Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Principles of Stewardship – Part I

At this time of the year all churches are preparing their budgets, and some churches have pledge drives. Stewardship sermons are given. Below are some principles from both the Old Testament Law and from Jesus’ Parable of the Talents. God in the Old Testament, and Jesus in the Gospels, speak often about giving to the Lord, so it is an important topic and a key spiritual discipline.

We read about King Hezekiah’s religious reforms in 2 Chronicles 31:5-6:

As soon as the order went out, the Israelites generously gave the firstfruits of their grain, new wine, oil and honey and all that the fields produced. They brought a great amount, a tithe of everything…
The men of Israel and Judah, who lived in the towns of Judah, also brought a tithe of their herds and flocks and a tithe of the holy things dedicated to the Lord their God, and they piled them in heaps.

Old Testament Commands

In that reading from the Hebrew Bible, we read about part of King Hezekiah’s religious reform of the nation. Unfortunately, God’s people had degenerated to syncretism and paganism. “Syncretism” is the mixing of various religions.

In the Law of Moses (called the Torah, the first 5 books of the Bible), the Lord gave specific instructions to the Israelites regarding their religious practices. Regarding giving to the Lord, the Israelites were to give both the first fruits of their crops, and a tithe, which is 10% of their income. When Hezekiah re-instituted this practice, the people responded generously and willingly in obedience to God’s Law. After living in pagan darkness for so long, they were pleased to be honoring and worshipping the one true God. Even though this involved giving a portion of their crops to the Lord, they were joyfully obedient – even enthusiastic – and were blessed by it.

How should we view giving and serving from a Christian perspective?
Not as a duty, but as a privilege.
Not so much religious as spiritual.
Not so much giving to appease God as a humble act of thanksgiving.
Not so much to meet the needs of the church as an act of faith and trust in God.

1. First Fruits

Let me briefly explain the two key concepts of first fruits, and tithing. As Christians, we are no longer under the Jewish ceremonial law, which governed the religious practices necessary for the Israelites to find favor with God. However, some of the principles we find in the ceremonial law are carried over to Christianity because they transcend any one particular religion, time, or place. This is the case with the concept of first fruits.

Looking at first fruits in a modern context, we should be writing the first check out of our paycheck to God. In giving to God first, we are showing our trust in God to make that paycheck last to meet our needs (doesn’t our money even say, “In God We Trust”?) It also acknowledges that God is our provider, who will honor our faith and trust. Do you give God what is right, or what is left?

2. Tithing

In addition to the concept of first fruits there is tithing. Tithing acknowledges that everything is God’s to begin with, and we are honoring God by giving back at least 10% of what he has entrusted to us. All the earth is God’s, including anything that we think we own, as we read in psalm 24 (from the more traditional version, the KJV):

The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. (Psalm 24:1)

As with first fruits, tithing is an outward sign of your inner faith and trust in God. That’s why I refer to our giving as an act of worship – it is acknowledging our trust in God’s provision, giving him thanks for all he has done, and praising him. Giving 10% back to God isn’t much when you consider how God has blessed you. Moreover, God expects much less than the government forces you to give to it. Do you look at giving to God as a privilege and act of worship?

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