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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Be a Faithful Steward
Text:LD 42 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 8th Commandment (Stealing)
 
Preached:2019
Added:2019-03-10
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 24:1,2,3                                                                             

Hy 8  [after Apostles’ Creed]

Reading – Luke 16:1-13; Luke 19:11-27

Ps 62:4,5,6,7  

Sermon – Lord’s Day 42

Ps 73:8,9

Hy 84:1,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


 

Beloved in Christ, do you realize how many possessions you have? Do you have any idea how much stuff belongs to you? It’s probably more than you realize! Not just your bank balance and your retirement fund, tidy numbers you can point at, and say: “That’s what I have.” But all your possessions, all your worldly goods—it’s a lot!

People who move to a new house will realize this. If you’ve got the time, moving can take a while. You slowly pack the boxes and get everything ready for the big day, leaving out only whatever is vital. After weeks of packing, room after room, you can finally say: “There. We’ve put away everything that we don’t need on a daily basis.” And then it’s almost embarrassing, to see how little we need from day to day—and how much is “extra.”

Or maybe you’ve done an inventory of the contents of your home for the insurance company. You spent hours documenting everything you have, and it’s page after page of items, probably much more than you would’ve guessed.

So how should we look at our possessions: our money in the bank, our car in the driveway, those things in our sheds and shelves? What’s it all for? Today we study the eighth commandment: “You shall not steal.” Straightforward enough. Yet God is concerned here with more than just cheating on your tax return, or lifting a few $20 bills from Dad’s wallet.

No, God’s will also relates to the good use of our money and possessions. The LORD looks at these things not just negatively, but positively. And actually, the positive side is so much more important. How can we use God’s good gifts for a good purpose? How can we spend and save and own in a way that brings honour to God?

The Lord wants us to be stewards of everything that He’s given: to treat it rightly, and to use it wisely. We need that reminder often, for we’re prone to being discontent with what we have and selfish in how we use it. Yet when it comes to our possessions, we’re called to submit our lives to God’s good law and the rule of our loving Master. I preach to you God’s Word as it is summarized in LD 42,

Be a faithful steward of God’s gifts to you:

  1. the owner
  2. the stewards
  3. the assignment
  4. the rewards

 

1) the owner: It’s nothing new that people take a wrong attitude to money and possessions. Sometimes we think of this as a modern or Western problem, one that afflicts only those living in wealthy countries. But materialism is a sin that is almost as old as the world.

Also during his ministry our Lord Jesus was confronted with greed and theft and the worship of money—even among the people of God. Many of the people He spoke to didn’t have much to their name, yet they still knew about the corrupting power of money. Money is a snare for rich as well as poor. That’s why Jesus in the Gospels is often addressing the matter of our possessions. He knew that here God’s people need much instruction.

To explain God’s wisdom for life, Jesus used a teaching tool called a parable. He would portray familiar images and scenes from everyday life, scenes of farms or households or businesses. From that He would draw some lessons for life in God’s Kingdom, so that the people could clearly understand—and hopefully remember.

One particular image that Jesus used in his parables was the image of a steward. A steward was a common position in the daily economy of that time. A steward was an employee who had the job of managing the money and the goods that belonged to someone else.

We still talk about “stewardship” today. For example, people emphasize our stewardship of the natural environment: the air, the water, the land and resources. We have an earth, and we need to care for it and protect it, so that we can entrust it to our children and those who come after them. In a real sense, that’s true. It is God’s earth, given to us for safe-keeping.

So a steward serves the one who is the owner or holder of the goods. That’s another person we meet in Jesus’ parables, the “master,” a man of property and resources. For example, the parable in Luke 16 speaks about “a certain rich man” (v 1) who was the owner of a large estate and who gave his steward control over everything he possessed.

Likewise, we meet an owner in the parable of Luke 19, “a nobleman [who] went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom” (v 12). This man too, handed out large sums of money to be managed while he was away. Both men were wealthy, with power and influence, and servants to command.

It’s not hard to understand who these owners represent. For Jesus is teaching us about the kingdom of God. He’s telling us about the Giver of all good things. He’s saying that as individuals, we’re not the autonomous owners of what we have, free to do whatever we want. No, God the LORD is the owner of everything!

This is a key Scriptural teaching. For example, Psalm 24 begins in this way, “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (v 1). The same truth is found throughout the Bible, like in Haggai 2, “‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the LORD Almighty” (v 8).

And why is this so? Why is it all God’s? Psalm 24 tells us: “The earth is the LORD’s… for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters” (v 2). Everything belongs to God, because He made it! He has full rights to this universe and all that’s contained in it. This means that the Lord can do with it whatever He pleases.

That’s true on the widest imaginable scale, and true on the smallest scale. It’s as large as the fortune of Bill Gates, and it’s as small as the $5 bill in your wallet—it all belongs to God. When it comes to our possessions, God can decide to give more, and He can decide to give less. He can build up, and He can ruin. As sovereign Creator and Governor, God needs to answer to no man, and all his ways are good.

