Spiritually speaking, you get more value when you give than you do when you keep.
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Experiencing Life Together #7. Acts 2:44 – Christian Stewardship
All the believers kept meeting together, and they shared everything with each other. From time to time they sold their property and other possessions and distributed the money to anyone who needed it. (Acts 2:44).
The evidence here and elsewhere seems to indicate however, that this first Christian church shared all their possessions and financial resources. That sounds pretty radical to me. I don’t know that I’m ready for communal finances, and I don’t believe that this verse means we must put everything into a common pot. However, there is an underlying principle here, and I think it is important. The principle is that these believers understood that their time, abilities and possessions were given to them by God, and were to be used as resources for fulfilling God’s purposes on earth.
One term often used to describe this principle is “Christian Stewardship.” It’s as good a phrase as any, but it needs some explanation. A steward is someone who manages resources that belong to someone else. Usually the owner of the resources wants the steward to accomplish certain goals with those resources. For example, if you use an investment broker, that broker is a steward of your investments. He does not own your money – you do. But your broker manages your money for you, with the purpose of helping you to achieve your financial goals. When all is said and done, your broker is accountable to you for how he invested the money you gave him to use. He needs to give an accounting of what he has done with it. While he is investing for you, he needs to keep in mind your goals for the money. Of course, he is entitled to his fees from what you have given him – after all, he has to have something to live on. However, the money, and the goals are yours.
We are something like investment brokers for God. We are stewards. The “money” he gives us to manage is really everything we have in life: time; abilities & talents; possessions, including financial resources; opportunities and relationships. These things really belong to God, not us. Sometimes we get hung up on tithing, and feel that if we just give God 10% of our money, everything else in life belongs to us – but it isn’t true. It all belongs to God. It is given to us simply so that we can manage it according to His goals and purposes. Of course some of it we have to use to support ourselves during our time here as stewards for God. But we should never lose sight of the fact that we are stewards, and all of these resources have been given to us so that we can invest them in reaching God’s goals. Your time, your money, your abilities, your possessions – these are not yours. They are on loan from God, to be used for his purposes.
Jesus taught extensively about this idea of stewardship. Matthew 21:33-46 recounts the parable of the tenants. Matthew 25:14-30 offers the parable of the talents. Luke 16:1-15 records the parable of the shrewd manager. Please read at least two of the three this week, so you can get a flavor for Jesus’ attitude about this. The central point in each of these stories (and it is quite forcefully made in each) is that we are stewards of what God has given us in life. It is not ours, but we are to take care of it, and use it to accomplish His goals. God’s primary goal of course, is to bring more and more people into a genuine, righteous, loving relationship with Himself. If he’s going to do that, he’ll need to use the speaking gift he gave Peter; the energy he entrusted to Paul; the thoughtfulness that John was to invest; the time that Philip devoted and the willingness that Stephen had. All that comes from just a few chapters in the book of Acts. He has given you and me many other gifts – time, talents, money, relationships and opportunities. He needs them to achieve his purpose. We were put here to use them for Him.
Now, at this point, something must be made absolutely clear. Doing things for God does not earn you “brownie points” with him. Being a good steward will not make Him love you any more, and being a bad steward will not make him love you less. We are saved and have a relationship with God simply and only because Jesus sacrificed himself in our place, and we trust him to forgive our sins. Our relationship with God is not based on what we do (or don’t do) for Him – it is based on His love for us, and our willingness to believe in and receive that love.
You may ask, “Why do we need to bother with being a good steward then? What’s the point, if it doesn’t make God love me more, and it isn’t necessary in order to go to heaven?” If you ask that question, or something like that, I want to gently urge you to really examine your relationship with God. If you really know Him and love Him, do you want to waste His resources? Do you really not care whether or not you are living the way He made you to live?
You see, I love my children whether or not they obey me. I don’t love them more when they obey me, or less when they don’t. However, when they disobey me it causes a breach in our relationship. Obedience does not earn my love, but when they are disobedient, our relationship is injured. There is something wrong between us. In extreme cases, disobedience in children could lead to their injury or death. If I tell them not to play with a knife and they disobey me, something terrible could happen. If tell them to stay well away from the edge of a cliff and they say to themselves “well, daddy will love me even if I go to edge,” the consequences could be tragic.
Go back to the stock broker analogy. Say you are the broker, and you have a client who is extremely forgiving. You totally mismanaged her funds, and lost it all. She chooses not to pursue any legal action against you. Even so, it would hardly be possible for the two of you to be good friends unless some sort of reconciliation had taken place.
With this in mind, consider this question: Why are you still here on earth? If you know Jesus, and your eternal future is assured, why doesn’t God just take you to heaven to be with Him right now? God loves you, he has promised you eternal joy with Himself, and a new heaven and a new earth for us to enjoy with Him. Why hasn’t he simply taken us to that right away? The answer comes from 2 Peter
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promises as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
If you know Jesus Christ, and he is both your savior and King of your life, there is only one reason you are not in heaven this very moment – God has things for you do here. Specifically, he wants you to play a part in bringing others to know Jesus. In order for you to do that, you need to “invest” the resources He has given you.
