David VanDenburgh, Senior Pastor

Kettering SDA Church

Kettering, Ohio

Summary: If I am God’s steward, says the author, it is as if it were all mine, but it is not mine. We have to remember this! The care we take of God’s world is not only a responsibility, but a rewarding pleasure.

Let’s make a deal

Our family trailered a little sailboat behind our car when we moved to California from Tennessee in 1979. San Francisco Bay is the best place in the world for sailing, and we had visions of putting it in the Bay to sail. But after a year or so of sailing, we discovered California was much more expensive than Tennessee. So we put the boat up for sale. The day the new owner came, hooked his car up to the trailer, and took the sailboat down the road, I shed a few tears! I thought, ?Oh well, that’s the end of that. We’ll never be able to afford to buy another sailboat.?

In a day or two a church member called and said, ?I understand you sold your sailboat? I’ve got a sailboat but I never get a chance to use it.? He continued, ?So, maybe we could work out a deal. If you would be willing to take care of it, keep it clean and repaired, I’ll pay for it all, and you can use it whenever you want.?

I said, ?I think I could do that.?

It was a great arrangement. He paid all the bills and I got to use it whenever I wanted to—yet I took care of it as if it were my own. It was fun! I was the ?steward? of that sail-boat! It was as if it were mine, but it was not mine. I had to remember it was his. If there was anything drastic I wanted to do, like paint it another color, I had to consult with him. I cared for it as he would want, because it was really his, and I was just a steward of it.

In Jesus’ day, stewardship was a common thing. If a man had a slave who was a capable manager, he might make that slave the steward of his household. The steward would do all the hiring and firing, and he would supervise the other slaves. He would buy all the supplies and see to it that everything was cared for so the master of the house didn’t have to worry about such things.

The master might even go on an extended journey to oversee his properties or flocks of goats and sheep. So he would say to his steward, ?I will be gone for three years; take care of everything.? When he goes, the steward is in charge. He hires, he fires, he buys, he sells, he plants, he harvests, he does what needs to be done, and when the master returns, he asks, ?How did it go?? And the steward shows his master what he has done.

That’s stewardship. All the while, the steward remembers that the things he has are not his. He is the steward, not the owner. This was God’s original plan. Look at Genesis 1 and read how God created everything. It says He created human beings and told them: ?I want you to be stewards and have dominion over all this. I want you to care for it, tend it, till it, and harvest it?. Remember, I am the Creator God, so all of this belongs to me.?

All kinds of stuff

We humans have a tough time remembering this. Right from about age two we start saying, ?Mine? and ?No!? As we grow up a little and become more sophisticated we say, ?Actually, I’m going to be using it this week.? But the same idea persists—that ?I have my ?stuff,’ and you have your stuff, and my stuff is my stuff. I bought it, I earned it, and it belongs to me!?

But we forget. We forget that God is really the Owner of all things. Look around you right now. That is God’s piano, not mine. It doesn’t even belong to the church; it belongs to God. This is God’s building, but that’s not only true of church things, it’s true of you. This is God’s necktie, and His suit. And not only that—you are God’s person. You don’t belong to yourself! Everything we own, have, and use—the whole earth in all of its fullness—belongs to God.

We are here for such a short time; a few brief years and then we are gone. The idea that we could own anything is preposterous. I accumulate all kinds of stuff, and then I die. Who does it belong to? You certainly can’t take it with you. Naked we come into the world and naked we leave. Good stewardship says, ?Everything belongs to God, and it is His to do with as He wishes.? My task as steward is to see that God’s desires are realized.

Unusual equation

In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul eagerly collects an offering to benefit believers who have been impoverished by bad harvests in Israel. He invites Christians in cities throughout the Roman Empire to contribute for the relief of those who are suffering.

Paul says, ?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?. They urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us, in keeping with God’s will? (2 Cor 8:1-5).

Notice something really interesting here. Paul says the Macedonian Christians gave out of their extreme poverty. His very unusual formula is something like A + B = C. ?A? stands for overflowing joy. In verse 2, overflowing joy is joined with ?B,? extreme poverty. Now what do overflowing joy and extreme poverty produce? I like the overflowing joy part, but I would rather leave the extreme poverty part behind! But here, overflowing joy plus extreme poverty equals ?C,? rich generosity! Isn’t that interesting? They gave according to and even beyond their means.

If we were doing the fundraising, we probably would have skipped the saints in Macedonia. But their overflowing joy, coupled with their extreme poverty, produced a rich generosity! And Paul identifies where it came from. He says, ?They did not do as we expected.? Notice this: ?they gave themselves.? They didn’t just give things; ?they gave themselves, first to the Lord, and then to us in keeping with God’s will.?

This is what real stewardship is all about! It is about first giving yourself to God, and secondly, to your fellow human beings—to serve in the name of Jesus Christ. That’s what they did! And that’s why they had overflowing joy that, even out of extreme poverty, produced an overflowing wealth of generosity.

