Built Upon the Rock
by E.H. ‘Jack’ Sequeira
When church members hear the word “stewardship” mentioned from the pulpit, many envision that the church wants their money. Money does play a major part in the doctrine of Christian stewardship, but stewardship includes more than money. Stewardship has to do with responsibility for all our God-given gifts, time, possessions, abilities, and lifestyle. But even the doctrine of stewardship, if not understood in context of the gospel, can become legalistic in its application. In this chapter, we will examine the doctrine of Christian stewardship, exclusively in the context of the everlasting gospel.
The formula of the gospel when experienced by faith is always, “Not I, but Christ,” and the apostle Paul applied this formula to his own life with these words:
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
1 Corinthians 15:10
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them — yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.
To appreciate Christian stewardship in the light of this formula, let’s consider an incident in the life of Jesus, as recorded in Mark’s Gospel.
Jesus and His disciples once stood near the temple treasury, watching as the people placed their offerings in the treasury box (this is how tithes and offerings were collected in those days):
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, 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, put in everything — all she had to live on.”
These words must have surprised Jesus’ disciples, and they may even have questioned if He really knew what He was talking about. Even after He explained that she had put in everything she had, they may have wondered how two mites could become more than all that the rich had given. But God apparently evaluates things differently, and Jesus was saying that the offerings of the rich came from their surplus, but the widow had given away her very livelihood.
Widowhood today is not easy, but nothing compared to what widows experienced in Christ’s day. There was no welfare, no food stamps, no social security, no community services back then. Reputable employment for women simply did not exist, so widows often turned to prostitution to survive. Even so, widows in Jesus’ day had very few resources, even for basic needs such as food and clothing.
The issue was crucial, and the apostle James counseled early believers:
James 1:27 [Emphasis Added]
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Clearly, the widow at the treasury who dropped in her two mites was not giving of her surplus; she was giving her livelihood, revealing how completely she depended on God for her survival. She was putting into practice what Jesus taught His disciples in His Sermon on the Mount:
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [food, clothing, shelter, etc.] will be given to you as well.
Stewardship and Righteousness by Faith
As we studied last chapter on the Sabbath, Adam lost his dominion at the Fall, and Satan claimed ownership of his domain, claiming right of ownership while tempting Jesus in the wilderness. In his second temptation, the devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and said:
Luke 4:6 [Emphasis Added]
And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.”
While Jesus resisted Satan’s temptation, He did not dispute Satan’s claim and, on more than one later occasion, Jesus referred to Satan as the prince of this world:
I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me....
The apostle John expressed this same idea to the believers of his day, when he wrote:
1 John 5:19
We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.
For Jesus to be able to save men and women who lived in Satan’s domain, He had to buy them back. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus did exactly that, at the cross. All believers acknowledge that:
1 Peter 1:18-19
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed [repurchased] from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
Salvation cannot be bought with silver or gold — that is, with tithes and offerings. The cross of Christ is the only means of redemption from sin and Satan, and a Christian’s lifestyle must be based on this reality.
This brings us, now, to the true meaning of Christian stewardship. Tithes and offerings, time and abilities given to God do nothing to buy His favor, nor do they add insurance to one’s salvation in Christ. Stewardship is simply a confession of faith that one belongs to Christ, along with everything one possesses. Paul expressed this principle to the Corinthian believers this way:
1 Corinthians 6:20 7:23
...You were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. ...You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings.
This is the essence of true stewardship. Everything a believer is and has now belongs to Christ — possessions, time, abilities, body, and one’s life itself. Paul writes:
1 Corinthians 10:31
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
This is the fruit of genuine righteousness by faith, and the apostle Paul says of his own life:
I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Acts 4 records an example of how this genuine stewardship exhibited itself in the lives of the New Testament Christians:
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
The cross of Christ and the saving grace of God will produce similar fruits in the lives of all true believers. The cross of Christ compels the believer to live and die for Him who lived and died for them:
2 Corinthians 5:14-15
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
Such Christian stewardship makes no sense to the natural, human mind, something the apostle Paul readily admits:
1 Corinthians 1:23-24
...But we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
The cross of Christ delivers the believer from his or her original, mortal, self-centered bios-life. In exchange, God bestows the divine zoe-life of His Son, given to mankind at the resurrection. Not only is this life eternal, it is dominated by agape-love that “does not seek its own:”
1 Corinthians 13:5
It [Love] does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Christian stewardship is a manifestation of this power of the gospel in the life of the believer.
