Christian Stewardship

April 2, 2017 / No. 3874

Dear radio friends,
Today we consider the eighth commandment of the law of God as we find that in Exodus 20:15. These words, “Thou shalt not steal.” This brief commandment speaks to two things. First, the love of the neighbor by respecting the possessions that God has given to him; and second, the proper use of the things that God has given to me, which I call my possessions. It addresses our day-to-day life in the world of commerce and personal finances. It deals with work and income and the spending of that income.
However, behind this commandment are several important principles that have to do with God and His position in relation to the things of this material world. Before we get to the application of this commandment, we want to look at those principles.
The first principle is this: that God is the owner of all things. Psalm 24:1 and 2 puts it this way: “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” Then it gives the reason: “For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it.” God is the creator and, because He is the sovereign creator of all things, He is also the possessor, the owner of all things. Haggai 2:8 says: “The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord.” That should have a profound, life-changing effect on our view of the material world and our place in this material world. Everything in this life belongs to God. He has ownership rights of all things. That makes us stewards of the things that God owns. We have responsibilities. But as we possess those things, we must answer to God. Every financial decision relates back to God and is spiritual. There is nothing hid from the eyes of God. He sees not only what we do but also all our desires. Our financial records and the way that we use the things that God has given to us really tell a story. They are a spiritual biography that is open to the eyes of God.
The implication also is this, that we live by faith in this material world. This material world is not the be-all and the end-all for the child of God, but we live by faith, believing that God is the One who owns all things. So we live before Him.
The second important principle is that God is the distributor of wealth. Proverbs 22:2 says of the rich and the poor that the Lord is the maker of them both. I Samuel 2:7 says that He makes rich and He makes poor. I Corinthians 4:7 says that anything that we have, we have received from God. That means that if we have wealth or if we have possessions, we have not achieved them or attained by our own strength or our own ability. God, rather, gives to us the opportunities and the talents and the privileges and the education by which we are able to acquire these things. We must not squander those opportunities that God gives to us. But, in the end, God is the One who makes rich and who makes poor.
This teaches us two important things. The first is that how much or how little we have is not the important thing. And we must not judge a person by how much or how little he has. Rather, what God demands is faithfulness. He demands that we answer to Him and be faithful with what He has given to us. He does not demand success but faithfulness.
The other important thing that this teaches us is that we must trust His provision—not panic, but depend on Him from day to day with regard to our earthly things.
The third principle is this, that God has an ultimate purpose with our earthly things. The ultimate purpose with regard to money and possessions is not you, it is not me. It is not our prosperity, it is not our success. Rather, it is God’s glory. You and I must ask the question: Why do we labor, why do we work? Why do we seek money in this life? Is it just for food? Is it just for health? Is it just for my advancement? Is it just for my earthly needs? It cannot be. If it was only for those things that relate to me, then it would be OK for me to indulge in earthly things to my own pleasure. But the Scriptures are against that. Do you remember the parable of the rich fool? He said, “I’ll build barns, take my ease, and eat and drink and be merry.” And God said, “Thou fool. This night shall thy soul be required of thee.” God’s purpose is not man, it is not us, it is not me in giving things to me. But God’s purpose is that I glorify Him with what He has given. He has created all things. He has redeemed me and He has redeemed my possessions through the blood of His Son Jesus Christ, so that, as a believer, and with the things He has given, I might glorify Him. Romans 11:36 puts it this way: “Of him, and through him, and to him, are all things.” So I must serve the Lord with what He has given to me.
Those are the principles, the grand biblical principles that stand behind this commandment, “Thou shalt not steal.” There are many other principles in the Word of God that have to do with financial stewardship and the handling of money as a Christian, but the main thing is that we live before God; that we remember Him; that we honor Him with what He has given; that we understand that He owns all things; that He is the distributor of wealth; and that His glory is the ultimate purpose of our existence and of our possessions.
The commandment is very specific: “Thou shalt not steal.” It needs to be specific because there is a certain power over us that earthly possessions can have. That power really has to do with our sinful hearts and with the desires of our sinful hearts to have more of this earth’s possessions. The sin that this commandment addresses is not just a sin that can be seen out there in the world, but it is a sin that has to do with our own hearts. When we come to the application of this commandment, that is what we must see. Yes, there is a stealing and a theft that is recognizable and that is punishable. We think of things like embezzlement and corporate money laundering and fraudulent marketing over the Internet and theft and robbery of banks and so on. Or shoplifting. And those are sins that God hates. But there is a greater sin. That is the sin that God sees in the heart of man.
We must examine ourselves. We must examine our hearts before this commandment. There is what man sees and there is what God sees. And God’s eyes discover thieves and robbers who appear to others to be honest citizens. God sees greed and covetousness. God observes manipulation and dishonesty. He watches over commerce and He sees the seller trying to trick the buyer. He sees the buyer trying to deceive the seller. God watches the social order of society. He sees how the rich deal with the poor and what the poor will do to get money out of the rich. He observes what goes on in the workplace—the employee extending his lunch break, manipulating his working hours; the employer who does not deal fairly with his employees. Proverbs 15:3: “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.”