Almost, but not quite

Look at Mark 10, starting with verse 17. Here is a fellow who almost made it—but not quite. ?As Jesus started on his way a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him.? The other gospels say this man was a rich young ruler, and rich young rulers don’t run! They are too aware of their dignity to run. They certainly don’t kneel in the dirt in front of a Galilean carpenter-turned-rabbi. But the young ruler does—which tells us he is quite sincere. He really wants to find the answer to his question: ?Good teacher? he asks, ?What must I do to inherit eternal life??

Jesus answers: ?Why do you call me good? No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal ?honor your father and your mother.? And the young man replies: ?Teacher, all these I have kept since I was a boy.?

Scripture says: ?Jesus looked at him and loved him.? He loves him for his sincerity, eagerness, and commitment. He loves him for his desire to be part of the kingdom. Jesus doesn’t want to turn him away; He wants to win him. Jesus loves him and says, ?One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me.?

At this the man’s face falls. He leaves sadly, for he has great wealth. ?Jesus says to his disciples, ?How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.’?

You can’t do both

What is this story about? What Jesus is getting at here is the reality that you cannot be a citizen of God’s kingdom and maintain dual citizenship in an­other kingdom. You can’t put one foot in God’s kingdom and one foot in the kingdom of this world and straddle that fence. Jesus says: ?You cannot serve both God and mammon?(Mt 6:24).

Mammon is the name for the god of this world. You can’t serve God with all your heart, soul, and mind and reserve some piece of it to serve your worldly interests. You know you must give yourself unreservedly to God, and this is the very thing the rich young ruler is unwilling to do. He wants eternal life, he wants to know God and be God’s man. That’s why he runs and kneels. And that’s why he asks.

But Jesus says, ?I love you. I want you to be God’s man! I want you to be in My kingdom. So, here’s what you need. You need to wholeheartedly commit yourself to the kingdom. With nothing held back! And for you, that means you must acknowledge God’s ownership of everything you possess.?

The young man isn’t willing to do it and goes away sorrowfully. ?This is an example,? says Jesus, ?of not being a good steward.? He adds, ?It is hard for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of heaven.? The disciples are perplexed, and Jesus adds, ?Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.?

Why? Because everything we own has a ?hook? in us, and that hook ties us back to the world. If we only realize that we don’t own it, that God is the Owner and we’re here to manage it for Him, then we are all right—the hooks are released. But as long as I think I own that car or that house, I’m hooked. And the more hooks we have in us, the more ?hooked? we are—the more we are tied to this kingdom, which is all about getting and buying and selling and manipulating and all of that.

That is why when Jesus told para­bles of the kingdom, He said, ?The king­dom of heaven is like a man searching for fine pearls. One day he finds a pearl of great price, and it is worth everything to Him. So he sells all he has to have that pearl? (Mt 13). What does he give for it? Everything. It always amazes me that anyone can be a part of the kingdom of heaven, but the price is always the same. Everything.

And God says ...

Imagine going to God and saying, ?I’d like the kingdom of heaven, please.? And God says, ?All right.?

Then you say, ?What does it cost??

He replies: ?Everything you’ve got.?

You say, ?Everything??

?Everything!?

?Well, God, that’s not very much!? ?How much do you have?

?Well, $5.40.?

?All right. I’ll take that. Is that all you have??

?It’s all I have with me. I have more in my checking account.?

?Oh, you have a checking account? It’s mine.?

?All right, everything in my pocket, everything in my checking account! No problem. I can do with my savings.?

?Oh, you have savings? That’s mine as well.?

?You’re going to take my cash, my checking and savings account??

?Everything.?

How will I pay my mortgage??

?Oh you have a house? The house is mine too.?

?What am I going to do? Live in my car??

?You have a car? Car’s mine too.?

?Where will my family and I sleep??

?You have a family? The family is mine. What else do you have??

?That’s all—cash, checking account, savings account, house, car, children, wife, everything.?

?Oh,? God says. ?One more thing. You too. You are mine as well.?

That’s the cost of the pearl of great price. And it’s available to everyone. But you cannot serve two masters!

Embarrassing moment

One of the most embarrassing moments of my life was as an apprentice sailor. I was trying to show a friend how to rig a sailboat, and I was standing with one foot on the dock and one foot on the sailboat, demonstrating. Guess what happened? The sailboat began moving away from the dock! I can tell you, you can’t stand very long like that. You may try to look casual, but sooner or later, in you go!

It’s like that when you try to stand with one foot in the kingdom of this world and the other in the kingdom of heaven. It is impossible to maintain your balance. That’s what Jesus was saying to the rich young ruler. And that’s why he went away sorrowful.

