The Rev. Paul Schneider
2009 Synod Convention Essay
We give Thee but Thine own,
What-e’er the gift may be;
All that we have is thine alone,
A trust, O Lord, from thee.
May we Thy bounties thus
As stewards true receive
And gladly, as Thou bless-est us,
To thee our first fruits give!
(TLH 441, st. 1, 2)
ALL WE HAVE–A TRUST FROM THEE. What a theme for our 92nd Annual Convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod! What a theme for the life of every Christian! This essay on Christian stewardship will be very personal, very practical and very biblical. Stewardship for the Christian is management of God’s resources. Stewardship involves a Christian’s responsibility before God to live an entire life according to the will of God. As John 3:16 is often called the Gospel in a Nutshell, this author’s designation of 2 Corinthians 5:15 is Stewardship in a Nutshell: And He (Christ) died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. Stewardship is Sanctification!
There are three other Bible passages that Christian stewards would do well to take to heart. Each citation includes the name of “John,” chapter “3” as well as verse “16.”
NIV John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
NIV 1 John 3:16–17: This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?
NIV Revelation to John 3:16: So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
The Four “Ts” of Stewardship
Stewardship has often been taught using the three “Ts” of Time, Talent and Treasure. There is also a fourth “T” referring to Temple, emphasizing the use of the means of grace, which remain the source of true motivation for all Christian living (stewardship). We need to keep in mind that all Christian stewards are “sinners” who deserve eternal punishment in hell because of failure to keep God’s commandments perfectly in thought, word and deed. While “sinners” by nature, Christian stewards are also “saints” by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the means of grace, completely forgiven of all sins made possible through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christian stewards pattern their lives after their father Abraham and live in this world as strangers in a foreign country, looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:9, 10). Christian stewards rejoice because they are fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone … built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit (Ephesians 2:19–22).
King David’s Stewardship Practice
Although the convention theme is based on a verse from a stewardship hymn, the following verses from the inspired Scriptures teach the biblical stewardship truth that God owns everything, and we stewards are managers of His possessions. All that we have is truly a trust from our Lord! King David writes by inspiration,
But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. We are aliens and strangers in your sight, as were all our forefathers. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope. O Lord our God, as for all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name, it comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you. (1 Chronicles 29:14–16)
King David, thankful for all the blessings God had bestowed upon him, was not content to live in a fancy palace while his Lord was worshipped in a tent. God wanted David’s son, Solomon, to build the temple. But the Lord allowed David to prepare, plan and begin to pay for the construction of this new house of worship. Part of this plan was to invite all of God’s people to participate in a special offering. Hence, in the final chapter of 1 Chronicles, a Christian steward can learn a great deal, not only about how to give offerings to God, but also about the loving nature of God and what it means to live a life in fellowship with him.
David begins chapter 29 by reminding his people that God had chosen Solomon to build the temple. This task would necessitate the full cooperation of all God’s people. No one individual possessed all the skills, resources, and gifts to accomplish the construction of this special house of worship. David set the example by giving his own personal treasures (1 Chronicles 29:3) and then asked, Now who is willing to consecrate himself today to the Lord? (verse 5). David was bold enough to expect certain things from the leaders of God’s people. When a person knows the Lord, he wants to serve Him. For this reason, David simply assumed that the princes of Israel would demonstrate the consecration of their hearts in a concrete way by freely offering gifts for the building of the temple. The expression David used, consecrate himself, literally means “to fill his hand.” It is used in Scripture for the way a priest is formally inducted into the priesthood as one who is willing to offer his life in service of God (Exodus 28:41; 32:29). David understood that offering gifts to God was one way of offering one’s life in priestly service.
Some may wonder at the appropriateness of David declaring publicly what amount he was willing to give. Is this sinful pride in action? Is it going against God’s will, where Jesus would later teach in His Sermon on the Mount, to give in secret? (Matthew 6:4) We know that God looks more at the heart than at the hand. God here uses His servant David as a good example of Christian stewardship. David was showing spiritual leadership, not sinful pride.
Do not fail to miss a couple key words in this chapter, willing and joyful. God’s people were so generous that it caused everyone to rejoice. These were not the dregs, squeezed out of them by guilt, duty or compulsion of any kind. The total given was an amount so huge, only God could have enabled it. Yes, the Holy Spirit makes stewards willing and joyful!
