Stewarding Finances Well as a Kingdom Citizen

Have you ever truly considered what the outcome of the Apostle Matthew’s words is for your life? Keep in mind that Matthew was a former tax collector who was greedy and understood the deep, fleshly temptation to love money before he became a disciple of Jesus.

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other, you cannot serve God and money. – (Matt. 6:24)

One of my friends mentioned to me just the other day that Christians claim to be living a life fully sold out to the Lord. However, the blunt reality is that there is more than likely at least one thing that we keep from the Lord. We go around praying, “God you can have everything”, but then in a quiet whisper we slide in a quick exception of “except my free time, or my job, or my friends, or _ (fill in the blank) _.” I would even guess that most Christians today would fill in the blank with money. For that reason, I hope to express how money is to be stewarded well for the Kingdom of God and is to lose its place of status in your life.

Defining Stewardship

Stewarding your finances as a Christian is much more than just understanding and handling your tithe; it also involves the other 90 percent of your income and how you see and value money as a Kingdom Citizen.

Dave Ramsey puts it this way,

“The solution is to teach true, biblical stewardship—to change not just peoples’ behavior but also their hearts through the power of Scripture. No age group, income level or demographic is exempt from this need.”

Christians today must pray alone and as a congregation to recognize that overspending is just as much of an idol as holding onto money. By looking at Scripture, one can see how biblical stewardship is displayed. Two well-known stories that are often preached to explain proper and poor use of money are the Parable of the Talents, found in Matthew 25:14-30, and the story of the Rich Young Ruler in Matthew 19:16-30.

In the Parable of the Talents, a master gives three of his servants various amounts of talent, which at that time was a monetary unit worth about twenty years of wages for a laborer. The master then left them to handle the money as they saw fit. Two of the servants doubled the amount of what the master originally gave them, receiving a “Well done, good and faithful servant;” while the last servant did not earn any interest on his original talent and the master deemed him as a “wicked and slothful servant.” The questions to ask yourself right now are, “Am I being a good steward of the money the Lord has given me? Which title would the Lord give me? Am I a faithful servant who is wise with resources or rather a slothful individual who lacks the effort to steward his/her money well?”

The story of the Rich Young Ruler is an example of an individual allowing money to be an idol of the heart. The ruler claims to have kept all of Jesus’ commandments, yet once Jesus says, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (v. 21), the man leaves the presence of Jesus “sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (v. 22). The ruler let the world of possessions and materialism overshadow the surpassing joy found when being with Jesus. This is unfortunately a stark reality for many Christians today as well.

Stewardship as a concept must be recognized as a discipline for the believer so that he/she learns the careful management of the resources and finances the Lord has provided. May we fight the temptation to let money be the object we strive to live for and instead strive to receive the comforting words when we meet Jesus, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Tithes and Offerings Explained

It is fitting to provide a brief explanation of tithing and offering, as this is a concept even mature Christians still seem to not fully understand. A tithe is 10 percent of your income given specifically to your local church. The word tithe literally means ‘tenth’ in Hebrew. An offering is anything extra beyond the 10 percent of your income. Most people will assume that an offering is only given to your church, but there are other examples of offering that Christians can do to be a good steward of their money. For example, he/she can give money to a Christian charity, support missionaries, or use the spiritual gifts the Lord has given him/her in various volunteering capacities.

In Scripture, garden imagery is used to explain what the Lord intends for our giving. For instance, in Proverbs 3:9-10, the author writes,

Honor the Lord with your wealth and with your firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine. – Proverbs 3:9-10

The word firstfruits is not a word you typically hear in our culture today, but it means that you should give first before doing anything else with your money. Society today emphasizes gaining personal success by measuring how much you have in your bank account and/or how much you own, with materialism. However, from a Christian perspective, the reality is that God owns everything, and our giving is an example of how He gave everything to us by sending His only Son, Jesus, to die for our sins. God does not need our money, but rather desires and commands us to give as cheerful givers (2 Cor. 9:7), who proclaim that God is good and delight in giving to His Kingdom here on earth. Just as it states in Leviticus, “Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the Lord’s; it is holy to the LORD” (27:30). So, as believers, living in a world where money has increasingly become a distracting idol, let us use our money in service of making His name great and not our own.

