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Money Talks - But What Is It Really Saying? Setting the Stewardship Standard
There are many pastors and churches that avoid the subject of stewardship like a plague. In fact, many modern church gurus are telling pastors across the country not to talk about money or stewardship. I find that to very strange since our Lord spoke of it in one-third of His parables. In the churches I was privileged to pastor, we made no apologies in challenging one another in the realm of stewardship for it was a great part of our own spiritual development and growth.
Money consumes us in our current culture. Our churches are full of financial planners, bankers, stockbrokers, money managers, venture capitalists, CPAs, lawyers and all kinds of men and women who are constantly giving financial counsel. How would you like the free counsel of a man recognized the world over as one of the richest, most successful, and wisest men who ever lived? This particular man “wrote the book” on international commerce. In fact, of him it was said, “God gave (him) wisdom and exceedingly great understanding, and largeness of heart like the sand on the seashore. Thus (his) wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the men of the East and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men — than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Chalcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol; and his fame was in all the surrounding nations. He spoke three thousand proverbs, and his songs were one thousand and five” (1 Kings 4:29-32). His name? Solomon. Listen to his counsel on money management. “Honor the Lord with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of your increase; so you barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine” (Prov. 3:9-10).
As far-fetched as it might seem, our finances generally mark the position of our own spiritual pilgrimage. We are no farther along in our walk with the Lord than the point in which we learn to trust Him with the tithe.
There are a lot of questions regarding stewardship. How can we afford to return one-tenth of our income back to God? How much should we give? There are four questions every believer should ask about stewardship: (1) What is the purpose of my stewardship? (2) What is the product of my stewardship? (3) What is the priority of my stewardship? (4) What is the promise of my stewardship?
What is the purpose of my stewardship?
Honor the Lord… (Prov. 3:9-10)
What is the purpose when we attend a worship service and the offering plate is passed and we place our gift in it? Note the first three words of our text — “Honor the Lord.” This should be our single most important goal in life — to honor God. It is always a good thing to check our motivation, our purpose regarding the issues of life. Honoring God should be our primary motive in everything we do, whether in our marriage, our social life, our business or whatever.
What is the purpose of our stewardship? Some are motivated by guilt. That is they give because they think they ought to. Others are grudge givers. That is, they give because they think they have to. The New Testament teaches us to be grace givers — we give out of a heart of gratitude and love because we want to!
The Hebrew word that we translate into our English word “honor” is very enlightening at this point. What does it mean when we are exhorted to “honor God?” Often this word is used to describe the concept of being weighted down. For example, a king is weighted down with all the accessories of royalty — the crown, the robe, the train, the scepter, the medallion. When we honor God it means that we weigh Him down. Crown Him Lord! It is closely akin to what young people used to say, “That’s heavy!” This being translated means, “That is incomprehensible, awesome, powerful.” To say that we honor God means that we give Him His rightful place in our lies. He is Lord!
What is the purpose of our stewardship? Is it some lucky rabbit’s foot? Is it that I give so that I might get, as some teach? Is it some legalistic Old Testament discipline that keeps me bound to the law? Our purpose in stewardship has to do with honoring God by exhibiting trust in Him.
We are nothing more than stewards passing through this world. Fifty years from now everything you own will be in someone else’s name. Fifty years ago what is in your name today was in someone else’s your land, your home, your assets. When you entered this world, you entered it naked without a dime, and you will leave it the same way. In reality, we do not own a thing. We are simply stewards. Therefore, it is imperative that we honor God with our possessions. This is our purpose in stewardship. God makes an incredible statement in 1 Samuel 2:30 when He says “those who honor Me I will honor.” What is the purpose of our stewardship? It is to honor God!
What is the product of my stewardship
“… with your possessions…” Proverbs 3:9-10
We are to honor God. With what? Our possessions, our money, our wealth. Note the product of our stewardship is not just our time. It is not simply our talents. This is not what Solomon is saying. It is our treasure that is specifically addressed here. Some of us live as if our lives were a hotel corridor with room after room. As God walks down the hall, He sees the family room with the door open for Him to come in. He sees our social room, our work room, our exercise room, our activity room, our hobby room, and they are all open to Him. But in many lives when it comes to the room where we have our possessions, our money, He sees a “Do Not Disturb” sign on that door. What is the one thing that is prone to dominate and dictate our lives? Money! In fact, God says in 1 Timothy 6:10 that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. We get trapped by government policies and our own lifestyles into thinking that money is the answer to every problem. How many times have we asked someone how they were doing, only to have heard the reply that everything was ok and they had no problems that money would not solve! Thus, the Lord indicates an area of our lives which tells us more about our spiritual condition than any other. He says it is our possessions, and hence Solomon says, “Honor God with your possessions.”
