The Stewardship of Grace
Topical November 21, 2004
Stewardship Sunday: the usual intent, meaning and direction involves monetary giving – being good stewards or responsible caretakers of what God has entrusted to us for the proclamation and fulfillment of Christ’s kingdom.
We don’t want to minimize monetary giving – it is important. The church can’t exist without it, and the Bible commands it.
“Then Jesus said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s." And they were amazed at him.” (Mr 12:17 NivUS)
“In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” (Lu 14:33 NivUS)
“As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. "I tell you the truth," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on."” (Lu 21:1-4 NivUS)
“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’"” (Ac 20:35 NivUS)
“But just as you excel in everything— in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.” (2Co 8:7 NivUS)
“Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2Co 9:7 NivUS)
All of you have been most generous in supporting this church – its missions and ministries and upkeep. You are to be commended. We encourage you to keep up the good work. We are thankful for you.
But I want to take a little different approach on this Stewardship Sunday to talk about another kind of stewardship we have in the church – the stewardship of grace.
In many ways this is more important than monetary stewardship because without it, the money God entrusts to us would be spent in vain – we would be investing in a sinking ship. It is also more valuable since money can’t buy it.
It is the ministry of grace that God has given us in Jesus Christ that brings us life eternal. It is the ministry of grace that makes us different from the world.
One would be far fetched to even imagine that Islam could ever be known as a ministry of grace, for instance. It is instead a religion that fosters hatred for all who are different – especially those of Judeo-Christian heritage to whom the grace of God flows, and from whom the grace of God must flow.
So if we are to be the CHURCH we must have the ministry of grace of which we are stewards or caretakers. We must effectively foster and display the actions and attitudes of grace in all our dealings both in and out of the church.
Grace is how Christ reached us and it is how we will reach others for him.
So on this Thanksgiving let us thank God for his grace by extending it to all who either listen or don’t listen. Let us be good stewards of his grace.
We can thank God for the grace we have been given, and we can thank God for the grace that we have been given to give to others.
Now, you may wonder why this is a message we need to hear. I think the answer is precisely this: the longer we are Christians the more sick and tired of sin we can become.
The horror, inadequacies, inconsistencies and failures that sin causes begin to wear on us. We get impatient with it all.
It is almost as if the closer we get to Christ the farther away from him we are tempted to get.
As we advance in years and Christian experience, instead of becoming more tender and compassionate, seeing the world as God sees it, loving it for salvation through its failures, we are tempted to become hard and bitter, overworked in dealing with it all and quite stressed out.
We have seen too many continuing failures in the short time frame of our lives and can’t quite see the end of it anymore like we had once hoped. We become short-sighted.
What we need is a heavy dose of personal revival; our subject at our revitalized Wednesday evening prayer and devotion sessions. We strongly urge you to come and be a part of God’s work in it all.
What we need is to return to the sense of desperate dependence upon God’s grace that we once had. When we find it, we will have become good stewards of his grace once again.
With time we can fool ourselves into thinking we ourselves have overcome sin, at least major sin, and this can make us impatient with others that God is bringing along behind us.
Essentially, we can begin to think we have become better than they since we have gotten it together – or have we? A lack of sufficient grace flowing through our lives always indicates a struggle with pride on some level.
Now we cannot assume that we can reach the place of becoming unaffected by sin. It always disappoints – both us and God.
Jesus was affected by sin when he threw the money changers out of the temple.
He was affected by sin when he condemned the Pharisees as hypocrites with his seven “woes” in Matthew 23.
And if you never thought of it before, the great sin of the Pharisees was that they were no longer good stewards of God’s grace. Here were some people who thought they had it together for God and became quite judgmental.
So just what is the attitude of grace that we are to be stewards of? Is it to become as much personally unaffected by the sins of others as possible so that you can see them as God does – still in process so that we don’t turn bitter or judgmental by the length of the process, leaving it in God’s hands instead of ours?
Grace upholds faith in the sovereignty of God to deal with sins rather than us having to solve the problem.
You have probably all heard that grace is “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense”, but I think a better implication of grace stewardship is that we never forget our own sinfulness and great need of grace. Essentially, it is that each of us has caused the death of Christ for our own sin. We cannot own grace if we do not go there.
If we have lost our own sense of need for grace there is no way we can give it, is there? We must not lose the quality of graciousness that endears Christ to others through us.
Every opportunity for grace glorifies God. In giving people what they don’t deserve because of their sinfulness you create an indebtedness to Christ that greatly increases your net worth to his kingdom.
You do this every time you respond kindly in the face of unfairness, injustice, selfishness, misunderstanding and adversity.
But I must also warn you that you can get wounded by grace. This is where the potential for bitterness creeps in over time.
My heart weeps over the soldiers and marines who get maimed and killed in Iraq; over the many casualties of terrorist hatred. But as our election showed, it is a war worth winning for the outcome we hope for.
How much better the cause and the hoped for outcome of this war of grace? Are you willing to lose your life so another can gain eternity with Jesus? Are you willing to live the rest of your Christian life here on earth without an arm or a leg or your eyes or your ears so that someone else can touch, walk with, see and hear Jesus?
There are some who would have us quit this war and lose what we have gained for freedom.
Would you quit this war of grace that offers an even greater freedom – the freedom from the penalty of sin?
