Sermons in this series
Passage - Ephesians 5:15-16
In talking with many members of our fellowship recently, it seems that the economy and how our government is handling it is on the minds of many. With stimulus bailouts, cash for clunkers, and potential healthcare bills floating around, this is the talk around the water cooler, at the dinner table, and in the grocery store.
One of the complaints I hear most often is that the government, at nearly every level, seems to have forgotten that they don't have any money. The money they seem to so freely spend actually belongs to the us the people. And yet many have told me that, in their opinion, the government seems to have forgotten whose money it is. Instead of spending it in consonance with the wishes of the people, it is being spent as though the government had some right to it. Irrespective of where you stand on the political scale, to the left or to the right, no doubt, you have or have had issues with how the government spends your money.
Of course, as Christians, we need to be careful about making these kinds of accusations against our government, lest we expose a level of hypocrisy, heretofore unrecognized by many. For you see, before we complain about the government squandering resources which in truth belong to someone else, we need to acknowledge that most of us are guilty of the same thing. Only, that which we are spending as if it were our own belongs to God. Most Christians spend time and money as if they were actually theirs; all the while forgetting that if in fact they have given their lives to God, everything within that life belongs to God and is to be used for His purposes and in accordance with His direction. And while those who are elected may have to answer their constituents on Election Day, those of us who have been chosen by God will to answer Him on judgment day.
As we continue our series on Spiritual Disciplines this morning, we come to the inescapable issue of The Stewardship of Life. If I've heard it once, I've heard it a thousand times, people protesting how much they dislike sermons on money. But when the scripture speaks about stewardship, it addresses much more than money, it speaks to the entirety of our lives. Wise money management is simply one part of what it means to be a good steward. Being a good steward entails much, much more than the way we spend money.
Perhaps a definition would be helpful here. What is a steward? In the most simplistic terms a steward is a manager who administers that which belongs to someone else. If you own a business and hire an administrator to oversee the finances of that business, you have hired a manager. The money they manage is not theirs; they cannot spend it as they please. It goes without saying that the money they manage belongs to the company, and if they misuse it we call that embezzlement, something we all recognize as a criminal offense.
If you are a follower of Jesus Christ; if you have denied yourself, taken up your cross and are truly following Christ, if you have given your life to Him, like that manager, what you manage is not your own. In fact, you own nothing but are merely a steward, or a manager, for you have surrendered your claim to everything you thought you owned and you have given it to Christ. Now, according to your own acknowledgment, He owns it all. It is at His disposal to do with as He will. To do otherwise is to embezzle that which belongs to God.
He owns your time. There is not a moment of the day which is yours, they are all His. He owns your tongue. There is not a word issued forth from your mouth except that which should be His and should bring Him glory. He owns your mind, your thoughts, your attitudes, your opinions; all of these are to be governed by the one who owns them and are to be used to further His kingdom. He owns your family, your spouse, your children, your job, your house, your cloths, your bank account. He literally owns it all and this ownership is to be tangibly acknowledged in the way each of these resources is used.
Of course, as we have mentioned, this is rarely the case. But if we are going to grow in our spiritual life, if we are going to be conformed to the image of Christ, this area of stewardship must be addressed. If must be an area in which there is consistent growth. You cannot be a growing disciple of Jesus without coming to terms with the need to be growing in the area of stewardship.
In the time allotted us this morning we cannot possibly cover every facet of stewardship so I want us to focus on two of the main areas where most Christians struggle with this issue, Time and Money; The clock and the dollar.
There are two passages of scripture to which I would direct your attention this morning. The first deals with time and is found in Ephesians 5:15-16.
I. The stewardship of time
"Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, or redeeming the time, because the days are evil."
As always, the context in which this verse is placed is important. You see a flow in this book, a flow in relationships, he begins with our relationship with Christ and moves to our relationships with one another and then to our relationship with the world and how we must stand our ground as Christians.
After explaining our position as Christians, in the first three chapters of this epistle, Paul has been giving practical advice on the Christian life. When he uses the word "walk" he literally means "live," in the sense that we are walking through life. In chapter 4 he tells them to walk in unity, and gives instructions on how to do that both in our personal relationships and within the community of faith. He starts chapter 5 by telling us that we must walk with one another in love, even as Christ loved us and gave Himself for us. He then says that we must walk as children of the light, as beacons of God's glorious light in a world of darkness, always mindful that our lives must be pleasing to God. And then he tells us that we are to walk wisely, redeeming or buying back the time because the days are evil.
It is foolish for us to think that God could be concerned about how we spend money but not be concerned about how we spend time for time is infinitely more valuable than money. Time can make you money but money cannot buy you time. Each of us are allotted only 24 hours a day and each of us may spend it wisely or we may waste it, but you can never get it back and you can never get more than has been allotted to you.
