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Thinking and Living Like a Stewardship

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Nov 1, 2004

1 Corinthians 4:2

Stewardship Sunday 1 Corinthians 4:2 Thinking and Living Like a Steward

Turn with me to 1 Corinthians chapter 4. The second verse of the fourth chapter of 1 Corinthians is our text for today. The Stewardship Committee a number of months ago landed upon this as the theme verse for our Stewardship Commitment for 2004, and since today is our annual Commitment Sunday, we're provided by looking at this verse with another opportunity to reflect upon our financial commitment to the support of the work of the church.

Now, for the last several years, the deacons and elders of our church have emphasized several things that they’re repeating this morning. They've emphasized the heart in giving: that is, that our giving to the church is a matter of the heart; it's a spiritual issue. It's even an index of our Christian growth and health and commitment, and that's important for us to remember today. They've also emphasized whole life stewardship. That is, not simply wanting to address the issue of what we give to the church or even how we use all of the money and possessions that God has given us, but looking at the whole of our life as a stewardship–our possessions, the gifts and graces that God has given us, the native talents and energies that the Lord has given to us–looking at the whole of our life as a trust from God, as a stewardship to which we will give an account one day. And then, they've emphasized our membership vows: that we've promised to be stewards when we joined this church, that we would support the church, and that we need to show a real and a tangible commitment to do this financially.

Now, a month ago, last October 5th, a month ago–we reviewed the New Testament teaching on our whole approach to giving. And the Stewardship Committee has mailed out that outline to you again in the little pamphlet, “Ten Principles for Christian Giving,” and if you haven't read that I want to urge you to walk through it and read it until you are comfortable and convinced of the New Testament teaching on what we as Christians ought to be doing in terms of giving.

Now, having reviewed those ten principles, on October 5th we commented on four principles that undergird our whole approach to the use of money and resources in life in general. And you’ll find those on the back of your bulletin today. If you look on the page that describes “Stewardship 2004,” one of the members of the Stewardship Committee took notes during the sermon a month ago, and they reduced it to sort of a synopsis of the main points and provided it for you to remind you again: these are the simple points that we made that under gird everything in life with regard to our use of ourselves and our possessions in the service of God.

The first thing that we learned is that God is God and we are not. And if we really understand and believe that, it will mean that His glory and His agenda will be our first priority in everything. We’re not God; God is God. And so God sets the agenda that is dominate in our lives, and His glory is our prime directive.

Secondly, we emphasized that God made us and, therefore, owns us. We belong to Him; we're accountable to Him for our use of money and things. We’re accountable to Him for our life and the utilization of every resource we have been given.

We also emphasized that God made everything else–He didn't just make us; He made everything else–and He owns it. And, therefore, we really can't give Him anything that is already not His. We've just sung about this. When you sang, “We give Thee but Thine own, what e’r the gift may be,” you’re acknowledging that no matter what you give to God, He gave it to you first. So that nothing that we have is ours; it all comes from God. And everything that we give back to God, we give back to Him of that which He has already given to us. And if we know whom all things belong to, then we will use our resources in light of that reality. In fact, we said the last time that we were looking at this subject that the way you use your resources really serves as a trail to show you what you’re worshipping. If your resources in life are fundamentally being spent on you, then you can be sure you’re worshipping you. But if fundamentally the bent of your life and the use of your resources is for the service of the glory of God, then that is an indication–it is an evidence of who you are worshipping.

And then fourth and finally, we said that God blesses us with material resources so that we can bless the world with the saving knowledge of God. And we saw these things from Psalm 50 and from Psalm 100 and from Psalm 67, although we could've pointed to many other passages in the Psalms and in the Old Testament and in the New Testament.

Now, with those reminders of four basic principles which under gird our stewardship, let's hear God's word in 1 Corinthians 4:2. And before we do, let's pray for God's Spirit to illumine our hearts as we hear His word. Let's pray.

O Lord, You are our God, and this is Your word. We pray that we would listen to Your word, believing it and embracing it to be the only rule of our faith and practice; and that by Your Spirit you would grip our hearts, that we would love the truth, that we would live the truth, that we would be changed, transformed by the truth; and that in all this, Your people would be done good and You would be glorified. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.