The Stewardship of Treasures
Perhaps this would be a good time to call attention to the direction and limitations of this convention essay. Stewardship involves all of life: every second, every penny, every possession, every talent, everything; but time restraints demand that we focus this essay on a very limited, yet most vital part of Christian stewardship: the offerings of money. This essay will be directed at the heart and the head, through which the Holy Spirit directs the hand!
In the church many are “uncomfortable” when it comes to money. We often act as if it were a commodity too degraded to mention in a spiritual context. We tiptoe timidly around the thought of teaching clearly what God in the Bible instructs about a Christian’s use of money. There are those who act as if it were a thoroughly ungodly thing for anyone else to know what they give to God! What I give is between God and me, and no one else! But is this truly biblical stewardship? Contrast this attitude with David’s actions. He publicly declares what he is willing to offer to God. He is not boasting. He is displaying his love and his faith and is desiring to follow what Jesus would later teach in the Sermon on the Mount, to let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).
There is a stewardship publication, The State of Church Giving through 2006, by John L. & Sylvia Ronsvalle, published in 2008 through empty tomb, inc., Champaign, Illinois, offering statistics gathered from data of 27 million full or confirmed members from just over 100,000 of the estimated 350,000 religious congregations in the U.S. from 1968 to 2006.
Consider these findings:
- Per member giving to Total Contributions, Congregational Finances, and Benevolences decreased as a portion of income to all three categories in the 1968–2006 period.
- A review of giving and membership patterns in 11 Protestant denominations from 1921 to 2006 found per member giving as a portion of income began to decline in 1961, and membership began to decline as a percent of U.S. population in 1962. Giving as a percentage of income was lower in 2006 than in either 1921 or 1933.
- If church members were to reach a congregation-wide average of 10% giving, an estimated additional $170 billion dollars would be available to assist both local and global neighbors in need.
- In 2006 giving for both Congregational Finances and Benevolences was 2.55%.
- From 1922 through 1933, giving as a percent of income stayed above 3% with a high of 3.7% in 1924. The year 1933 was the depth of the Great Depression. Per capita income was at the lowest point it would reach between 1921 and 2006, whether measured in current or inflation-adjusted dollars. Yet per member giving as a percentage of income was 3.3%. Between 1968 and 2005, six recessions occurred (1970; 1973–75; 1980; 1981–82; 1990–91; 2001). In three of the recessions, church member giving declined, while in three it did not.
Pastor Ron Muetzel, in an essay, Facing the Challenges: Hindrances to Godly Giving, presented at a symposium on Christian Stewardship at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, September 17–18, 2007, writes
I know how discouraging it can be to examine the giving performance of the people under our spiritual care. The giving percentage Pastor Liggett ascribed to our people in his convention presentation is 2.8%. (PowerPoint presentation, “Funding the Declaration.”) Obviously, that isn’t even close to a tithe. Nor does it compare very favorably with the 2.2% of after-tax income that Americans in general give to charity. We wonder how it can be that Gospel-motivated people of God scarcely outpace an American population of atheists, idol-worshippers, and the spiritually indifferent, as well as a minority of faithful followers of Jesus Christ. For one thing, the comparison is hardly apples-to-apples. The 2.8% only counts what is countable in receipts by congregations and synodical entities. Certainly, the people of our fellowship “are willing to share” beyond that for the benefit of other kingdom work and for other worthwhile works of compassion. We also do well to keep in mind that we are talking about averages, while no one of God’s people is average. Yes, there are many who struggle in this area of their sanctification and are slow to mature. At the same time, there is reason to rejoice with so many who truly “excel in this grace of giving” (2 Corinthians 8:7) and give at a level that leaves the tithe in the dust. All of this said, the 2.8% average is nowhere near the level we would like; it is closer to 0% than to 10%.
Why is it that when God appears to be showering greater material blessings upon Americans, they are living more for themselves and less for Him, just the opposite of His encouragement in the Stewardship in a Nutshell passage of 2 Corinthians 5:15? Why is it that many today think nothing of leaving a 15–20% tip at a restaurant while leaving 2–3% at church? The cause, of course, is sin. Every person possesses the old Adam and is filled with selfishness and greed by nature. How easy for the Christian to forget the inspired advice given by Moses before God’s people entered the Promised Land: You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gave you the ability to produce wealth (Deuteronomy 8:17, 18).
