The Fifteenth Sunday After Trinity September 19, 2004

INI

Good Stewards of God’s Grace

Mark 12:41-44

Scripture Readings

1 Kings 17:8-16
1 Peter 4:1-10

Hymns

39, 442, 788 (TLH alternate: 439), 400

Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury;for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.”

In Christ Jesus our Savior, dear fellow redeemed:

The back page of many church bulletins is very much like the sports section of daily newspaper. This statement may need a little explanation.

If you are a sports fan you may turn to the newspaper to find out where your team stands and how many games “back” it is from first place. When you turn to the back page of the church bulletin, you are able to find how many dollars “back” we are from our budget.

The team standings on the sports pages won’t tell you much about the game. They won’t tell you how close the game was, who played well, or how entertaining it was. The standings only tell you the bottom line: Did the team win or lose?

The monetary figures on the back of a bulletin will tell you the bottom line of where a congregation stands financially, but it cannot tell you anything about the God-pleasing stewardship that lies behind the numbers. Yes, it is important to know what the bottom line is. We need to know where our giving is in relationship to our needs. We do need to keep track of these things for fiscal responsibility. But if that is the extent of our stewardship then we have missed the essence of stewardship.

We seek to be faithful stewards of God’s grace. Every gift we have—not just money—but every gift we have is given to us by our heavenly Father (cf: James 1:17). He us gifts to use for His goal of saving sinners. He also gives gifts to us for the things we need in this life as well as for recreation and comfort items which are not necessary for our survival.

We are the caretakers of the gifts which God gives. Out of love for the Giver of our gifts we seek to use His gifts well. We can learn a very valuable lesson from the widow in the temple whom Jesus observed. From this widow and Jesus’ words concerning her we learn what are the characteristics of GOOD STEWARDS OF GOD’S GRACE I. Good stewards of God’s grace see God’s gifts not what they lack. II. Good stewards of God’s grace act upon faith not with fear. III. Good stewards of God’s grace give out of care (and love) not by compulsion.

I.

The widow in the account which we have read, put 2 mites into the treasury. Mark notes that these two mites were equivalent to one quadrans, which was a Roman coin. In our money it would be less than one penny. The widow put less than one cent into the treasury! It was all that she had.

Right before Mark’s report of the widow’s offering, he recorded Jesus’ stern warning against the Scribes and leaders of the people “…who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows’ houses…(Mark 12:38-40a). Widows, just like the one in the temple, would lose their homes and livelihood because of the legal maneuverings of the Jewish leaders—they would rob them blind!

When the widow walked into the temple she could have looked around, saw some of the leaders there, and thought “Who are you that I should contribute to the temple treasury?! You are the ones who have robbed my fellow widows of their property.” Perhaps this widow herself was destitute because of their actions. She could have thought, “Oh! What I would have if it were not for you!” Or this widow could have seen the others in the temple who were putting so much money into the temple treasury and thought, “Oh! If only I had what they had.” But the widow did not focus on what she did not have. Instead, she took what she had, counted it a blessing from God, and gave it to Him out of love for Him.

Like the widow in Zarephath to whom Elijah (cf: Old Testament reading) came, this widow could have found many reasons for dissatisfaction. She could have thought of so many reasons why it wasn’t even worth putting those two mites into the temple treasury: “It’s not going to accomplish much! They aren’t going to miss it and I could use it to buy just a little bit of bread.” But she didn’t focus on what she didn’t have. She focused on God’s gifts.

The widow’s attitude of mind and heart is very important as we approach our stewardship of the gifts that God gives to us.

Consider the gifts of God in all of creation. God with His power and wisdom has made everything that is made and now continues to uphold it. God is our Creator! He has given us our life! He has given us the wonderful things we enjoy on this earth. He has given us food. Every one of us has clothes to wear and a place to live. These are gifts that we have in abundance! Don’t worry about what you don’t have, consider all that you do have!

