Today's Broadcast

The Faithful Steward

A Message by R.C. Sproul

Beloved for the way in which it highlights Jesus' care for those on the margins of society and for its care in telling the story of our Savior's life and ministry, the gospel of Luke has always been treasured by the Christian church. Dr. Sproul's expositional study of this inspired account of Jesus looks at the significant events of His life and His teachings while unfolding the meaning of both for us today.

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    How to Be a Good Steward

  2. article

    Treasures on Earth

  3. blog-post

    Not Lords, Stewards

How to Be a Good Steward

Generally speaking, we are commanded to never put the Lord to a test. So, it is a remarkable thing indeed when God Himself makes an exception to this principle and calls us to test Him. This is exactly what our Creator does in today's passage. Speaking to the ancient Israelites, who had forgotten their duty to be good stewards of their resources and bring tithes into His house, God exhorted His people to return to their vocation of stewardship, promising to bless them far beyond what they could ever hope or dream if they were to obey (Mal. 3:8–12).

If we were quick to test the Lord through faithful tithing and stewardship, we could sit in judgment over the ancient covenant community. Yet we do not test God as He has called us to do when it comes to stewarding His resources. Church leaders know all too well the truth of surveys that tell us that less than 10 percent of professing evangelicals tithe regularly. This reflects the degree to which we struggle with sin and with making the Lord's priorities our own. Our Father prizes His worship and the education of His people in His Word (Lev. 10:3; Deut. 6:6–7), but pastors and teachers are among the lowest-paid professionals in the United States.

Even the Israelites, however, were not the first people God called to exercise wise stewardship. Ever since our first parents were called to exercise dominion over His world, the Lord has tasked all people with managing their resources for kingdom purposes (Gen. 1:27–28). It is easy to understand why impenitent people do not recognize this responsibility, but even we tend to think of our funds, time, and energy as our own. But if the fullness of the earth belongs to the Lord (Ps. 24:1), everything we have is temporarily "on loan" from God.

Being pleasing to God requires us to exercise wise stewardship. A dollar spent here is a dollar that cannot be spent there, and we sin if we do not use our time and priorities according to the Lord's standards. We must not waste our resources like the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–13) but use them in the service of His kingdom.

Bringing the tithe to God's storehouse was not abrogated with the old covenant. Our treasures and our hearts are always in the same place (Matt. 6:21). That we might grow in grace, let us consider what our checkbooks say about our hearts.

Treasures on Earth

John Piper

The inner essence of worship is treasuring Jesus as infinitely valuable above everything. The outer forms of worship are the acts that show how much we treasure God. Therefore, all of life is meant to be worship because God said whether you eat or drink or whatever you do — all of life — do it all to show how valuable the glory of God is to you (1 Cor. 10:31).

Money and possessions are a big part of life, and therefore God intends them to be a big part of worship. So the way we worship with our money and our possessions is to get them and use them and lose them in a way that shows how much we treasure Jesus, not money.

Luke 12:33–34 has to do with the big pattern of how we worship with our money (and by implication it relates to what we do with our money in corporate worship, as we’ll see below). “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Observe three things from this important text on money.

First, embracing Jesus as our great Treasure carries a strong impulse toward simplicity rather than accumulation. Focus for a moment on the words “sell your possessions” in verse 33. Who is Jesus talking to? Verse 22 earlier in the passage gives the answer: “his disciples.” Now these people were, by and large, not wealthy. They didn’t have a lot of possessions. But still He says, “Sell your possessions.” He doesn’t say how many possessions to sell.

To the rich ruler in Luke 18:22 Jesus said, “Sell everything you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” In this instance, Jesus directs the man to sell all of his possessions.

When Zaccheus met Jesus, he said, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” (Luke 19:8). So Zaccheus gave fifty percent of his possessions.

Acts 4:36–37 says, “Barnabas…sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” So Barnabas sold at least one field.

Thus, the Bible doesn’t tell us how many possessions to sell. But why does it say sell possessions at all? Giving alms — using your money to show love for those without the necessities of life and without the gospel (the necessity for eternal life) — is so important that if you don’t have any liquid assets to give, you should sell something so you can give.

