The Reasons of Christian Stewardship
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Psalm 100. You’ll want to be ready to follow with me through a number of passages today. Our commitment Sunday is on the first Sunday of November. That's when we traditionally make our commitments for the support of the church's work and worship for the year to come, and usually around that time we do some teaching on that subject. It's an important opportunity here at First Presbyterian Church. We really don't talk that much about money from the pulpit, but it does, this time of the year, give us the opportunity to address important foundational issues about stewardship.
I want to emphasize a few things that the Deacon Stewardship Committee has been pointing to over the last few years. One is that the issue of money and giving and our use of our resources is a real index to our heart's state. That's important for us when we look at how we use our money and we look at how we give our money for the work of the Lord. We are seeing in some measure the state of our hearts and our own commitment to the work of the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. Another important point that the deacons have been emphasizing is this: that it's not just what you give to the church that comprises Christian stewardship; it's how you use everything that God gives to you. Not just the portion that you give to the work of the Lord, but the way you use everything else tells you something about your state of heart. And so, we are desirous of instructing Christians not only in what they give to the church, but in the way they use everything that God has given to them–whether it's time, whether it's special gifting, whether it's the ministry of prayer, or whether it's the use of our possessions. We want to be good stewards of what the Lord has given to us. And this morning I want to emphasize that: that our concern is more than what you give to the church. We want to look at the reasons and the basis and the principles that underlie our whole approach to utilizing the resources that God has granted to us in all of life.
And so the first thing we are going to do is look at some New Testament teaching that specifically focuses on our giving to the church. But then underlying that, we're going to look at four Old Testament principles that inform the way we use our money and resources in life in general. Before we look at these passages and the word of God, let's pray, asking for His blessing on the reading, hearing, and proclamation of His word of truth.
Heavenly Father, we bow before You acknowledging that this is Your word. It is not the ideas or opinions of humans but the very revealed word of God. Help us to hear it with the authority that is behind it, to bow before that authority, to believe the truth of Your word, and by Your spirit, to order our lives accordingly. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
We begin then in Psalm 100 verse 3.
“Know that the Lord Himself is God. It is He who has made us and not we ourselves. We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.” Thus far God's word; now back to Psalm 50 verse 10. “For every beast of the forest is Mine,”–this is God speaking of course–“the cattle on a thousand hills.”
And then forward just a few Psalms to Psalm 67 and the whole Psalm. We’ll begin reading the heading,
“For the choir director; with stringed instruments. A Psalm. A Song. God be gracious to us and bless us, And cause His face to shine upon us– Selah. That Your way may be known on the earth, Your salvation among all nations. Let the peoples praise You, O God; Let all the peoples praise You. Let the nations be glad and sing for joy; For You will judge the peoples with uprightness And guide the nations on the earth. Selah. Let the peoples praise You, O God; Let all the peoples praise You. The earth has yielded its produce; God, our God, blesses us. God blesses us, That all the ends of the earth may fear Him.” Amen. This is God's word. May He add His blessing to it.
Now, turn with me in your Bibles to the New Testament–keep your fingers at Matthew 6–1 Corinthians 16 and then 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. Before we look at the foundational truths for stewardship in all of life which are clearly set forth here in Psalm 100, Psalm 50, and in Psalm 67, I want to remind you of some of the rudimentary teachings of the New Testament about our Christian giving to the church. All Christian giving is guided by the following truths. First, Jesus’ words in Matthew chapter 6: He tells us here, first of all, that He expects and requires us to give as Christians. That's the first principle of Christian giving: the Lord Jesus expects and requires us to give. In Matthew chapter 6 verse 2, notice He says, “When you give”–not “if you give,” “when you give.” He's teaching His disciples here about giving to those who are in need, and He says to them, “When you give, do it this way.” He doesn't say, “If you give, do it this way.”