This is the word of God:

“In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

This passage from Paul here in 1 Corinthians chapter 4, verse 2, is a passage in which Paul is telling the Corinthian Christians how he wants them to think about ministers. The Corinthians are all confused in the way they regard Paul, in the way they regard many other Christian ministers, and so he's saying, This is how I want you to think of us–those of us who are preachers of the gospel, those of us who are elders in the church of the living God–I want you to think of us as servants and as stewards. Yes, servants in the sense that we seek to serve you–but notice that Paul says explicitly in 1 Corinthians 4:1 and 2 that they are servants of Christ. So though our goal as ministers is indeed to serve you, we don't serve you the way you think you might want to be served; we serve you the way Christ wants you to be served. “And stewards,” Paul says, “of the mystery of God.” Now, when he says “stewards,” he is using a very important designation. And it's not a designation that is terribly familiar to us today. “Stewards” in our minds may bring more quickly to mind a picture of, say, butlers, than it would what it would've meant to someone listening to this passage in Corinth. And so what I want to think with you about for a few moments today is, What is a steward? Why does Paul ask the Corinthians to think about himself as a steward? And then in light of the fact that Jesus says that we are all stewards if we are His disciples–what does that mean for us? If we are stewards, what does that mean for us? So, this important designation of steward is one that Jesus applies to all Christians, and we should pause and study it a little bit today.

I. Some important things to know about Stewards: What they are and what they do.
The first thing I want to do with you today is simply ask: What is a steward? And what do they do? And let me answer this way. If you were to pick up a dictionary, a good dictionary, it would give you this kind of a definition: it would say, “a steward is a servant in charge of a household.” And that is true and, in fact, that is biblical. And let me just prove that to you. Turn in your Bibles to Genesis 43, and keep your finger there because we are going to look at chapter 44 real quickly. You will remember Joseph was put over all of Egypt, and in a sense, Joseph served as Pharaoh's steward. Pharaoh was the reigning monarch in Egypt, but Joseph was practically in charge of the nation in his stead, in his place, and so he was a steward for all Egypt. But did you know that Joseph had a steward too? And if you remember the story of all the intrigue between Joseph and his brothers when they finally met after many years, after they had sold Joseph into slavery and then met again during the great famine, it was Joseph's steward that he put up to carrying out some of his designs in dealing with his brothers. Look at Genesis 43:16: “When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to his house steward, ‘Bring the men into the house, and slay an animal and make ready; for the men are to dine with me at noon.’” And then look down to verse 19: “So they came near to Joseph's house steward, and spoke to him at the entrance of the house.” So it's the house steward who's carrying out these particular details on Joseph's behalf.

Now turn forward to Genesis 44 and look at verse 1. Do you remember who it was who actually put the brothers’ money back into their sacks? It was the house steward. Genesis 44:1: “Then he commanded his house steward, saying, ‘Fill the men's sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man's money in the mouth of his sack.’” So it was Joseph's house steward: the man who was in charge of all of Joseph's house, was carrying out these particular details in this very interesting story of Joseph's dealings with his brothers. Now, the important thing is this: Joseph's house did not belong to his steward; Joseph's house belonged to Joseph. And his steward was administering something that did not belong to him. His job was to do his master's bidding with his master's house. So, a steward is somebody who is administering something for his master that does not belong to him. But, interestingly, the steward is a servant who, because he is a steward, has enormous privileges that go along with those responsibilities. And so he's blessed by administering something which is not his.

Now turn forward in your Bibles to Isaiah 22, because we hear of a steward of a city during the time of Isaiah. God's word comes and says in Isaiah 22:15, “Come, go to this steward, To Shebna, who is in charge of the royal household.” Now this may mean that Shebna is the treasurer, or it may mean that he's not only the treasurer of the royal household but that he's actually in charge of the education of the children in the royal household, or it may mean both. But whatever the case is, this Shebna is in charge of a household which is not his: it doesn't belong to him. The treasury of the city, the treasury of the royal household doesn't belong to him, but he's the steward. It's his job to administer that particular trust. He is in charge of something that is not his. So, a steward is a servant in charge of a household on behalf of his master. It's his master's household; they’re his master's possessions; it may even be his master's family, but he's in charge of administering it faithfully.

Now, just in passing, let me mention a couple of interesting things. One is, did you know that Herod's steward's wife was a follower of Jesus Christ? Did you know that? I'm going to ask you to turn to Luke 12 in just a second. While you’re turning to Luke 12, let me prove that to you. In Luke 8:3 we read this: “Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support”–that is, to the support of Jesus and the disciples–“through their own private means.” Isn't that amazing, that God already in the household of Herod had believers in the Lord Jesus Christ?! And even Herod's steward's wife was supporting Jesus’ ministry. And so when Jesus talked about stewards, there would've certainly been people around Him who knew exactly what a steward was. So, a steward is a servant in charge of his master's household. That's what a steward is and that's what a steward does.