Suggestions for Giving

Tithing and giving of an offering are both acts of faith that display God’s sovereignty and power to supply us with what we need, and not always what we want. If you find yourself struggling to remember to give each month or find yourself clinging tightly to your money and finding security in what you have, here are some suggestions to follow. Have a close friend keep you accountable in giving first each month or set up a monthly budget or automated giving to set aside giving as part of your budget each month. Another suggestion would be to pray without ceasing regarding your heart and mind towards money and how you should give. Ask the Spirit to open your eyes to seek first the kingdom of God by offering up your finances to the Lord is doing the will of God.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, being a good steward of your finances as a Christian is a learned discipline that is developed with consistent prayer, accountability, and a humble heart posture that recognizes that the Lord is the One who gives and takes away, knowing deeply the words Jesus spoke in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”. I think Pastor Jamie Dunlop says it well,

“As a Christian, every time you give to God’s purposes, you’re declaring God to be better than whatever else you would have done with that money. It is fantastically fun to spurn what this world values in order to invest in God’s true and lasting promises when you give, declaring your freedom in Christ from our materialistic age.”

As the body of believers, let us encourage one another to give sacrificially and live a life that glorifies the Lord in the way we think about and spend our money during our time here on earth. May the Lord be honored, and may we recognize that He alone is worthy of our giving because He first gave to us.

Other Resources

https://www.daveramsey.com/blog/a-call-to-stewardship

https://www.daveramsey.com/blog/daves-advice-on-tithing-and-giving#:~:text=According%20to%20Leviticus%2027%3A30,these%20verses%20are%20essentially%20saying

https://radical.net/articles/giving-as-a-spiritual-discipline/

The Way Up Is Down: Becoming Yourself by Forgetting Yourself (A Review)

This book, written by Marlena Graves, serves as a reminder to the forgotten core truths of Christianity that appear so demonized in our society today. Graves takes the reader on a journey of self-discovery, in a raw and contradictory way, so that he/she comes out on the other side understanding more about the heart of Jesus and how we as Christians are to live in such an inauthentic world. The hard-hitting reality is that Jesus came and lived a life that was radical in speech and action, and we are called to do the same.

KEY SCRIPTURE PASSAGE

Philippians 2:5-8 “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled [emptied] himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

THE AIM OF THIS BOOK
You may be asking yourself, so what does Graves mean when she says that we become ourselves when we forget ourselves? Now that sounds confusing and challenging right!? Well, she boils it down to a simple statement: “Being emptied in order for God to fill me (and any of us) is the pathway to deeper communion with him” (pg. 5). The idea stems from the Greek word kenosis which means “to empty out”. Graves begins by challenging the reader to realize that this is probably not an unfamiliar word, especially if you been active in Christian circles, however it is one thing to define and discuss kenosis in a detached sort of way—to keep it at a safe distance. “It is another thing altogether when God calls us to put it into practice. And he always calls us to put it into practice” (pg.6). The rest of the book is full of instruction and practical ideas of how to live in a state of kenosis in such a way that glorifies God above all else.

THE PRACTICES:

1.) Self-Emptying: The Mystery of Our Salvation—surrendering our whole lives and will to God.
2.) Down Low with Jesus—Having poverty of heart, soul, and mind that reflects Jesus (Matt. 5:3-12).
3.) All Flame—Living in such a way that Christianity is not merely in our heads (mental abstraction) but rather is practiced through effectual prayer, fasting, and action.
4.)Daily Returning Home— “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance” (Lk. 3:8); God calls me to reality and to leave the fantasy existence behind and walk towards the eternal home.
5.) Do You See What I See? Transfiguration—We are able to truly see when we see the earth from below rather than from above. The practice of being a “God-seer” by seeing the reality of who I am and who others are and looking happy at them.
6.) Our Teachers: Messengers of Grace—Look around to see that they way of Jesus is not inconvenient and that our own self-interest blinds us to the enriching knowledge of learning from those around us.
7.) Rich Toward God—The treasure we hold dear to our heart, reveals who is the Lord of our life. Generosity is not contingent on abundance, rather God-seers defy the life of scarcity and live out of the abundance of the Kingdom.
8.) Memento Mori—Adopting the mindset of how fragile and vulnerable we are as humans.
9.) Cradled in the Heart of God: Gratitude and Contentment—Focusing on the gifts rather than the desires; taking our eyes off the deprivations and realizing how the Lord has blessed each person to serve Him.
10.) Incarnating the Sacred Heart of Jesus: Your Kingdom Come—(Phil. 2:3-4) Being believers whose selfless life exhibit holiness without even trying because their heart and the life of Christ have been woven into the fabric of who they are.

HIGHLIGHTS
In my opinion, one of the most fruitful and cutting chapters was Chapter 8: Memento Mori. Within this chapter, Graves focuses on teaching the reader to embody the psalmist’s words, “Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (Ps. 90:12). She highlights this ancient practice of memento mori, which is to have the expectation of death daily before one’s eyes (Saint Benedict). She uniquely depicts this concept by stating,

“Memento mor-ing—if I may use that term—is living and seeing through the brevity-of-life lens. A memento mori posture allows us to more constantly glimpse the “ripe,” “full,” and “perfect” moments—to live steeped in kairos time, to live God’s priorities rightly. We remember we are human instead of superhuman” (pg.116).

