I remember thinking the “B” word was a negative thing when I was a kid. Then I grew up and got married and thought it was a necessary thing. My wife didn’t like it though. Oh, sorry — I suppose I ought to clarify, lest some of you continue thinking down the wrong road. The “B” word is “budget.” To my wife and many others, a budget feels like a straightjacket, a restriction on life that is depressing and resembles claustrophobia. Who wants that? But, of course, a budget is simply a tool for helping to make sure your money goes where you really want it to go and for ensuring that you have the funding to do what you want or need to do.
Regardless of how you feel about budgets, plenty of you probably have some negative associations with one of the church’s big “S” words. And I don’t mean “salvation” or “sin.” I mean “stewardship.” Seriously. Plenty of folks will go out of their way to avoid being present for the annual sermon or series on giving. And if you pull a fast one on your parishioners by preaching on tithing in an odd month (like May), you can get some angry pushback: “That’s all the church talks about — money — they are always sticking out their hands wanting more of my paycheck and making me feel guilty about it at the same time…” Or something
Stewardship, though, is a vital part of Christian discipleship. It really isn’t about funding the annual church budget. It is about our hearts and our relationship to God. It is a fascinating phenomenon that you can trace out many of our hearts’ priorities and commitments by following the money. Where is our trust? What is most important to us? What is the foundation of our sense of security? What makes us feel in control or able to manage life? Often the answer to these questions is connected to money rather than to the promises and character of God.
The Scriptural call to tithe is significant. Much more than another law to try to keep (and often break), tithing is a call to look Godward with our lives. Instead of a negative crimp in our flow of funds, tithing and stewardship are best understood as a truth to acknowledge, an invitation to prove God’s care for and faithfulness to us, and an opportunity to be blessed by blessing others. Acknowledgment, Invitation, Opportunity.
Acknowledgement. Stewardship is an acknowledgement that all that we are and all that we have is a gift from God. He sustains us and gives us strength, health, reasoning, and whatever else enables us to be productive and useful. And so it really isn’t our money, our time, our talents. We are called to steward (invest, use wisely what belongs to another) what is really God’s.
Invitation. Tithing is directly linked to an invitational promise of God. In the OT book of Malachi, God invites His people to put Him to the test — to prove his trustworthiness and faithfulness — by daring to actually give the whole tithe (10 percent). For His part, God promises to open the floodgates of heaven and pour out such abundant blessings as cannot possibly be contained. Or to modernize the whole tithing bit: learning by tithing that you can trust God with your finances becomes a vehicle for knowing that God can be trusted with your life and your loved ones. After all, money can’t do much for you when the bottom falls out and the doctor or officer calls with bad news. We desperately need to know God has us when those times come.
Opportunity. Stewardship is the vehicle God has ordained for funding the spread of the Gospel in all the world. Our faithfulness enables God’s mission of reconciling the world to Himself in Christ to continue until Christ returns. The blessings that come as a result are eternal in nature and of more value than gold.
Acknowledgment. Invitation. Opportunity. That’s Stewardship. It really isn’t such a bad word after all.