The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

Stewardship – the property manager in us all!

(Acts 4:32 – 5:11)

Stewardship is one of those issues we, as Christians, don’t really discuss. So when we use the word stewardship, what do we actually mean? I looked up steward in my English dictionary, and this was one of the definitions it gave: property manager: somebody who manages the property, finances, or household of another.

That’s an interesting definition isn’t it? Have you ever consider yourself to be property manager? Someone who doesn’t own the property themselves, but they are responsible for the property as if they do own it.

Well, if we are property managers, whose property are we talking about? God’s property! And our basis for us being Genesis 2:15 “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”

Now whenever I read this verse, I end up with an image in my head of Adam with a garden hoe doing the weeding. I think what is being presented here is much bigger then that. Man is being put in charge of everything God has just made. Not just a little English style garden bed, but the whole creation. In 1:28, we’re given a much broader presentation of the same command, “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

This presupposes that God created humanity as responsible creatures with abilities to make decisions. It concerns me when I here people talking as though God, or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit does everything for them, and they expect they will do everything for them. Now, I don’t want to take from God’s sovereignty. God is all knowing, all doing, ever present. God alone is to be glorified for whatever happens. And there is a time to be patient, and wait on God. But within God’s provision, we also exercise responsibility and choice. And I believe that is one of the ways God is glorified. Through us, as humanity, being the creature he made us to be by using the responsibility he created us with, God is glorified in that.

This is why we have this command to fill the earth, and subdue it. Implicit in this command is the idea to expand Eden so it covers the whole earth. Who’s going to do that? God? No. Humanity? Yes, as property managers. Who’s going to get the glory? Humanity? No. God? Yes, because creation belongs to him, not humanity. We see an instance of humanity exercising its authority in 2:19-20 “Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.”

In this, we see humanity making decisions in the naming animals. But what is more striking is God’s actions in this. God is getting humanity to be part of his own creation process. Of all the creatures God had made, humanity was the only creature to be let in on God’s affairs, and have mastery over creation as property managers. Further, this responsibility and ability to make decisions is why God is able to give us commandments and prohibitions – “And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17). This commandment again implies humanity is able to make decisions and take initiative. Humanity is able to even make decisions contrary to God’s will. Otherwise, why would we need commandments?

This brings me to my next point – the current state of our stewardship. Humanity did do what is contrary to God’s will, and as a consequence, humanity suffered. Let’s have a quick look at what happened 3:1-7:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'”

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

Did you hear the sequence of deception? Allow me to paraphrase: Did God REALLY say that? He can’t have meant that! If God is all good, he must’ve meant something else. In fact, God wasn’t really serious about the consequences. God is just trying to stop me having fun and doing what I want to do. In fact, God is one big party pooper!

And so we get a fundamental shift in thinking (verse 7). We’ve moved away from thinking of how we can honour God and promote his purposes, to what’s in it for me, how can I get something out of it? This way of thinking impacts every facet of life. It impacts the way we think about family, money, work, education, sex, charity, even church. You name it!

This kind of thinking is known as sin. We are sinful, and we live in a sinful world. If you don’t believe me, watch the news. In Galatians 5:19-21, Paul gives a list of acts that come from sin: “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” Jesus lists a few actions himself: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” (Matthew 15:19).

As you watch the news, see how many of these acts you can find in the bulletin. It wont be hard. This activity of sin in the world impacts our stewardship. It impacts the way we manage God’s property.

This is why we have the extremely rich, and extremely poor. Why North Koreans starve, while their government makes nuclear warheads. Why we hear of sexual assaults, rape, and murder. Why politicians squabble over votes, and outrages superannuation payouts. Why we would step over a homeless person to close a business deal. If we were to think about them, we’d probably throw out some spare change on the way, and call it ‘charity’. All because there has been this fundamental shift in thinking from how can I glorify God, to what’s in it for me?

However, in Acts 4:32-37, we find something completely different. We find a community of people who turn the effects of sin on stewardship on its head. We find people who are prepared to share their possessions, and not regard them as their own.

What could possibly have such an impact on people that they’re more concerned for the community then themselves? The gospel. The gospel had a profound impact on their stewardship.