Because everything belongs to God, I should consider how much I keep for myself as the issue, instead of how much I give. What I give as a tithe or beyond, illustrates my relationship to the items that I possess, as well as my relationship with my God. Understanding biblical stewardship and the reality that God owns everything, enables me to be more carefree and less possessive, and much more generous. It is a lot easier to give away someone else’s money than my own. If I think of money as something belonging to God that He has given to me to manage, it retains its proper perspective in my life. It’s His money, with my name on the account. I’m simply His steward, managing His resources.
The Sinner’s Stewardship Struggle
This sinful nature impacts the church in every way, from the pastor to the parishioner, from the pulpit to the pew, from the playground to the place of work, from the dinner plate to the offering plate. While serving as the chair of the ELS Board for Stewardship for over 21 years, I learned the great challenge of teaching biblical stewardship and have seen evidence that, in many congregations, the pastoral responsibility of teaching stewardship is too often downplayed or assigned a relatively low priority. I personally repent of my past failures and invite each and every pastor to do the same. (You lay people can and should also repent, for you have “almost” as many sins as do we pastors!)
Time does not permit discussing in detail these misunderstandings, but they are often used by pastors and parishioners alike to excuse preaching and teaching boldly on the subject of stewardship.
- I simply preach the law and gospel in my Sunday sermons, and that is enough! I don’t need to “do” stewardship programs!
- I “use” the stewardship materials the synod provides. I place them on a table in the Narthex and let the members take them home for personal and private study.
- I feel uncomfortable talking about money because it is such a personal and sensitive issue. I don’t want to provide ammunition for those who complain that the church is only interested in money.
- I know I should give more, but I just can’t seem to afford it at the present time. My bills come first! Maybe when I am more financially secure…
- Giving is only between the “giver” and God! It is no one else’s business!
This list could go on and on…
Teaching Biblical Stewardship
What role should the church and pastor have in teaching biblical stewardship? I remember many years ago teaching a session on Christian giving in Bible Class. The next day I received a phone call from a member who wanted to come in to talk to me about the presentation. Assuming the worst, I expected to be put on the defensive. But to my surprise, and appreciation, he said, I appreciated your presentation in Bible Class on Sunday, but you need to go further and teach us about the proper management of money in our daily lives.
Has the conservative Lutheran Church done a disservice to members by not teaching the practical stewardship of budgeting and managing finances? Every couple has several hundred or even thousands of dollars that they spend and don’t even know where it’s going. Professor Forrest L. Bivens wrote a paper for the Symposium at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2007. He comments in his essay, Seizing the Opportunities: Ways to Encourage Godly Giving.
Godly giving, narrowly defined, also needs to be seen as part of a package of money management skills needed among our people. Sometimes there may be proper motivation and godly intentions regarding giving that are frustrated by money mismanagement that makes godly giving almost impossible. And sometimes good intentions are accompanied by ignorance about how best one may convey gifts for religious and charitable purposes. The result is usually diminished levels of giving and inefficient or wasteful giving patterns. The curriculum approach to financial stewardship training in our congregations, at least to some degree, should include a number of topics that are sometimes seen as somehow non-spiritual or non-religious. Their intimate connection to godly giving as well as to the dedication of one’s entire lifestyle to the Lord, however, may easily be seen. Among these topics are: personal and family budgeting (and following through on using prepared budgets); fiscal restraint and contentment as virtues; the pluses and pitfalls in the use of credit; dealing with indebtedness; savings and investment patterns and methods; deferred charitable giving and inter-generational transfer of resources. So many goals and purposes in personal and family money management require relatively simple interrelated skills that our American culture has neglected or despised. We dare not.
Credit Card Debt
Consider the reality of credit card debt. The almost magical convenience of plastic money is critical to our famously compulsive consumer economy. With more than 641 million credit cards in circulation and accounting for an estimated 1.5 trillion dollars of consumer spending, the U.S. economy has clearly gone plastic. Millions of American families (many church members) use their credit cards to make ends meet with an estimated 115 million Americans carrying a monthly credit card debt. According to an April 12, 2009 article in our Midland newspaper, the average U.S. household carries a credit card debt of $10,728. Over 80% of graduating college seniors have credit card debt before they even have a job! Parents provide or allow their children freely to use credit cards without instruction or supervision. The American Bankruptcy Institute reveals that 19% of the people who filed for bankruptcy last year were college students. Money and money fights are the #1 cause of divorce, not to mention the subject couples fight about the most. The dreaded “B” word is Budget, and without one, many will experience another “B” word: Bankruptcy.
According to the 2008 Retirement Confidence Survey, conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, nearly 30% of people aged 45 and older have saved less than $10,000 toward their retirement goals.
