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A lot Christians hear the word stewardship and immediately think, “here comes the plea for more money.” Stewardship includes the way that we use money, as Jesus clearly indicates by using talents, a measure of money, in his parable. But he also makes it clear that money is not the main issue in stewardship. He makes it clear that how we handle money is only an outward indication of the attitude of our hearts. The main issue in stewardship is faithfulness. As Paul told the Corinthians, now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. Practicing good stewardship means being faithful in the way that you manage everything God has given you.
If we are going to practice good stewardship, the first thing we need to recognize and accept by faith is that we are stewards. That means that we acknowledge every day that everything we have belongs to God. It’s not ours. It belongs to God who made it and who has entrusted it to us for as long as we live on this earth. The ultimate proof of this is that when you die, everything you have is given to someone else. If it were really yours, you could take it with you.
Jesus makes this clear in his parable when he says, the kingdom of heaven is like a man going on a journey. He called his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. Notice it says that he called his servants. That’s us, everyone who confesses that they believe that he is their Savior and that they are his disciples/servants. Notice also that it says that he entrusted HIS possessions to them. He gave them a trust. He trusted them with what belonged to him. He trusted them to use what belonged to him faithfully, to the best of their ability, and to return what belonged to him in the same condition or better whenever he came to ask for it.
Think about it in the same way you do when you lend something that’s yours to someone else. Whether it’s a tool, or a vehicle, or a piece of clothing, you let the other person use it with the idea that it still belongs to you and that you expect to receive it back at a certain time, in the same condition it was when you gave it to them. If they never return it, we consider them thieves. If they return it damaged, without an apology or an offer to fix or replace it, we consider them unworthy of ever borrowing from us again. If we feel justified in thinking that way, what about God?
God makes very clear what he thinks about those who refuse to acknowledge that everything they have belongs to him. He makes very clear what he thinks about those who refuse to provide him with the fruits of his harvest, as we heard in his parable last week. Even the Jewish leaders acknowledged that he would be justified in bringing those wretches to a wretched end. In our first reading he made it clear that those who claim to be his servants and yet do not acknowledge and give thanks to God by bringing tithes and offerings are robbing him. It is required that those who are given a trust must prove faithful.
We might be tempted to think, “that’s a lot to expect. God is expecting more of me than I can give him.” Jesus answers that excuse in his parable. To one (servant) he gave five talents, to another two talents, and to still another one talent, each according to his own ability. Did you hear it? Each according to his own ability.
What a comfort that is! God does not judge our stewardship by comparing what we do to what others do. He is God. He is the one who has given us our mind and all our abilities. He knows exactly what we are capable of doing and what is beyond our ability to do. He is not going to ask us to do something we are not capable of doing with the abilities he has given us and with his help. He entrusts his property to us in proportion to our abilities, and he measures our faithfulness in proportion to our abilities.
As further proof of this, listen to what the master says as he has his servants give an account of their stewardship. The servant who had been put in charge of five talents gained five more, and the one who had been put in charge of two talents gained two more. One gained five and the other only gained two. But what does the master say? ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He says exactly the same thing to both servants. Both were considered faithful because they both managed what they were given in accordance with what the master knew was their ability. God doesn’t judge our stewardship by what someone else is doing. He judges our stewardship by weighing it against the gifts and abilities he has given us. As Paul says, we have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
The servant who received only one talent was not faithful in the use of his talent. He was not expected to gain five, or even two. His stewardship was not measured by what the others did, but he was expected to do something. His excuse was that his master expected too much of him. He was afraid that maybe he would lose what belonged to his master. So he did nothing. He buried his master’s talent in the ground and returned it to him when he asked for it.
Shouldn’t the master have been happy that at least he received back what he had entrusted to this servant? No, the master saw through the excuses and pointed out the real reason this man had buried this talent. He was wicked. He was lazy. He didn’t want to serve anyone but himself. Why should he work for his master when he wouldn’t get anything in return, the master would get both the principle and the profit? If he was going to do something, he would do it for himself, store up things for his own enjoyment. But the Bible makes it clear where that kind of thinking ends up. Through Malachi he says that if you are thinking of yourself first, that you have to take care of yourself first and then, if there is anything left over, you will give the left-overs to God- he says that he will make sure you never have enough. He reminds us of the rich man who feasted and dressed in fine linen every day, who seemingly had it made in life, but ended up in Hell. He reminds us of the farmer who built new barns and filled them thinking that he was set for life, but all his stored-up grain couldn’t save his soul. The servant showed that he had no interest in anyone but himself because he didn’t even consider putting his talent in the bank so that the master could have earned at least something on his money. He was condemned, not because of what he did, but because of what he didn’t do. He was not faithful in the use of what the master had given him.
Compare the wicked lazy servant’s attitude to the other two servants. The parable says that they immediately went to work. They focused their abilities, their time, and their talents, on gaining more money for their master. And when they are called to give an account of their stewardship they seem filled with joy. “You entrusted me with five talents, see, I have gained five more! You entrusted me with two talents, see, I have gained two more.” They were happy to return to the master what he had given them, and they were excited to give him everything they had gained by using it.
Stewardship is really all about attitude. It starts when we recognize that our master, our heavenly Father, shouldn’t even consider giving us anything. He knows our nature. He knows our tendency to sin and selfishness. He knows we are not going to be perfectly faithful with anything he gives us. Yet, in grace he sent Jesus who was perfectly faithful with everything the Father gave him while he lived on this earth. The Father starts by crediting his perfectly faithful stewardship to our account. In grace he calls us out of the unbelief in which we were born, to faith in him. He graciously makes us one of his servants. He calls us out of a worldview that says that everything we have is ours, we should use it to make ourselves happy (a selfish worldview), to a worldview that says everything we have is God’s, considering that he has already saved us and has a mansion waiting for us in heaven, we are happy to use what he lends to us on earth to serve him and others, to bring him glory (a selfless worldview). He removes our fears and worries about putting him first with his wonderful promises that he will never leave us or forsake us; that when we put him and his kingdom first he will take care of everything else; that when we put him first with our tithes and offerings he has many ways to sustain us, even preventing pests and diseases from attacking our fields, or maybe preventing expensive repairs or other unexpected expenses from affecting us. He helps us realize that our real treasure lies in heaven and there isn’t anything better than having him invite us to share the joys of heaven with him for all eternity.
When our hearts are filled with God’s love for us in Jesus, we are moved to practice good stewardship. We recognize that all we are and have belongs to God. Everything we have is a gracious, undeserved blessing from him that we get to use only as long as we live on earth. Knowing that Jesus practiced perfect stewardship in our place, that God has credited his perfect stewardship to us and punished him for our unfaithfulness, we are moved to ask ourselves each day, “how can I serve you today Lord? What can I do with the abilities and possessions you have given me that will bring you glory, and that will bring more people to know Jesus and be saved?”
We pray, it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. Lord, forgive me for my unfaithfulness. Lord, let your love and grace motivate me to use all you have given me faithfully, to the best of my ability and to your glory.