Stewardship Sunday

 

Dear Friends

Next Sunday 12th May we will be having our annual Stewardship Sunday, the occasion in our year when we take the opportunity to review the proportion of our income we regularly set aside as our offering to God and his ministry through the life of this church. Through the course of this next week will you carefully and prayerfully bring this matter before the Lord and seek to be obedient to what he puts on your heart? 

On the occasion of Jesus calling the disciples and the miracle of the enormous catch of fish (which of course they left behind to follow Jesus) – Jesus, after finishing teaching from the boat tells them to move out into deep water and let down their nets for a catch. Tired and possibly a little grumpy after a long night without any success, Peter replies; ‘Because you say so, I will let down the nets’ (Luke 5:5). Stewardship of the resources that belong to God but which have been entrusted to us is a question of obedience to what God requires of us and that is an important principle as we approach this matter. 

Jesus spoke more about money than almost any other subject except the Kingdom of God, affording the subject an unusual amount of time and energy. Why was this? Perhaps it was that Jesus could see how money could become a threat to our relationship with God and therefore knew the power of this potential snare. 

Spiritual Power. Money, as we all well know has power to attract us, to motivate us and indeed capture our hearts. St Paul wrote to Timothy that ‘the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil’ (2 Timothy 6:9,10). Jesus knew how we can become enslaved by money and possessions and that is why he spoke so forcefully on this subject in the context of giving, which releases us from its snare. Jesus tells us that we belong to another kingdom and that we should have radically different priorities because of what he has done for us. He encourages us not to store up treasure for ourselves on earth but to invest in eternity because we will have forever to be glad that we did!

 

Are our current giving habits in line with God’s will for us?

Our vision is to see an increase of God’s coming Kingdom in Tewkesbury and beyond. But for this to happen we need to exercise faithfulness and obedience in this area of giving. Whether we are unemployed, living on a pension, a student with limited means or a well paid high earner, we all are required to take stock of our income however small or large it might be and review our giving to God.  God wants to release his blessings upon us but can only pour into our hands if our hands are open. 

Why do we need a Stewardship Sunday?

It is good practise every year to review what we give to the Lord’s work. There will be those amongst us who are in a position to be able to increase their giving, but with so many other things going on in our lives, it is easy to get distracted and just never get round to it. Stewardship Sunday provides a focus and an action point. 

What does the Bible teach about giving to God?Enshrined in Old Testament law, as a sign of their allegiance to God and as recognition that all things actually belong to God (Psalm 24:1), the people were commanded to give a tenth of their income. It was called the ‘tithe’. This meant the top 10% of all their income (the ‘first fruits’) belonged to God before any other expense was taken into account and it was deemed to be ’holy to the Lord’ (Leviticus 27:30).  The tithe was to be set apart as an offering to God with great blessing for the people if they observed this requirement but severe penalties if they did not fulfil their obligations. Indeed in the words of the prophet Malachi, God accuses the people of robbing Him of that which they were commanded to give, by not offering the first 10% (the tithe) which is His due. In this they had unlawful possession of what belonged to God. Yet at the same time God promises great blessing to those who honour Him and show themselves to be faithful. 

 ‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse….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’.  (Malachi 3:10) 

God’s generosity to usThis is the only time in scripture where God challenges us to test Him. Normally, we are cautioned not to put the Lord our God to the test but in terms of giving faithfully to God’s work, He says ‘test me’, in other words, ‘just see if you can out give me’. 

 

Throughout scripture lies the promise that when we honour the Lord God with what we have and give back to Him the ‘tithe’ then there is the reciprocal promise that ‘your barns will be filled to overflowing and your vats brim over with wine’.  It’s a picture of God’s faithfulness to us when we are faithful to Him. 

‘A generous man will prosper, he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed’ (Proverbs 11:25) 

The New Testament. Jesus, living in a culture when tithing was an accepted practice, didn’t dismiss the principle of the tithe (Luke 11:42) but calls us to something deeper. ‘Giving’ represents the whole of our lives not just a portion of it. Instead of just 10% belonging to God, we understand that everything belongs to Him and our job is to be a faithful steward of all that He has entrusted to us. We give because God first gave to us. He has given us forgiveness in Jesus, rescued us from an eternity cast out from His presence, given us the gift of His Holy Spirit and the Christ like character that is consequently being seen in us and much, much more. Jesus doesn’t just ask for a portion of our lives, He calls for full surrender: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’ (Mark 8:34). 

How do we give?When it comes to our offerings, Jesus calls us to give according to certain principles:        

Generously Jesus drew attention to the widow who gave generously and sacrificially ‘out of her poverty’ all she had to live on even though it was only a couple of pennies.  In contrast, the rich, although giving more, gave out of their wealth what they could easily afford (Luke 21-4).  Therefore, their giving lacked any real cost or sacrifice on their part.        

SacrificiallyGiving is supposed to cost us, it is not supposed to be our loose change that we can easily afford or that we will never notice going out of our account each month – it is an offering that demonstrates our gratitude to God in response to the sacrifice Jesus made for us. 

Jesus said: ‘Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured to you’ (Luke 6:38). How much should I then give?Although we are not under the Old Testament Law but under the wonderful free grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, should we therefore expect to give less than was the basic requirement under the old covenant? Many Christians believe that a good guideline for giving to God is to use the tithe as our starting point.  For some, 10% will be too little, God may expect us to give at a higher level if we are to observe the principles of generosity and sacrifice. Perhaps a more pertinent question might be: ‘How much may I keep?’ rather than ‘How much should I give?’  As a response to God’s love for us and all He has done in our lives, we should all commit ourselves to regular planned giving based on our income. We need to prayerfully consider what He requires of us and then commit ourselves and give with an attitude of joy and cheerfulness, not resentment, ‘For God loves a cheerful giver’ (2 Corinthians 9:7).

Celebrating Faithful Giving– Many in our fellowship already understand these principles and regularly tithe their gross income to the ministry and mission of Holy Trinity. That is wonderful and is the reason why so much has been and continues to be done. We all benefit from their faithful giving.

A Challenge to allAs we look to Stewardship Sunday next week we all need to step back, look at our income and review how much we give regularly to God’s work here as part of our discipleship and desire to follow Jesus. It may be that God is calling us to increase our level of giving. We need to consider carefully our entire income and work out what % we are committing ourselves to give. Some of us may have had pay increases and we have not so far adjusted our tithe to reflect this. Giving by Direct Debit really helps us to budget our accounts, so if possible I would encourage you to choose this method (and pick up a leaflet about this from the Foyer). Stewardship Sunday 12th MayGiving to God’s work is about obedience to Jesus, it is about being a faithful steward of all God has entrusted to us, it is about receiving back in abundance from God, but it is also an exciting adventure to see the release that God brings into our lives that in turn brings a blessing to others.    In Christ,    Stephen