Symptoms of a Struggling Steward
How would you rate yourself as a Christian steward in handling your personal finances? Consider some symptoms of a struggling, sinking steward:
- Worry over financial matters, borrowing to survive.
- Chronic overdue bills (leaving unopened), maxing out credit cards.
- Dreams and desires to get rich quick playing the lottery, gambling, etc.
- Greedy—seldom satisfied and frequently wanting more and more.
- Problems with priorities, putting luxury before necessity, wants before needs.
- Over commitment to work just to make more money.
- Financial resentment—jealous over other people’s blessings.
- No regular pattern to church giving, not making up the weeks you must miss.
- Giving leftovers rather than firstfruits.
- Having the all-too-common thought: I just don’t know where all my money goes.
- Wondering why so much of the month is left when the money has come to an end.
- Excusing your lack of giving to the Lord thinking, I just can’t afford to give.
- Justifying your luxury, thinking I deserve it!
- Feeling “uncomfortable” attending or even “avoiding” church stewardship programs.
Christian stewards need to keep in mind these words from the writer to the Hebrews: Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). Thus Professor Adolph L. Harstad rightly concludes, A cornucopia cluttered with cars, cash and credit cards does not insure a full life. The Lord’s gracious presence does (The People’s Bible, Joshua, p. 21).
A Challenge to Teach Stewardship!
All too often leaders in today’s confessional churches fail properly to teach Christian stewardship principles and, if they do attempt to bring them before the few who are willing to listen, the fear of becoming legalistic causes the instruction to be so vague that it passes over the head, without ever entering the heart.
Here is a challenge to all congregations of the ELS! Consider teaching members how properly to manage their finances so they can be faithful stewards of all God’s possessions. As faithful stewards, they will learn and grow to become generous givers through the grace of God. Christian stewards need to learn how to manage the money God provides them. One place to start is with Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University (FPU) at www.daveramsey.com. FPU extends over 13 weeks, designed to be digested slowly and be pondered deeply, thus allowing for a true and lasting behavioral change in lifestyle.
Money Truths vs. Myths
Dave Ramsey, in his book, THE TOTAL MONEY MAKEOVER, published by Thomas Nelson (see www.daveramsey.com) offers the following advice, a mere sampling of what is in his book:
- You are going to die—so do it with a will. (70% of Americans die without one.)
- Drive a good, reliable used car and stay away from new car payments.
- Loaning money to a friend or relative can strain or destroy relationships.
- If you cosign a loan, be ready to repay it.
- Debt is NOT a tool.
- Lotto and Power Ball are a tax on the poor and people who can’t do math.
- You are being robbed every day by not using the power of cash.
- Some insurance you can’t afford to be without.
Now consider some BABY STEPS to get out of debt:
- Save $1,000 cash as a Starter Emergency Fund.
- Start the Debt Snowball.
- Finish the Emergency Fund.
- Invest 15 Percent of your income in Retirement.
- Save for College.
- Pay off your Home Mortgage.
- Build Wealth.
Dave Ramsey’s book is targeted to the world, but his Christian principles and ethics are behind it all. This is apparent from what he says on page 212, Giving Is the Biggest Reward of the Entire Workout. Certainly as any Christian steward begins to take “Baby Steps,” there is always the desire to keep the Lord FIRST in everything. Just consider how much more generous one could be if the interest paid on debt could be redirected toward Kingdom work, as a firstfruit offering. As Ramsey professes on page 221: If you are a Christian like me, it is your spiritual duty to possess riches so that you can do with them things that bring glory to God. To that I personally would add that it is our privilege and our joy as well! We are to use all our material blessings, knowing they actually belong to God, the OWNER, and everything we possess and continue to receive, as a TRUST from Him!
Money as a Thermometer
How a person allocates his or her resources is an important thermometer of the heart. What is valued the most? If we understood the true role of money in our lives, according to philosopher Jacob Needleman (Money and the Meaning of Life, published by Doubleday) we would not think simply in terms of spending it or saving it. Money exerts a deep emotional influence on who we are and what we tell ourselves we can never have. Our long unwillingness to understand the emotional and spiritual effects of money on us is at the heart of why we have come to know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Needleman goes on to comment that how a person behaves toward money is a true test of authenticity … That money is where most of us are tested says precisely as much about the weakness of man as it does about the power of money. (p. 268)
Is it Principle or Principal?
