entrusted by God with His resources to accomplish His desires, or will.
II. Self-evident truths about stewardship
Now, none of this is rocket science, you've heard much of it before, but it serves us well to be reminded of the fundamentals, or basics of our faith. First of all....the most rudimentary truth where stewardship is concerned is:
A. God owns it all
To put it very simply let's just say that if you are a Christian, not one in name only, which is the definition of a nominal Christian, but an authentic born again, regenerated person in whom the Spirit of God dwells, then everything you think is yours is really God's. You don't own a thing. In the system of the world you may have legal rights to those things which God has entrusted to your care, but make no mistake about it, you don't own them, God owns them and can demonstrate that ownership at any time.
Jesus makes this point very clear in Luke 12:16-21 when He told the parable of the rich fool. You remember the story, "Then He told them a parable: ‘A rich man's land was very productive. He thought to himself,' ‘What should I do since I don't have anywhere to store my crops? I will do this, he said, I'll tear down my barns and build bigger ones and store all my grain and my goods there. Then I'll say to myself,' ‘You have many goods stored up for many years. Take it easy; eat, drink and enjoy yourself.' But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared - whose will they be?' That's how it is with the one who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich towards God."
So God owns it all and has entrusted what is His to you. This means that you are a trustee or a steward of that which belongs to someone else; He has left it in your care, but He has retained ownership. I mean, if you have been bought with a price, namely His blood, and you belong to Him, then it stands to reason that everything you have belongs to Him as well.
Now mind you, this idea that God owns all things stands in stark opposition to the secular thought of our day which tells us that we are self sufficient, self-made men and women who have pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps.
But we must ever be mindful of the truth that Christians walk by faith, not by sight. We live, not by bread alone, but by every word which proceeds forth from the mouth of God. God's word is very clear that He owns it all, irrespective of what we may feel and of what the world around us may say. He owns it and has entrusted it to our care.
B. God will hold us accountable
When Jesus taught about stewardship in Matthew 25, in the parable of the talents, He placed this parable right in the middle of His teaching about the second coming. The point He was making was that when He comes back He is going to hold us accountable for that which He has entrusted to our care. He will call us to account to see if we have been faithful or faithless stewards.
Luke 12:42-48. Listen to the words of Jesus.
All of us will stand before Jesus someday and answer as to whether or not we used His resources to accomplish His purposes.
So, God owns it all, and He will hold us accountable for how we use it. Let me give you the third practical implication of stewardship. This is the diagnostic element of stewardship. Jesus tells us that how we use that which is temporal will reveal the true nature of that which is eternal, namely our hearts.
C. How we use His resources reveals our hearts
In Matthew chapter 6:24-34, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches about the Christian and riches. He starts by telling us that you cannot serve God and riches. You cannot spend your life in love with God and in pursuit of material things, merely for the sake of gaining material possessions. While there are those who will tell you otherwise, Jesus says it simply is not so.
He tells us that we should not spend our lives pursuing material things, like those who have no Father in heaven, but instead, because we have a Father who knows what we need, and who will care for us, we should, instead, spend our lives in pursuit of the spiritual things, eternal things, we should seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all of these other things will come our way as we need them.
He says in verse 21 that where our treasure is, there will our heart be also. In other words, whatever is of greatest value to us, whatever captivates us so that we spend our lives pursuing it will have the affection and devotion of our entire being. It is here that how we view and use financial resources demonstrates the true nature of our hearts.
This is where stewardship crosses over into the realm of discipleship. If you are truly a disciple of Jesus Christ, a follower of His who has taken up your cross and are following Him, than that will be evidenced in that a) you acknowledge that it is all His, b) you live in light of the reality that he will hold you accountable and expects you to use it to accomplish His desires, and c) you will demonstrate your devotion to Christ by the way you use that which He has entrusted to your care.
