This morning, we will continue to study Paul’s letter to the Philippians, but rather than studying about Paul and his situation, we will study what the Christians at the Philippi Community Christian Church were like, based on Paul’s writing.
If you want a title to organize your thoughts, the title is, "The True Steward." A steward is a manager put in charge to use or invest his or her owner’s resources according to the will of the owner of these resources. Therefore, we are all stewards or managers of God’s resources, to use and invest God’s resources according to God’s will.
I didn’t always know or believe this. When I was a new Christian, my pastor’s wife told me that everything I have is from God. I said with great conviction, "Oh?" I knew that everything I had came from my parents and their hard work. I saw the exchange of my parents’ time, energy and effort for their paycheck, which in exchange bought the food, clothing, other necessities and some savings.
Yet, as my perspective in life grew, I began to realize that one’s time, health and abilities, even one’s life are gifts from God. We are reminded in Genesis 2:7, "The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being." Biology tells us that like comes from like, and that spontaneous generation is not possible. Yet, evolutionists somehow ignore these truths.
Furthermore, we bring nothing into this world, and we bring nothing out of this world. The wealthy man who showed off his estate to his pastor and asked, "So pastor, to whom do you think all this belong?" His pastor replied, "Ask me that 50 years from now." The Psalmist records these words of God, "For every animal of the forest is Mine (that is God’s), and the cattle on a thousand hills. I (God) know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are Mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is Mine, and all that is in it."
We are stewards and not the owner of all that we have. James wrote, "Now listen, you who say, ’Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ’If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’"
Living as a true steward requires that we acknowledge that everything we have belongs to God and that we live according to God’s will regarding His resources in our lives. Earlier this week, our neighbor’s soapy water came up the drain of our kitchen sink. If we see ourselves owning everything we have, we can be rather disturbed by every breakdown and needed repair around the house. Instead, I simply whispered, "God, look at what’s happening to your sink," and then I cleaned up the sink.
This morning, we will see how the Philippians lived out their role as God’s true stewards. We will not learn all the characteristics of a true steward from the Philippians, but we will learn four important characteristics of a true steward and look at one specific application at the end. Let me read for us Philippians 4:14-20.
FIRST, we see that the true steward is intentional in his or her giving. We read this in verses 14 to 16. We see the Philippians giving Paul help again and again because no other church did. Paul highlights this not because he is bitter, but because he is grateful for their gifts.
A true steward is not someone who needs to be needed or feels guilty in turning away others because he or she has limited resources. A true steward also does not give because everyone else is giving. Some people get their sense of significance from being a helper of others and ignore their own family’s needs, because their family members do not give them the praise or appreciation that others do. Others feel that every call for help is God’s call for their involvement. And still others give because of peer pressure or the want of recognition. None of these are motives of a true steward.
A true steward knows that God makes appointments between those in need and those who manage the resources. If you are a member of this church, God has made an appointment between you and the ministries of this church. In other words, you give through this church, and not to this church, to meet the needs God determines to meet through this church. Maybe God has set an appointment between you and the youth ministry, or between you and the outreach ministry or between you and the worship ministry? Don’t withhold the talents, the time and the money God has entrusted to you to meet these needs.
Not only are individuals called to be a true steward, but the church is called to be a true steward. The church that demonstrates true stewardship analyzes where the needs are and how the church can uniquely meet these needs. For this reason, our church focuses on ministry to the English-speaking Asians. Let me share two examples from our proposed church missions guideline for supporting missionaries. These guidelines were recently proposed to help the missions ministry be more intentional.
We target to allocate at least 60% of our resources to overseas missions work, where at least 30% is used to support missionaries working in unevangelized countries. We also target to select Asian missionaries to make up about 50% of the missionaries we support, because we recognize Asian missionaries have a harder time raising financial support in America than do Caucasian missionaries. This is intentional management of resources.
Do you have an intentional personal or ministry budget, where you manage your money, time and effort? Have you prayed about and analyzed the situation God has put you in and the resources God has given you?
SECOND, not only do we see that the true steward is intentional in his or her giving, but the true steward has his or her reward in heaven. We see this in verse 17, where Paul is crediting the Philippians’ account in heaven.