Remember that it is not only what we say about money, but what we do, how we behave, when money is at issue. It’s not the money, it’s the principle! That’s the claim often made. Oh, really? Unfortunately, the PRINCIPLE is all-too-often the PRINCIPAL (money)! Yet, by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, the Christian steward can and will function on principle! In our relationships with each other, Christian stewards, understanding and applying biblical principles, can witness to the world that there is something independent of money, which is always of first importance. (Seek God’s Kingdom FIRST! Matthew 6:33) There must be something in our lives that we really and tangibly take more seriously than money. Perhaps a good question to ask oneself is, Where do I look for my security? Is it my bank account or my retirement, connected to the Social Security from the USA? Or is my SECURITY found in Jesus Christ? There is a possibility that one could lose all material possessions as did Job. Many American Christians have lost a considerable amount of assets in the recent market downturn. Can we say with Job, Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised (Job 1:21)? We can personally lose everything materially, but when we remain stewards in God’s kingdom, we will still possess everything we absolutely need to serve our Master.
Applying this to our daily lives reinforces the truth that life is not about money. It’s about what you do with everything that God has given you. As a sinner searches for financial peace and freedom, he will only find it when there is total dependence upon God.
Giving is an Act of Worship
How often we hear the complaint, The church is only after my money. Many “outside” the church feel this way, accusing organized religion of being more interested in the pocketbook than the heart. Even some “inside” the church feel this way. Perhaps this is why many pastors and church leaders shy away from stewardship training. But what needs to be remembered is the reason we pass the offering plate at a worship service. Giving money is an ACT OF WORSHIP. God doesn’t need our money (Psalm 50:9, 10, 12). The unfortunate result of a lack of biblical stewardship training is reflected in the manner in which Christians use, or misuse, their money. Perhaps this also explains why we Americans live in a country that is enjoying unprecedented economic prosperity (at least, we were!) while we serve in a church that all too often struggles financially.
Giving is worship, and worship is giving. The center of all giving is always God, not man. Christians can worship and give to God only because God has first given to them. Thus we sing in TLH 441, We give Thee but Thine own. God owns the world and everything in it, including us (Exodus 19:5; Psalm 24:1; Haggai 2:8; 1 Chronicles 29:14). David expressed the truth that everything comes from God (verse 14). Not only did the wealth itself come from God, but the willing heart to give it came also from God. God provides both the means and the motive! Grace frames a believer’s entire life. When a Christian steward fully understands and appreciates the grace of God, then comes the realization that one can never truly give to God, but only receive from Him. Even when we offer our service to God, our money to God, our worship to God, we are only returning to him what he has first given to us. God is God. We are but beggars who can only plead for his mercy. Luther expressed this before his death. We are beggars, that is true. He also confessed, All is from you, O Lord, and from you we have received whatever we have done. Sounds much like the words of David: Everything is from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand (1 Chronicles 29:14).
King David’s Stewardship Prayer
A magnificent offering for a magnificent building led King David to express his own and his people’s joy in a magnificent prayer of praise and thanksgiving. David’s prayer in 1 Chronicles 29:10–13 puts the offering of gifts to the Lord into its proper context.
David praised the LORD in the presence of the whole assembly, saying, “Praise be to you, O LORD, God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.”
Professor Paul Wendland offers these words of commentary on David’s inspirational prayer.
Let David teach us all to pray these words. How the human heart longs for fulfillment, to be lifted up above the dreary dust of life! Yet how perversely it seeks that lifting up in some empty self-exaltation or in pursuit of creature comforts instead of resting in the consolation of its Creator. Only when the human heart is won over to the kingdom of Christ can it know the joy of being caught up into God’s world-rule, a righteous, saving purpose at work in history and in the annals of our lives. When the kingdom of Christ our Lord comes to our heart, we know the joy of being part of something bigger than our puny selves. That’s the joy expressed in David’s song. His throne was not his own, but God’s. What God did for him he did not for him alone, but for a world of hungry, hurting souls. (The People’s Bible, 1 Chronicles, by Paul O. Wendland, p. 306)
What comfort Christian stewards can derive from the assurance that because God owns everything and they are managing His possessions, no matter what happens to the economy, God will never leave nor forsake His own. Retirement plans can decrease or even disappear, but that does not change the eternal home prepared for all God’s people. That Mansion was secured one dark day outside Jerusalem on a hill called Calvary, when Jesus allowed Himself to be nailed to the cross and there suffered and died for the sins of the world—your sins, my sins. Three days later on Easter Sunday, salvation was confirmed when the Savior rose from the grave, alive and victorious. Feeling secure about true retirement, all Christian stewards can be busy carrying out with joy the mission to build God’s temple, the holy Christian Church.