The direct admonition here is that we are to be intentional about how we spend our time. That's part of what it means to be wise or to walk in wisdom. It means that we are to run the decisions about how we use our time through the filter of scripture and prayer. It means we are to think strategically about how we will spend the moments, hours and days of our lives. That's what it means to redeem the time. It means to buy it back, or to purchase it, to make the most of the time we are given for the Lord.
We are not to idle away our days doing things which have no eternal value, but rather to spend the time God has given us in ways that will make the greatest impact on eternity. It means that as we walk through life we will seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. And as we continue to trust in Him He will provide us with all of the things the rest of the world is so worried about accumulating.
Folks this is what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. He was talking about how we spend our time. Do we spend it trying to amass material things like the world around us who has no eternal hope, or do we invest our time in the eternal things of God?
It is interesting that in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus follows up this teaching by telling us that where our heart is, that's where our treasure will also be. Where is your heart? Where your heart is will always be revealed by how you spend your time. You give your time, or the substance of your life, to what you love the most. For some it is money, for others it is pleasure and entertainment, for some it is sports or recreation, and for some it is the kingdom of God. Where your heart is can be clearly seen by how you spend your time.
Throughout the history of Christianity there have been those who have taken this to an illogical conclusion and have become monks or legalistic about the use of time. That's not what God is calling us to do. He is calling us to be wise in how we live our everyday lives. He knows we have jobs to work, schedules to keep and responsibilities we must meet. But He also knows that we live in a world which is hostile to Him and to His message. He knows that the system of this world around us is bent on taking us down the broad road that leads to destruction. Thus the caveat that the days are evil. He wants us to make intentional choices about what our preoccupations will be. Will they be with the passing things of this world or with the eternal things of His kingdom?
There are many good ways to spend your time that do not keep Jesus Christ and His kingdom at the center of our lives. The good is ever the enemy of the best. What He is calling us to is to be good stewards of our time, to be intentional about how we spend our lives.
As growing disciples of Jesus Christ, we must become disciplined in how we use our time, just as we would become disciplined in how much we eat, how much we sleep, how much we exercise or how much we spend on this or that. This is what a disciple is all about, about discipline that is intentionally working toward a goal. And our goal is to become more like Christ.
How many Christians have been blinded to the reality that there is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun? How many live their lives as practical atheists, having compartmentalized religion to Sunday's and living the rest of their weeks like the world around them. How many live their lives with no sense of urgency, with no grasp on the reality that we must make disciples making the most of our time because the days are evil and that we must work while there is light for night comes when no man can work.
Our Master has called us, equipped us and commissioned us with a mission. He is coming again someday and on that day we will give an account for how we've spent our time for time is the substance of our lives.
Charles Spurgeon said, "Do not believe that you are standing still; you are not. Your pulses each moment beat the funeral marches to the tomb. You are chained to the chariot of rolling time. There is no bridling the steeds or leaping from the chariot."
If you want to really follow Christ. If you want to grow as His disciple, you will become disciplined in how you use your time. It will become more important to you than how you spend your money. You will realize that it does not belong to you, you have given it to God, and He has entrusted it to you and will hold you accountable for how you use it.
But stewardship not only involves our time, it also involves our money - something which people seem to value more than their time.
II. The stewardship of money
Turn to the gospel of Luke, chapter 16, where were going to read verses 10-13 in just a moment. But before we read these verses we need to set the stage.
Jesus speaks these words immediately after telling the parable of the unjust servant or the unjust steward. In the parable the unjust steward is caught squandering his master's money and is called to give an account of how he has used his master's money. Realizing that he has been caught, he begins to use the master's money to make friends for himself so that when he no longer has a job, he will at least have friends. While clearly unjust, because he misused his master's money, Jesus points to this man as an example of someone who is shrewd. He says, "for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light."
Jesus does not condone the steward's dishonesty, but points to how clever and shrewd he is. The moral of this parable is that if the wicked can be this shrewd in the things which are temporal, how much more shrewd should we be in our dealing with those things which are eternal?
Now, look at verses 10-13 (read text).
Jesus is saying that if we cannot be trusted with something as temporal and fleeting as money, He is not going to trust us with the truly valuable things of the Spirit. If we have not proven faithful with little, we will never be entrusted with much. If we are not faithful with that which belongs to someone else, who will give us something of our own? Then Jesus tells us that you cannot serve two masters, you cannot serve both God and money.
And don't overlook the fact that these four verses are sandwiched in between two parables, not only of the unjust steward but also of Lazarus and the Rich Man. Both of the parables talk about how wise or foolish someone is here on earth and how their use of money here speaks to eternity. Both of the parables deal directly with money.
We know this from verse 14 where the scripture tells us the Pharisees were listening and scoffing at Him. It says that they were lovers of money.
Think about money in these four simple terms.
1. It is a trust – It is something God has entrusted to our care, something which belongs to Him but which He has given us to invest on His behalf. The idea here is that He will get a good return on His investment. If He trusts us with a little, and we use it wisely, He will trust us with more. That's why He says, "He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much…" Money is something God has entrusted to us. It is a trust.