Very often we hear something like this. In the Old Testament people had to give; in the New Testament people give, not because they have to, but because they want to. Now there are two problems with that. The first problem is that's not true. The second problem is it ignores a central truth which runs throughout Scripture, and that is, giving is both a responsibility and something that we do willingly–and that's an Old Testament truth as well as a New Testament truth. Think of how this was emphasized when the temple was built. When the tabernacle and the temple were built, was it an option to give to the building of the Lord's house? No. Was it done voluntarily? Yes. It was both a requirement, and it was done willingly. We’ll talk about this principle later because Paul talks about it in 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9. In other words, in giving throughout the Bible, in Old Testament and New Testament, giving is a requirement; it's a responsibility; it's an obligation of the people of God to give to support the work and worship of the living God, but that does not contradict that it's done willingly, as we’ll see later on. It's very clear that Jesus expects all–not most, not many–but all of His disciples, of His followers, to be givers. It's a requirement.
Secondly, again in Matthew chapter 6, and you’ll see this in verse 1, Jesus wants to make sure that we give for the right reasons, and so He says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them,” and then He immediately goes into this discussion of giving. In other words, He wants us to give not so that people will say, “Oh, how holy that person is; that person gave a lot”; He wants us to give for our Father who is in heaven. Our motivation is not the praise of men, it's the praise of God, our heavenly Father. And so He cares not only that we give, but He cares about our motives in giving. Do we pay attention to why we're giving? Are we giving only because we feel compelled to? Or are we giving because of the desire of our heart to bring praise to our Heavenly Father? Jesus is concerned with both that we give and how we give.
Thirdly, if you look at Matthew chapter 6 verses 2 and 3 you’ll notice Jesus say, “When you give to the poor…” There Jesus is saying that His disciples will practice benevolent or charitable giving. In fact, many of the passages about giving in the New Testament are about giving to the needy, especially, by the way, to needy Christians. And this passage is very similar. Jesus is teaching about alms here, what we would call “aid” or “charity” or “benevolent offerings” for needy believers. And He is stressing to His disciples the importance of giving to those who are in need. This comes out throughout Jesus’ teaching, and it's one of the reasons why benevolent giving is so important at First Presbyterian Church. Something like 37% of the budget of this congregation is given to what we term “benevolences.” And there's a reason for that. There's a reason we give so much of the money that you give to this church away to those who are in need: Jesus said that was important, and so it is a standing issue here. Don't think that a great majority of what we give at First Pres. is designed to sort of “feather our own nest”; it's not. In fact, the majority of what is given to First Pres. is put to work to bless others, and that is by dominical mandate.
Now again, look at Matthew chapter 6 verses 3 and 4: here's another thing we learn about Christian giving. The Lord Jesus reminds us here that our giving is ultimately to our all-seeing Heavenly Father. Notice what He says, “When you give, your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” So when you’re giving to the church budget, you’re never just giving to the church budget; you’re giving to your heavenly Father. It's an offering of praise and thanksgiving to the one who has given you that which you can never repay Him for. And it's important that we bear that in mind when we give to the church.
Now turn forward to 1 Corinthians chapter 16, because Paul tells us something else, and this is vital for us to understand. Why would we talk about giving in worship? Why would we talk about giving in a sermon? And why would we do giving in a worship service as we've just done in taking up the tithes and offerings? Well, because of what Paul says here in 1 Corinthians 16. You see, the Bible teaches that Christian giving is an act of worship. In 1 Corinthians 16: 2, Paul says, “On the first day of the week, each one of you is to put aside and save.” In other words, Paul is telling the Corinthians–you remember he's teaching them now about this collection that he's taking up for needy Christians in Jerusalem — and he says, “Put it aside, and save it on the first day of the week.” Why? Because Paul knows that on the first day of the week they’re going together to do what? To worship God, and it's at that time that they will give that money to Paul and his team, so that they can take that money back to help Christians who are in need in Jerusalem. It's beautiful, isn't it, because the Jerusalem saints and the saints in Antioch had given to Paul and Barnabas, and their mission team had gone out into these places all over Asia Minor, and people had become Christians. Now those people in Asia Minor then have opportunity to give to the persecuted Christians back in Jerusalem, without whom they would not have known the Lord Jesus Christ. Isn't it beautiful how we're able to help other believers in the Lord Jesus Christ? And Paul says, “Do it on the Lord's Day! Worship God through giving these gifts for the relief of the needs of the saints in Jerusalem.” And so giving was seen as an act of worship, just like praying and hearing the word read and proclaimed, giving of their own substance for the help of the saints was an act of worship.
