Last time you saw my face on the back of this newspaper I explained the first of five reasons why I practice stewardship: because it’s easy. I confessed that when I compare material surrender to other types of internal surrender, I find financial stewardship to be easier than those more important parts of the Christian life. I also argued that stewardship is just as applicable to time, energy and talent, as it is to money, and therefore our paradigm for stewardship should encompass everything—not just a meager ten percent of our finances. This week will allow us a look at the second of my five reasons for practicing a radical stewardship: because I feel like it.
It is a cruel tactic to lower the biblical standard of righteousness by downplaying the role of feelings in Christian obedience. Godly emotions are commanded on every page of the Bible: joy, heart-felt peace, gratitude, fear, zeal, grief, contrition, and eagerness—just to mention a few (Mt 10:28, Col 3:15, Rom 12:11,15, Ps 51:17, Eph 5:20, 1 Pt 5:1-2). Emotion is inseparably tied to obedience.
Giving is no exception. “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7). I realize that we have heard Christian teachers tell us that the Christian life is not about emotions, but my Bible tells me to give “cheerfully.” It’s true that the biblical scope of obedience goes beyond my feelings to include my every action (1 Cor 10:31). However, that doesn’t mean that my emotions aren’t important. I find it biblically necessary to refuse a false dichotomy which forces me to choose between emotions and action. I must give (action) cheerfully (emotion). Both are commanded of me in the Bible—particularly with respect to giving.
If we give just because we have to, we do not glorify God. God demands that we give cheerfully. Therefore, I strive by the grace of God not just to give, but to feel like giving. That is, I strive to have the feeling of cheerfulness at the thought of giving my whole life to the things of God. Money is just one small, relatively easy part of that.
My reasons for practicing stewardship are unusual and demand a bit of explanation, though I believe they are all thoroughly biblical: 1) because it’s easy, 2) because I feel like it, 3) because it gives me pleasure, 4) because I’m greedy, and 5) because God doesn’t need my money anyway. Please bear with me; it will take me five weeks just to explain what I mean. This week will only allow us a look at the first of these five reasons: because it’s easy.
Writing a check to the church is easier for me than being broken over my sin, spending quality time with the lonely, listening for long hours while someone entrusts me with their life “issues,” giving my life to serve the poor, spending hours pouring out sincere prayers to God on behalf of others, expending energy in the church’s behind-the-scenes manual labor, being satisfied in my singleness, keeping my mind and intentions pure, joyfully suffering ridicule and social persecution for being bold with my faith around unbelievers, or just being honest with myself and others whenever I am experiencing a time of spiritual drought or struggling with embarrassing sins.
When I compare material surrender to other types of internal surrender, I find financial stewardship to be easier than those more important parts of the Christian life. It would be easy for me to deceive myself by thinking that as long as I am in the pew on Sundays and regularly giving a mere ten percent that I have been a faithful Christian. In reality, tithing and church attendance are more peripheral components of the greater commandments of loving God and loving others.
The Pharisees faithfully attended worship at the temple and gave their tithe, yet instead of patting them on the back Jesus rebuked them by saying, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others” (Mt 23:23).
Stewardship is just as applicable to time, energy and talent, as it is to money. My tithing alone should never be the basis for judging whether or not I have been a good steward of all God has given me. Our paradigm for stewardship should encompass everything—not just a meager ten percent of our finances.