This brings us to Malachi 3:8-10, a text commonly used to promote stewardship in the matter of tithes and offerings:
“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse — your whole nation — because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”
The real issue for Malachi is not that the people are failing to give tithes and offerings; the problem is much deeper, as expressed in the two previous verses:
“I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty. “But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’”
The people have turned their backs on God, just as their fathers had done; this is the main issue. So they are ignoring God’s ordinances, including giving of tithes and offerings. The Jews of Malachi’s day have turned from God-dependence to self-dependence, and their failure to pay tithes and give offerings is but an outward evidence of the inner reality. These are symptoms, not causes, of their real problem.
Fruits of the Gospel
The same may be said today of many of God’s people. Those who fail to clearly understand the gospel of Jesus Christ — and the truth of justification by faith — will also fail in Christian stewardship. Even if they faithfully give tithes and offerings, they will do so grudgingly, as a requirement for salvation, rather than in joyful gratitude for the salvation received by faith.
When God accuses His people of stealing what belongs to Him, it can sound quite legalistic unless we consider these verses in their context:
“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse — your whole nation — because you are robbing me.
When we look at the whole of what God is saying here, we find that He is accusing the whole nation of Israel of robbing Him of what is rightfully His — that is, they are robbing Him of themselves. He had delivered them from Egyptian bondage so that they might be His special people. But instead, they want independence to go their own way, robbing God of His most precious investment.
Therefore, God pleads with them to return to Him with their whole heart. Among the evidences of that return will be faithful tithe- and offering-giving. If they repent and return, God promises that He will “open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be enough room to receive it”:
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”
In what form will these blessings come? Many imagine them as material wealth and possessions. But in these verses, when God promises overflowing blessings, He is speaking of the spiritual treasures given in Jesus Christ. As Jesus Himself said to the rich young ruler who thought he could make it to heaven by his own good works:
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
One of my church members once complained to me that, whenever she paid tithe, her financial situation would deteriorate. “God promises that if I am faithful in tithes and offerings, He will more than take care of my financial needs,” she complained, “but instead I have become poorer!” This dear sister, like many others, failed to see the true meaning of Christian stewardship. I had to remind her that, in giving her His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, God had already opened the windows of heaven and had blessed her more than she could imagine. Paul puts it well:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us [past tense] in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
If this dear sister had really understood the gospel, she would have realized that:
1 Corinthians 2:9-10
However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him — these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.
In giving His Son, God emptied heaven, and the Spirit convinces those who have received Christ by faith that they:
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Those who accept Christ as personal Savior and surrender all to Him as Lord and Master sacrifice nothing. In exchange for their miserable, mortal lives and transitory personal wealth, they receive Christ’s eternal life and heavenly wealth. Jesus offered the rich young ruler this amazing bargain. For those who appreciate the real nature of the riches of God, stewardship becomes a delight. God is not after money when He asks the believers to be faithful in tithes and offerings. He could easily turn stones into gold; He doesn’t need more money! What he really wants are committed people who rely on Him for everything.
In Satan’s economy, money is everything, and God knows this. But He wants His children to learn that faith involves being totally dependent on Him — for everything. Though His followers still live in a wicked world where Satan can make life miserable, God wants them to be totally dependent on Him. Jesus taught this clearly in His Sermon on the Mount:
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
Jesus then admonished His followers not to be worried about material things:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?”
And why not? He urged them:
Matthew 6:26-30 [Emphasis Added]
“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers 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 one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you — you of little faith?”
