Stewardship 2 – Bad Stewards

The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 4:2: “Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.”  We learned in our last lesson that stewards are those who manage the goods of another and work to do their master's will.  We saw an example of a good steward in Abraham's servant; he was indeed faithful in understanding, in performing, and in achieving his master's desire to find a wife for Isaac.  Likewise, our stewardship “is the managing of life and all its resources for God and for the good of others. ... This stewardship is not something [we] suddenly decide to do.  [Each Christian] is a steward [because of what God has entrusted] and cannot escape [this responsibility.  We are] either good or bad stewards.  The Communist view of property is that [an individual] is merely an instrument of the state with no rights to title or true possessions.  Almost half the world is in the grips of this idea.  The Capitalistic view is that [an individual] can rightfully purchase [property] and control instruments and production.  [In contrast to these views], the Christian view is that God owns all; although [an individual] may be blessed with abundance and have control over it, [such wealth] is [really acquired] only be means of a gracious [Giver and generous] Providence.  Even then, [such material prosperity] is not [our] own to use as [we] please, but it should be employed for the service of mankind for the glory of God” (Layton, TGA).

Today, we want to look at the flip side of last week’s lesson.  An atheist who became a Christian once said, “I want to explain my past to you so that you can lean what NOT do.”  Today’s lesson will show us several examples of bad stewardship and their wrongs, so that we may learn what NOT to do with regards to our stewardship.

The first example of bad stewardship are the Jews who lived around 420 B. C.  The prophet of this era was Malachi.  Let’s notice what God says in Malachi 1:6-8: “‘A son honors his father, and a servant his master.  If then I am the Father, where is My honor?  And if I am a Master, where is My reverence?’ says the Lord of hosts to you priests who despise My name.  Yet you say, ‘In what way have we despised Your name?’ ‘You offer defiled food on My altar, but say, “In what way have we defiled You?”  By saying, “The table of the Lord is contemptible.”  And when you offer the lame and sick is it no evil?  Offer it then to your governor!  Would he be pleased with you?  Would he accept you favorably?’”  God is like a father and a master, but the Jews are not honoring or showing Him any reverence.  The priest even despise God’s Name and defile his altars by offering the people’s sacrifices which are not the best of the flocks but are the worst of them—the lame and the blind.  God asks pointedly if such a gift would be pleasing to their governor.  Of course, it would not be.  So we see that the Jews and the priests were really offering God their leftovers, weren’t they?  Why did they do that ?  Malachi wants them all to see that they have a wrong attitude.  Do we want to honor God?  Do we see worship as worthless?  Someone has discovered, after interviewing members in many congregations, that one third of the congregation gives over $20 per week to the collection, the next third gives between $5-$20, and the last third gives between $0-$5.  Would that pattern fit our congregation?  What third would you be in?  If that pattern fits us, maybe we need to examine our attitude because it sounds like we might be offering God our leftovers too.  Let’s have the right attitude and give God our Best!

The next example of a bad steward is the lazy servant found in Matthew 25:14-30.  You probably remember this parable of Jesus.  A wealthy man leaves money in the hands of his servants for them to use to make his further profits.  The first and second servants use their funds wisely and make their master substantial profits, for which they are praised and rewarded.  The third servant, however, was very different.  Let’s begin reading in verse 24: “Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not scattered seed.  And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground.  Look, there you have what is yours!’  But His lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant…’”, and then the lord rebuked that servant and said that he should have given the funds to bankers so that he could have a profit off the interest!  What we see here is a wrong action.  This steward did nothing with what was given him!  Is that our action as well?  Are we failing to help the Lords’ work with what has been entrusted to us?  This stewards’ master was certainly not pleased with such an irresponsible usage of his funds!  Would God be angry with us as well for our irresponsible usage of the wealth with which He has blessed us?  Someone wrote this little poem: “That man may last, but never lives, who much receive but nothing gives.  Whom few can love, and none can thank [for heaven’s causes, his checkbook’s] blank.” (Gibbon in Layton)!  Let’s have the right actions, doing what we can to help the Lords’ work.