Proverbs 19:17 tells us, He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and God will reward him for what he has done.
A true steward does not see her giving as trading, expecting recognition or return from the one she has helped. A true steward sees her giving as a deposit in heaven’s account, and heaven’s interest is always good. Therefore teaching you about true stewardship is teaching you to make investments toward your permanent home in heaven.
Jesus reminded us, "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father (in heaven), who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."
Many people work 40 to 70 hours each week to earn money, but they don’t spend but a few hours in a lifetime investing their money. And those who do spend many hours investing their money invest in what is temporary and sometimes risky. Retirement investment is good, but eternal investment is better by far. Have you made such investments recently? Have you given to the poor and to the needy? Have you given through the church and multiplied your time and effort through missionaries?
We all make decisions about how we will save, spend or invest our moneys and possessions. A true steward will heed the words of Jesus, who said, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal." I don’t suppose we will receive a check with interest for our giving when we get to heaven, because God’s currency is different, but I do know that the exchange rate will be in our favor.
THIRD, not only do we see that the true steward is intentional in his or her giving and has his or her reward in heaven, but a true steward gives generously and cheerfully. We see this in verse 18. Paul didn’t just receive a little help. He didn’t just receive a helper. He received all that he needed, the helper, Epaphroditus, and the gifts. Furthermore, the Philippians’ attitude of giving was pleasing to God.
In another letter, Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, "Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."
A true steward is one who gives generously and cheerfully because he knows he’s giving away someone else’s money and possession, namely God’s. Some of you might know Sam Williams, who was the pastor at Bay Marin and a professor of church planting at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. He no longer is at either of those places, but a very wealthy man hired Sam for his expertise to evaluate church planting movements and to invest large sums of money into such work. Before he left the seminary, he told us with a great big smile that this was his dream job, giving other people’s money away intentionally.
We’re all in that situation really. Since all that we have belongs to God, and we are simply stewards, then when we give, we should give generously and cheerfully. After all, isn’t it great that we can give away the money, time, energy and talents and even our life which in reality belongs to God, and then get credit for it in heaven and, sometimes, even here on earth?
The FOURTH and final characteristic we will look at from this passage is that the true steward trusts God for his or her own needs. We see this in verses 19-20. The Philippians obviously gave help to Paul without expecting Paul to repay. After all, Paul was in prison when they made their most recent giving of Epaphroditus and other material gifts. So, Paul affirmed the Philippians’ trust in God to supply all their needs from God’s glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote, "He (that is God) who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all--how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?" Since God gave us Jesus Christ, His only Son to die on a cross, so that we could have eternal life; would God not also provide for our present life?
But how many of us really trust God for what we need? We can say we trust God when we have a great paying job, when we have a good retirement plan, and when we have the health and intelligence to compete in the marketplace. What if all of that were taken away from us? Would we still trust God for what we need in this life?
We don’t need to wait until we are laid off, until the social security program collapses or until we lose our health and mental sharpness. We can demonstrate our trust regularly by giving God 10 % of our income each time we receive our paycheck.
Listen to God’s Word from Malachi 3:10: "Bring the whole tithe (which is 10%) into the storehouse (which is God’s house of worship), that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it." God calls us to test Him to see if He will return to you more than you have room.
You can test God in this area whether you have been a Christian for many years or only a few days. I was a new Christian in high school when I was invited to a retreat. I couldn’t afford the $40 and was too embarrassed to ask for a scholarship. I remember the Sunday I was at church while the other high school kids were at the retreat. As the offering plate came by, I put in two dollars from my allowance, and I said to myself, "Someday, I’m going to one of these retreats (I didn’t even know what a retreat was then)." That was 1987.
Since then, I’ve gone on more of these retreats than I can remember. Not only that, but the last 10 retreats I went to, I went for free, and in some, I was served breakfast in bed. You see, I was the speaker at some of these retreats. Furthermore, I’ve had to turn down two retreats this year, one last month in Lake Tahoe and another that is coming up in July in Yosemite, because I didn’t want you to have to look for another guest speaker for Sunday. Talk about God giving me more than I have room for.
