Building as Faithful Stewards of God's Resources
Topic: Church Life Passage: Matthew 6:19–6:21
Building as Faithful Stewards of God’s Resources
Intro: I rarely read the obituaries, but there are people who read them every day. One elderly person says he reads them just to make sure he isn’t in there. But one man, Alfred Nobel, had the frightening experience of picking up the newspaper one day and finding his name in the obituaries. Nobel was the inventor of dynamite and when his brother Ludwig died in 1888 a French newspaper mistakenly thought it was Alfred who died and ran a headline that read, The Merchant of Death is Dead. The article went on to say, "Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday."
Coming face to face with how the world would remember him deeply affected Alfred and he decided to use his wealth to change his legacy from merchant of death to one of helping mankind and so he established an annual prize to be given to those who are judged to have benefited mankind by furthering the pursuit of peace, the prize we know as the Nobel Peace Prize.
Over the next two weeks as we bring the series that we’ve been in to a close, that is a question I want us to be asking, what legacy do we want our lives to leave behind? As a congregation, what legacy do we want our church to leave behind?
If you are visiting us this morning, we have been looking at our role of co-laboring with Christ as He is building His church – building as a verb - and at the same time reinforcing our belief that the Lord is leading us to seriously save and pray towards purchasing a permanent home for the church - building as a noun.
• Next week: Building a Radically Normal Church –because we see in the NT that the normal church was a radical church – and we don’t want to settle for less!
• This morning we are going to be looking at the important subject of stewardship: how we invest our resources, our lives, our money, time, energy. All of us are spending our lives one day at a time, the question is, is what we are spending our lives on a good investment?
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21 (ESV)
I have had the privilege of pastoring for over 16 years and I will admit that talking about money has always been a little uncomfortable for me, in part because I’ve been appalled at the way some preachers and especially TV evangelists have shamelessly exploited the subject of giving for their own profit. The apostle Paul provides an example is one we want to follow. Writing about a sizable gift he writes:
We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men. 2 Cor. 8:20-21 (NIV)
Usually Paul’s only concerned about what is right in the eyes of God, but when it comes to handling finances he knew it was important that they avoided even the appearance of impropriety and do what was obviously right, not only to God, but to man as well. Few things damage the credibility of the ministry and the Lord’s reputation as badly as financial scandal or impropriety.
We want to take that approach too – do what is right in the eyes of man. Mike Rawleigh will be putting out Grace Community’s 2009 financial report in the next few weeks so that you can see where your giving has gone. Gives me the opportunity to thank you for your faithful giving. It is a sacred trust and the leadership team here wants to take pains to do what is right in the sight of God and man.
But the fact is Jesus wasn’t uncomfortable talking about money. In fact he talked about money more than he talked about heaven and hell combined. And that’s because money provides an incredibly honest window into our hearts. What we do with our money reveals our priorities, what we love, what we treasure, where we put our faith. Money isn’t just a practical matter, it is a spiritual matter.
In Matthew 6 there are two very important points that Jesus is making.
1. That investing in treasures on earth is ultimately a bad investment. In the end it will rot and we leave it behind. When John D Rockefeller died, someone asked his accountant how much money he left behind. The accountant answered, “all of it.” None of our material goods will go with us – one second after we die it will all be worthless to us.
So Jesus isn’t out to ruin our lives or our finances; he’s out to give us the very best investment advice because he knows that what is invested in eternity will last forever and what is invested in this world only will not last at all.
2. Jesus tells us that where we invest our treasure not only reveals our heart; but actually determines where our heart is! Where we store our treasure will be where we find our heart. Years ago I got a hot tip that Krispy Kreme Donuts was going to skyrocket in value. I didn’t have money to invest or I might have put a lot into it, but just thinking about it as a possibility had me checking their stock price every day for months. Imagine what would happen if you went out and gathered all your money – cashed in your retirement, liquidated your savings, maybe sold a lot of your stuff and bought Krispy Kreme stocks. What would be the first thing you would do every morning? Buy a cup of coffee and a KK hot glazed donut and you’d check the paper to see how their stock was doing. Did it go up? Did it go down? Is it skyrocketing? Is it nose-diving? Where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. If we wonder why we don’t love God more, or the Lord’s work, or the eternal, a good question to ask is: Where is my treasure? Am I investing my resources in eternity or am I storing all my treasures completely in this world?