Now, I want you to know that I preach to myself here, as well as to all of us.
I am reminded of comments by Dr. Joseph Stowell at the question and answer session that ended the Christian Leadership Conference at Harvest Bible Chapel this October.
When asked how he prepares messages, he said, “I preach from the overflow of my study in meeting my own needs in Christ. What I preach to others is what I myself desperately need to hear.”
This leads me to share with you how the thoughts for this message developed in my heart this week.
It all started with “Mrs. Wonderful”. Joan and I were at Walgreens at Six Corners looking around for Christmas Shoebox ministry items last Saturday. I wandered off into the next aisle and noticed a box of Mrs. Wonderful talking dolls. I pressed the activator to hear a wonderfully graceful statement from the wife of any man’s dreams. ILLUSTRATE In fact, the more I pressed it the more gracious things I heard. I thought, “Wow, this could really be useful in marriage counseling ministry.” Perhaps not too realistic in real life, but the point was certainly there. It could really be a springboard for discussion. Then Joan came over and I just had to show it to her and let her hear Mrs. Wonderful for herself, while I tried to keep tongue in cheek. Not to be undone, however, Joan noticed that there were a number of “Mr. Wonderful” talking dolls as well. She said, “Let’s see what Mr. Wonderful has to say. I think I need some equal time here.” ILLUSTRATE Well, Mr. Wonderful started me to thinking about some things I could do better and more consistently in life and marriage. God cooperated, of course. He repeatedly brought a series of object lessons, failures and successes, to my life during the week for me to learn from and preach to myself. This is what I am sharing with you today.
Sunday brought more lessons. I worked and persisted for a year and a half to get approval and installation of a handicap parking space for Lillian Templeton in front of the church so she wouldn’t have to walk across the Irish Center parking lot and risk falling. But 80% of the time after the space was approved, it gets taken by someone from the Hispanic church that has a handicap sign on their car. So Lillian still has to walk across the Irish Center parking lot. When I asked her about it she was so gracious about it, holding no animosity whatsoever. Things like that stick with you as a vision of Christ-like-ness. My thoughts about it weren’t as gracious as hers.
Then we had Pastor Mark Mulder, his wife, Sharon, and adopted daughter, Katie Jo who has Downs Syndrome, from Shepherds Home, along with Eddie Tontillo, over for dinner at the parsonage after their ministry to us last Sunday. His message on love stirred my heart. The gracious things he said in conversation backed it up in reality (church problems, window with people, note of thanks). A life of eleven years ministering to special needs people at Shepherds softened him with a heart of tenderness and compassion rarely seen outside of Christ himself. I wanted more of what that servant of God possessed.
And then Monday night we went to the CareFirst Banquet. When I drove onto the side road leading to the Hyatt Regency parking I thought I would make a turn through the driveway loop at the front entrance to let people out before I went to the parking garage. But a security agent directing traffic was very pointed that I needed to keep moving because I would be holding up a very heavy volume of traffic. I rolled down the window to ask him verbally if I could turn off and he became even more emphatic. I could see in my rear view mirror there was only one car behind me and the rest of the block had no traffic at all. I exclaimed, “Sorry, dude,” and drove on to the parking garage. I thought he was taking his job much too seriously. But it got me to thinking that I could have been more gracious than I was.
God was making his case that I needed this message. But God doesn’t do anything in a vacuum. He wanted me to preach it which means there are some of you who need it too. We can take some satisfaction, I guess, in that we are not alone in these things. We are a common lot in need of grace.
I think if we can get a proper hold on this subject of the stewardship of grace we will have found the secret to the Christian life. And in all things it takes its truth from the life of Jesus who was, is and always will be the champion in this stewardship of grace.
“And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.” (Lu 2:40 NivUS)
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Joh 1:14 NivUS)
“From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.” (Joh 1:16 NivUS)
“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (Joh 1:17 NivUS)
And Jesus from the cross applied that unalterable grace when he said ---
“Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.” (Lu 23:34 NivUS)
This grace is the most valuable thing we will ever receive.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2Co 8:9 NivUS)
“"Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Ac 20:32 NivUS)
“But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” (Ro 5:15 NivUS)
“The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Ro 5:20-21 NivUS)
It was the intent and teaching of Jesus that the riches of his grace be passed on through us – because we have been changed (or should be changed) by grace.
“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me— the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” (Ac 20:24 NivUS)
“By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds.” (1Co 3:10 NivUS)
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them— yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” (1Co 15:10 NivUS)
“All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.” (2Co 4:15 NivUS)
“As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.” (2Co 6:1 NivUS)
“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2Co 9:8 NivUS)
“And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you.” (2Co 9:14 NivUS)
“But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2Co 12:9 NivUS)
“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Col 4:6 NivUS)
“We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (2Th 1:12 NivUS)
“So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life— not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time,” (2Ti 1:8-9 NivUS)
“See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Heb 12:15 NivUS)
“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” (1Pe 4:10 NivUS)
This greatest secret of the Christian life is to be shared openly.
Are you a bold and effective steward of grace?
How will you grow in grace this week?
How will you grow someone else in grace this week?
Opportunities for radical grace in the world and in the church abound. Take them!
The world needs to see Jesus.
The church needs to keep its eyes fixed on Jesus.
Without grace it all grinds to a halt for the lack of lubricant.
Let us give thanks to God for the gift of grace.