We need to recognize that God does not need our income. When we prepare our tithe, whether weekly or monthly (depending on how often you get paid), we prepare for worshipping God. Our tithe is an expression of our trust in God’s provision and our total surrender to God, since our paycheck was an exchange for our intelligence, our abilities, our time and our energy, which are all gifts from God."
Let me share a few benefits to God’s instruction for us to give Him 10% of our income. First, God gives us the 10% guide so that we would not be manipulated by some religious conman who might lay a guilt trip on us to give more than we can afford. Second, God gives us the 10% guide so that our selfish hearts would not ruin our relationship with God. How many of us know that our selfish lifestyle competes with the worship of God?
Third, God calls us to give 10% so that we can exercise and grow our trust in Him, without waiting for the pink slip, the stock market crash or the illness to set in. Fourth, God gives us the 10% guide so that there would be equal opportunity to express our love toward God, whether you are making $10,000 a year or $1,000,000 a year. I can go on and on about the benefits to God’s instruction for us to give Him 10% of our income.
I know some of you are Bible-believing and Bible-practicing Christians in the room, and you don’t do something just because it benefits you, but you do it because the Bible commands it.
Let me read from John Haggai’s classic bestseller, "Winning Over Worry" because he says it so well:
"There are those who would try to brainwash people into believing that the responsibility of the tithe was only in force during the days of the (O.T.) law - from the time of Moses to the time of Christ. They will tell you that Malachi 3:10 has no relevance for today because it is in the Old Testament. The Lord must have know that such mischief would be attended. Therefore He introduced the words of Malachi 3:6, "For I am the Lord, I change not...." After these words He calls Israel back to His ordinances, to tithes and offerings, to the storehouse, and to His conditional promise of blessing....
"The same people who say that tithing was for those under the law turn to (O.T.) Psalm 23 for comfort, to Psalm 32 for guidance, to Job for wisdom and comfort in trials and tribulation, to Elijah for a pattern of prayer, and to other Old Testament passages for leadership.
"To be consistent, these people who would throw out Malachi 3:10 ought to also throw out John 3:16 because it, too, was spoken prior to the time that redemption was completed by our Lord on the Cross of Calvary.
"Tithing antedated the law. Abraham tithed. The law of the tithe is not an Israelite law. It is a fundamental and unalterable law of God. It is still in force. That is why tithing is commended by Jesus in Matthew 23:23: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites: for you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, justice, mercy, and faithfulness: these you ought to have done, and not neglect the former (which is tithing)."
".... God never repealed the fundamental law of tithing; grace has not annulled it, time has not altered it.... In this command Malachi makes the practice of tithing essential to receiving blessings of a superior nature and to a degree and in a measure not otherwise promised (by God)."
If you’ve been a Christian and you’ve never been blessed in an extraordinary way, you now know why. If you struggle with worry about making ends meet, you now know why. Unless you fulfill the requirement of God, you have no reason to expect God to fulfill His promise of blessing to you. And parents, don’t forget to help your children tithe.
Let me change the direction of this message for a moment. Because we all filter what we hear through our past experiences and our present frame of mind, I want to clarify what tithing does not do. Your giving of 10% to God does not make up for all the wrongs you’ve done against God and against one another. Our actions and choices have consequences.
There is only one solution to our sin problem, and the solution is not found in good works, not found in giving 10% of our income, and not found in going to church. The only solution God accepts from us is the solution He provided through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. If you don’t receive Jesus as your peace offering to God, any blessing you get from your tithing still will not get you into heaven. Although not in this morning’s Philippians passage, a true steward would receive Jesus Christ as God’s solution for peace with God, because God offers no other solution.
As I said in the beginning, this message and this morning’s passage do not cover all the characteristics of a true steward. A true steward is a steward of time, talents, service, energy, relationships, possessions and finances. A true steward does not only give intentionally, has his reward in heaven, gives generously and cheerfully, and trusts God for his own needs, but he diligently claims God’s abundance with his attitude and hard work, he wisely saves for personal and family needs and he spends for necessities and worthwhile pursuits, even for education and recreation; yet he does not spend beyond what he can earn.
This is ours to take home.