|RPM, Volume 17, Number 9, February 22 to February 28, 2015|
This morning I am presenting my annual stewardship sermon, which normally I give in the late fall, but am running half a year behind. Some may say that "stewardship" is a code word for asking for money. I suppose that is true to a point. You will be hearing about the subject of giving, but one sermon per year should not be hard to endure. Besides, if we honestly consider the subject of how we part with our money, we will discover much about ourselves. Our text has much to teach about how financial security affects our trust in God.
The "therefore" reminds us that we are breaking into a sermon Jesus has been preaching. He has said something that leads him to making the remarks in our text. What has he said?
19 "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
22 "The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
24 "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.
Possessions possess the inherent danger of becoming our idols. We put our trust in them and give them our love. They in turn increase their hold on us, making us less trustworthy and less loving. As believers and followers of the Lord, they undermine our trust in, and love for, him. That is a fact of life: where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…You cannot serve God and money.
Our reaction would be that we do not serve money. We are not greedy and do not seek after wealth, at least not obsessively. We merely seek to provide for ourselves and our families. That's fine; it is good to provide for oneself and especially one's family, but it is all too easy for sensible responsibility to turn into an undue love and care for physical comfort and security. Thus, Jesus follows his teaching about making earthly treasures our masters by pointing out the starting place where we go astray.
"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
He presents the issue, which is worrying over life's necessities: sustenance and protection for the body. We worry so as though life is nothing more than taking care of these things. Keep a proper perspective. Don't be anxious about these things. He then proceeds to explain why we do not need to worry.
26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
God the Father cares enough for them to see that they obtain what they need. Then comes Jesus' point. Are you not of more value than they? Will God, who has made us a little lower than angels, not take even more care in providing for us? If you are debating the matter in your head, don't bother; Jesus tells us in Matthew 10:29-31: Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father…Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Jesus has an interesting perspective on how birds are fed. We look at birds and see them laboring for their food. They catch worms and bugs and seeds. They invade our gardens. They may not do the work of a farmer, but they do what they are fit to do, nevertheless.
That's just the point. God feeds them by giving them the characteristics necessary to feed themselves. He also feeds them by controlling circumstances. Why, he has people like us put up bird feeders and plant gardens for them to raid. He lets people like me procrastinate mowing my yard, so that when I do, I've provided a rich table of insects for the birds to feast on. I dare say, though, that my resident mockingbirds and blue jays show no appreciation as they take advantage of the situation!
Jesus is not saying do not labor for food. We are equipped to labor. Don't, however, give in to worry. The next sentence emphasizes the problem and its unproductivity. 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? We can add hours and years to our lives by taking proper care of our bodies. Worrying about our health does nothing except reduce hours. It is possible that Jesus is referring to the theological truth that our days are numbered by God and cannot be changed. I think in this context, however, that he is mocking the way we worry. We do take the mindset that if we are not worried enough, then we are not giving our and our family's welfare the proper attention.
28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
Men, we should write down these verses on cards to hand out to our wives and daughters each time they say they need new clothes! But then, when I think of the verses we could get hit back with about being loving, gentle, etc., it is best to leave well enough alone.
Jesus certainly would have something to say about our slavery to style, but he is speaking to the common people of his day, for whom the concern is not keeping up with the fashions, but having proper clothing to keep oneself modest and protected. The issue, again, is concern for life's necessities. Here he makes the further point that God will not only provide for us but will more than meet our needs.
Look at flowers. They don't even labor. God richly arrays them. Jesus thinks of the best example he can of a person being richly arrayed — Solomon. Not even that king could outdo the common lilies of the field, which have but a few days lifespan. Compared with flowers, do we not rate higher in God's eyes? Will he not take care of us?
God is not miserly. He does not hoard his wealth or begrudge taking care of his creatures, nor humans whom he has made in his image, and especially the children of his covenant to whom Jesus is speaking in this sermon.
31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
Children without parents to provide for them may worry about sustenance and protection. Likewise, Gentiles, by whom Jesus would mean people outside God's covenant care, naturally worry about the necessities of life and, indeed, make such matters their priority. But just as children with parents do not worry about such things, so we should not worry that our heavenly Father will forget about us or not be able to take care of us.
Jesus wants us to grasp God the Father as being truly our Father, who possesses both the power and the love necessary to care for us his children. This understanding of God as loving father is a distinctive teaching of Jesus.
But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you… when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
7 "And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him (Matthew 6:3-4, 6-8).
What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Luke 11:11-13).
Let us reason, says Jesus. You fathers, with all of your sins and hang-ups you still don't begrudge giving your children the proper food they need; you still prefer to give your children good gifts rather than things that are bad for them. What else, then, would you expect from your heavenly Father? Do you think that he is like the cruel orphan master who flew into a rage when poor Oliver asked meekly, "Please, sir, more food"? "More! How dare my children look to me to provide them food!" Do you think that he laughs when we look to him to provide for what we need and he sends instead some evil mockery?