II. Jesus speaks of his followers as stewards: And indicates that the index of the reality of their profession is faithfulness.
Now, Jesus calls His disciples stewards. And you see this in Luke, in a very interesting story in chapter 12 verses 42-48. There are some ways in which this is a very encouraging story; there are other ways in which this is a very scary story. And Jesus says this in Luke 12:42: “And the Lord said, ‘Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says in his heart, “My master will be a long time in coming,” and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers. And that slave who knew his master's will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.”

Now, that's a very interesting passage; it's worthy of its own full-length exposition, but let me just point out one principle that Jesus is driving home from this passage about stewards that deals with our own stewardship. And that is the principle “to whom much has been given, much is required.” That is an Old Testament and a New Testament principle of stewardship: “to whom much has been given, much is required.” In this passage, that strange thing where Jesus says that “those who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will only receive a few strikes from the one who is doing the flogging; but the one who knows his master's will, but doesn't do it, will receive many lashings from the one who is doing the flogging”–that strange passage is designed to show the disciples that because they know much, because God has given them much, because they have heard the true teaching of the word of God, because they have been disciples even in the presence of Jesus Christ the Incarnate Son of God in His earthly ministry, that if they do not faithfully do what God has taught them in His word, through Jesus, then they will be culpable for it in ways that those who have never heard that teaching will not be held to account. Jesus is stressing the principle that “to whom much has been given, much is required.” In other words, an index of the reality of our discipleship is our faithfulness in our stewardship. And those who have been given much as disciples will be required much.

Now, we have been given much at First Presbyterian Church. We have been given much materially. We have talked about this many times before: We are in the 98th or 99th percentile of the most financially blessed Christian congregations in the history of the world. And that means we have an obligation to a wise and faithful stewardship of those resources, because they’re not ours; they don't belong to us. Everything that we have comes from God, and He gives it to us as stewards; not so that we can go off and do what we want, but so that we have the privilege of serving in His household and blessing others.

So, we have been given much financially, but we've also been given much via the word of God. This congregation has from its very beginning been populated by faithful teachers and preachers of God's word. For 170 years, there's been faithful teaching and preaching in this congregation. We must not take that lightly. Jesus is, in fact, stressing that in this passage as well as how we use our possessions. Paul will stress this in Ephesians chapter 3, in Colossians chapter 1; Peter will stress it in 1 Peter chapter 4. One of the great stewardships that we've been given is the word of God. And we haven't been given that word of God just so that we can enjoy that; we have been given it as a stewardship to use to the blessing of other Christians, of those who are growing in grace in this congregation, and to share with the world in need of the gospel of our Lord and Savior. And so, the principle that we see here in Luke chapter 12 is that “to whom much has been given, much is required.”

Now, if the first principle of stewardship in the New Testament–that “to whom much has been given, much is required”–what are we stewards of? What does the New Testament say that we are stewards of? And I want you to keep your Bibles open at Luke chapter 12:42, but look back to verse 43, and see what Jesus says.

The New Testament says that we are stewards of at least three things: we are stewards of possessions; we are stewards of grace; and we are stewards of God's word. In Luke 12:33 what does Jesus say? “Give your possessions to the poor.” Now, you know, when we read this story of Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler and we hear Jesus say to the rich young ruler, “Sell all of your possessions; give them to the poor; come follow Me,” most of us say, “Boy, I'm glad that He didn't ask me to do that.” Um, yes He did. Jesus calls on us to use all of our possessions in the realization that those possessions belong to God and that we are stewards of them. And that means that fundamentally we need to be thinking about how we are going to use God's money to do God's work; not how we are going to use a little of our money to help God out on the side. And there's all the difference in the world between those two attitudes. All of it's God's, and it's our privilege to use God's money to do God's business. Instead of viewing it as our money, a small portion of which is the Lord's, and we're going to be so kind enough to give Him a little bit to work on.