But whenever God gives out of his riches, those who receive it need to answer to him! For God’s will is always supreme, and He sets forth the way to go, for his creation and his creatures. This is why we have the Ten Commandments, after all: because “the earth is the LORD’s, the world, and all who live in it.” We are his to command.

And so as we look at all the stuff piled in the shed and the garage and the storeroom; as we receive our pay for another month; as we drive home from worship in our shiny Toyota; even as we enjoy our evening meal, we humbly acknowledge that God owns it all. Everything that we possess is given by him. So it’s his, every bit of it. He’s the sole owner, while we are simply…

 

2) the stewards: To understand the term “steward,” we can think of someone who’s a manager—which is probably a more familiar term. A manager is placed in charge of certain duties, to diligently carry them out for someone else. For instance, you can have a manager at McDonald’s, a person responsible to the boss for the conduct of the other employees, and accountable for the good food that they prepare. Or you can have an office manager, someone to make sure that everything in the business runs smoothly.

It’s a helpful comparison, yet a steward is more than a manager, for a steward is given greater responsibility. Managers usually have a job description that is highly detailed, and they are given check-lists for almost every situation that they will encounter. But to a steward, the owner will say, “Here, I entrust to you this money, these resources, this property, to use at your discretion—now, it’s not for you to use however you want, because it is still mine. But from day to day, I am giving you the freedom to make decisions about what to do and when to do it.”

This is the kind of mandate that God gave to Adam and Eve in the beginning, to rule and subdue the earth, to be fruitful and increase. They had almost limitless resources, and the great freedom to use them to God’s honour!

Or think again of those two parables we read. In the parable of Luke 16, the steward was called to account. And notice how much had been entrusted to his supervision: vast amounts of inventory! Likewise in Luke 19, the nobleman gave each of his ten servants a mina, which was equivalent to the wages of several months. Jesus is saying that God has entrusted to each of us a large share of blessing: we have goods and resources and money, plus measures of time and talent and energy. God has given to each of us out of his great wealth, and He has called us to work faithfully as his stewards.

Here we realize that God distributes wealth according to his will and wisdom. In the one parable, He gave every servant the same amount: one mina. But usually He gives different amounts to different people. We can see that some stewards among us have received more from God, while others have received less.

When we see these differences, it’s tempting to say that having plentiful money and fine goods are because of a person’s education and skills, his hard work or business smarts. Or maybe we say that some wealth is the result of being in the right place at the right time. Such things might have had some influence on our present position. But then we also have to remember the Biblical truth that every blessing is from God’s hand! Everything we have, we have received—given in grace.

So if we’ve got something in our bank account, some possessions to our name, and a position on this earth, God has given us a responsibility. And as his stewards God gives us freedom—a freedom to use these things wisely, to make responsible choices about them as we spend and save and acquire. Like in many areas of conduct as God’s children, here God gives us a lot of liberty. It’s up to us, to decide how often we need to buy a new phone, or to decide whether we should save more for retirement, or to decide if we should make a generous donation to the school association. We’re free. Yet in all these things—the choices that make everyday life go ‘round—we must conduct ourselves as those working for the Master.

When you look at your most-valued possessions, and when you consider the value of your home, and you peruse the investment statements, do you honestly see it all as given by the Lord? When you earn your salary at the office or your hourly wage at Subway, do you consider that even these dollars were entrusted to you by God? Do you understand that you need to care for these earthly things to God’s glory, and for your neighbour’s good?

It’s important then, to know what God has entrusted to you. Take an inventory to see not how much you have, but to see how much you can do. And don’t limit that to your bank accounts and your physical assets. What kind of gifts do you have as a person, what kind of time do you have in your week, what energy and skills and experience are yours? God has given all of us an endowment, and with that endowment He’s given a calling.

Maybe you’re not highly paid. Maybe, in one sense of the word, you don’t have much on the inventory list—not much beyond the essentials. And yet we have all received. Every one of us has been granted gifts out of the generosity of God the Father. We are the Lord’s servants—and we’ve got a job to do.

 

3) the assignment: So what’s a steward to do? In Luke 19, the wealthy man called his servants together and gave them a pile of cash: “Do business till I come” (v 13). That’s the key instruction for a steward: “Do business for me. Put my goods to work.” The master would be gone for a long while, and while he was away, the stewards had to use this money responsibly. They weren’t supposed to squander it on pointless projects. They weren’t supposed to spend it all on themselves. They weren’t even supposed to save it for a rainy day. They were expected to use it wisely, because one day their master was going to return.

And the master was coming back with a kingdom. When he got back, he wanted his servants to have prepared for his rule. They had to be strategic with what they received, to use his gifts with a view to his purpose and his priorities.

It’s still true today—it’s still the primary work of being a steward. As the Catechism says, “God forbids all greed and all abuse or squandering of his gifts” (Q&A 110). God’s gifts are not for our personal hoarding, so that we can have a retirement that lacks nothing. His gifts are not to be wasted because we’ve accepted the motto that “you only live once.” God gives not so that we can build our own little kingdom, but so we can build his kingdom.