The next example are the Gadarenes of Mark 5:1-17.  Remember in this story how Jesus confronts a man that has many evil spirits.  Jesus casts these demons out of the man, and the demons ask if they can enter into a herd of pigs.  Jesus gives them permission, and the whole herd runs down a steep place and then is drowned in the sea.  So the pigs’ owners run off and tell everyone in the city what has happened.  They all come out and see the man who was demon possessed being submissive, dressed, and sane.  So the story was recounted to the people how Jesus had healed the man and caused the pigs to drown.  Verse 17 says: “Then they [the Gadarenes] began to plead with Him to depart from their region.”  Why did they ask Jesus to leave?  One brother has made this good observation: “Their interest in the prices of the hog market went a long way toward the request they made for Jesus to leave their borders. … They had lost all their interest in humanity [and divinity].  What did it matter to them that a man had been made whole and [was sane] again [or that the Son of God had done it and was among them] when they had lost [their primary source of income]?  Anything that did not contribute to their financial profit was worthless to them” (Layton).  Here we see a wrong assessment, don’t we?  Pigs and pocketbooks were deemed to have more value than a man’s sanity and Jesus’ presence!  Where are our values?  Do investments, stocks, bond, lands, houses, cars, entertainers, sports, and gadgets have more value to us than the Lord’s work and the church’s future?  Someone gave us a warning with this little poem: “Money!  Money!  Doug form the mountainside, washed in the glen, servant am I, or the master of men.  Steal me, I curse you; earn me, I bless you, grasp me and hoard me, [I soon] shall possess you.  Lie for me, die for me, covet me, take me; angel or devil, I am what you make me” (Guiterman in Layton).  Let’s have a proper assessment of what God has entrusted to us!

The fourth example is the rich fool of Luke 12:13-21.  Jesus had affirmed that life does not consist in the abundance of things.  Then to illustrate that truth, He told about a rich man who had had a bumper crop.  It was so plentiful that he would be able to tear down his present barns and build bigger ones.  In fact, let’s begin reading with verse 19: “And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease: eat, drink, and be merry.’  But God said to him, ‘Fool!  This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’  So is he who lays up treasure for himself , and is not rich towards God.”  This rich man thought that he had many years to live in pleasure, but God cut short his dreams by announcing that he would die.  The parable ends with Jesus underscoring that the rich man had not worked to lay up for himself treasures in heaven; the man was not using what God had entrusted him to Gods’ glory.  Here we see a wrong investment of the master’s goods, don’t we?  He was thinking “More crops!”, but God was wanting “More good deeds!”  He was thinking, “Bigger barns!”, but God was wanting “Bigger soup kitchens!”  He was thinking, “Increased pleasure!”, but God was wanting “Increased service!”  Yes, he was investing in earthly treasures but was ignoring heavenly treasures.  What about us?  Are we making wrong investments?  Someone has calculated that if all American church members in all churches would increase their giving to 10% of their incomes, this would generate close to $168 billion, which could be used to supply essential sanitation needs, proper infant care, immunizations, basic education, long-term developmental efforts, and more missionaries all around the world (www.emptytomb.org/potential. html)!  I’m proud of this congregation’s humanitarian and missions efforts, but how many more new missionaries and ministries could be added if we were all striving to give 10% of our incomes?  Someone put it this way: “Not what we have, but what we use; not what we see, but what we choose—These are the things that mar or bless, the sum of [a church’s] happiness” (Layton).  Let’s put our investments into heavenly treasures!

The next bad example is plainly spelled out in Luke 12:42-48 where we see a foolish steward’s actions.  Let’s begin reading in verse 45: “But if that servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when his is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.”  Here we see who one who had the wrong accountability.  He began to consider himself no longer accountable to his master, so he began mistreating others and using his master’s goods only for his own selfish ends.  This master’s indignation at this disrespectful and proud steward is certainly evident!  Have we lost our sense of accountability to God?  Do we see ourselves as the master of all our goods and have we forgotten that God is really the Giver of all good things?  James tells us in 1:17: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down form the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”  There was an engineer in 1977 who designed a graceful tower in New York City.  After its opening, he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering.  But one year after the building’s opening, he came to a frightening realization that the tower was flawed because some joints had been bolted rather than welded.  He calculated that strong winds could buckle the joints on the 13
th floor, and the whole building could tumble down.  He knew that if he blew the whistle on himself, he could face law suits, probably bankruptcy, and professional disgrace.  Since lives were at stake, however, he notified all parties of his discovery.  The city and corporate leaders acted in a professional way, options were discussed, and plans were made to strengthen the joints by welding steel plates.  The building is now able to withstand even the strongest of winds.  The repair costs millions, but the engineer’s reputation was not destroyed, but enhanced!  Another engineer commented that he admired his honest courage: “Here’s a man who said: ‘I got a problem; I made the problem; let’s fix the problem” (Larson-Elshof).  We are accountable to God.  When it comes to giving do we need to confess: “Lord, I’ve got a problem; I’ve made the problem; now let’s fix this problem.”  Let’s not forget that God is our master and that we are accountable to Him for that which He has entrusted to our care.