But now think what this means in context. These disciples are not cash-poor rich people whose money is all tied up in bonds or real estate. Most people like that do, in fact, usually have fairly deep savings. But Jesus didn’t say, “Take some of your savings and give alms.” He said, “Sell something, and give alms.” Why? The simplest assumption is that these folks lived close enough to the edge that they did not have cash to give and had to sell something so they could give. And Jesus wanted His people to move toward simplification, not accumulation.

So what’s the point? The point is that there is a powerful impulse in the Christian life toward simplicity rather than accumulation. The impulse comes from treasuring God as Shepherd and Father and King more than we treasure all our possessions.

And the impulse is a strong impulse for two reasons. One is that Jesus said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth [literally: those who have things] to enter the kingdom of God!” (Luke 18:24). In Luke 8:14 Jesus said that riches “choke” the Word of God. But we want to enter the kingdom vastly more than we want things. And we don’t want the gospel choked in our lives.

The other reason is that we want the preciousness of God to be manifest to the world. And Jesus tells us here that selling things and giving alms is one way to show that God is real and precious as Shepherd, Father, and King.

So the first point from Luke 12 is that trusting God as Shepherd, Father, and King carries a strong impulse toward simplicity rather than accumulation. And this brings worship out from the inner, hidden place of the heart into more visible actions for the glory of God.

But there’s a second point to see here in verse 33: the purpose of money is to maximize our treasure in heaven, not on the earth. “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.” What’s the connection between selling possessions here so you can meet the needs of others (the first part of the verse) and accumulating treasure in heaven for yourself (the end of the verse)?

The connection seems to be this: The way you make moneybags that don’t grow old and the way you gather a treasure in the heavens that never fails is by selling your possessions to meet the needs of others. In other words, simplifying for the sake of love on earth maximizes your joy in heaven.

Don’t miss this utterly radical point. It’s the way Jesus thinks and talks all the time. Being heavenly-minded makes a radically loving difference in this world. The people who are most powerfully persuaded that what matters is treasure in heaven, not big accumulations of money here, are the people who will constantly dream of ways to simplify and serve, simplify and serve, simplify and serve. They will give and give and give. And of course, they will work and work and work, as Paul says in Ephesians 4:28: “so that [they] may have something to share with anyone in need.”

The connection with worship — in life and on Sundays — is this: Jesus commands us to accumulate treasure in heaven, that is, to maximize our joy in God. He says that the way to do this is to sell and simplify for the sake of others. So He motivates simplicity and service by our desire to maximize our joy in God, which means that all of our use of money becomes a manifestation of how much we delight in God above money and things. And that is worship.

But there’s a third and final point to make from Luke 12: Your heart moves toward what you cherish, and God wants you to move toward Him. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (v. 34). This is given as the reason why we should pursue treasure in heaven that does not fail. If your treasure is in heaven where God is, then that is where your heart will be also.

Now what is this seemingly simple verse really saying? The word treasure I take to mean “the object cherished.” And the word heart I take to mean “the organ that cherishes.” So read the verse like this: “Where the object that you cherish is, there will be the organ that cherishes.” If the object you cherish is God in heaven, your heart will be with God in heaven. You will be with God. But if the object that you cherish is money and things on the earth, then your heart will be on the earth. You will be on the earth, cut off from God.

This is what Jesus meant in Luke 16:13 when He said, “No servant 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.” To serve money is to cherish money and pursue all the benefits money can give. In this case, the heart goes after money. But to serve God means to cherish God and to pursue all the benefits God can give. Here, the heart goes after God.

And that is worship: the heart’s cherishing God and seeking Him as the treasure above all treasures.

In conclusion, let’s relate these three points from Luke 12:33–34 to the corporate act of worship we call “the offering.” This moment and this act will be worship for you, regardless of the amount — from the widow’s mite to the millionaire’s thousands — if by giving you say from the heart: “One, I hereby trust you, God, as my happy, generous Shepherd, Father, and King so that I will not be afraid when I have less money for myself in supplying the needs of others. Two, I hereby resist the incredible pressure in our culture to accumulate more and more and cast my lot with the impulse to simplicity for the sake of others. Three, I hereby lay up treasure in heaven and not on earth so that my joy in God will be maximized forever. And four, with this offering I declare that since my treasure is in heaven, my heart goes after God.” 

