PRIORITIES AND VALUES, PART 5

Practicing Whole-Life Stewardship

When we hear the word “steward,” we usually think of a guy dressed in white who works on a cruise ship. In New Testament times, a “steward” was a person who managed the domestic affairs of a family. Back then, this position carried with it a great responsibility. Our Lord applied this idea to His disciples, for they had been entrusted with the care and management of God’s spiritual household.

For Christians, the idea of “stewardship” includes many things. Certainly we are to care for the Church and the needs of God’s people, but our notion of “stewardship” finds its roots back in Genesis 1, where Adam and Eve were given a mandate to care for their environment. No, Christians are not environmentalists, but we are to care for what is around us as well as those who are around us. Adam and Eve, through their disobedience to God’s will, ruined mankind’s stewardship over God’s creation, effectively handing that stewardship over to the devil. That’s why we have weeds, cancer, and other physical maladies with both our bodies and the world around us.

But Jesus Christ, through His obedience to God’s will, is returning that stewardship to mankind, gradually, as His Church grows, culminating in His return. Until the day of His return, there are many things we can do to be the best stewards possible.

1. Respect the physical body, 1 Corinthians 6:12—20

“Whole-life stewardship” begins really close to home. We are answerable to God for the stewardship of our bodies, our time, our possessions, our gifts, and talents.

a. True Christian liberty, vs. 12

“Everything is permissible for me”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”—but I will not be mastered by anything.

Part of this verse—the part in quotation marks—was actually a popular slogan of Paul’s day, so what he is doing is taking a culturally common notion, one that had become part of the early church’s thinking, and debunking it. Sure, “everything is permissible for me” says Paul, but then he qualifies it: not everything is good for me. Certainly as a Christian “everything is permissible for me,” but as a Christian, nothing outside of God’s will should master me.

There is nothing wrong with being a freethinking Christian, but all our freethinking must be tempered with the Word of God. Martin Luther, a famous freethinker of his day, wrote this:

A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.

Christian liberty should never be confused with license. Christians have been gloriously set free from all forms of bondage—to sin, to worldliness, to old habits—but being free from sin does not mean being free to sin. In fact, Christians have changed masters; once we were mastered by evil forces, not we are to be mastered by Jesus Christ.

b. The call to sexual purity, vs. 13, 14

Food for the stomach and the stomach for food”—but God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.

Here is another famous proverb of Paul’s time in Corinth. The first slogan Paul took apart was a general one, this one more specifically deals with food and the stomach. God created a world full of diverse foods and things to sustain life. All that can be consumed and digested by man was created by God, but, God can destroy both the food and stomach if He wanted to. In other words, Paul is showing the temporary nature of both man and food.

The next phrase really isn’t out of place, although is sounds like it is. Why start talking about sexual immorality on the heels of food? What is the connection? On the surface, both are appetites that can be met the right way or the wrong way. Food and drink should be consumed in moderation and discretion. Eating the wrong foods or consuming the wrong kind of drink can be dangerous to your physical well-being. Similarly, meeting sexual needs outside of God’s parameters for such results in emotional and spiritual problems.

God created the human body for His glory, not for sinful pleasure. He formed it in His image and likeness, therefore Christians need to take care what they do with it. The members of the Jerusalem Council noticed that the Gentiles were somewhat lose when it came to matters of sex, so they gave them this piece of advice:

…abstain from things sacrificed to idols, from blood, from strangled animals, and from fornication…” (Acts 15:29)

The Greeks viewed the body with some disdain; no wonder sexual immorality was rampant in the Gentile world of Paul’s day. If the body wasn’t important, who cared what one did with it? But for the Christian, the body was both temporary and eternal. While our bodies will eventually die, one day they will be resurrected, like Christ’s. We only have one, so let’s take care what we do with it.

c. Our bodies as members of Christ, vs. 15—18

Christians don’t have a right to do with their bodies as they please, like uniting with a prostitute, because they are members of Christ’s mystical Body.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Corinthians 12:27)

For this reason, Christians need to understand that sexual relationships involve more than just a physical action; literally, two become one. Therefore, since Christians are already joined mystically to their Lord, they must take care with whom they join sexually.

Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit. (vs. 16, 17)

Summing up Paul’s teaching here is that union with a prostitute is an evil perversion of the divinely established marriage union, which itself is a picture of the mystical union between Christ and His people. It may be mystical, but it is real, nonetheless.

d. The ultimate reason for purity, vs. 19, 20

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

You can do many things with your body: pamper it, idolize it, mistreat it, be ashamed of it. But Paul tells us how we should regard our body: It is the temple of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit dwells in a temple, that temple belongs to God, therefore Paul declares, “You are not your own.” Indeed, at his conversion, the Christian enters into a legal transaction. He has, as it were, signed, sealed, and delivered his body to God. In exchange, he receives the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as a special gift from God. So, while he gets to keep his body to live in, it no longer belongs to him. And the Holy Spirit cannot dwell in a polluted sanctuary.