The issue here is faith, and stewardship is ultimately a faith issue, as Paul tells young Timothy:
1 Timothy 6:6-10
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
Paul is not here saying that money is the root of all evil; otherwise, the church would not touch it. Love of money is the root of all evil. God is not necessarily opposed to His people being rich, for He showered Abraham with wealth. But money can easily become an idol, and Satan can use the desire for money to replace Christ as the center of affection.
A church member I knew in the mission field once won a large sum of money in the lottery and shortly thereafter left the church, telling the pastor, “I got what I wanted (the financial blessing) by joining your church; now I’m leaving my seat for another.” He had failed to understand the gospel and its claim on him.
Besides teaching lessons about faith, Christian stewardship also encourages the believer to reflect God’s own self-emptying love. The gospel not only provides a ticket to heaven; it delivers the believer from selfishness, the underlying principle of sin. Isaiah describes the self-centeredness of sin in these words:
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way....
Sin always wants to have “its own way.” But the power of the gospel provides deliverance from this fundamental problem that has plagued the world since the Fall. The genuine practice of Christian stewardship testifies to this deliverance:
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.
By contrast, Paul says of those in the world:
For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.
Human existence may be categorized into four specific areas, each a gift from God. First, God gives everyone a body capable of performing many good deeds. Second, He blesses each with certain natural abilities, or talents. Third, He provides each with time — 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Finally, He blesses each with a measure of possessions.
A person entrusted with the management of another person’s estate is known as a steward. Christians belong to God, and He makes each His steward over the four areas — body, talents, time, and possessions. Paul reminds the Christian:
1 Corinthians 4:1-2
This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.
Jesus once told the Parable of the Talents to illustrate the importance of being faithful stewards:
“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
“The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
“Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
“‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 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. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”
Two of the three servants in the parable are faithful with the talents entrusted to them, and the master commends them (verses 21 and 23), “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”
But of the third, unfaithful servant the master says (verses 26-27), “You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.”
Immediately after telling this parable, Jesus describes the last-day judgment, when He will divide the human race into two groups — sheep and goats:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
The sheep represent the faithful stewards, and to these He says:
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
In contrast, He says to the unfaithful goats:
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’”
In these two statements, Jesus reveals a most important gospel truth. When Jesus came to this world and redeemed humanity on the cross, He purchased the entire human race. That is why, according to the parable, Christ identifies Himself with every human being. No one has been excluded, including the “stranger” who represents unbelievers. Christian stewards, who have accepted the gift of salvation, are to look at every human being (no matter who they are, regardless of race, gender, or situation) as if he or she were Christ Himself. In Christ’s estimation of things, the way we treat others is how we are treating Him. As stewards of Christ’s possessions, all will give an account in the judgment of how they have treated others.
Taking the name of Christ is to become His ambassador and to plead with others to accept Him as their only hope of salvation:
2 Corinthians 5:18-20
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
Most in the world have no idea that they have already been reconciled to God by the death of His Son. They are afraid of God and are running away from Him. God’s stewards have a primary responsibility to give witness to the unconditional agape-love and saving grace of the Lord, Jesus Christ.
This means sharing with others the incredibly good news of the gospel. It requires prioritizing one’s time, abilities, and possessions to encourage others to accept this salvation. Everything the Christian is and everything he or she has must be dedicated to this one goal. This, I believe, is the God-given mission and responsibility of every Christian — and, by extension, the whole church’s.
As expressed in the fundamental doctrine on stewardship, Christians are God’s stewards, “entrusted by Him with time and opportunities, abilities and possessions, and the blessings of the earth and its resources.” Being a faithful steward means to acknowledge God’s rightful ownership of all these things. One way to do so is by returning tithes and giving offerings for the proclamation of the gospel and the upkeep, growth, and support of His church. But being a faithful steward also means recognizing one’s dependence on God for all things, by accepting the righteousness of Jesus, which is by faith alone. Then, as faithful stewards of God’s grace, His followers will focus on sharing the wonderful, good news of the gospel that they have experienced.