Now turn forward to 2 Corinthians chapter 8; look especially at verse 9. Very often we debate whether tithing is the standard for giving. That is, is giving ten percent, the standard for our Christian giving, is based on the Old Testament tithe? And it's funny that we debate that at all in the Christian church, because if the pollsters are right, almost nobody is tithing. So, I don't know why we sit around arguing about it because most people aren't doing it. But the Apostle Paul scuttles that whole discussion here. He's talking again to the Corinthians about the need for them to be generous in giving to the needs of the saints and the work and worship of the church, and he says this to them: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” Paul is saying, “Now look. As you think about giving to those in need, this is what I want you to keep in mind: Jesus came from glory and heaven's high halls and gave it all up so that you might know the wealth of Heaven's high halls.” In other words, He emptied Himself of His privileges that you might enjoy those privileges. Now He says, “Give in light of that.” Now, who could possibly satisfy themselves with saying, “Okay, so how little can I get by with giving?” in light of that command? Paul says, “There's your mark. What Jesus did is what you’re going to aim for in the way that you give.” Well, that scuttles the whole debate of tithe. The question is, “How much more than 10 % are we going to aim to give in our Christian life?”
Now look at verse 12 of that same chapter. Here's another principle. The Bible teaches that Christian giving should be done in accordance with our means. Sometimes you've see televangelists say things like, “Get that credit card out and make a pledge in faith that God's going to give that money to you.” Well, look at what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 8:12: “For if the readiness is present. it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.” That means two things. First of all, it means that our giving is to be proportionate to our means. Now for us, we come from an affluent congregation; that means that we are proportionally going to give more than those who do not have the means that we have, because the Bible teaches proportional giving. Secondly, however, it means that the Lord never asks us to give what we don't have. He expects us to give in accordance to what we have. Those are two vitally important and practical principles of Christian giving.
Now turn forward to 2 Corinthians chapter 9 and look at verse 6. Here's a passage again that many “health and wealth” preachers will twist and misquote and misapply. 2 Corinthians 9:6, “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” And the argument is, of course you know, give more money to my ministry and God will give you more money. Now interestingly. Paul's point is that there is a connection between God's liberality of blessing to us and our liberality of giving. But the point is this: God often blesses those with more resources to give who have shown themselves to be generous in the giving of the resources that He has entrusted to them. In other words, the desire to be generous and the means to be generous come from the same source. And so very often, those who have been found faithful in a little are given much to be faithful with, precisely because their desire is to use all that they have for God's glory.
Then again look at 2 Corinthians 9:7. The Bible also teaches that our giving is to be willing giving. “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion.” Yes, Christian giving is a requirement; it's an obligation; it's a responsibility; but it's also voluntary. It's mandatory and voluntary. That's really how the whole of the Christian life is. We are called to follow Christ, but we want to follow Christ. We are called to give, but we want to give. And here Paul is saying, “Don't do this because somebody's standing over you with a whiplash. Do this because your heart desires to do that which is pleasing to God.” And so Christian giving is willing giving, free giving. And finally in that same verse, Paul tells us that “God loves a cheerful giver.” And that lets us know that Christian giving ought to be cheerful giving.
Now measuring your giving according to those New Testament standards ought to cause a little bit of reflection. We’re a generous congregation. We’re a very generous congregation, and we're not nearly as generous as we ought to be. We’re not living up to all of those New Testament teachings. I want to encourage you–there is a little pamphlet in the pew racks and the Stewardship Committee is probably going to send it out again; it's called Ten Principles for Christian Living. It's really what we've just covered now except in expanded form. I'd encourage to take that pamphlet, to read it as a family, to pray over it, and to be committed in the year to come to order your giving in light of those New Testament principles. That's where we need to be starting.
