Sermon on “Biblical Stewardship”

Sermon for Sunday, November 7th, 2021 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Old Testament reading:

[Gen 1:26-31 ESV] 26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

New Testament reading:

[Col 3:23-24 ESV] 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

Gospel reading:

[Mat 25:14-30 ESV] 14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Introduction

Biblical Stewardship is a term I was not familiar with in my church and Christian upbringing. Only later on did I learn of the term. And it, stewardship, being an important subject, I’ve deemed it worthy of our attention for today’s sermon.

So what is stewardship? You may be familiar with the term, or perhaps it is new to you. I’m not speaking about a boat owned by a man named Stewart.

Rather, the definition of stewardship I’ve come to is this: “the good management of the resources entrusted to us.” I’ll say that again: “the good management of the resources entrusted to us.”

No doubt when we think of stewardship we think of proper financial management. But it is about much more than money and finances. It is the good management of ALL the resources entrusted to us.

One article online says: “Unfortunately many Christians today only associate the idea of stewardship with sermons they have heard about church budgets and building programs.” Well, I can assure you that we have no room on this lot for any more buildings! And I can assure you that this sermon will not be about the church budget. We want to look at stewardship broadly, and Biblically considered.

Not only has God entrusted you with money and possessions, He has entrusted you with skills, and with health, and with the natural environment in which you live, and even time is given to you.

So it is all of the resources which we are called to be good stewards of. Money, skills, health, the environment, and the time God gives us.

We must start with the understanding that while the God of the Bible is uncreated, we and all things around us are created by God. The Psalmist says “The earth and everything in it is the Lords.” (Psalm 24:1) So nothing is ultimately “ours.” This is confirmed in John’s Gospel where it is said: [Jhn 3:27 ESV] “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.” Echoing this the Heidelberg Catechism answers the question “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” by saying “That I am not my own, but belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful savior Jesus Christ.”

So it is that the Bible likens us to managers of what God has entrusted to us. We do not have permanent ownership. We are entrusted with things for a time.

R. C. Sproul points out that “A steward in the ancient world was a person who was given the responsibility and authority to rule over the affairs of the household. The patriarch Joseph became a steward over Potiphar’s household and was given the authority to rule over the house. In that role he was responsible to manage the household well; he was not to waste the resources of the family but to make wise decisions.”

Just as Joseph was a steward of Potiphar’s household, we Christians are to be stewards over what the Lord has entrusted to us.

Paul says of slaves, but I think this can be extended to Christians in general:

[Col 3:23 ESV] 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, AS FOR THE LORD and not for men,

We are stewards of that which God has given us. Then, on His behalf, let us manage things well.

I. Money

The most commonly discussed subject of stewardship is money. We are called to manage our finances well.

This means we are to work so that we can provide for ourselves and so that we can give to others. It is a call for working hard.

It also means, on the other end, we are to have healthy expenditures.

If you have filet mignon for dinner on Monday and New York Strip steak on Tuesday it very well may be that from Wednesday through Sunday you have no dinner at all! Luxury itself is not sinful, but if you always choose luxury then it becomes your standard is no longer special, and you’ll run through your money.

In Proverbs 3:9 we read: Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce;

Let us honor the Lord, not only with our giving but with how we spend our money.

But this is not the end of stewardship. It is about far more than money. We are also to steward our skills, our health, the environment, and our time. All things God has given us.

II. Skills

As for skills, Peter tells us in his first epistle:

[1Pe 4:10 ESV] 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:

He even uses the term “good steward.”

God has given us abilities so that we may serve one another and honor Him.

The athlete who uses his skills to draw attention to his own greatness is to be shunned, but the athlete who wins the game and praises God, he is to be our example.

Each of us has skills that we are to use for serving one another and for giving glory to God. You may be apt to teach. You may cook well. You may have a good ability to listen, or to pray. Or you may be strong as an ox and can help someone move in their new refrigerator.

Of course that refrigerator should be wisely chosen! The joke of a comedian here is apropos:

One of my all-time favorite scenes as he pretends to talk with a refrigerator salesman.

And the salesman says to him:

“You have this refrigerator here. This keeps all your food cold for $600.”

“And you’ve got this refrigerator. This keeps all your food cold for $800.”

“Check this out. $1400. Keeps all your food cold.”

And isn’t this the same with many products? But we sometimes vainly seek the “best” model for others to see. The Cadillac model of whatever product it is. Sometimes this might be a good decision for financial stewardship to buy the model that will last a long time, but sometimes do doubt it is vanity and thus poor stewardship. We might do just as well with the $600 fridge.

