I need to confess. Sometimes when I used to hear the word “stewardship,” especially from the pulpit, I would cringe. I know! I know! Tithing is important! Give God your first fruits! All these things I know are true, but so often they were the predecessor to a guilt-laden ask to give money, which I begrudgingly gave. That doesn’t feel like a blessing at all—just an obligation.
But when I look at scripture, it just doesn’t add up—over and over we see that there is joy in giving, that we are more blessed to give than to receive, that giving can actually be cheerful instead of gut-wrenching. How do you get from squirming in my pew at the sermon topic to that kind of joyful anticipation?
When it comes down to it, I think the problem is this: the word “stewardship” has been hijacked. Stewardship is not just a handy title for the annual capital campaign, but one of the most central areas for growth in the life of a follower of Jesus.
You see, it all has to do with kingdoms. We were created to be one-Kingdom people. That is, God created and redeemed us to be participants in his Kingdom work over which he and he alone is king. One-Kingdom people know that everything belongs to God and respond by living as faithful stewards. They look at all their resources as entrusted to them for the purposes of this Kingdom. Then the natural question to ask is, “How does God want this to be used?” It becomes less about deciding what is most worthy of their resources, and entirely about working in tandem with God to bring about his Kingdom. God ultimately asks us to discern his will and follow it obediently. This two-step process of listening/discerning and following/obeying is God’s definition of good stewardship for his people.
But many of us are not living as one-Kingdom people. The problem of sin is that it tempts us to build a second kingdom where we play the lord over the things we believe we own and control. It could be said that the entire cosmic battle between good and evil is played out in this arena of two-kingdom living. When we submit to the temptation to believe we are in control of our own kingdom, we treat all of our resources—time, skills, relationships, money—as something that we ultimately own. When we do this, we cannot be faithful, generous stewards. We become possessive and protective of what is “ours,” never sure that there will be enough if we spend any of it. We take on the burden of worrying about our futures, denying the opportunity for God to work miraculously to provide for us, or relying on him to be enough. And we miss out on the conversation with God about what he is doing to bring about his Kingdom in the here and now, and how we can be a part of it.
There are alarm bells all over scripture about the force of the temptation to live with a two-kingdom worldview.
Pursuing our own kingdom increases our worldly troubles and turns our hearts away from God:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
Building our own kingdom robs us of the eternal purpose we're meant to have:
And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21)
Building our own kingdom ultimately leads us into sinful behaviors and suffering:
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:6-10)
Jesus summed it up with razor precision: “no one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24). In the end we all need to decide whether we are going to serve God and his Kingdom, or our own.
When we really understand that the movement of our money expresses the movement and faithfulness of our hearts, we will have what it takes to pursue God’s mission and build up the body of Christ. We will be able to steward all we have with joy and a deeper sense of purpose—God’s Kingdom purpose.
When I truly began looking at it that way—like all I have is actually God’s and he’s given me the chance to be his vehicle for disbursing it in the world—things shifted for me. I no longer had to agonize with guilt after an invitation to give. I no longer had to dread opportunities where I knew I would be introduced to ministries that needed funding. In fact, I could begin to relish those times because the decision was truly not in my hands. All I need to do is listen and be faithful.
*Adapted in part from Scott Rodin’s book, Development 101
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sophie Sykes has been with CRM for six years, heading up communications for CRM’s Partner Development Team. She and her husband Nick will soon be launching into new roles with CRM in Asia.