The next bad example is the rich man who ignored the poor man named Lazarus.  The story is found in Luke 16:19-31.  You probably remember it well.  The rich man was dressed in purple and fared sumptuously every day while a poor beggar named Lazarus was brought daily to the rich man’s gate.  The both die, and Lazarus goes to paradise while the rich man goes into torment.  In this life, Lazarus was the beggar, but in the afterlife, the rich man became the beggar.  We see here an example of wrong distribution.  The rich man had goods and wealth, but he was unwilling to share them to distribute them to others less fortunate.  One person who works among the poor shares these stories: “I saw one woman in a crowd struggle to get a meal from one of our food vans, and when I asked her if it was worth the fight, she relied, ‘Oh, yes, I don’t eat the meal myself but give it to an elderly woman who can’t fight for a mean any more.’  I saw a street kid get $20 panhandling outside a store and then ran inside to share it with his friends.  I met a little girl who was homeless and asked her what she wanted to do when she grew up, and she replied that she wanted to own a grocery store so she could give out food to hungry people.  Someone has said, ‘In the poor, we meet Jesus in His most distressing disguises.’” (Claiborne as quoted in Larson-Elshof).  “Shamgar had an oxgoad, Rahab had a string, Gideon had a trumpet, David had a sling.  Samson had a jawbone, Moses had a rod, Dorcus had a needle, but all were used for God” (Layton).  Let’s use our wealth for God and share our goods with those who are truly needy!

The next example is the rich young ruler in Luke 18:18-23.  This guy had three things going for him; he was rich, he was young, and he was a ruler.  He asked the right question when he asked Jesus what he should do to inherit eternal life.  Jesus told him to keep the commandments, and he said that he’d done that .  Then Jesus challenged him at the heart level in verse 22: “Jesus said to him, ‘You still lack one thing.  Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you have treasure in heaven, and come, follow Me.’  But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.”  This man had the wrong loyalty.  He thought he loved God supremely until Jesus challenged him at his devotion level.  Then he saw how greatly he was attached to wealth.  Where is our loyalty?  Here’s a modern parable: “Three young swallows were perched on a branch that stretched out over a lake.  One adult swallow got alongside the chicks and started shoving them out toward the end or the branch—pushing, pushing, pushing.  The end one fell off.  Somewhere between the branch and the water below, the wings stared working and the fledgling was off on its own.  Then the second one.  The third one, however, was not to be bullied.  At the last possible moment, his grip on the branch loosened just enough so that he swung downward, then it tightened its talons again, bulldog tenacious.  The parent pecked at the desperately clinging talons until it was more painful for the chick to hang on than risk the insecurities of flying.  The grip was released and the wings began pumping.  So, what’s the point?  Birds can walk, and they can cling, but flying is their characteristic action and not until they fly are they living at their best.  Giving is what we do best.  Sharing is the air into which we were born.  It is [our characteristic] action [in which we show our living at its best.]  Some people try desperately to hold on to themselves [and all their goods]; they hang on to the branch of selfishness, afraid to risk themselves on their untried wings of giving.  Many people don’t think they can share generously because they have just never tried” (Peterson quoted on generousgiving.org).  Let’s remember that Jesus told us we cannot serve two masters—will it be money or God?  Where’s our loyalty?

The last example is that “generous” couple known as Ananias and Sapphira seen in our read this morning, Acts 5:1-11.  What was their sin?  The commentaries give three actions: firstly, they desired to the praise of men that the gift would prompt; secondly, they were moved by greed, and the prospect of giving the entire amount just seemed to difficult; thirdly, they lied by trying to pass off to Peter and the other members that they had given the whole amount.  Peter’s words in verse 9 are very significant: “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord?”  They had premeditatedly agreed to keep one part while saying that they had given it all.  Here we see a wrong plan for giving.  They wanted to appear generous when they were really covetous.  So, we see how such hypocrisy, greed, and lying were severely punished by God!  How do you plan your giving?  This story shows that we’d better be serious about it.  Here’s a simple four part challenge for you: firstly, don’t buy everything that you think you need because you probably can live just as well without it; secondly, pay off your debts because there is no better feeling than being debt free; thirdly, freeze your credit card (literally)—put them in the freezer and don’t touch them; lastly, when you get paid, put aside your contribution to the church first, right off the top (hopefully, 10% or even more) and resolve that those funds for the Lord’s work and for helping others will not be touched or borrowed from.  Let’s determine that we will seek God’s kingdom first (even with our income); it will have priority!  Someone has admonished us with these words: “It is not what we earn that makes us rich, as riches are really known; but how honest we are as we lay our hand on what we call our own.  It is not what we keep that gives us peace in an age when peace is rare, but how truthful we are as we lay aside our own and the Master’s share” (Layton).  Let’s plan properly so that we can truly give to the Lord generously!

We’ve seen eight examples of bad stewardship: the Jews with the wrong attitude, the lazy servant with his wrong action, the Gadarenes with their wrong assessment, the rich fool with his wrong investment, the foolish servant with his wrong accountability, the rich man with his wrong distribution of goods, the rich young ruler with his wrong loyalty, and a covetous couple with their wrong plan.  Hopefully, this lesson has helped us learn what NOT to do.  “Why build out cities glorious if man unbuilded goes?  In vain we build the work unless the builder also grows” (Markham quoted by Layton)!  We will either prove ourselves bad or good stewards.  Let’s use the wealth that God has entrusted to us for the service of mankind and for the glory of our Almighty God!  “Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.”