The Bible calls us to be faithful stewards of the resources God has given us. A steward doesn’t own the resources, he is to manage them in the interest of another, the owner. The Bible tells us that we don’t own what we have, we are stewards and God is the owner and we are to steward our resources in His interest. Two important biblical principles about stewardship:
I. The faithful steward honors God with their wealth
Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce;
10then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine. Proverbs 3:9-10
God commands His people to honor Him with the firstfruits of our wealth, what the Bible calls the tithe. The tithe is giving the first 10% of our wealth or increase to God as a way of acknowledging that God is the One who provides us with everything we have.
• The word tithe in the Hebrew meant 10% and that was the amount God set apart as His from whatever we make. No matter how much or how little we may make, God has designated the first 10% as His portion.
ILL: I heard a story of a young man who had a job where he only earned $150 week, but he got an interview for a great paying job where he’d make over 700.00 wk and he asked his pastor to pray with him that he might get the job. A month later he approached the pastor to ask for prayer again. He got the job they prayed for, but he said, pastor, when I made $150 it wasn’t so hard to tithe- it was just $15 a week. But now I’m finding it really hard to drop $75 into the offering seems like so much money. His pastor put his arm around the young man and said that is no problem, we can pray right now that God would give you your old job back!
Tithe is 10% - so we can’t make too little or too much to tithe.
• In Lev. 27:30 God says that the tithe belongs to the Lord, not us and it is holy to Him. The Bible doesn’t say we “give” our tithes, but that we “pay” our tithes or bring our tithes and when we don’t we are robbing God. Strong language, but that’s God’s word.
• The tithe is to be brought into the storehouse – the house of God where we are spiritually fed.
• Beyond the tithe there are other offerings that the Bible tells us God’s people are to give: alms to the poor, offerings to build the temple, and for other special needs or goals. As Randy Alcorn puts it, the tithe was the floor, not the ceiling, of our giving.
If you ever listen to Christian financial advisors, it might surprise you to hear that when a person or couple is looking to get their financial house in order, the first step they will encourage them to take is to tithe. That may sound counterintuitive but if you want to get things in order, you need to begin with #1 priority and God calls that the firstfruits. The way we honor God with our wealth is to give Him the firstfruits, not the leftovers if we have money left over. And the reality is we will rarely have much left over. We’ll see to that. Endless expenses and needs and desires and goals and on and on…
Save for our first car. Save for college. For marriage. For a mortgage. For our first baby. For our first baby’s college. For retirement. For a new house. And on and on it goes. There will never be money left over, and we’ll make sure of it.
This is not just a financial matter, it’s a spiritual matter and it really strengthens our faith, because this will be challenging for us at times. And because knows this will be a challenge for us, He actually invites us to test Him in this (nowhere else God invites us to test Him). Listen to Malachi 3:
From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, 'How shall we return?' 8Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, 'How have we robbed you?' In your tithes and contributions. 9You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 10Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. 11I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the LORD of hosts. Malachi 3:7-11 (ESV)
Put Me to the test, try this out: see if I don’t open the windows of heaven and pour out blessings on you. See if provision doesn’t come from unexpected places. See if money that is right now disappearing down black holes and broken appliances and car repairs and other weird ways doesn’t slow down and stop because I will rebuke the devourer.
ILL: I know firsthand how challenging this can be. Janice and I committed ourselves to tithing 22 years ago when we got married and I can remember times when it has been hard to do. One time I sat in the car before church and felt we could use that tithe check to go toward bills that were piling up. I remember so clearly faith rising up – no, this is the Lord’s money and we will trust God. And we look back and could tell you many testimonies of God’s provision in amazing ways like how we got our first house with no money, no credit, and no bank willing to give us a mortgage. Don’t look at this just as a money issue – it is a faith issue. God promises to bless us and provide for us – not talking about making us rich, but supplying our need. Over the years I have heard so many testimonies on both sides – those who have tithed and seen God’s provision and those who stopped and found that with the extra 10% they were soon in a worse financial mess than ever. Encourage you (if you are struggling with this) to step out in faith and see what God does. Don’t just say I’ll try it for a week or a month – God sees the heart. If you don’t have a conviction that this is the biblical thing to do, trying it like some sort of day trade will not work. Cause this isn’t a matter of it “working”, it’s a matter of faithfulness to God and God’s faithfulness to us. Test God in this!