2. It is a tool – He expects that we will use it to further His kingdom here on Earth, using it as best we can to reveal His glory and to relate His gospel to those around us. To the one who is spiritually minded, money is never something which should become an end unto itself, but rather it is merely a tool, something which is to be used to accomplish a greater good. Like a rope thrown into the water to save someone from drowning, the rope is not what is of real value, the life being saved is what is of real value. So it is with money. It has value, but only to the degree that it is used properly, only to the degree that it is used to further the kingdom of God.
3. It is a test – God often gives us something of lesser value to see if He can trust us with something of greater value. If He cannot trust us with something as fleeting as money, why should He trust us with spiritual things of eternal value? If He cannot trust us to make good decisions with the small amount of money that we have, it stands to reason that we cannot be trusted with the large amount of money that we may want.
And just for the record, God can give you as much money as He wants to give you and He can leave you with as little as He wants to leave you with. When we are dealing with someone who has our very heart beat in His hands, we shouldn't quibble over something as temporal as money. We should seek to pass the test and use it as He commands.
4. It is a thermometer – How we spend our money reveals the truth about our spiritual lives.
Now let's just take the gloves off for a moment. If you do not at the very least tithe, if you are not investing at least a portion of the money God has entrusted to you into eternal causes, you are not a growing Christian and you probably need to take a long hard look at your life through the lens of scripture to see if you are even a Christian at all. That may sound like a harsh statement, but Jesus makes it abundantly clear that you cannot serve God and money. He talks about money more than heaven and hell combined. It is clear: Jesus thought the use of money was an important thermometer of your spiritual life. If you are truly His servant, and you have surrendered everything in your life to Him, one of the most elementary external visible signs of that internal transformation is that you will walk in obedience to Him with respect to money. Go through the scripture, from the Old Testament through the New Testament and you find the same message.
Of course there are, and always have been, those who have a problem with this truth. I went to seminary with a guy who thought that since he was a preacher his whole life was dedicated to God and he did not have to tithe. That was a copout similar to what Jesus condemned the Pharisees for in Matthew 15:5-6. Besides that, the call to total surrender is on all Christians not just preachers.
How can you say you are willing to give your LIFE to Christ if you are not willing to surrender your wallet to Him? How can He truly be Lord of your life if He is not Lord of your bank account? There's no way around it either. You can say, "Well, money's not that important, surely God is more concerned with how I treat my neighbor than how I spend my money!" But how you spend your money speaks to how you treat your neighbor. Do you give to the poor when they need it? Are you willing to fund the ministries and mission activities of your local church so that others might come to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ and be saved? You see, you cannot separate the stewardship of your money from the rest of your spiritual life.
The clock and the dollar tell the story, don't they? When it's all said and done they are simple matters of obedience and obedience defines our discipleship. They are tangible evidences of where your heart really is. Mind you, none of us have mastered all of these disciplines in the Christian life, but those who are following Christ are on a pathway of growth, ever seeking to be what He has called us to be and do what He has called us to do.
Allow me to suggest several things which might help you grow in this area of your walk with Christ.
1. Assess your time and money expenditures – it would amaze you to know how many people have no real idea of how they spend their time and money. All of us have a vague idea of how we spend our time and money but you might consider keeping a record for a few days of time and money expenditures. For most people this will be a very profitable exercise.
2. Set some goals – You can start out simply but set some goals as to where you are going to spend your time and your money. Prioritize your life on paper and then live it out. It may be as simple as just writing down on a piece of paper the things you need to accomplish each day or the amount of money you will allot to this or that. Make sure your goals head you towards obedience to Christ's commands. Remember, your goal is to become more like Jesus, not more like Bill Gates.
3. Exercise some faith – Do it. Step outside of your comfort zone and do what God has commanded you to do, and trust Him to take care of everything else. You will find that a life surrendered to Christ can accomplish more in a smaller amount of time than one in your control. The same goes with money. Money that is surrendered to His control goes a lot farther and lasts a lot longer than money under your control.
At the end of the day either we are or we are not Christians. Folks, the pluralistic day in which we live has all the make believe Christians it needs. We need to come to terms with the reality of our faith and recognize it for what it is, or for what it is not. If we are Christians in name only, if our faith doesn't make it any further than our lips, and never translates into a changed life, a life lived with the kind of discipline Jesus calls for, a life which demonstrates surrender and sacrifice, we are no different from a host of other religious philosophies. The call of Jesus was and is radical. It is a call to total surrender. It is a call to follow Him in totality, not just partially. It is a call to life service, not merely lip service. And we cannot expect the world around us to believe that we really believe it if we are not willing to practice what we preach.
Jesus did not give us lip service. He gave His life. On Calvary's cross He laid it all down. He left the glory of heaven for the grief of the cross. He surrendered to the agony of the cross, all for love, so that you and I could one day inherit eternal life. If He held nothing back for you, why would you hold back anything from Him? What does your stewardship say about the authenticity of your faith? What does it say about where your trust really is?