Stewardship seems like a word for old timers. Now we have Extravagant Generosity. The subject is the same: God has put resources at our disposal and holds us accountable for their use. When our lives are dominated by fear – fear of survival, fear of being able to keep up with our competitors – we hold on to our resources as if they give us life. When we walk by faith in Jesus, we find our life in Jesus and are able to hold things loosely.
Here are some characteristics that describe the life of one following Jesus with regard to resources:
- Disciples are able to trust God to take care of them and provide for their needs. If it is primarily up to us to see that our needs are met then worry and fear and the consequent hoarding of resources make sense. But if God can – and will – take care of us, we can hold on to things loosely. Many years ago I was meeting with a church nominations committee. We were trying to find people to serve on the Finance committee the following year. I asked them, “What’s the first thing we want in someone on Finance?” They agreed. “We want someone who is tight.” That was a tight church. As pastor I had to have Board approval to buy stamps. The sad part was that their tightness – expressed in finances and multiple other ways – drove off the younger generations (including their own children and grandchildren). I’d rather have someone who trusted God in the area of money than someone who is tight.
- Disciples understand themselves as stewards of their possessions. It makes sense to talk about my possessions. But I’ll miss God if I think that all my stuff is my stuff. All I have is a gift from God. As a steward, I am entrusted with the use and disposal of various resources. I am accountable to God for how I use them.
- Disciples see tithing as a starting point for giving. The OT talks more about tithing than the NT. Jesus’ comment on tithing references the Pharisee’s fixation on tithing to the exclusion of more important things. By my reading, the NT standard isn’t 10% – it’s 100%. 100% of what I have belongs to God and is his to command. As far as giving to the church, though, I have found 10% to be a good start.
- Disciples are generous in meeting the needs of others. When I preach on giving I tell my people that if all they do is give to the church, they’re likely missing God. We’re surrounded by so many people in need. While it’s easy to defer responsibility for them to the government, God doesn’t think that releases us from our obligation to love people in a practical way in their hour of need. It’s unlikely we’ll be able to fully meet every need. But we can meet some of many needs.
- That the gift of hospitality will be shown in such a way that Disciples will open their homes for various groups – both Christian and seeker – to meet in. Christian stewardship is about more than money. As we welcome people into our homes, we put our homes – for most of us, our largest investments – at God’s disposal.
- Disciples live a life of sacrifice – following in the footsteps of Jesus. Following the suggestion of Guy Williams, I thought I should add this. We think our sacrifice is having to get up early on Sunday morning – of giving anything at all. A life of sacrifice (in this area) will entail what Wesley calls “saving all we can.”He didn’t mean socking money away in the bank. He was talking about doing without. Disciples obey God in the use of resources will often not have the newest cars, the fanciest homes, the most extravagant vacations. We’ll do without.
One of the challenges I see in some of our churches (including the one I currently serve) in particular, and probably American Christianity as a whole is that we have the resources to be generous without having to be terribly sacrificial. In fact, many of us have the ability to be extravagantly generous without having to be sacrificial. Extravagant Generosity is wonderful. As a pastor, I’m tremendously grateful. But our Scriptures tell a story of redemption via taking up a cross, following Jesus as a vocation that involves sacrificial self-giving.
Good point, Guy!