Following is another in a series of columns on The Baptist Faith & Message 2000.
Article XIII of The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 reads:
“God is the source of all blessings, temporal and spiritual; all that we have and are we owe to Him. Christians have a spiritual debtorship to the whole world, a holy trusteeship in the gospel, and a binding stewardship in their possessions. They are therefore under obligation to serve Him with their time, talents, and material possessions; and should recognize all these as entrusted to them to use for the glory of God and for helping others. According to the Scriptures, Christians should contribute of their means cheerfully, regularly, systematically, proportionately, and liberally for the advancement of the Redeemer’s cause on earth.”
Stewardship is not ownership. Good stewards faithfully manage what belongs to someone else and readily understand they are accountable to the owner.
The Bible makes this clear. A steward is responsible for something that belongs to another (Gen. 43:19; 44:4; Matt. 20:8). Often, stewards are servants placed over other servants, as well as over their owners’ property (Luke 16:1).
Regarding spiritual matters, the apostle Paul refers to himself, Apollos, and Peter as “servants of Christ and managers of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor. 4:1-2). Pastors are overseers of “God’s household” (Tit. 1:7). And in a broader sense, all Christians are to be “good stewards of the varied grace of God” (1 Pet. 4:10).
The very idea of stewardship may be traced to the garden of Eden, where God commands Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). Although the first humans rebel and plunge creation beneath the curse of sin, God continues to entrust mankind with stewardship of the earth. All of this is grounded in the truth that God owns everything and that human beings will give an account for our use and protection of all he has delegated to us.
Christians bear an even greater privilege in stewardship, for we are citizens of God’s kingdom and trustees of the gospel. We are “bought at a price.” Therefore, we belong to Christ, and everything we have – including our bodies – is at his disposal (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
Jesus stresses the importance of faithful stewardship in his parables. The parable of the talents illustrates that true disciples are rewarded for their service, while false professors of the faith reveal their unbelief through infidelity (Matt. 25:14-30).
The parable of the rich fool reveals the consequences of storing up treasures for oneself, with little or no regard for the one who owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Luke 12:16-21; cf. Ps. 50:10).
And the parable of the dishonest manager demonstrates that “an abuse of stewardship indicates that one is not a Christian … a matter for sober contemplation,” according to Herschel Hobbs.
There is a sense in which all Christians, like Paul, are obligated to the entire world (see Rom. 1:14). That is, we are commanded to yield ourselves and our material possessions so that others may come to know Christ. We are not to love the world – the global system over which Satan rules – or the things relating to it, for these are temporary and passing away (1 John 2:15-17). Christ came to set us free from the tyranny of things.
Stewardship and the church
God commanded his people under the Old Covenant to tithe, or to give one-tenth of their increase to him. The Mosaic Law required Israelites to give tithes totaling more than 22 percent of their income each year, usually in the form of crops or animals.
There was the Levitical tithe to support those who offered daily sacrifices on behalf of the people (Lev. 27:30-33; Num. 18:21). Next, there was the festival tithe in which Israelites brought food for themselves and the Levites on special feast days (Deut. 14:22-27). Finally, there was the welfare tithe, offered every third year for the Levite, foreigner, orphan, and widow (Deut. 14:28-29). In addition, there were freewill offerings (Exod. 25:2; 1 Chron. 29:9).
There is some question as to whether these requirements under the Mosaic Law carry forward to the church today. And while we may vigorously debate this, a careful study of the New Testament shows that first-century believers probably gave more than 10 percent – not because they were commanded to do so, but because they wanted to do so.
Consider how the New Testament says we should give:
Locally. Paul instructs believers at Corinth the same way he instructed the churches of Galatia – to set in store a collection for safe keeping (1 Cor. 16:1-2).
Consistently. Corinthian believers are urged to take up a weekly collection for their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16:2).
Proportionately. We should give as God has prospered us (1 Cor. 16:2).
Sacrificially. Jesus praises the poor widow who gave two small coins (Luke 21:1-4). Paul commends the Macedonians for giving to the saints in Jerusalem out of their deep poverty (2 Cor. 8:2).
Liberally. We reap in proportion to what we sow (Luke 6:38; 2 Cor. 9:6).
Cheerfully. God loves those who give cheerfully – literally, in a hilarious spirit (2 Cor. 9:7).
The principles of stewardship Jesus and the apostles set forth show that when we give in the ways listed above we fulfill Scripture’s highest commands: to love God and love others.
As Herschel Hobbs writes, “The Lord measures the gift by the love and sacrifice it involves. He does not look simply at what one has before he gives but at what he has left after he has given.”
Next: Article XIV of the BF&M: Cooperation