Our Father is the holy God who cannot sin and who, as he likes to say, is abounding in steadfast love. I know we like to refer to ourselves as unworthy servants who deserve no favor or as wretched sinners deserving God's anger, but the truth is that God the Son has claimed us as brothers and sisters, and has made us sons and daughters of the Father. We are family, and we have to get use to the fact that our Father delights in giving us good things. He likes having his children look to him to provide for them, and he gets his kicks out of being generous. Get use to it!
Get use to it and quit hoarding possessions in case your Father isn't so generous later on. His love, unlike ours, is steadfast. He will take care of us. Meanwhile, he's got other matters he wants us to concentrate on. Verse 33: But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
To seek the kingdom and righteousness means, first, to turn to God for salvation, to enter into his kingdom. But it means, further, that once we are in the kingdom to make kingdom priorities our priorities: living in righteousness, spreading the Good News, showing mercy to the poor and needy, practicing love, delighting in the good gifts of the Father, serving our Lord, and so on. Change our mindsets to make living for God our aim in life, and, oh yes, the things we need for living, our Father will take of them.
I like Jesus' final remark: 34 "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." It fits in well with the realism of the Scriptures. Yes, God provides, but, yes, life has its troubles. All the more reason we should not add on anxiety about the future. We are going to have enough tough times to go through in our lives, that we don't need to fill in the gaps with worrying about what may happen. Besides, though God likes to give generously to his children, he does have a thing about wanting us to trust him each day. As Jesus taught us to pray, Give us this day our daily bread, not "give us what we need tomorrow in case you can't come through."
Now to the giving part. In light of Jesus' message on worry about our daily provisions and keeping focused on God's kingdom, how well does our giving to the Lord reflect our trust in our heavenly Father?
First, consider the amount we give. I want to be clear about amount. Unlike Israel in the Old Testament, there is no law that mandates how much we must give to the church and to ministries. I will not instruct you as to how much you must give. Having said that, we do have the excellent example in the Old Testament of giving ten percent of what our labor produces. Whether one gives above or below that level, we should have an amount that consistently rises or falls with our income. This way, giving does not become a very easy thing to do when income rises and leaves us with more money to keep for ourselves; nor does it become an undue burden when income falls.
It is evident from Jesus' teachings that God wants us to give enough so that, one, we are demonstrating our kingdom priorities, and, two, we are demonstrating trust in him to provide. Tithing (whatever percentage amount) ought to force us to adjust the way we live as people of God's kingdom. It ought to force us to budget how we spend all of our money.
On the other hand, proper tithing keeps in perspective that we still live on earth and that we ought to be engaged in honest labor that provides for us and our families.
The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied (Proverbs 13:4)
If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living (1 Thessalonians 3:10-12).
If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8).
We should never begrudge work that makes us self-supportive and especially which allows us to provide for our families. Regardless of how personally fulfilling our work may be, it is honorable to "make a living" so as not to be a burden to others, and especially so as to care for others. And when our income decreases, it is no shame that the amount of our giving must also decrease. Tithing a consistent percentage allows us to remain generous according to the principles of God's kingdom.
We've considered amount of giving; consider also the manner in which we give. When do you give? Is it at the beginning of your pay period, in the middle, or at the end? Is the first check you write, or the first cash you withdraw, dedicated for the Lord's service? To do so would require you to not worry about tomorrow and to trust in the Lord to provide for what may come. Waiting at the end of the pay period allows you to cover your bases and keep your security in the money that you see. It undoubtedly means that you will give less over a period of time, but you are more likely to spend what you have. Do you not have a consistent pattern? Sometimes it is at the beginning, sometimes at the end. What that means is that giving is not a priority in your life; it is an afterthought. You may protest, but our patterns of habit do not lie. We remember what is important to us and forget what is not. It also means that we have yet to connect giving with worship. It ought to be a natural connection. Worship is an offering we give to God; bringing our money should be a given. In truth, we more naturally think of worship as a service for our benefit and the offering as our payment. And since the latter is voluntary, we forget or we do not budget it as we would other ongoing expenses. How well do we believe what Jesus has to say about not worrying and seeking first the kingdom of God? Examine how we give; our hearts will be revealed to us.
It is at this point in my conclusion, now that I've given you a dose of guilt, to add the final warning that God will bless or withhold his blessing according to your generosity. But I can't trust him in this regard. In my own life he continues to give to me far beyond my merit, and I have not been able to pinpoint a response pattern when I observe how he treats his children. He loves to be gracious and his faithfulness rests on his lovingkindness rather than on our performance. I'd like to say that if you don't give your share then the work of his kingdom will not go forward as he plans. But since he is all-powerful, it is silly to tell you that God's plans were frustrated because you came up short. The only thing I can tell you for certain is that, if you are tight in your giving, then you miss out on the blessing of giving and taking part in God's exciting kingdom movement. Seek first the kingdom. It is by far the best thing going in life.
|This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor. If you would like to discuss this article in our online community, please visit the RPM Forum.|
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