But, back to “skills.”

We should cultivate our skills and praise God for them. We should be good stewards of our skills, these gifts God has given us.

III. Health

So we also are to steward our health, which God has given us.

We should eat healthy, and avoid gluttony. Eating healthy is not to be an idol in itself, but is part of taking care of that which God has given us.

We should exercise to the Glory of God. Exercise is not to be an idol such that we lift weights 6 hours a day and make flexing poses for all to see. Rather, good stewardship has us to exercise in moderation. And while I warn against the one who over-exercises, this is quite rare. The far more common condition is that we don’t exercise enough. We don’t take good enough care of ourselves.

We all know what it is to do things that are good for our health. But we struggle with actually doing them! Let us find extra motivation then in knowing that God has called us to the good management of our health.

What else are we to steward?

IV. The Environment

The term often comes up in regards to the natural environment, and well it should. God gave every plant in the Garden for Adam and Eve to eat, and they were to take care of the garden. Man was given dominion over the plants and animals. This dominion isn’t for us to destroy creation, but to use it wisely. We shouldn’t go fishing with dynamite, but we regular line and tackle. If we once-for-all blew up all the fish in the lake, we’d have no more fish to eat! The same goes for trees, the air, the water, and all things in the environment. We may use them, but we should use them wisely.

My friend Cal Beisner has given a name to this Stewardship of the Environment; he calls it “Godly dominion.” He explains that we are not beholden to nature as if it must be our goal to keep it pristine; to keep it “as we found it.” Rather, godly Biblical dominion is exercising control over nature for man’s benefit in a responsible way.

God has given us the world for our benefit. And while “environmentalism” itself is a philosophy which often goes overboard in prioritizing the earth over people, the stewardship of the environment is a Christian virtue.

We Christians are in fact environmentalists. But that doesn’t mean we necessarily agree with the proposals of “the environmentalists.” In fact, many of their proposals, it seems to me would be positively bad for the environment. Much of the government forest management out West, for example, in the last century has completely eschewed any burning. Well, nature needs the occasional wildfire to open up seeds for certain trees and to prevent too large of a powder keg of brush from developing.

Humans are not a curse on the environment. The environment is a blessing for man.

V. Our Time

We are also to be stewards of the time God has given us.

There are two places (Ephesians 5:15-16, and Colossians 4:5) in the King James Bible where it says “redeem the time.”

We are to make the most of our time. To wisely go about our tasks. Not to pursue vain things, and certain not to do evil things.

On my family’s recent trip to Lancaster County, I was impressed with the industriousness of the Amish and Mennonites who live there. They work hard in their fields and in their homes. I spoke to one English man (English is what the Amish call all of us), I spoke to one English man who was a building contractor and he said, “We can’t complete with them. They’ll work till late at night.”

In our day, I believe the call to be stewards of our time and skills (those “gifts of God) is truly a call to avoid frivolous use of our time. While we may relax and enjoy a show, there is a real problem with the modern ability to binge watch 24 shows on Netflix. It would be difficult to argue that binge watching is compatible with stewardship.

I might also suggest — as I’ve been there myself — that if you have a job where you are underutilized (even if you’re paid) , if you’re underutilized it may be a poor use of your time and skills. I’ve had engineering work that at times was scarcely work, as there was little to do sometimes for weeks at a time. And for a while it seems OK and I was glad to get paid, but in time you realize your brain is going to mush and your skills are declining. So let us find work that fits us and where can grow in skills.

Consider our Gospel reading. To the one who buries money in the ground, the master says:
‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.

So let us not bury our gifts but use them for our master.

Conclusion:

Doing so, we should take comfort in our New Testament reading:
[Col 3:23-24 ESV] 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

God has made the world for us, and we are given just a finite time on this planet. As they say about money “when you die, you can’t take it with you.” [1Ti 6:7 ESV] 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. So the winner is not the one who dies with the most toys or the most money. Our goal should not be riches. Our goal should be to glorify God through good stewardship of what He has entrusted us with.

This should also help us to keep from being too attached to things. All things fade away. But God is eternal. If you place your hope and joy in things of this world you are bound to be disappointed. We must hope in God and find our joy in Him who does not change and never disappoints.

Finally, we must conclude that to be good stewards is to do all things to the glory of God. We should say with the hymn writer – God’s love is so amazing that it demands my soul, my life, my ALL. In all places and times are we to strive to be good stewards of the grace that God has given us, doing all things to the glory of God because it is our desire to glorify Him who created us and redeemed us from the fall and all our sin.