It is good to have things that money can buy. However, there is something better. It is to have what money cannot buy. We have recently had another first in our family. Our oldest daughter, Wendy, is now wearing a wedding ring. As I write these words I am thinking back to the ring I gave her mom. It is now in a stickpin. I was a student in 1970 and could only afford a small ring. I remember the salesman making a special deal on the particular ring I purchased because if you look closely enough you will see a big carbon spot in the middle of it. I would be embarrassed for her to know how little I paid for it. However, that ring symbolized a tremendous amount of live as well as the confidence that God had brought us together. At about the same time a college friend gave his fiancé one of the biggest, most beautiful diamond rings I have ever seen, worth thousands of dollars. The tragedy is that their marriage did not last a year. Money can buy a lot of things. It can buy million dollar homes, but all the money in the world cannot transform a house into a home. What is really important is not what money can buy, but what it cannot buy.
While some of us desire to honor God with our lives we never think of honoring Him with our possessions. How do we do this? There are three ways in which we honor God w2ith our possessions. First, we honor God with how we get it. Some people get wealth in ways that are dishonoring to God.
We can also honor or dishonor God by the way we guard it. The Lord Jesus said in Matthew 6:19, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth.” Many guard their wealth. Some even make arrangements to keep it hoarded and guarded even after they are gone. It is no accident that our last will is called our Last Will and Testament, or Testimony. It is the last opportunity we have to give our testimony to the world of what was really important to us. One day someone will read it and tell what really held your heart because Jesus said, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21).
James spoke of a man who “hoarded” his wealth (James 5:3). Later in this series, we will see that guarded wealth brings no joy. Some people get their stock portfolios or checking and savings statements each month. No matter how much we have we wish it were just a little bit more. When we begin to love money, it ceases to bless us and begins to curse us. No wonder Solomon said, “Honor the Lord with your possessions.”
God is as concerned with how we guard our wealth as He is with how we get it. Susie and I do not have much of an estate after one-quarter century of marriage. We have invested in the bank of heaven. Much of the savings of our first 20 years of marriage is in the auditorium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where hundreds of people came to know Christ every year and from where dozens of missionaries have been sent. Our daughters know they are not going to get much from us. I intend to leave them something far more important than a pile of money to hoard or to guard or even to throw away. We have sought to teach them the importance of laying up treasures in heaven. Why? Because our heart always follows our treasure (Matt. 6:21). If we wait until we feel like giving, we will never do it. The natural man wants to guard it. Thus Solomon gives us wise counsel when he says we are to “Honor God with our possessions.”
We honor God by not only how we get and guard our money, but also with how we give it. We are stewards of God’s blessing. How we give is vitally important. The lord Jesus still sits over the treasuries to see how His people give. One day I will stand before this great God. He is not going to say to me, “Let me see your Bible.” Quite frankly, there is not a page in my Bible that is not marked and filled with notations. He is not going to look at me and ask, “Is your Bible all marked?” He is not going to say, “Let me see your sermon notebook. Are there any notes there?” I don’t believe He is even going to ask for my prayer journal. Some of us may be shocked. I think He might say, “Let me see your checkbook, I want to look at your canceled checks.” Why? Because how we use what He gives us tells us where our heart is. He said, “Where your treasure is, there you heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21).
This is the purpose and product of our stewardship. The way we handle our possessions is so much a reflection of what is on the inside of us that our Lord Jesus Christ addressed it in one out of three of His recorded sermons and His parables.
What is the priority of my stewardship?
“… with the firstfruits of all your increase…” Proverbs 3:9-10
Note that Solomon is specific with the portion of our possessions with which we are to honor God. HE calls it the “firstfruits.” The Israelites brought the firstfruits of all their crops to God in order to acknowledge that He was the ultimate owner of the land. God said, “The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with Me” (Lev. 25:23). God owns the land of Israel today, and by His grace Israel is His tenant. Thus as they brought the firstfruits offerings they were honoring Yahweh. Should we do less?
The first portion of everything we own should be set aside for God’s use. The old and the New Testament both refer to it as the tithe — one-tenth of our income. The New Testament pattern is characterized by freedom. But freedom does not negate the validity of the tithe. The Believer’s Study Bible note says, “Tithing is only the beginning place of Christian stewardship, not the end. God does not want you to give less than a tithe, but He may want you to give so much more through His enabling grace.” For me personally, I have never felt that in this dispensation of grace that I should give less than the Jews gave under the dispensation of the law. Hence, tithing is only the beginning place, the firstfruits.
In his own inimitable way, Dr. W.A. Criswell frames this point with these words, “Four hundred years before the law was given, Father Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, priest to the most high God. Tithing was the foundation of supportive worship of the Israelites throughout the dispensation of the law. It was in that era that the Lord Jesus lived and had His being. It was He who said we ought to tithe (Matt. 23:23). In this dispensation in which you and I live, it is the Lord Jesus Christ who receives our tithes even though our human hands take it up in the congregation. Hebrews 7:8 says, ‘Here mortal men receive tithes, but there He receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives.’ There is a sense in which every time we receive an offering in church although mortal men are serving as ushers to receive the gifts, it is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself who is receiving them.”