God’s Guidance for Giving
As Christian stewards who desire to be faithful in doing God’s will, it is fitting and proper to search the Scriptures for God’s Guidance for Giving. Take to heart these biblical truths, based on the inspired Word of God.
- GIVE GRACEFULLY! NIV 2 Corinthians 8:1–4 And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.
- GIVE CONFIDENTLY! NIV 2 Corinthians 9:10–11 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
- GIVE PROPORTIONATELY! NIV 1 Corinthians 16:1–2 Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.
- GIVE GENEROUSLY! NIV 2 Corinthians 9:6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.
- GIVE REGULARLY! NIV 1 Corinthians 16:2 On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.
- GIVE CHEERFULLY! NIV 2 Corinthians 9:7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
- GIVE THOUGHTFULLY! NIV Romans 14:12 So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.
- GIVE PRAYERFULLY! NIV James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.
- GIVE SCRIPTURALLY! NIV Proverbs 3:9 Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops;
Questions for Stewardship Application
Now consider a few questions each and every Christian steward should ponder and pray over, striving to follow God’s Guidance and thus to grow in the grace of giving.
- What percentage of income do I give as an offering to the church? (The average American gives 2–3%. Knowing what God taught His Old Testament people, and the principles of stewardship in the New Testament, can such an offering be considered “generous?”) Do I trust God enough to tithe?
- Do I give an offering in accord with my income, or only in accord with my church attendance? (Many churches would experience increased offerings if members would “make up” whenever they miss a Sunday. Many more blessings would be enjoyed by members if their absence on a Sunday resulted only from valid reasons, not contrived excuses. In other words, more faithful use of the Means of Grace, through which faith is strengthened.)
- Is my offering “first fruit” or a “left over?” (Am I hot, cold or lukewarm? Revelation 3:16)
- How do I understand and apply Jesus’ words, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also?” (Matthew 6:21)
- Contrast: I can’t afford to give! with I can’t afford NOT to give!
- Do I live within my means, using a budget, if necessary (for most, it is)? Am I working toward becoming debt free?
The sainted Professor M.H. Otto, my Dean and Professor at Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary, once wrote in a Stewardship Tract, titled BECAUSE HE LOVED US,
We cannot afford not to give. We never get rich by withholding from the Lord more than is proper. One may think he can get by, but the Lord has a way of collecting that can be disastrous… People may think they are gaining materially by not giving liberally, but they are making themselves poorer and poorer… Yea, we can and will give—regularly, gladly, generously—for the work of the Church… In fact, no one will be able to dissuade us from showing our love to God by giving bountifully… We have the assurance that we shall not suffer materially; rather, the more we give for the work of the Lord, necessary work, the more we shall be enabled to continue to give… We give to Him because he first gave to us. We cannot afford NOT to give!
The Theology of Stewardship
One of the greatest challenges in writing this essay was to keep within the assigned time limit. To begin to bring this essay to a conclusion, we need to remember that stewardship training is never done in a vacuum. We are to use God’s Means of Grace, His Word and Sacraments, to nurture our faith and to grow in the grace of giving. Professor David J. Valleskey also delivered a paper at the Symposium at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2007, Laying the Foundation: The Scriptural Basis for Godly Giving. He included a summary of twenty points from his study of 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, suggesting what pastors can take to heart themselves and teach their members about godly giving. Consider then, in the words of Professor Valleskey, some guidelines for godly giving from Pastor Paul as gleaned from the message of these chapters. (Remember, his reference is to the Apostle Paul, not this author!)
- Godly giving is a response to the grace of God in Christ. This underscores the need for preaching specific law (about greed, selfishness, covetousness, materialism) and specific gospel through which the guilty sinner is set free from guilt and is moved to respond with thanksgiving.
- Trusting in the power of the gospel, pastors will want to expect the best from God’s people, as they appeal to the New Man in them.
- We not only alleviate people’s spiritual and physical needs, but we worship God with our offerings. Our offerings have a vertical, not just a horizontal, dimension to them.
- God is pleased with single-minded giving. Pastors, therefore, will take care not to put obstacles to that kind of giving before their members, e.g., appeals to pride, emphasis on rewards, motivating by guilt or coercion.
- It is better to talk about our giving as an offering than a collection. The latter has to do with what is taken from you; the former stresses the act of giving.