If I had my guess, I bet you as the reader would agree when I say that this concept is vital to understand and strive toward in the day and age we are in. An age where the world around us seems to be minute-by-minute drowning deeper into the darkness of sin, where the light and simple joys of the day seem to wane, and the hope of the promised tomorrow dims in the distance. This brevity of life that Graves mentions reminds us as Christians that we are only transient beings living not for ourselves, but living for our Creator God who commanded us to spread the good news until we breathe our last breath.

SHORTCOMINGS
Graves’ righting style, at times, was difficult to follow with her redundant use of short, pithy statements. Every so often her language made the ideas she presented seem choppy rather than fluid and left me yearning for smoother transitions. All that to say, her emotion and personal antidotes engages the reader to understand on a deeper level the human experience that occurs when someone forgets about themselves and remembers to whom they are living for instead. The countless biblical stories containing the recommended practices added beneficial support and evidence on how to live a life that is upside down.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ THIS BOOK
This book at first may appear controversial and intimidating to the everyday reader, but the discipline it addresses of humility and living a life modeled after Christ is far-more beneficial than detrimental. I would encourage each believer to labor through any discomfort Graves’ creates by pointing out inward sin and misconceptions because we are called to live authentic lives as image bearers of Christ. As Graves highlights, “God is intent on making [us] more real, a less-distorted image of Him” (pg.6). Challenge yourself to settle into the Kingdom-come mindset that stirs us up to good works and sacrificial living, so that a dying world may be restored to life through each believer breathing life into it.

Praying Together During Inauguration Week

We all thought 2021 would hold promise for better days after a year marked by fear and aggression, but it has already failed to be the “hope” for which the world longs. After a couple of jaw-dropping weeks, Inauguration Day is upon us. Sadly, the 2020 election left even Christians, our families, and our churches more divided than ever before. Even for those whose preferred candidate won, many Christians can look back and acknowledge great distraction and misplaced loyalty. Going forward, let us turn away from our sin that causes us to place winning over loving our brothers and sisters. One thing I am noticing is that watching or reading news updates makes me long for Heaven even more, so I know that the current political climate opens an opportunity to share the real hope of Christ. In order to display our hope in Jesus, and not the false hope in this world, let us pray together and allow God to soften and reset our hardened hearts with reminders of His authority, love, and trustworthiness.

Scripture holds counsel for every situation! The instructions for believers in Ephesians 6:10-18 remind us 1) who our enemy is, 2) where our strength lies, and 3) why prayer is essential to church unity.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. – Ephesian 6:10-18

Father, it seems your people can never see eye to eye on issues in the public sphere. Help us unite around what is most important and true– your name and your mighty power. My flesh desires to be right and to win, and even my best intentions to stand up for righteousness and condemn evil can be twisted, resulting in seeing my brothers and sisters as enemies or less-than-human. Condemnation, division, and violence is not what you want, but it fits perfectly into “the devil’s schemes.” I plead that we would keep our eyes on the real battle, which is not of this world.

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. – Ephesians 6:13-17

You, Lord Jesus, provide all I need to engage in the spiritual battle happening around me. You know the pain and evil that this world holds. You lived here and felt every emotion and challenge I feel, yet you responded without sin. Instill in me your Word and help me stay tethered to it. You have declared me righteous through your Son’s blood. Teach me to daily accept your gift of salvation and live in freedom rather than condemnation. Fit me for opportunities to serve, love, and tell of your goodness, moved by the urgency of your gospel. Secure my faith, may it become the shield in which I trust rather than the false refuge of a political party or social movement. Help me identify flaming arrows disguised as distractions. With the helmet of salvation mark me as uniquely yours because at the moment you saved me, I was born again into your family (2 Corinthians 5:17). Teach me how to use the sword of the Spirit by revealing to me specific pieces of Scripture that contradict what the world is telling me.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. – Ephesians 6:18

Keep me close to you in prayer. Motivate me to establish rhythms of prayer that replace rhythms of turning to social media for answers. In you I find true peace, perspective, and purpose. Unify the Church around what matters most: our faith in you. Then move us to pray and work on behalf of brothers and sisters. Keep me alert not only to the needs of people within my country, but especially brothers and sisters around the world, who you know are suffering persecution. Thank you for softening my heart towards others through your love, even those with whom I disagree. May I have a selfless posture of prayer rather than a defensive stance of pride.

When the fallen world acts, well, fallen, we as Christians can step into the raging unseen battle through prayer. Only a relationship with Christ can transform us into people who are overflowing with hope and respect for others. The stark contrast between popular behavior and the example of Jesus, offers an opportunity for believers to stand out, so let us start with prayer and practice following Christ’s radical example during this inauguration week.