We have to be aware of the many, many areas in our life in which we can fall into the sin of theft. All of them come back to this: selfishness, covetousness, greed, and thus the sins that are in our heart. Whenever this ugly sin, this ugly sin of putting self first, shows up, we will do anything to steal from others, to steal the honor that belongs to another, to steal the joy that belongs to another, to steal the praise that another is receiving. To become right in an argument we put ourselves forward. So there is theft, theft that is punishable by the law. But there is also a theft in our hearts in which we put ourselves first.
But we can break this commandment not only by wrongly acquiring the possessions of this earth, but also by wrongly using what God has given, by abusing the good gifts that He has given. There are those who are very honest in the way that they get things. They work hard; they do not deceive. They are not greedy in getting things for themselves, but they sin in the way that they use the things that God has given to them, either by wasting His good gifts, or by being miserly and overly protective of those things. God gives us all things and God owns all the things that we have. And He gives us things not only in the area of money and possessions, but also in the area of talents and opportunities and relationships. Even if we have no money, God has given us many things. He has given a home. He has given food. He has given parents and relationships. He has given friends. He has given abilities. And we can steal from God by not using these things properly. You see, we are stewards, and we must use everything as best we can to serve God. Proverbs 3:9 says, “Honour the Lord with thy substance.” That is really the sum of Christian living: that we use all that we have and all that we are—our bodies, our eyes, our minds—all those things to serve God. We can squander those good gifts, and we can waste them. When it comes to money, especially in our affluent society, we so easily waste the things that God has given to us without any thought of Him.
For some reason, when it comes to our money, we are very private and protective. We say, “It’s my business how I spend my money.” But it is not. We are accountable to God. And we need to be more accountable than we are to each other. The danger of affluence is that we do not learn to be good stewards, that what we receive so easily we spend just as easily and we spend, in the end, according to what we want—our desires—and we forget that what we have belongs to God and that we must answer to Him.
The Scriptures teach us that God does not give us money to consume on our own lusts, on our own desires. The kingdom must be first, not in this way, that I give a certain percentage of what I have to the kingdom and the cause of Christ and the rest is for me, but rather in this way, that all that I have belongs to God. So God requires that with everything that He has given to me, I plan and I am a steward and I manage my finances and my money in such a way to serve Him and to serve His kingdom and causes. In Proverbs 18:9 we read: “He also that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster.” We see here that theft includes wasting and that theft includes laziness and abuse of the things and the opportunities that God has given.
So, as we come to the end of this message, I want to close with the positive requirement and aspect of this commandment as we find it in the book of Ephesians, chapter 4, verse 28. There the apostle Paul writes: “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.”
There are two things here: working and giving. And the two must go together. Perhaps we can think of them as two steps of obedience. You can stand on the lower step of working with your hands. Then you might say, “Well, I’m obeying this commandment. I’m acquiring my possessions in the God-appointed way. I’m not stealing from others.” Certainly that is obedience. God has ordained work as a way for man to acquire the possessions and the necessities of this life. Work is not a curse. God put man on the earth to work, to multiply and replenish and subdue the earth. But the question is: Why do you work? Do you work in order to live, or do you work in order to give? That is the second step here. In our obedience we can stand higher by working in order to give. The expression of true obedience, of real stewardship with what God has given to us, is generosity in heart and in action.
God has given me things not for me (that is self-love), but for me to love Him and to love my neighbor. That is the Christian purpose in working. I do not work to get ahead myself or to make sure that my children have a good position and education, but I labor as a Christian in order to alleviate the cry of the needy. That is revolutionary in a world where all men are trying to get ahead themselves. The Christian motivation is not greed but grace. It is because the believer has experienced grace that he labors with grace.
This was the purpose of Jesus Christ in His work, was it not? He came into this world to work. In John 5:17, He says, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” And in John 17:4, at the end of His ministry in a prayer to God, He says, “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” That work was motivated by grace, by generosity towards you and me who are sinners and thieves.
You remember Zacchaeus. Jesus came to the house of Zacchaeus, who had stolen, who was a thief. And He came not to expose his sin but to bring salvation and grace to the house of Zacchaeus. It is out of that grace that He went to the cross and He was numbered with the transgressors, that is, He was crucified with two malefactors who were thieves. He said to one of them, who was repentant, “Today, thou shalt be with me in Paradise.” You see, here is the grace of Jesus Christ, that He comes to those who do not deserve and He gives, He gives Himself. It is that grace in which He has come to us that motivates us to live and work in this world in order that we, in grace, may have, to give to those who need.
This is God’s world. He puts us in it as stewards. He calls us to work and then He calls us to work for His glory and out of love for Him. And that love comes to expression in this, that we with generosity give to others who need. May God so guide us as we live as Christians in the midst of a material world.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for the possessions that we have, for the opportunities that we have. But we thank Thee, especially, for the work of Thy grace towards us that transforms our view of earthly things so that we live by faith in a material world and we live in love, seeking Thy glory and seeking the good of others. Lord, forgive us for the sins in our heart that are selfish, covetous, and greedy. Help us, Lord, with transformed hearts and lives to live for Thy glory also with regard to our earthly things. We pray this in Jesus’ name and for His sake, Amen.