- God is more concerned about the attitude with which we give than with the amount we give. We will want to avoid any practices which make it appear as though the opposite were true.
- Since giving is a part of a Christian’s life of sanctification, pastors will not hesitate to talk about this subject on a regular basis.
- Since giving is only a part of a Christian’s life of sanctification, pastors will not harp on the subject. Other areas need to be addressed also.
- God loves a cheerful giver, a giver who gives from a heart made cheerful by God’s grace. Therefore, preach the gospel!
- Stewardship counsel from those of the wider fellowship beyond the congregation can benefit a congregation and therefore should be welcomed and encouraged.
- Our joint giving endeavors (congregational and synodical) are tangible expressions of our fellowship in Christ and thus should be encouraged and treasured.
- In giving, both the giver and the receiver are blessed. It’s always a two-way street.
- God, who supplies the seed for the sower, will always give us what we need.
- Christians give from what God has given them (proportionate giving). In planning their giving, it is helpful for Christians to determine first what percentage of their income they will give to the Lord and then to translate that percentage into an amount.
- Planning our giving can help to combat haphazard left-over giving.
- The example that others set can assist Christians in their giving. Pastors themselves may well be a prime example for their members.
- Those who lead stewardship endeavors need to be mature Christians, well respected by their brothers and sisters in faith.
- God promises to reward faithful giving. Pastors need not hesitate to point to such promises. But at the same time they will want to continue to focus their members’ eyes of faith on the cross and empty tomb as the motivation for godly giving.
- “Need giving” can be properly understood as Christians exercising careful stewardship of their resources. It is imperative that congregations and church bodies be wise stewards of the gifts of God’s people and that they communicate clearly how people’s offerings will be used.
- The careful way by which Pastor Paul organized the offering for the saints in Jerusalem demonstrates the value of carrying out congregational and synodical stewardship endeavors in an orderly and organized way. Annual stewardship “programs,” together with ongoing stewardship training, can help a congregation do just that.
Year of Jubilee
Consider an Old Testament history lesson, which is biblical, practical, and I pray, most personal! It certainly illustrates the theme of this Convention, ALL WE HAVE—A TRUST FROM THEE.
God required His Old Testament people to celebrate certain years by glorifying Him for His wonderful works. Every 7th and 50th years were to be special events in their lives. They were times to give proper praise to God. Given at Mt. Sinai, this practice anticipated the time when the Israelites would enter the Promised Land. When they settled there, the land was to be given a Sabbath rest. Just as man worked for 6 days and rested on the 7th, so the land was to be tilled for 6 years and be allowed to lie fallow in the 7th year. During that time even the orchards and vineyards were to remain untended.
By giving the land a year of rest, the people recognized it as a gift from God. In fact, the sabbatical year underscored that God is the Provider of ALL things, because they needed to depend upon His blessings in order to take a year off. It was a reminder that, although we work hard, it is God Who actually provides; and our chief purpose in life is not to accumulate material wealth and possessions or a long list of impressive accomplishments, but rather to glorify God. So every 7th year was a sabbatical year, and after 7 sabbatical years, the 50th year was to be a Year of Jubilee. The name jubilee probably comes from the Hebrew word for ram’s horn, which was used to proclaim the beginning of the year on the Day of Atonement. Like the sabbatical year, the Year of Jubilee was to be holy to the Lord, and the land was to lie fallow. It was called the Year of Liberty by Ezekiel, because all land returned to its original owner, and all slaves were set free.
The Year of Jubilee, coming right after a Sabbath year, meant the land lay fallow 2 years in a row. God, however, promised that the 6th year’s harvest would be so blessed that it would produce a food supply adequate for those extra 2 years. (Note how God was teaching His people to trust in Him! Reminds us of the manna in the wilderness.)
The basic theme of the Year of Jubilee was FREEDOM. In this year the Israelites were reminded they had been slaves in Egypt, but that God had liberated them by His almighty power. They were free, living in their own land, which actually belonged to God, Who was letting them use and enjoy it.
But liberty was not license. They were not free to worship other gods. Nor were they free to set their hearts on what this world had to offer. Their hearts and minds were to be devoted to the Lord. They were to reflect especially on the Covenant, the solemn agreement the Lord had made with them. By means of the Year of Jubilee, the Lord clearly reasserted His OWNERSHIP of the land and emphasized the importance of keeping it holy. In turn, the laws of the Year of Jubilee reminded the Israelites they were to trust the God who had delivered them.
