Short Recap. Stewardship is part of the sanctified life or part of living the gospel. It would be easy to make a law of it, but we break the law. That is what the law does. It shows us where we fall short. But, the law remains a good guide of how God intends for us to live. Instead, by looking at the parables of the talents and mina, what God desires of the sanctified life is faithfulness. God has given every baptized Christian the Holy Spirit indwelling. God has given a mix of gifts to every church. What He is looking for is faithful use of those gifts. The return is not really what matters. God will bless that. The amount of original gifting is not what matters. That varies and is from God. What matters is the use. The faithful Christian does not bury the talent or wrap the mina in a cloth, but he/she uses them or you can even say puts them at risk.
Now the question is what does a faithful use look like? What I want to start with is the Ur-Story of Cain and Able in Genesis 4:1-16. Take a minute to look read the story.
In Gen 4:3 how is Cain’s offering described? “In the course of time, Cain brought to the Lord an offering from the fruit of the ground.” Now I’m going to get a little geeky here. The “in the course of time” translation is fine, but the Hebrew Idiom is literally more interesting – “it took place at the end of the days”. In other words, Cain finished everything first, and as an afterthought said, ‘maybe I should offer something to God.’ Compare that description to Abel in Gen 4:4. You can read the pretty translation at the link, I’m going to skip to the geeky one – “Abel himself moreover brought in from the female firstborn of the flock and from the fat ones”. Catch the difference? 1) Abel himself, the implied contrast is that it wasn’t Cain himself that brought the offering. 2) Abel brought in the firstborn of the flock. (I’m not going to read anything into the ‘female’ portion of that. If you want to push it you could say that offering a female was more valuable in that the female would produce milk and more sheep.) 3) Not just the firstborn but also the fat ones. The sheep that had been well fed and taken care of.
So, where Cain’s stewardship was an afterthought given without a real measure of thanks from the remains of the day, Abel’s was the first part in every way. Abel acknowledged in his offering where everything came from. Cain was checking off a box. Abel was living the gospel. Cain was living the law.
God favors Abel’s offering, but Cain’s he pays no attention to. Cain gets angry at this. [Enter grumbly voice] Stupid God, doesn’t like everything I’ve done for him. I’ll show God. [Voice off] God even warns him the sin is at his door. He needs to get control of it. But we know the rest of the story.
But for our stewardship study the message is plain. If you are treating stewardship as a law. If you are coming in at the end of the week or month out of cash and offering $5 in the hopes that God will superstitiously bless you, you are treading the path of Cain. You would be better off not putting that in the plate. Instead the gospel stewardship is a recognition of where all good gifts come from, and the deeper recognition that sacrificing the first and the fat is not a “dead weight loss”. That God is a God of abundance and living the gospel is having faith in Him to provide for all our needs.
There are all kinds of questions and buts and ifs and legal codicils that could be raised. If you want to the comments are open. But I’m out of space for today. For the next part please read Mark 12:41-44 or Luke 21:1-4. We’ll talk about some of those buts, and then transition into some very practical matters.