 “Do business till I come,” says the Lord. He’s away right now, but He’s going to return. And until then, He wants us to be busy preparing. So we must use our possessions in the ways that the Giver desires. Yes, He wants us to have our daily bread—the necessities of life. But He also wants us to help the needy, in the family of God and among all people. He wants us to spread the gospel in this world and He wants us to build up the local church.

Once you start thinking about it, you realize there’s a lot we can do. For example, if you have a home, you can open it in hospitality to your fellow members. You don’t need a spotless home to show hospitality, or a gourmet meal ready to serve. Nor does your hospitality have to be reserved for the people whom you know well already—have someone over whom you don’t know! Or if you have a wallet—even one with just $5 in it—you can open it and donate for works of mission and mercy, you can buy a Bible or to sponsor a child. Many or few, our possessions must be put to work in service of the King. Here the Catechism teaches us to “work faithfully… so that [we] may be able to give to those in need” (Q&A 111).

We all know that the love of money can be the root of much evil. That’s how we’re used to thinking of money—as something suspicious. But money can also be an important tool for working out God’s plan. Think again of the parable of the shrewd steward in Luke 16. It’s a difficult parable to interpret, for it seems to teach a selfish view of money.

In it, the rich man leaves his servant in charge of all his goods. However, the steward was accused of dishonestly—and presumably, he had been dishonest. The steward knew that he would soon be out of work, and he wanted to make preparations for that day, so he reduced the amounts that were owed to his master. A debt of 800 gallons of olive oil was reduced to 400. 1000 bushels of wheat was reduced to 800, and so on. In this way, the steward figured that he could make some friends for himself. These people would be willing to help him out in the future, just as he had helped them.

What’s troubling is that Jesus tells this parable without criticizing the steward. So was Jesus saying that his dishonesty was OK? The reason He doesn’t criticize him is because the steward was legally entitled to act in his master’s name. Remember, as a steward he had the freedom to do what he wanted with his master’s goods. That’s how he could change the I-O-Us. The master recognized that this was a smart move, for it helped the steward’s future cause.

And what is the surprising lesson? Says Jesus, “Make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home” (16:9). Worldly wealth is not evil. On the contrary, Jesus says that it can be used in a good way—it can even be used in a way that has eternal value.

How could it? For instance, the needy whom we help with our gifts might come to praise the LORD for our generosity. Or those in distant lands who hear the gospel because of what we give to mission might come to confess Christ and live forever. The children who learn about the Bible through our gifts to the school might become teachers and preachers of the Bible themselves, or they might raise God-fearing children of their own. These are everlasting returns. Money might be temporary, but it can produce outcomes that are eternal!

This means that we’ve got a serious job. It’s so serious that God requires that we give an account of our work. In Luke 19 the king calls his servants together to see what they’ve done with his gifts. One had earned ten times the amount. Another gained five times more than what he started with. But another had done nothing. He was tested as a steward, and he failed. And everything he had was taken from him.

Beloved, what will the Master say about the job we have done? When we’re called to account for how we’ve spent our pay and used our possessions, will God be pleased? Will He see that by our choices and priorities, we were trying to work for eternal goals? Will He see that we tried to build his Kingdom? Or will God see wastefulness in the things that we bought? Will He see discontent and selfishness? Will He see that we were always reluctant to give, even though it all came from him?

Once more, it doesn’t matter how much we’ve been given by God. It doesn’t matter where we’re employed today, or even whether we’re bringing in a wage. Whatever our net worth, whatever our earthly position, we are stewards who have received his gifts. And God expects us to do the job of a steward. If we do, we’ll earn his reward.

 

4) the rewards: We always hesitate to talk about rewards in God’s service. “It’s all by grace,” we humbly confess. God gives salvation freely, without any merit of our own, only for the sake of Christ. This is all very true.

Yet we know from Scripture that God blesses those who are faithful. As one example, we can read in Malachi 3 how God urges his people to bring him the whole tithe, the first-fruits of their labour. He commands them to be good stewards of his blessings! He challenges them and then He says, “Test me in this… and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” The LORD is saying that if we give to him, He’ll give even more in return, rewarding our gratitude. That’s what God is like: He is generous to the generous. We reap what we sow!

Jesus taught the same lesson, saying that there is a sure reward for faithful stewards. After calling us to make good use of our possessions, He said in Luke 16, “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?” (vv 10-11). In short, if we faithfully use what God entrusts today, He will entrust us with even greater things—true riches—for eternity.

We can say it again, that whatever we receive is by his grace. Yet God promises to recognize our sacrifices and to bless our labours. Our deeds will follow us, from this life right into the next. This is why Christ tells us to “lay up treasures for ourselves in heaven.” Beloved, store up a great and lasting and heavenly reward—store it up by being a good steward of what God has given you here on earth!

Dedicate all that you are, and all that you have, to God’s glory and his Kingdom. Take each one of his gifts—your time, your talents, your treasure—and put it to a good and holy use. For like in the parable, we want to hear the King say to us on the day when He returns: “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You remembered who it all belonged to, and you used it all for me. Now enter the joy of your Master!”  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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