As with everything else in the Christian life, good stewardship is “God-thing.” What I mean is you can’t be a good steward by yourself, any more than you could get salvation for yourself. The first step in being a steward of God’s resources is to tell your client (God) that you can’t do it without his help. Let Him give you the inner strength to reject selfishness and live for His purposes. Let Him give you wisdom in how to use what He has given you. As always, the main thing is simply to be willing and then He can (and will) do the rest – everything from showing you what to do, to even to giving you the motivation to do it.
I want to talk briefly about money. Bear in mind, managing God’s money (and everything you call “yours” is really God’s) is just one part of stewardship. Too many churches, when they say “stewardship” are really just talking about money. However, it is important to talk specifically about money, because it is one of the great idols and spiritual dangers in this world.
We know what the world thinks of money. It is the primary means that people use to get what they want in the world, therefore the world highly values it. But what does God think about money?
But godliness with contentment is a great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. (1Tim 6:6-10, HCSB)
Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do what is good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good reserve for the age to come, so that they may take hold of life that is real. (1Tim 6:17-19, HCSB)
“Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt 6:19-21, HCSB)
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Matt 6:24, ESV2011)
Come now, you rich people! Weep and wail over the miseries that are coming on you. Your wealth is ruined and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your silver and gold are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You stored up treasure in the last days! (Jas 5:1-3, HCSB)
I think these verses are generally representative of what the New Testament says about money. And I think we might summarize the message in two parts:
1. When we treasure money for itself, or for what it can achieve for us (security, comfort, pleasure, peace, a future) it is a great spiritual danger. Spiritually speaking, it is not positive to be wealthy, if we care about what wealth can do for us or those we love.
2. When we invest money in the kingdom of God, that is, when we give it away for the cause of Jesus, it is of great spiritual benefit.
These things are true, no matter how much or how little we are talking about. Consider this little incident:
Sitting across from the temple treasury, Jesus watched how the crowd dropped money into the treasury. Many rich people were putting in large sums. And a poor widow came and dropped in two tiny coins worth very little. Summoning His disciples, He said to them, “I assure you: This poor widow has put in more than all those giving to the temple treasury. For they all gave out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she possessed — all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44, HCSB)
Have you ever thought about this? He knew it was her last two pennies. Though she might not have known it, she was giving it to him, and he didn’t need two pennies just then. In fact, though it was given to him, it didn’t go to him while he walked on earth. Two little pennies probably did not make that much difference to the temple treasury, and they might have made a big difference to what the widow ate that day. Think about it. Why didn’t Jesus stop her?
Because giving the last of her money, though it made no difference to the temple treasury, made a huge difference in the spiritual realm. Her tiny bit of money was worth far more spiritually, given freely as it was, than it was in the marketplace. If you want to look at this way, it achieved more for her when she gave it away than it ever could have helped her by keeping it.
Jesus didn’t stop her, because she did the right thing, and he knew that she would get more benefit from giving than from keeping.
You get more real value when you give than you do when you keep. You get a better investment in your life right now by giving. You get a better return on your real and important future by investing in the kingdom of God.
I’m not saying this is easy. The entire world around us screams that this is nonsense. But it is what Jesus and the rest of the New Testament taught. I had to face this myself this week. This may be a silly little illustration, but I’ll let you into my own struggle to accept this in my life.
Whenever someone gives me money for my birthday, or Christmas, I put it aside, and call it my “personal money.” Sometimes, when have a little bit to spare, we give everyone in the family an “allowance” – money that each person can spend however they wish. I get an allowance too, when we do it. I also consider this “my personal money.” I can use my personal money to go out to eat, or buy a fishing pole. It isn’t for the family budget and for needs. It’s mine to spend as I wish.
I have a little bit of personal money saved up right now. I’ve been wanting to buy a pair of really nice headphones for music. I wanted some noise-cancelling ones, for traveling (and frankly, for sitting in my living room). I’ve been looking at a pair that would cost about $125. This week, as I was preparing this message, I went shopping for headphones. I was thinking over the things I just said to you, and I realized, I’m not taking it seriously. Instead, I’m out, seeking a way to spend “my money” on myself. I’m not taking the spiritual value of giving seriously. I’m acting like I think a $125 pair of headphones will benefit me more than giving $125 away.
Don’t ever be a preacher, if you can avoid it. It will mess up your plans, if you take it seriously. Anyway, I decided to give the $125 away, rather than buy headphones. I’m not doing it to be noble. I’m just trying to take this message seriously.
What is the Lord saying to you about your time? Your money? Your energy and abilities? They aren’t yours, you know. They belong to him. How are you investing it for him?