You know, there's a church in Atlanta which, when you join, requires you to send the church your paycheck, and then they give you back whatever it is that your portion is going to be. You guys want to try that here? I didn't think so. I didn't think so. The church doesn't own all of your money, but God does. It's a beautiful point actually, if we could think of that in terms of the Lord owning everything that we have, and He graciously gives it to us not to do as we please, but so that we might have the privilege of being good stewards of the bounty with which He has entrusted us, generously doing His business with what He has supplied to us. That's the first thing that we're stewards of: we're stewards of possessions, and you see it there in Luke chapter 12.

Secondly, we are stewards of God's grace. Turn to 1 Peter chapter 4, verse 10. This is an interesting passage in which Peter says, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” The point is this: that in God's mercy He has poured out on you not only possessions, but He has poured out on you spiritual gifts. Those gifts may be manifestations of particular ability, designed to be used for the welfare of the congregation; they may be consequences of the fruit of the Spirit: love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and gentleness and faithfulness and self-control; they may be some of those gifts that are listed in Romans 12 or in Galatians 5. But whatever the case is, Peter is emphasizing that those things which the Spirit has given us are God's; they belong to God. They are gifts of the Spirit to be used as a stewardship, to be used for serving one another. Listen to his language again: “Each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” What God has given us, not only in terms of possessions, but what God has given us in terms of spiritual gifts and abilities, He expects us to use as stewards to serve one another.

And the New Testament also tells us that we are stewards of God's word. Mostly, of course, it speaks of the elders of God's church, or the preacher's of God's church, of being stewards of the word, but it does it several times. Look, for instance, back at 1 Corinthians 4:1: “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.”

Now, mysteries there doesn't mean something that's hidden that nobody knows anything about. Mysteries, in the New Testament, as you know, means something that was once concealed and has now been revealed. Something under the Old Testament that was set forth in shadows, and which has come into fulfillment and light and reality in the New Testament. And Paul speaks of ministers as stewards of the mysteries of God. And he elaborates this elsewhere. For instance, he speaks in Colossians 1:25 this way: “Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God.” And so the word of God, and the preaching of the word of God, is again conceived of by Paul as a stewardship that has been entrusted to him. It's not his word; it's God's word. He's been given a responsibility to faithfully disperse that word. And so as stewards we are called upon to steward our possessions, God's grace gifts to us by the Spirit, and God's word. That is, God has not given us spiritual gifts for our own benefit, but for the benefit of one another. He's not given us our possessions simply for our own benefit, but for the benefit of one another. He has not gives us His word simply for our own benefit, but for the benefit of one another. And as stewards, we need to seek to be using these things for the sake of one another, for the sake of God's agenda, and for the sake of the world.

III. What are the Qualities of good stewards.
What are the qualities of good stewards? Well, you've already heard Paul speak in 1 Corinthians 4:1 and 2 of the importance of faithfulness, or trustworthiness. Jesus stresses the same thing in Luke 12:42: “the good steward is faithful.” But the main thing I want to emphasize here is what Peter says in 1 Peter 4:10: that is, that as good stewards we do what? We serve one another. In other words, our agenda is not self-focused; it's other-focused as stewards.

And that other-focus zeroes in on several different spheres. First of all, it zeroes in on our own congregation: our serving those in our congregation, ministering to those who are in need in our congregation, ministering to those who need to be built up in the word in our congregation, ministering to the children of our congregation, ministering to the various groups and aspects of our congregation. Broader than that, it means ministering to all Christians: serving them, seeking to bless them.

And then even beyond that, it means ministering to this world: ministering God's word, bringing the gospel to the world. All of that is involved in Christian stewardship. Our faithfulness in stewardship is an index of the truth of our profession of faith in Christ. John makes this clear in the book of 1 John. What do stewards do? They are stewards over God's house: His possessions which He has graciously granted them, His grace-gifts, and His word. And we're to use them in a serving spirit, with the qualities of faithfulness and devotion and trustworthiness for the sake of others. The good steward will be God-centered and grace-transformed and word-ordered and Christ-intoxicated and church-anchored and mission-focused–as he uses everything that God has given him. May we give, this year, and serve, this year, in light of the truth that we are stewards if we are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Let's pray.

Lord God, all your children have been entrusted a stewardship, and yet many who profess to be Your children do not live as if we were stewards. Shake us from our slumber. Make us faithful stewards, good stewards. Use it for the blessing of this congregation, for Christians all over this city and all over this nation and world, and especially for those who do not know Christ. May we minister to those who are poor, suffering not only the poverty of this world but the poverty of the word, and from our richness, give to them in their lack and want and need. We ask these things in Jesus' name. Amen.

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