Simply put, stewardship is a measure of true discipleship at its most tangible and visible level. Living with a biblical view of stewardship, by itself will not make you a good Christian, but if you are a good Christian you cannot help but live with a biblical view a stewardship that translates into how you spend your time, talents and treasure. The person who is not a good steward cannot call themselves a good disciple or a good Christian. Jesus Himself makes this clear.
What? Are you saying that if I don't devote my time, talents and financial resources to further the kingdom of God that I am not a good Christian? No, I'm not saying that, Jesus says that, and that's what makes it authoritative.
Many Christians have never come to realize that God owns it all. You cannot give your life to Jesus and keep any part of it back for yourself. That's not surrender. Surrendering your life to Jesus, taking up your cross and following Him means giving it all, time, talents, treasures, everything. That's the picture of stewardship the scripture paints for us: One where He gave His all for us and we give our all for Him.
D. Stewardship requires faith
Look around you and you will see people who do not know God who are prospering. The Psalmist said this in Psalm 73:2-3, when he says, "But as for me, my feet almost slipped; my steps nearly went astray. For I envied the arrogant; I saw the prosperity of the wicked."
How easy it is, especially in this area of stewardship, to walk by sight and not by faith! But the psalmist comes back in verse 17 and says, "Until I entered God's sanctuary, then I understood their destiny.".You see, it is easy to be tempted by the prosperity of the wicked, till we come into God's presence and recognize that eternity is reality and that this life is temporal.
III. Practical suggestions for being a good steward
A. Analyze how you use your time, talents, and treasures
The best place to start is by taking an honest look at your life. Do you really believe God owns everything you have? Is that belief authenticated by your actions? What is the priority of your life, making money for yourself or expanding the kingdom of God? How have you demonstrated that priority? Is it evident to those around you? Can others, by watching how you spend your time, your abilities and your money, clearly see that your one overwhelming desire in life is to expand the kingdom of God? If not, what would they say your primary desire is?
Paul tells the Christians in Corinth (2 Corinthians 13:5) to examine themselves to see if they are in the faith. The place to start is by an examination of how you spend the substance of your life. If you are honest with yourself, it will tell you everything you need to know.
B. Get your priorities straight
Jesus is very clear and plain. He says that we are to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. What does it mean to seek first the kingdom of God? It means that in everything you do, whether it is in making money on your job, or in the time you spend with your family and the way you rear your children, your chief desire is to further the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.
I have a friend who is a very wealthy man. But he is a pauper in comparison with his brother. I was visiting with him this week and he shared with me that for some time he has been concerned about his brother's soul. Several years ago his brother had open heart surgery and my friend took the opportunity to talk to him about the Lord. The brother told my friend that he had spent his entire life chasing the dollar. When my friend told me that I thought about many other people I know who have spent their life chasing the dollar. And the words of Jesus came to me, "what will if profit a man if he should gain the whole world and lose his own soul." The brother may be worth hundreds of millions on this earth, but he can't take it with him.
This morning my thoughts to go another man, a Christian man I know, who has spent his life in pursuit of the kingdom of God. He is involved at his church where he faithfully teaches and serves. He is involved in a para-church organization which distributes bibles around the world and he is a very successful business man. Every time I talk to him about his business, and about the possibilities which the future holds for his business, he is faithful to tell me that his purpose in making money is to further the kingdom of God. And I know it to be true because I have seen some of the eternal things He has invested his time, treasure and talents in.
What a difference, one man is laying up treasure here on earth, and another is laying it up in heaven.
C. Take action
Once you realize where you are and have your priorities straight, it's time to take action. It's time to stop saying, "Yea, I guess I need to do something about that," and to actually do something about it. It is time to take action on what you know to be true. It's time to start serving, to start giving and to start living like Jesus owns it all and you are just a steward; a steward who, when the Master returns, wants to be found faithful."
So what area of your life needs rearranging? Where do your priorities need to be realigned with God's priorities? Is it in the area of your time? How much of your time are you really spending pursuing the Kingdom of God and His righteousness? Is it in the area of your finances? Are you giving faithfully back to God? Are you giving proportionately to what He has given you? When you stand before Him someday, what will He say?