What is the priority of our stewardship? We are to honor God. With what? Our wealth. And what part of it? Firstfruits. I well remember the day my pastor, W. Fred Swank, taught me this truth. I was a student at Southwestern Seminary and serving as assistant pastor at Sagamore Hill Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. I was about to be married, and Dr. Swank called me into his office on a particular day. He was known for always being blunt and to the point. He said, “Son, your giving has been a bit sporadic.” With those words I knew I was about to learn a lesson. Those of us who were “his boys” never got away with anything! I quickly replied, “Preacher, I am trying to tithe, but I get to the end of the month, and it just seems like there is not enough there.” He looked at me and said, “We are to honor God with our possessions, with the firstfruits of all our increase.” He continued, “Now let me see your checkbook.” Reluctantly I handed it to him. He asked another question, “What is fruit?” “That which you earn,” I quickly replied. He countered, “What does first mean?” “First means first, the front of the line!” “Then, when you deposit your check on the first and fifteenth of each month make sure from now on the first check you write is the Lord’s tithe, the firstfruits of all your increase,” he said. He went on to explain to me that giving is an act of faith and showed me the meaning of Proverbs 3:5-6 which says we are to “trust the Lord with all of our hearts and lean not unto our own understanding. In all our ways acknowledge Him and He will direct our paths.”
Since that day years ago, I have never deposited a paycheck except that the first check I wrote after it was “unto the Lord,” the firstfruit. Many years ago, Susie and I discovered the joy of giving way over the tithe every year of our married life. We did it when we had little or nothing. We did it when we were struggling with a young family. We did it when were responsible for college tuition, graduate school tuition, and weddings, and we are still blessed by it. It is the priority of our stewardship.
I am often asked by people who are contemplating becoming tithers if the tithe is to be given before or after taxes. For me, I never even considered the fact that taxes to a human government should be the firstfruits. To me the issue is plain. Solomon said, “Firstfruits” — of what? “All your increase.” That is how we honor God. This is the priority of our stewardship. If we wait until we think we can afford it and continue to give our firstfruits to ourselves, or to others, or to our own pleasures, it won’t happen. An unknown poet framed it best when he or she said,
The groom bent with age leaned over his cane
His steps uncertain needed guiding,
While down the church aisle
With a warm toothless smile
The bride in a wheelchair came riding.
Who is this elderly couple thus wed?
We’ve learned when we quickly explored it,
That this is that rare most conservative pair
Who waited till they could afford it!
Our purpose in life is to honor God. With what? With our possessions. And what part of our possessions? The “firstfruits” of all our possessions. There is one other question of stewardship that all of us should be asking.
What is the promise of my stewardship?
“…so that your barns may be filled and your vats overflow with new wine.” Proverbs 3:9-10
Full and overflowing! That is a far cry from the haunting call of many today — “Not enough.” Here we see the John 6 principle in action. The boy gave his little lunch of loaves and fish. Thousands of people were fed and twelve basked remained. In the words of Solomon, “Your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will overflow with new wine.” This is an amazing thought we find in Proverbs 3:10, “So your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine.” It is supernatural. I don’t know how it works; I just know that after doing it every week for over quarter of a century it does work. If act, the word “be filled” in verse 10 is in the imperfect tense. It is an ongoing process. It just continues to be true as I continue to honor God with my possessions, with the firstfruits of all my increase. He just keeps on and on filling my barns.
Have you ever noticed that when God addresses our stewardship in the Bible, His emphasis is not on our giving, but on our receiving? Malachi says, “’Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that here may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such a blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.’” (Mal. 3:10). The emphasis is on our receiving. In Proverbs 3:9-10 once again the emphasis is snot on our giving as much as it is on our barns being filled — our receiving. In the New Testament, Jesus said it like this, “Give and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38). God’s emphasis is always on our receiving, not so much on our giving. Solomon’s statement in Proverbs 3:10 about our barns being filled is an incredible statement. It all boils down to one question, “Who are we going to believe?”
We have the wisest advice ever given on stewardship by the wisest man who ever lived. He put it like this, “Honor the Lord with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase; so your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine” (Prov. 3:9-10). What is the purpose of our stewardship? Are we honoring God? What is the product of our stewardship? Are we simply trying to be a steward of our time and talent and not with our treasure? God said the product of our stewardship is our possessions. What is the priority of our stewardship? Remember the firstfruits belong to Him. What is the promise of our stewardship? We can take Him at His word. However, the real question is not if we ask ourselves these four questions, but fi we will act upon them. If we have not been regular tithers, will we begin to do so now?
The greatest stewardship verse in all the Bible is found in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The Lord Jesus was the product of the Father’s stewardship to you. He was His only Son, the firstfruits of all who would be born again after Him. We have a tremendous opportunity to honor God with our lives — the greatest of all our possessions. He said, “Those who honor Me, I will honor” (1 Sam. 2:30).