Generous/Good Stewardship

Fifth in the “Marks of a Disciple” Series,
Delivered February 6, 2005 by Rev. John Schmidt.

Theme: Good and Generous Stewardship – Christ followers recognize that everything they are and have is a gift from God, and use their resources to participate in the restoration of the world through building God’s Kingdom.

Sermon Text:
Philippians 4:10-20

Sermon Notes are at the end.

I want to read to you something that’s on this “Marks of a Disciple” bookmark that we gave out earlier in the series. Talking here about good and generous stewardship, the fifth mark of what it means to be a growing disciple of Christ.

Christ followers recognize that everything they are and have is a gift from God and use their resources to participate in the restoration of the world through the building of God’s kingdom. It’s a mouthful. Everything they have and everything they are is a gift from God and they are committed to using that to restore the world through the building of God’s kingdom. They are willing to use these gifts for God’s service.

Now, caught in this whole definition, one of our efforts here has been to try to describe what it means to be a disciple using as little churchy language as possible and trying to break it down in to the real basics so we can really get our arms around it. And yet, right in the middle of this definition is this word stewardship. What does that mean? Well a steward is an old-fashion word, but this is the definition;

Someone who manages the property, finances or household of another.

In other words, the core issue behind this definition is that a steward is not the owner of something, but the manager of something, and that person then is accountable to the owner for how they do. And so, modern words that would parallel this would be manager, trustee, administrator. These are all words that kind of capture some of the feel for this word steward, and so when we talk about stewardship in a Christian sense, the heart meaning in it is that we are not owners of anything; that’s a conviction we have as Christians. God created this world and we are then managers, and administrators, and trustees of this good thing that God has given. So, that means that home is not really ours. Our job is not really ours. Our money isn’t ours and even our very selves don’t belong to us. Remember a few weeks ago we talked about in the growth section the scripture said offer yourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God for this is your spiritual act of worship. We belong to God and we are to offer our very lives back to God as part of our worship, and so this is behind this idea of stewardship, and so that means a good steward is someone then who lives in a way that pleases God, in the way they use their time, in the way they use their talents and the way they use their treasure. It’s the whole of life.

And so, what we need to focus in on is what does it mean to live the whole of life in a way that honors and pleases God. Now in a moment I am going to read Philippians, Chapter 4, verses 10-20 and take a look at this issue as Paul is writing the Philippians. Now the Philippian church is a church that is doing a lot of things right. Paul is excited about his relationship to them. He has worked with them in the past. They have given him a gift right now and he’s writing back to thank them for their participation with him, and so he writes them some wonderful things about what it means to participate in this restoration of the world by building God’s kingdom. Let me read to you Philippians 4, verses 10 forward.

“I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days with you acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out for Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only;for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. I have received full payment and even more;I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Let’s pray. God we thank you for this your word and pray now that our ears would be open to whatever you want to say to us, and anything else Lord that clutters up the way. We pray that you will erase that and remove that from our hearts. For we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Paul writes here to a church where he is describing this relationship they have had together in ministry and talks about their stewardship. Now,he’s primarily talking about finances, but the things he talks about here apply to all of stewardship, not just the stewardship of our money. And in this passage there are three “C’s” in the New International version that are ingredients to good stewardship, and I would like to look at each of one of them today as we look in this passage together. The three are: concern, contentment, and credit. You will find each of those words in the passage in front of you. We can see these three “C’s” in any life of stewardship. Now, there are plenty of other things to say about stewardship, some of them that are perhaps more important about it that we can get from other passages, but in this passage there are these three things that really show up again and again in lives, and I would like to particularly focus on one life where this is very clear. It’s the life of John Wesley.

John Wesley lived in the 1700’s and he began the religious movement that became the Methodist church. A man who had profound impact on Christianity worldwide and particularly upon English speaking Christianity. And Wesley described something that happened probably about at the beginning of the 1730’s. It was a cold bitter day and he had just come back to his apartment with all kinds of paintings that he had gotten, pictures for his room, to decorate it. And he was feeling good about that when his maid came, and even though it was an incredibly cold bitter day she comes in just wearing a linen gown. She does not have any coat on, and so he is immediately concerned about that and he wants to do something about it, so he reaches into his pocket to get out some money in order to give her some money so she can buy a coat and protect her health, and he realizes that he has just spent almost everything he has on those pictures. And he doesn’t have the money at that moment to help. In his own words he describes what comes to mind. Will the master say, “Well done good and faithful steward. You’ve just adorned your walls with the money, which might have screened this poor creature from the cold. Are not the pictures the blood of this poor maid?” In this moment in Wesley’s life all three things come together. He’s got a concern for this person. He realizes that there is going to have to be some adjustment in his life. That way his contentment is not related to spending all that he has, and he realizes at that moment that he is accountable to someone. And someone will either be holding him accountable in a negative sense or be crediting something to him because he has done well.