Within the context of chapter 6, if the believer is dedicated to glorifying God, both shameful lawsuits and sexual impurity will not be found in a church.

2. Invest time and treasures wisely, Ephesians 5:15—17; 1 Timothy 6:17—19

a. Stewardship of time, Ephesians 5:15—17

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

The word “then” refers the reader back to 5:10-11—

find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.

Believers, as “children of light” are not to get involved in the works of darkness, but rather to live in such a way to expose them. Therefore, says Paul, live right! Paul’s readers should not live carelessly in the evil environment around them; they are better than that because they have received enlightenment from God.

Christians should “make the most” of every opportunity to serve the Lord. Paul has in mind rendering genuine service to God. Erdman comments:

The wisdom of their walk would thus consist in their careful endeavor to seize upon every fitting season for doing good, and to make their own every possible occasion for the fulfillment of duty.

The very precious opportunity to bear witness for Christ should never be allowed to slip through our hands because, as Paul wrote, “the days are evil.” J.B. Philips helps us understand what Paul is getting at by translating this phrase with a slightly different emphasis:

Make the best use of your time, despite all the difficulties of these days.

Christians are wise, even if they don’t know it, because they have the mind of Christ. Therefore, Paul warns us not to be foolish. How embarrassing must a child of God be to God the Father when he lives like a fool! And part of not living like a fool is simply discerning what God’s will is. And knowing what God’s will is must be possible, since Paul encouraged his readers to “understand what the Lord’s will is.”

b. Stewardship of material resources, 1 Timothy 6:17—19

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

Timothy, pastoring what appeared to be a very prosperous church in a very prosperous city, Ephesus, was instructed by Paul to give this advice to his wealthy parishioners: just because you have money, don’t get uppity. Having material wealth is not a bad thing, in fact it can be a very good thing if you use it properly. But the tendency among those with much was to put their trust and security in their wealth. What a terrible idea! Many an investor has gone to bed only to wake up the next morning discovering that the wealth it took him a lifetime to accumulate has all but evaporated, due to some stock market crash on the other side of the world.

Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle. (Proverbs 23:5)

Instead of trusting things, Christians should trust in the Lord. Only God can give a person true satisfaction in this life. This kind of advice, by the way, is no respecter of persons, for it applies to those with and those without.

Instead of trusting in their wealth and hording it, believers are supposed to be good stewards of it: use their wealth for godly purposes.

A kind heart as well as a generous hand is demanded of the rich. –Bernard.

Elsewhere the apostle commends a very poor congregation of their generosity:

In the midst of a very 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. (2 Corinthians 8:2, 3)

It’s always easier to simply write a check than to get personally involved, but a wise steward has learned to both give of his wealth and of himself, by the way/

3. Use callings and abilities productively, Matthew 25:14—30; Ephesians 4:28

a. The parable of the talents, Matthew 25:14—30

Jesus’ parable of the talents is similar to the parable of the pounds in Luke 19:11—28, and while on the surface both seem to be teaching money management, the two parables actually teach the same lesson: believers must be faithful in their service to Christ. The great life-principle is found in verse 29:

For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.

The man who uses his talents—his gifts, abilities, and opportunities—in service to the Lord always gains more; he will be blessed. But the one who doesn’t take advantage of what God has given him will lose what he has. The consequence of being a lazy Christian is truly tragic:

And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (vs. 30)

Of course, this is a parable and is not meant to be taken literally, although its lessons are meant to be taken literally. In this case, a lazy, self-centered believer will likely not be thrown into the deepest, darkest pit of hell. He will, however, never enter fully into the kind of vibrant, satisfying life that is available to him and every single believer.

b. Be productive, Ephesians 4:28

Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

This verse occurs in the midst of some advice on practical Christian living. Just because one has become a Christian doesn’t mean all their bad habits will suddenly disappear or that they will never get lazy and fall back into those bad habits. In this verse, Paul uses the example of someone who used to steal before their conversion. The kind of stealing referred to here refers to any kind of misappropriation. For the believer, all this “misappropriation” must end, no matter how insignificant it may seem. In fact, the opposite must true: he must not be afraid to “work.” The Greek word used here refers to work that ends in exhaustion.

But all that hard work must have a goal: it must benefit not only the one working, but others as well. A believer must never be stingy; he must always be ready to share with those in genuine need.

Christians have been “bought with a price,” according to Paul (1 Corinthians 6:20), therefore we don’t belong to ourselves any longer. We are not free to do with our bodies, our minds, our resources, or our time as we please. Because God gave all He had to save us, we owe Him everything we are. We repay this divine debt by living biblically, being good stewards of what God has given to us.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd
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