Even greater than what our Creator and Preserver has given us for this life is the redemption which He has given to us through Christ Jesus. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians, “You were bought with a price; therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s(1 Corinthians 6:20).

If we focus on what we have we will see quickly that we have a wealth beyond belief! We have a salvation that cost more than all the silver in the world! We have a salvation that cost more than all the gold in the world. You personally own a salvation that cost the Son of God His life, His death, His blood. That is the gift you have from God. Nevermind what you lack in the things of this life.

If we go through this life comparing our lives with others, we will find many things that we do not have; but when we understand that God is the giver of all things we know that He gives those gifts according to His wisdom. Someone may have something I don’t have because they can be a good steward of it and I cannot. They may have something because they need it to fulfill God’s plan for them and I do not. We trust God’s wisdom, appreciating His gifts rather than grumbling about what is not ours. Paul encouraged Timothy by saying, “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content(1 Timothy 6:6-8).

If we are discontent with our life’s situation we cannot be faithful stewards of God’s grace. If we are consumed with what we don’t have and want to make up our lack by withholding from God, we cannot be faithful stewards of God’s grace. We need to direct our thoughts and minds to the gifts of God’s grace in order to appreciate them and thereby also to use them profitably. A good steward of God’s grace looks at his gifts and the abundance, not the lack of what he may want.

II.

Good stewards also act upon faith, not with fear. The widow in the temple put her two mites into the treasury. She had nothing more. Jesus told the disciples that the others had put into the treasury out of their abundance—whatever they had above and beyond their needs—but she, out of her poverty, put in all that she had—her whole livelihood.

Although God is not telling us that we should give absolutely everything we own, consider just what it would mean if you did what the widow did. What would it mean if you took everything out of your savings accounts, all of your investments, all of your checking accounts, every penny you own and gave it to the temple treasury? Humanly speaking that would be frightening! From where would the food come tomorrow? Where is my retirement nest egg? And we could go on down the line of worries when there is no money…but that is fear.

Good stewardship of God’s grace casts out fear because we rely on His promises. The widow in this account believed and trusted that if she gave this pittance of money (which was all that she had) to the temple treasury, God would provide for her needs. The widow trusted that if she would give everything that she had out of love for her Lord and faith in her God, she would still be preserved and did not need to be afraid. She trusted God’s promise that He would provide.

There is a temptation for us to worry about too much. We are often afraid. We hear reports of how many more thousands and thousands of dollars we have to accumulate in order to guarantee a happy retirement. “Make sure you have at least this much or you’ll never make it through retirement,” we’re told. That’s fear and not trusting in God who promises to provide. It’s fear and so many act upon it. The young, middle-aged, and older live in fear of “what if I don’t have enough?” Meanwhile, they are forgetting that no matter how many zeros are before the decimal point in your ledger, they can become just a plain zero overnight. No matter how much we save, it can be lost. No matter how little we have, God can provide!

Now days, people worry about their family, food, house payments, college bills, and wouldn’t dare to give up anything at all more than a very small amount because to do so would just be too frightening. People conclude that the financial situation in this world is just too tight.

“Lord, I can’t do it now! Not in this economic climate!” That’s fear. “But Lord, what if I need it?” That’s doubting God’s ability to provide.

King David who himself was wealthy, but began his life as a shepherd boy said, “I have been young and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken nor his seed begging bread.(Psalm 37:25).

In Isaiah, God says: “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand’(Isaiah 41:10). God promises to take care of us. God promises to provide. God wants us to express our love for Him by using the gifts He gives—financial resources, time, and all other gifts such as talents and abilities. God wants us to use His gifts and trust Him for the future.

At the time of Malachi, the prophet, the people of Israel had forsaken their God-pleasing stewardship. God told them, “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, For you have robbed Me, even this whole nation…” The people had forsaken their stewardship completely so God challenged them saying, “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this…” God challenged the people to hold Him to His promise. “Try me now in this says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it(Malachi 3:8-10).