Not Lords, Stewards

Burk Parsons

“This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” (1 Corinthians 4:1)

The apostle Paul was neither afflicted with false modesty nor with any sort of apostolic pomposity. He understood his role and his office in the household of God. At times we find him needing to assert his apostolic office to the end that his readers would heed him as they would the Lord. On other occasions we find him passionately putting himself in place. He strove valiantly with the Corinthians to maintain their firm grasp of his apostolicity that they might obey his charge to regard him rightly as a man, a servant, and a steward, and most certainly not a king, a deity, or a little messiah.

As we read between the lines of Paul’s letters, attempting to become more intimately acquainted with our beloved older brother in the faith, we come away with the impression that he hated the celebrity that seemed so often to accompany his office, and one thing is abundantly clear from what we read here in chapter four, considering the Corinthians’ borderline deification of the apostles, Paul saw himself as nothing more, and nothing less, than a steward.

In the first century, a steward was one who served a family and an entire household by managing its affairs. From the same word as the English cognate economy, a steward was not the master, or head, of the household but was the master’s entrusted manager of his entire household. In order for the master to be successful in his work, in society, and in the broader community, the steward of the master’s household must be the greatest of servants as he carried the great-but-oft-confounding burden of actively leading in the master’s absence and responsively serving in the master’s presence.

Having been a Pharisee, Paul knew well what it was to set himself up above the law of God as he zealously sought to keep man’s laws above and beyond God’s laws in order to ensure God was abundantly satisfied with him and blessed him. Attempting to be faithful rulers, Paul and the Pharisees established themselves as masters of the house, lords of God’s household, not as faithful stewards.

I’ve often said to those with whom I serve most intimately that the greatest servants make the greatest leaders, that all great leaders were once great servants, and that if they prove to be good leaders at life’s end it’s only because they have remained faithful servants. The faithful servant will never allow himself to rise to the place of master, even if the household should clamor for such. When the dear and immature Corinthians clamored, Paul put himself in his place. However, he didn’t simply state the case of his role and how people should regard him as a steward and servant and then move on to something else; rather, in classic Pauline fashion, he qualified his role with a rejoinder, saying, “Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” At the end of the day, when the master comes home, the steward must be found faithful. If not, he wasn’t simply proven to be a bad steward but no steward at all. In fact, if he was found unfaithful the steward could be discharged, imprisoned, or even executed (similar to what Joseph experienced in Genesis 39, though, of course, falsely accused). A steward is, by necessity, faithful. If he is found to be unfaithful, he will find himself a steward no longer. A “bad steward” is oxymoronic. A bad steward is no steward at all.

A “bad steward” is oxymoronic. A bad steward is no steward at all.

In his letter to Titus, Paul writes concerning the qualification of elders:  “For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach” (Titus 1:7). In the same breath and with no further explication, Paul enjoins the elder’s office as “overseer” and his role as “steward.” The language of “overseer” suggests the elder’s appropriate role of authority, and the language of “steward” suggests his role of responsibility as an entrusted servant of the only Master and Head, Jesus Christ whose kingly authority is not merely titular but in every way real, active, and necessarily guarded.

John Calvin aids us in getting right to the heart of the matter of the elder’s authority and stewardship: “Now the medium observed by Paul consists in this, that he calls them stewards of Christ; by which he intimates, that they ought to apply themselves not to their own work but to that of the Lord, who has hired them as his servants, and that they are not appointed to bear rule in an authoritative manner in the Church, but are subject to Christ’s authority—in short, that they are servants, not masters.”

No one can better and more appropriately grasp the role of elder than a faithful, biblically qualified elder in the household of God. Few things, if anything, in life can bring more constant fulfillment and more confounding heartache. And while we as elders must never suffer the devilish affliction of false modesty in making less of our office than Christ does, neither should we make more of our station than Christ does, even when his household comes flattering, deifying, and making us into celebrities. We must daily put ourselves in our right places by the daily aid of the always-faithful Spirit who daily pricks us and convicts us to the end that we would hate our celebrity as much as Paul and be as amused by our supposed celebrity as Christ is.

To be a steward we must be faithful, and such faithfulness begins with the regular reminder to ourselves first and then to the household of God that we are not lords, but stewards, entrusted by God with His Gospel, not ours—and if it’s His, we ought not trifle with it knowing well that if we do we will not simply be found bad stewards but not stewards at all, deserving not only discharge from our office but a mill-stone around our necks.

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