Practical Evangelism Tips

I assume many Christians are familiar with the obligation of the Great Commission, so I thought it might be helpful to provide a few biblical do’s and don’ts for completing it through evangelism. By looking to the examples set by Jesus Christ and saints of the Old and New Testaments, we can learn how to be faithful evangelists to those around us. The tips below are based on either clear commands in Scripture or the commendable accounts of believers’ obedience to God. They are organized into a list of what you shouldn’t do and what you should do instead.

Don’t #1: Sugarcoat the truth of the gospel to preserve peace and comfort.

Do #1: Know that telling the unadulterated truth of the gospel is one way we love and honor God and love the person with whom we are sharing the gospel. We often avoid speaking of the realities of Hell and judgment because we do not want to be uncomfortable or unliked, but that’s never honoring to God, nor is it beneficial for the hearer. To be saved, the person being evangelized needs to know that God is going to condemn to Hell every person who has ever lived for the sins that they have committed unless they acknowledge themselves as sinners and trust in Christ by faith alone for salvation. Jesus took the wrath of God on the cross in the place of sinners who would come to Him for rescue (Psalm 37:39-40, Isaiah 53:4-5).

Don’t #2: Interpret an angry response as a failure or as a success on your part.

Do #2: Remember that throughout history, God’s faithful people were vilified, ostracized, and even killed for proclaiming the truth that mankind needs to repent and submit to the triune God’s authority (1 Kings 18:17-18, Heb. 11:38-39). The very people who were offered salvation in Christ through prophecies and scriptures sought His death. Jesus informs us that we should not expect better treatment than He received from the world, which is naturally hostile toward God (John 15:18-20). He says, “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26).

On the other hand, we must not assume that an angry response means that we honored God with our evangelistic approach. The person may not have become offended because of the gospel, but because we were aggressive or disrespectful toward them. God charges us with sharing the truth with patience, boldness, gentleness, and love. If someone is offended, it should be in response to God’s Word, not our poor attitude (2 Timothy 2:24-26, 1 Peter 3:15).

Don’t #3: Measure your success by how many people come to faith through your evangelism.

Do #3: Recognize that somebody becoming a Christian is a supernatural act wrought by God alone. We don’t have the ability to bring spiritually dead people to life (John 3:1-8). God charges us with sharing the gospel while we leave the rest to Him. 

Don’t #4: Wait until you feel comfortable/bold enough to share the gospel with unbelievers before you do evangelism.

Do #4: Commit to sharing the gospel despite your discomfort. If necessary, you can even find small ways to start obeying Christ in this area. This may look like starting conversations over texts or phone calls so that you can have time to reference notes and organize your thoughts well. I used to do this frequently. Keep in mind the goal is not to stay at this stage, but to progress to the point where you can clearly articulate and discuss the gospel during in-person conversations. You can expect to sometimes feel uncomfortable and timid even after you grow accustomed to sharing the gospel, but we are to persevere by the Lord’s strength. Most importantly, pray for God to give you strength to overcome your fear of man (Colossians 4:2-4, Proverbs 29:25). 

Don’t #5: Neglect to build relationships with those with whom you share the good news.

Do #5: Love the people whom you’ve been given to evangelize in both word and deed. We as Christians can sometimes, perhaps unintentionally, give people the cold shoulder when they do not repent and believe the gospel when we first present it to them. Without showing the love of Christ to unbelievers, we ruin our testimony before them. I am certainly not advocating making immoral compromises, but we should seek ways to demonstrate to them that we earnestly care for them through relationships. Some people may eventually come to the faith, and maintaining an ongoing relationship with them may facilitate the process.

Don’t #6: Think of evangelism as being merely about your views and another person’s views.

Do #6: Our postmodern society likes relegating every truth claim to a mere opinion. In my experience, evangelism has been difficult because when I say “You need to repent of your many sins and trust in Christ alone for salvation,” people hear “In my personal religion that doesn’t have any to do with you, unless you want it to, we acknowledge Jesus as our Lord. I think it would be nice if you agree with this opinion of mine, but if you don’t, that’s fine.” If the gospel was just a matter of personal preference then we would be foolish to declare it as truth to others. All Christians should know that we don’t share the gospel because Christianity is our preference, but because the triune God, who has authority over all things, commands people to repent and turn to Christ (Psalm 22:27-28, Acts 17:30).  

By applying these tips to your evangelistic encounters, I believe you will honor God by relying on Him more and reflecting Christ’s boldness and love. Though some of the tips are challenging, others will improve your dependence on God and alleviate unnecessary stress. May the Lord be with you as you seek the salvation of your family, friends, and acquaintances.