If we approach our lives fearfully and not willing to rely on God’s promises we will never find out if He is faithful. God says, “Try Me out! Hold Me to My promises and just see if I won’t bless you abundantly!” Faithful stewardship of God’s grace is done in faith, not with fear.

III.

Good stewards of God’s grace give out of care and love, not by compulsion. Compulsory giving holds back by thinking, “If I need to give five (of anything) then I will give five and no more.”

Consider an example: When you are writing out checks to pay for your phone, utility, and credit card bills do you ever write the check out for an extra $20.00 just because you want to do something for the company? No, because paying bills is compulsory and compulsory giving only gives what is owed, expected, or commanded. Compulsory giving stops, but if you are giving something to your children, grandchildren, or someone else you hold dear then you may say, “I love them so much I’ll give them more.” This is giving out of love. What if there is only a need for five but I love worth ten? Do I stop because there’s only a need of five? No! I’ll give ten because I love that much. Compulsory giving stops. Giving from care and love gives what its heart is moved to give.

We cannot follow the widow’s example in a mechanical way and simply give everything we own. That wouldn’t be giving out of love. It would simply be following an example because we’re supposed to do it, or because we have to do it and that would be giving by compulsion.

God does not want us to act foolishly and tempt Him by taking everything we own and giving it away without taking heed to the responsibilities God has given us. God knows you have expenses that need to be met. God knows you have a responsibility to provide for your family because He gave you that family and He gives you the resources to provide for them. God wants you to be wise stewards and fulfill your responsibilities. However, wise stewardship begins by first planning what you will offer to the Lord, then fulfilling your responsibilities, and then using the remainder at your Christian discretion. God wants us to always keep His work in front—at the top—and to have our planned stewardship of His gifts for that work to always come first.

When the people of Judah returned from captivity, they spent time and money restoring their houses in their homeland. Meanwhile, they were forgetting to restore God’s house. God rearranged their priorities by rebuking them saying, “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?(Haggai 1:3). Paul instructed the Corinthians toward wisely planned and regular stewardship of their first-fruits (not leftovers) when he said, “On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside…(1 Corinthians 16:2).

Faithful stewardship is simply not done on a whim or how we happen to feel on a particular day. Faithful stewardship is planned. Faithful stewards of God’s grace evaluate and look at their gifts from God and say, “How can I use these in the absolute best possible way to do the work of God’s kingdom, to fulfill the responsibilities God has given me, and to glorify Him in everything I do.”

Before God, the quality of stewardship and not the quantity counts. In 1 Corinthians, Paul writes, “Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful(1 Corinthians 4:2). The widow in the temple couldn’t compete with the others in the amount of what they were giving, nor did she have to do so. Again to the Corinthians Paul wrote, “…let each on eof you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper(1 Corinthians 16:2). God knows that we cannot give what He Himself has not given. His desire is that our stewardship be in proportion to how richly He blesses us. God desires nothing more than faithfulness with His gifts.

Recall Jesus’ parable of the talents. The master was set to journey to a distant country. He distributed varying amounts of money to his servants. The servant who received only one talent was strongly rebuked by his master upon his return. The rebuke came not because the servant only had one talent, but because he had done nothing with that talent. Likewise, God, only desires us to use the gifts He gives and to act faithfully with whatever He gives.

In Psalm 51, King David wrote, “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart—These, O God, You will not despise.(Psalm 51:16-17). All the burnt offerings in the world, all the big checks in the offering plate mean nothing to God if they are not coming from a heart that weeps at its sin and rejoices beyond belief in its salvation through the Savior, Jesus.

The apostle Paul summarizes faithful stewardship in 2 Corinthians when he writes, “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work(2 Corinthians 9:6-8).

A faithful steward of God’s grace considers his gifts, trusts God’s promises and then goes forward seeking to use everything he has been given in a wise and faithful manner—not by compulsion, but out of pure love for all that God has done.

We pray that the Lord will strengthen each of us to a wiser, more faithful, more trusting stewardship of all of His gifts. Amen.

—Pastor Wayne C. Eichstadt


Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.