What a test to the faith of God’s people, to trust in God’s rich blessings for 6 years, depending upon Him also to provide for the year when there would be no harvest. The Year of Jubilee was clearly a time for faith in God’s promises to provide. And behind every material blessing was a spiritual blessing. What a lesson in Christian stewardship!
A Steward’s “Final Gift”
As we consider the entire life of a Christian steward, it is good to be reminded that each day we live is one day closer to the time our Lord calls us home to heaven. (Our Deferred Giving Counselor would never forgive me if I did not mention this area of stewardship!) I share more words of Pastor Ron Muetzel from his Symposium essay.
I state the obvious when I say that all of us will die. As that happens, an enormous amount of wealth will be transferred in what is called a person’s “final gift.” I believe it is important to challenge God’s people not to operate with the world’s concern as their giving principle. God’s people need to be asking themselves whether the best disposition of assets at death is to enrich their children. (They may decide that it is important to pass everything to their children. But the question needs to be raised.) Or, would it be better to direct a substantial portion of their estate, perhaps all of it, to support the work of the gospel? It isn’t unusual for people to be influenced by the tithe even in their estate planning. They figure that leaving 10% of their estate for gospel work is more than adequate; the rest should go to their heirs. Once again, Scripture does not prescribe a percentage distribution for our estates. Bequests to children, relatives, friends and other entities may be appropriate. But many of God’s people could give gospel ministry higher priority in their final gift.
Of course, another option is to give our wealth generously for gospel work before we die. I have a rather wealthy and very generous friend who says it is his goal to die penniless. How he expects to accomplish that is his wife’s concern!
The Rev. George M. Orvick, in his President’s Message to the 82nd Annual Convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod in June of 1999, presented The Challenge of Stewardship. It is to our benefit to hear and to apply his message today. It serves as a great summary, exhortation, and conclusion of this essay to the 92nd Annual Convention of the ELS.
All Christians are stewards, that is, managers of the time, talents and treasures that the Lord has given to each one of us. In today’s busy society the management of our time has become an increasingly difficult task. Years ago when the book “Future Shock” was published it pointed out that time would become an even more important commodity than money. In spite of all the new labor saving devices we seem to be busier than ever. A person therefore needs to plan. We need to set aside definite amounts of time for our daily devotions, for our family, for our work, for our church activities, for recreation, etc. Without such management we can so easily leave out important matters. Our spiritual life can be neglected, our family life can suffer, and our marriages can be endangered. Stewardship is absolutely necessary!
Likewise the stewardship of our treasures is important. We need to be good managers of our earthly possessions. Each person needs to make a plan for what he will give to carry on the work of the congregation and the work of the synod. It is a responsibility that the Lord has laid upon us. Likewise a congregation should have a budget so that all needs are met. Each congregation has an obligation to support the synod. At the beginning of a fiscal year the congregation should plan its budget and include a definite percentage or amount for the Lord’s work away from home. This is what a synod is for, namely that we can do work together. Together we can send out missionaries. Together we can operate a college and seminary. Together we can help our Christian day schools and support youth work. For the last ten years giving to the synod has shown no increase. With the inflation and the growth we are having it would seem that the offerings for synodical work would also grow. We ask each delegate here at this convention to examine his own congregation’s record and to go home and discuss it in council and voters’ meetings when the next year’s budget is proposed. Place an amount in the budget as you would any other expense. Have the treasurer send that to the synod just as he pays the pastor’s salary or the heat and light bill. This is good management and careful stewardship. Let’s see what we can do together for the Lord. This is what it means to belong to a synod, namely, that we walk together with others and unite with them in carrying out work that we could not do by ourselves.” (Synod Report, 1999, p. 19)
Do we trust God to take Him at His Word? That is the essence of Christian stewardship! It is my prayer that the Holy Spirit through the means of grace, comfort and strengthen us with the assurance of forgiveness, life and salvation through the merits of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who lived, died and rose again for our justification.
As Christian stewards, we dedicate our lives in service to our Triune God, our Maker, our Owner, our Provider, our Redeemer, in the confidence of knowing that ALL WE HAVE IS A TRUST FROM GOD. As Christian stewards we sing with our lives and with our lips, this theme song,
We give Thee but Thine own,
What-e’er the gift may be;
All that we have is thine alone,
A trust, O Lord, from thee.
May we Thy bounties thus
As stewards true receive
And gladly, as Thou bless-est us,
To thee our first fruits give!
(TLH 441, st. 1, 2)
Soli Deo Gloria