In verse 33, we read how the apostles testified to the resurrection of Christ. But they also testified with great power. This meant they didn’t go around with a watered down version of the gospel. They didn’t hold back on the details. They spoke the gospel with all its fullness, and it impacted they hearts and minds of believers.

How is it that the gospel had such an impact? The death and resurrection of Christ has changed the way we approach God and each other. We can now approach God as forgiven people, with total confidence in the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf. And the resurrection of Jesus assures us that there is much more to live and hope for. For in the resurrection of Jesus we anticipate our own resurrection and inheritance of eternal life. A life of everlasting fellowship with God. We no longer live for this life alone, but we live for the life to come. Therefore, we now live as the people of God now.

This impacted the way they regarded they’re own property. They no longer saw their own property as something that belonged to them, but they saw their property as a tool for helping the needy: “There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.” (Acts 4:34-35).

Now, I want to pause here and ask, to what extent this passage is an example for us to follow? Are we to sell all our belongings and take a vowel of poverty? No I don’t think so. note the clause in the verse. “from time to time.” This wasn’t the norm. Rather, it was the exception. The selling of property only occurred in response to need.

However it is an example to us in terms of attitude to possessions. Luke goes on to give two case studies to illustrate that property management is an issue of attitude, not action. There is no “get holy quick scheme” to be had in charity. Case study no.1: Barnabas. He sells a field and places the money at the disciples feet, presumably for distribution. No problem. Case study No.2: Ananias and Sapphira. They did the same. But the outcome is somewhat different. They both end up dead.

What’s the difference? The difference was one of attitude. Barnabas gave out of concern for the poor. Ananias and Sapphira did it for a show. They did it for applause. The problem wasn’t that Ananias and Sapphira held some back. I’m sure if Ananias and Sapphira went to the apostles and said, “look, we want to help out, but, we need a little something for ourselves”, their wouldn’t have been a problem. But Peter’s questioning reveals the deception. Peter’s question in v4 indicates that there was nothing compelling them to sell their land and give to the apostles. They could’ve done what ever they wanted with the land for all Peter cared! In fact, we have seen from 4:34 that this was not the norm. This was the exception in response to need that aroused. If Ananias and Sapphira wanted the money, they were welcomed to it!

So for what possible reason did they sell their property and give to the apostles? It was to gain the praise of men. Their conspiracy was uncover when Peter plainly asked the now widowed Sapphira, “is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?” and she answered, “Yes, that is the price.” And they buried her next to her husband.

Stewardship under the gospel is primarily not about action. It’s not about ticking boxes. I also want to add a pastoral note that self sacrifice does not necessarily equate to good stewardship either. On my way back from holidays, I stopped by a friend’s place. She is severely disabled with rheumatoid arthritis, and though she is a fully grown adult, her body is the size of a five year old. As a consequence, her body can only handle small quantities of food. She cannot sit down to a full size meal like most people. So allot of her time is taken by eating lots of small meals. She also loves the Lord dearly, and longs to serve him. However, she feels that her dietary requirements are taking up to much time that she could be spending with the Lord and other people. Her resolve has been to skip meals. This may have an adverse effect on her health and she may even die. I spoke with her about this, and encouraged her, very strongly, not to skip meals as this would be counter-productive in her service to God.

Stewardship can be a very complex matter, and prayerful consideration must come before self-sacrifice. Stewardship is about a heart felt attitude in response to eternal life that Christ has won for us. Stewardship under the gospel is a concern to honour God and promote his purposes, specifically, to promote the gospel.

As Christians we should not be preoccupied with the Genesis 3 question – “what’s in it for me, how can I get something out it?” Rather we should be asking the gospel question – “How can I honour God, and promote his gospel?” I want to close with two challenging questions:

Question 1: Do you perceive all of your possessions – material, financial, physical, intellectual – as belonging to God, and you’re just the property manager?

Question 2: Are you concerned to see the gospel being promoted? Again, I’m not suggesting that we should take a vowel of poverty, or give huge sums of money to the church; but are you prepared to use what you have, with prayerful consideration, to promote God’s gospel?

© The Student’s Desk, 2007.

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October 6, 2007 - Posted by | Articles, Bible Exposition, Religious | , , , , , , , , ,

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