II. The faithful steward is investing their lives in the eternal
Going back to the original question: what do you want your obituary to read? What impact do you want your life to leave behind? Is there anything we want more than that our lives made an eternal difference to someone else? To several someone elses? By giving (and not just money, but time and creativity and talent and energy) to the Lord and His church we are investing in something greater than the temporal and fleeting. And we will find wonderful blessings result:
a. We will reap in the way that we sow
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work... 10He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 2 Cor. 9:6-10 (ESV)
We live in a materialistic culture and probably most of us in this room know the life- choking, self-centered pull that materialism can have on us. What we need to recognize is that this selfish, materialistic lifestyle doesn’t lead to more life, but less.
Paul says here that God will bless a person who sows their seed outwardly with more seed to sow. If we look at life as about getting seed just to eat it, we become simply consumers – and the Bible doesn’t promise God supplying more seed to the eater, but to the sower.
In other words, life isn’t multiplied to us by consuming, but by sowing. Winston Churchill said, we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.
A selfish lifestyle is the lifestyle of the eater – we assume all the seed we get is for our consumption. We aren’t sowers, we are eaters. But it’s the person scattering their seed that God blesses with more seed. The more we invest in the eternal kingdom of Christ, the more God will entrust to us to invest in His kingdom.
This isn’t about the size of what we have to give. The Bible is full of examples of people who brought what little they had to the Lord. The widow in 1 Kings who was about to bake what little she had for she and her son to eat as a last meal was encouraged by the man of God Elijah, “first make me a little cake…” Wow! I only have a little bit and you’re asking me to give you some first? But Elijah injects God into a hopeless situation:
For thus says the Lord…the jar of flour shall not be spent and the jug of oil shall not be empty until the day the Lord sends rain upon the earth. 1 Kings 17:8-16
The widow gave only two mites (less than a penny) – yet Jesus pointed her out as giving more than anyone else because she gave out of her need all she had to live on. Amazing faith!
The little boy who only had a couple of fishes and loaves of bread. Yet he gave them to the Lord and the Lord broke them and multiplied them. That kid would have missed the joy and the testimony if he had just quietly eaten them thinking, “there’s just enough for me”.
Some of us are missing out on what life is really about cause we’re infected with the “me first” mentality of our age. Some people never give cause they say they don’t have much to give. Not just talking money. Talking encouragement, Biblical exhortation, friendship, time. So focused on how little they have, never feel they have anything to give. Then they wonder why they don’t receive more to give. Need to give what God has given, sow the seed they have, and God will supply seed to the sower!
Samuel Johnson said: The person who waits to do a great deal of good at once, will never do anything.
That is not what we want on our obituary: intended to do a great deal at once, but never actually did anything.
b. We will have the joy of an eternal treasure awaiting us (call band up)
One minute after we die, we will have an eternal perspective on our earthly lives, but we won’t have the opportunity Alfred Nobel had to go back and redo. We can’t take our treasures with us to heaven, but we can send them on ahead. That’s what Jesus is calling us to do – to spend our lives (money, time, resources) for the eternal.
Can we just admit once and for all, that while we are really the richest people who have ever lived on earth, those riches do not translate into happiness or joy? Some of the most miserable people on earth are very rich. Truth is, filling a life with stuff doesn’t make a full life. Often leads to an empty life, void of meaning and purpose. There are tragic stories of very successful people taking their own lives – sad testimonies that life is about so much more than having a lot of stuff.
Christ is our example. Though He was rich, yet for our sake He became poor, so that through His poverty we might become rich. He gave it all – to the point of giving His life – to save us and bring us into His eternal kingdom. And Hebrews 12 tells us it was for the joy set before Him – the joy of having us with Him eternally. And He has left us with the same mission: to spend our lives investing in the advance of His gospel – making an eternal difference in the lives of others.
Alfred Nobel used his wealth to change his legacy. We are to do the same, only not to promote earthly peace, but the Prince of Peace Jesus Christ and the peace with God that only comes He can bring.
And the more we invest in the eternal, the more we will find our hearts there in the eternal. More we will find we love Christ and God and the eternal kingdom of light, the more joy we will experience – because Christ is infinitely lovely and He is real treasure indeed. Let’s pray.