I. God is God, and we are not — therefore concern for His glory is our first priority in everything.
But you know, friends, behind and under those New Testament principles about our giving to the church are four larger realities that control not only what we give to the church, but every thing in life as we use it for the glory of God. And I'd like you to turn back with me now to Psalm 100 verse 3, and I'd like to look at two principles that we learned from that verse, then a third principle that we learned from Psalm 50 verse 10, and a fourth principle that we learned from Psalm 67. First of all, in Psalm 100 verse 3, we learn the first principle of Christian stewardship, and you know what it is? God is God and we are not. That's the first principle of Christian stewardship. You know, all of life flows from that reality: that God is God and we are not. Because God is God and we are not, concern for His glory and His agenda is the first priority in everything. We’re not God, and so it's His agenda that is dominant in our lives and His glory that is prime in our concerns. And so the Psalmist says, “Know that the Lord Himself is God. It is He who has made us and not we ourselves.” That is a thunderously important principle, and, you know, many Christians sit in the pews year after year after year, and they never realize that though the profess to believe that, they’re not living that way.
Not long ago a man who was a prominent member and also the senior partner in the most prestigious law firm in another southern state was sitting in the pew of a Presbyterian sanctuary when the minister began to do a short exposition of the first eleven chapters of Genesis. And as the minister that Sunday morning read the first four words of the English Bible, “In the beginning God,” that man fell under conviction and thought to himself on the spot, “If that's true, then I'm in trouble because I'm not living life as if God made everything. I'm living life by my agendas and after my goals and dreams, and God is peripheral.” And though he had been a professing Christian for years, he was converted on the spot, because for the first time he’d realized what it means that “God is God and we are not.” Is that where you are today? You profess to believe in God, but you’re not living like God is God and you are not. Where there's the first principle of stewardship–because once you understand that, everything else falls into place.
II. God made us and therefore He owns us — therefore since we belong to Him, we are accountable to Him for our use of money and things.
Here's the second principle of stewardship; it comes from the same verse. God made us and, therefore, He owns us. Notice what the Psalmist says, “Know that the Lord Himself is God. It's He who made us and not we ourselves. We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.” God made us and He owns us, and therefore, because we belong to Him, we are accountable to Him for the use of our money and things–not just what we give to the church, but the car we decide to buy, the house we decide to live in, the clothes we decide to wear, everything that we do with the resources that He has given to us– material resources and otherwise–we are accountable to Him because we belong to Him.
We belong to God, so we are accountable to Him for our life and the utilization of every resource that has been given to us. If we realize that, our usage of the resources that God has entrusted to us will be revolutionized–to realize that we will give an account to Him of how we have used what He has given us. You remember the parable of the talents? Jesus tells this very truth in that story about the man who is given many, and the man that is given the few, and the man who is given one. And they are judged in accordance with the use of what God has given them.
III. God made everything else and swoons it — therefore we really can't “give” anything to Him that's not already His.
Thirdly, in Psalm 50 verse 10, we learn this great principle of Christian stewardship. “For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.” Here's the principle: God made everything else and so He owns that too. It's not just that God made us and we belong to Him, but God made everything else and so He owns that too. That's why we can't give Him anything that's not already His; it's already His! That's why we sing We Give Thee but Thine Own every once in a while on Sunday mornings. What does that mean? It means that everything that we give back to God is really already His, but when we realize that, it also changes the way that we look at how we use even that which we don't give to the church. It all belongs to Him.