The first thing here is concern. Christians that want to grow, and want to be good stewards, and want to be full disciples as God has intended us to be prayful, that learn how to be concerned about other people’s needs. 1st Peter, chapter 4, verse 10 talks about the fact that we are to be caring enough about others to put them first and to use our gifts for their benefits. It says this, ” Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others,faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. In other translations that faithfully administering God’s grace is as faithful stewards of God’s grace. A part of receiving gifts from God is that responsibility to use them for serving others, and that’s just part of the Christian life. And so, that means that we can’t be callous or indifferent. There has got to be moments that God can break through the static of our selfishness and get us to actually care enough about somebody else that we are willing to sacrifice on their behalf.

Now, this can’t happen with everything we see on television. I mean we see needs in Iraq. We see need in Sudan. We see need in Indonesia. I mean it bombards us so we can’t respond to everything. I understand that, but at some point or another the sphere of concern gets close enough to us that we are compelled to act if we want to be growing disciples of Jesus Christ. And so, for each one of us it’s going to be different. There is going to be some moment in our life, like John Wesley’s, where God shakes us a little bit and says, “Have you seen these needs? Don’t you care?” And at that moment we are called, and responsible to respond to God. So in John Wesley’s life, that moment was when he saw his maid, something that was invisible to him up until that point, became real and it touched his heart. And so the question for you, for all of us, in this issue of concern is, when has God touched your heart this way? That’s the first “C”.

Now, the second “C” is contentment. When John Wesley wanted to help his maid and he realized he had just spent on his own comfort, he had just spent everything he owned he realized then a principle that he was going to apply in his life later, for the whole rest of his life, that he was going to never live to the absolute limit of what he owned, because he was always going to be ready to give to those who have need. He couldn’t help because he had spent it all, and that’s right where a lot of us are in our lifestyle right now. We can have concern for other people, but when we have this welling up of desire to help, we can’t, because we are totally committed in our time and we have just spent all that we own.

I want to read you some statistics right now. The average amount a Christian family gives to Christian causes has dropped steadily for the last 40 years. We simply don’t give like our parents and grandparents gave. Savings are at a 70-year low. Barna says in 2001 in a survey, only 8% of born again Christians tithe. That’s 8% of those who say that they are like us. And then if you go beyond that with the church at large, it’s an even lower amount. And so what it says is that as believers we are living in the kind of lifestyle, and the kind of debt, that even if we have a concern, we can’t respond so that means that even if we want to, we’ve got nothing to give to the church, nothing to give to missions, nothing to give to the needy, not a tithe, not a gift, not a cent, because we are living to the absolute limit because we have defined our contentment as being whatever we have plus more.

We have bought into this picture of our culture that “what’s going to make me content is to have more than what I have now” and that’s exactly opposite of what Paul says in this passage. Paul says when I have an abundance, I have learned to be content and not guilty. Well, a lot of us would like to learn that right? But he has also said that when I have nothing, I have also learned to be content, because I can do anything. I can face either through the work of what God is doing in me through Jesus Christ. And so, if we want to be people who can respond, we have to be people who learn to be content with less than 110% of what we earn. So the question here is how is your contentment level? Are you content? And are you content with less than spending it all?

The third “C” is credit. Now, I am not talking here about credit cards, but God’s credit to our account. Verses 17, 18 and 19 talk about this in this passage. Paul talking to them he says, “Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. I am amply supplied now that I have received the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” It talks about something being credited to their account for them participating with him in his apostolic ministry, and he talks about their gift as being something that is a fragrant offering to God, that is acceptable to God. Now this is an important part of this balance, one of these ingredients about what it means to be a steward. Part of being a good steward of our time, our talent and our money is believing that investing it God’s kingdom isn’t a waste. That’s part of it. We have really got to believe that. It says in the book of 1st Corinthians, chapter 15, verse 58.

“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

That’s part of stewardship. So Wesley at that point in his life, recognized that he was going to have to account for the way he handled what God had entrusted to him, whether good or bad. And so he started to live knowing that it was worth giving up some things now because God was real and there was a real eternity and God was crediting things to his account.