It doesn’t work that way

I sincerely thought after our home was destroyed by fire that God had delivered me from materialism. There’s blessedness in not possessing things. You realize you can live fine without them. You’ve got one set of clothes to wear, one pair of shoes, and it’s all right. I thought the insurance company would write us a big check for everything we lost and we would take that big check and pay off our debts and live a simple, non-materialistic Christian life from then on.

But I discovered insurance com­panies don’t do it that way. They don’t just write you a check and say, ?Here, be a good steward. Instead they say, ?You buy one thing and we’ll pay you for that. You buy another thing, and we’ll pay you for that. You don’t buy— we don’t pay. That’s the way it works!?

Then you immediately say, ?Wow! I’m going to need to buy this and this in order to collect any money at all. And suddenly you are buying and saying, ?If I don’t buy it, the insurance company keeps the money!? So you’re back into the whole materialistic ?stuff? business.

And Jesus says, ?It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God? (Mk 10:25). Because all that stuff gets its? hooks? in us; it ties us to this world. But this world is not the real world. It is passing away. And things make it that much harder for us to step from this world into the kingdom of God and say, ?You only will I serve!?

Less is more

Jesus sat down opposite the temple treasury and watched the crowd bring their offerings. Many rich people put in large sums, but a poor widow approached quietly and put in two small copper coins—worth only a fraction of a penny. Jesus called His disciples and said, ?I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth, but she, out of her poverty, has put in everything—all she had to live on.?

Now, if you have investments you know that a cardinal rule of investing is to diversify. But this widow didn’t diver­sify. She took everything she had and invested it in the kingdom of God. And Jesus commends her. She was living out Jesus’ wisdom when He said, ?See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like ... these. Do not worry?. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you? (Mt 6:28-34).

Was it foolish?

When Jesus sent out His disciples He said, ?Don’t take a purse, don’t take a change of clothes, and don’t take an extra pair of shoes—just go do my work. I’ll take care of you? (Lk 10:4). The widow believed that. Some might say ?Well, she didn’t have much choice!? But she had two copper coins! She could have said, ?I don’t have much. I’d better hold on to these. I’m not like these rich people.?

But instead, she gives it all to God. Her act may seem foolish to us, but she was doing what the Spirit impressed her to do—cast everything upon God and trust in Him. And this is hard. I’m not trying to ?sell? you something. Believe me, I know it is hard. It is only by the power of God’s Spirit that we can trust God in this way. What I hope is coming across here is what we are really talking about today. It’s not about money. It’s about life. Yes, money is in it, because money is life. But it’s not just about money; it’s about investing and giving ourselves wholeheartedly to God.

He needs it

One thing I like most is having a day to myself, but it seems like I never get such a day. There is always some ministerial duty or family matter to care for, and I never seem to get time just for me.

Then one day it hit me. How does a finite human being go about possessing time anyway? How do I get it, and what would it mean to have time for myself? I’m not saying we shouldn’t care for ourselves. Being a good steward means taking care of your health—guarding your strength, eating right, exercising, and sleeping well—because your life belongs to God. It means making use of the talents and gifts God has given you.

The question is, ?Lord, what do you want me to do with this hour? How do you want me to use it for Your glory, for Your kingdom?? That’s stewardship.

Jesus is going to Jerusalem for the last time: ?As He approached Bethpage and Bethany ? He sent two of the dis­ciples, saying to them, ?Go to the village ahead of you and ... you will find a colt tied there which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ?Why are you untying it?’ tell him, ?The Lord needs it.’ [They] went and found it as He had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ?Why are you untying the colt?’? (Lk 19:29-33)

In those days, animals were valua­ble property. A similar example would be you coming out of your house, only to see somebody get into your car and turn on the ignition. You would shout, ?Hey, where you going with my car?? An animal was transportation, work, and wealth. So I can imagine the owner’s fist wrapped around a big stick, saying, ?Why are you untying my colt??

The disciples answer just as Jesus told them, ?The Lord needs it.? They take the animal to Jesus, throw their cloaks over the colt and set Jesus on it. I would like to suggest that this is an allegory, if you will, for all that we own and are. Jesus says, ?It belongs to me. Everything. I created it. I redeemed it. If you remember how to be a good steward, you can use it. If you can’t remember, then you’d better give it away, because your eternal salvation is worth too much to take that chance.?

So when the disciples started untying the colt and the owner said, ?Hey, where are you going with my colt?? They simply said, ?The Lord needs it.? And he said, ?All right.? That’s good stewardship.

Conclusion

We ought to be able to respond in the same way. We are not speaking about generosity and liberality. We are talking about stewardship. We are talking about the fact that God owns everything and has the right at any moment of any day to put His finger on something and say, ?I need this.? And we would immediately say, ?It’s yours,? whatever it might be.

Note the end result. Jesus rides the colt, and the people cry out, ?Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna, glory in the highest heaven? (Lk 19:38). That is what always happens when you and I exercise good stewardship. Everything is known to be God’s. And we are known as stewards. We give Him what is rightfully His.

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October–December, 2003

Stewardship