I’ll never forget my first Sunday morning at Covenant Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, Missouri. I was expecting a wonderful Midwest sports caster accent when the pastoral prayer came. The practice there was for the ruling elders to very frequently lead in the pastoral prayer, and one of the ruling elders was going to pray that morning, and so I was expecting to hear one of these Midwestern accents, and this is what I heard. My head was bowed; I was in the pew; my eyes were closed; and I heard “Our gracious heavenly Fathah, You ah the King of Kings and Lawd of Lawds. You own the cattle on a thousand hills.” I had to look up in the middle of the prayer to see whom in the world it was. It was ruling elder Bobby Duck from lower Alabama. Now, how he’d gotten to St. Louis, I don't know. But that was the first pastoral prayer that I heard at Covenant Presbyterian Church, and I later found out that he was not only a ruling elder, he was the treasurer of the church, and he loved stewardship. And I would never ever hear a prayer from Bobby Duck when he did not mention to us that God owned the cattle on a thousand hills. And, you know, I've come to understand why; because it's vitally important for us to understand that everything that we have already belongs to God. We’re not doing Him a favor when we give Him 10% or 15% or 20%: it's all His anyway. And realizing that changes the way you look at life. We know the One whom all stuff belongs too, but we need to live in light of that reality.
And the other side of that, my friends, is this: there are many people who claim to know the God who owns everything, but they live as if that were not true. They live as if most of their things belong to them and a little of it belonged to God. We've quoted this several times, but I want to press it home to you again today.
“Worship is our response to what we value most. Worship is about saying, “This person, this thing, this experience (this whatever) is what matters most to me…it's the thing of highest value in my life.” That “thing” might be a relationship. A dream. Position. Status. Something that you own. A name. A job. Some kind of pleasure.
Whatever name you put on it, that “thing” is what you have concluded in your heart is worth most to you. And whatever is worth most to you is–you guessed it–what you worship. Worship, in essence, is declaring what we value the most.
Everybody has an altar and on that altar is a throne. How do you know where and what you worship? It's easy. You follow the trail of your time, your affection, your energy, your money, and your allegiance. At the end of that trail, you will find whoever or whatever it is that you worship. Whatever it is, that is of highest value to you. On that throne is what you worship. Sure, not too many of us walk around saying, “I worship my stuff. I worship my job. I worship this pleasure. I worship him. I worship her. I worship my body. I worship me.” But the trail never lies. We may say that we value this thing or that thing more than any other, but the volume of our actions speaks louder than our words.”
And that holds true in the way we use our things. The way that we use everything that God gives us–not just what we give to the church, but everything that God gives us–either says that we worship God or that we worship something else. What does how you use what God has given you say about whom you worship?
IV. God blesses us with material resources, so that we can bless the world with the saving knowledge of God.
One last thing, Psalm 67, here's the final principle of Christian stewardship. God blesses us with material resources so that we can bless the world with the saving knowledge of God. Here are our four foundational principles of how you use everything that God gives you. One, God is God and we are not. Two, God made us and, therefore, we belong to Him. Three, God made everything else and so He owns it. Four, God blesses us with material resources so that we can bless the world with the saving knowledge of God.
Psalm 67 begins with a summarizing recall of the Aaronic blessing of Numbers 6:24: “God be gracious to us and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us — That Your way may be known on the earth, Your salvation among all nations. The earth has yielded its produce; God, our god blesses us. God blesses us, That all the ends of the earth may fear Him.”
You know Psalm 67 is quite remarkable. It's a psalm which pictures a Hebrew farmer looking out at a rich harvest that God has given and praying this prayer, “Lord, you gave me a good harvest this year. The farmer looks at his yield and thanks God and acknowledges that God gave it to him. But he does not stop there. He goes on to acknowledge that god gave it to him in order that all the peoples might know and fear and love God? You know, why don't You use that to save the world?” See, the Hebrew farmer looks at what God has blessed him with and he says, “Lord, it's my desire that You would use this blessing on me to bring all of the nations into the worship of You.”
The Christian looks at what God has given her or him and says the same thing, “Lord You've blessed me. Why don't You use this to bring the whole world into the white hot worship of the risen Savior forever and ever?” So, that every resource we have we're asking God, “How can this be used to glorify Your name and bring the nations into the worship of You?” And that will show not only in what we give to the church, but it will show in how we use what God has given to us that we keep for ourselves and use in some other way. Those desires will show; that, understand, will show; those principles will show in one way or another. Amen