Now, I have used John Wesley as an example because he is an amazing model of what it means to apply this sort of thinking to your lifestyle. In 1731 John Wesley made 30 pounds. He lived on 28 of them and he gave away 2. It’s less than a tithe. The following year he made 60 pounds. He lived on 28 and he gave away 32. In the fourth year he made 120 pounds. He lived on 28 and he gave away 92 pounds. And finally, later in his career John Wesley became one of the best paid preachers in all of history. He made the modern equivalent of $1.4 million dollars in one year. Now that is without CDs, that’s without TV. You know we think the TV evangelists are making it. This is on penny tracks and preaching engagements. $1.4 millon dollars. That year he lived on the equivalent of $30,000 and gave away all the rest. In fact, they estimate that at no point in his life did he have more than 100 pounds on him, because he was determined that he was going to be a channel of these gifts for God’s use. John Wesley shows all three ingredients of good stewardship. He was concerned about the gospel and the needs around him. He was content to live at some level that wasn’t 100% of what he owned. And he really believed that it was worth it to live in light of eternity. He really believed that God was going to credit this to his account, just like Paul says to the Philippians.

Now, I doubt if any of us are going to make a decision like John Wesley, quite as radical as that. But we do need to have all three of these things happening in our lives if we want to be good stewards. And I would like to give you a list of how to, you know a how to list, a 1-2-3 about how to get all of this in shape and you know what, I can’t do that, because all three of these things are internal. And you just can’t change that you know by doing one thing differently. Remember a few weeks ago we talked about growth being not trying harder, but training harder and that’s what this has to do with. To have these three things come into our lives and become what they should means that we have to have a renewing of our mind. It means we have to regularly be with God and have God change us from the inside out. But we are not having to do this for God. One of the amazing things that’s true for us as Christians is that God is indwelling us and he is working with us on these issues. So, it is not just a matter of us trying to wrestle things into place for him. He is going to lead us in to moments like John Wesley had where he is going to challenge us to look at the world differently and to respond as a better steward of the gospel.

I had a moment like that that happened over 30 years ago. I was in the French Quarter at the time and this is a memorial event or a remembrance. Now, I have no idea what kind of rock this is. (holds up a rock) I thought it was some kind of quartz, but I talked to a geologist after the first service and he says with some assurance I guess, that this is a rose colored spiritual memorial rock, and so that’s I guess what it is, until I find out more. I want to tell you how I got this rock. I was in the French Quarter and met two guys who were obviously on the street and they asked me for a handout and drug abuse is so rampant you know that I wasn’t about to give me them money, but I said, “Look I will buy you some food. If you are really hungry, that’s what you are telling me, I will go buy you something”. So we walked together and went over to a grocery store. I went inside and I bought him a loaf of bread, some bologna, a little bit of mustard and a quart of milk. I came out and gave it to these guys. These guys were probably in their 40s at the time. And when I gave it to them one of the guys started to tear up a little bit and he said, “Look. I have nothing that I can give you in response to this”. He said, “I have been carrying this rock around because I think it is beautiful and it’s the only thing I have, but I want to give it to you so can remember this day.” And I do. I have carried this with me ever since. It sits in my desk and every time I open my drawer I am reminded. I am reminded of several things.

First of all, that I have got to be concerned about the people around me. That even if they look like they are not being responsible with their lives, I am called to love these people because they love, they are loved by God.

And I am reminded too that I need to have a pattern of life of contentment because I never want to be caught in a place where I have spent it all and when God gives me an opportunity like this I am not ready. I always want to be available and that means that I have got to be content with less than it all.

And this is also a reminder that just like this rock has reminded me for 30 years that I have forgotten that day, God hasn’t forgotten that day. Just like I have a memorial of this, God has a memorial and it’s more beautiful than this and it’s more enduring than this. It’s eternal. It’s kept in heaven for me. Now, either that’s true or it isn’t. Either it’s true that God is noting these things and is either going to hold us accountable in a bad way or reward us in a good way for our stewardship. Either that’s true or it isn’t folks. There is no in-between. So if it’s not true, then let’s just put the Bibles down and get on to living life some kind of real way and forget about the fairytales. But if it is true, if it is true, then shouldn’t we live differently?

Let’s pray. God we want to be concerned. God in the same breath we want to say that we want to learn contentment so that we will be available, so that there will be an excess in our lives of time, of money to invest in your kingdom and then we want eyes that see things eternally so that instead of thinking that all of our reward is right in front of us. It’s either in making today feel good or not that there are some rewards that we have to wait for, but they are eternal. Lord, you know how deep a work that’s going to take in our lives to help us really live this way, but we ask for it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sermon Outline Notes:

Steward: someone who manages the property, finances, or household of another.
Not the owner
We are not the owners of anything
Not Even ourselves
A good steward is someone who uses all of live in a way that pleases God
Three ingredients to good stewardship in this passage:
1 Peter 4:10: Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. (as faithful stewards)
Jesus put it this way: Love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Philippians 4:11: I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 4:12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 4:13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:17-18
1 Cor. 15:58: Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.