A mother wanting to teach her daughter a moral lesson gave the little girl a quarter and a dollar for church. “Put whichever one you want in the collection plate, and keep the other for yourself,” she told the girl.
When they were coming out of church, the mother asked her daughter which amount she had given. “Well,” said the little girl, “I was going to give the dollar, but just before the collection the man standing in front said that we should all be cheerful givers. And I knew I’d be a lot more cheerful if I gave the quarter, so I did.”1
Like that little girl, many of us want to feel cheerful, so we give the least and save the most for ourselves (see Matt. 6:21). As a result, sermons on stewardship are almost always about financial responsibility. Perhaps it’s because in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke one out of every six verses deals with money, and nearly half of the parables Jesus told deal with a person and his or her money. It might be more likely that in our prosperous nation, where so much is lavished on material acquisition, mindless entertainment, and the “American dream,” 53 percent have not given to the church in the past month, and church giving has not exceeded 3 percent as a portion of income in the last 40 years.2
I’ve recently discovered, and wonder how many would concur, that stewardship comes with conversion and is nurtured in community. For instance, after Peter’s Pentecost sermon “those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (Acts 2:41). Immediately after, “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need” (verses 42-45).
Luke, the author of Acts, himself a believer, saw the church of Christ in the days of its prime and splendor, when the memory of Jesus was vivid and the exercise of stewardship was fresh and new. Believers living perhaps in poverty seemed unaware of their resource limitations as they were lifted by the power of a mighty inspiration. They didn’t have to be “told” to give—they lived with and shared all things “in common.” The ecstasy of knowing and seeing Jesus personally subdued their anxieties about “tomorrow”; and with all things in common, they faced the commonplace things of life with a sincere consecration to be good stewards of the resources that were divinely provided and put in their charge.
When one becomes a member of the body of Christ, one is part of a community of faith; a priesthood of believers, stewards, trustees, caretakers with rights and responsibilities to oversee the spiritual and material resources of God. But we are prone to wander, and we feel it in losses of members and money because of a lack of understanding about our stewardship accountability to the church, our community of faith.
Life wasn’t easy in the first century’s hot, arid land where Jesus announced, “The poor you will always have with you” (Matt. 26:11), not to mention being persecuted for their faith in Him. Neither is it easy to follow Christ in the twenty-first century, where, with all our material wealth and incredible technology, we face many obstacles, such as discouragement, temptation, sin, apathy, failure, materialism, unbelieving family and friends, doubts, rejection, and unanswered questions that haunt our daily experiences,
to name a few.
But praise God: He didn’t leave us to run the race and fight the good fight on our own. He has given us the gift of community, and a legacy of wise stewardship to oversee the healthy exercise of our spiritual and material inheritance. Stewardship, therefore, is not only to be preached or practiced by giving money; it must be a lifestyle of steadfast devotion to Jesus by those approved unto God.
Hyveth Williams is a homiletics professor at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, Michigan. This article was published October 18, 2012.