Confident Christianity: Now Concerning Stewardship – 1 Corinthians 16

steward 2Back in 2002, Pastor Rick Gillespie-Mobley shared this illustration and I believe it will be perfectly understood by parents today:

One day James wanted to do something special with his five year old son Jimmy. He asked: “Son, is there anything you’d like to do right now?” Jimmy said, “I want some McDonald French Fries.” His father said, “If that’s what my boy wants, then that’s what my boy gets.” [The father and son] got into the blue and white Chevy truck and headed toward McDonald’s [Restaurant]. Jimmy’s lips and tongue were silently moving as he could taste the fries before they even reached the store. His Dad made the order, and Jimmy’s heart pounded when his Dad said: “Make it a ‘super-sized’ fry. James took the money out of his wallet to pay for the fries and a drink. Jimmy’s little teeth were ready to sink into those hot golden fries, before they made it to the table. When they sat down, grace consisted of “God bless this food amen”, but it seemed like way too many words to Jimmy who was eager to delight himself with this huge blessing of French fries. James was happy to see his little boy so happy over something so simple. He decided to join in the fun. He reached over to get a couple of Jimmy’s fries for himself. To his surprise, his son quickly put his arms around his fries as though building a fort and pulled them toward himself and said, “No, these are mine.” His dad was in a state of shock for a moment. He could not believe what had happened. James pulled back his hand and began to reflect about his son’s attitude toward the fries.

He was thinking, “My son failed to realize that I am the source of those French fries.” At the counter, I was the one who gave the cashier the money from my wallet. I did not give him the size fry he was expecting, but something twice as big. Yet here he is talking about his French fries. Not only was I the source of the French fries, he has forgotten that at 6ft 1 and 195 lbs, I have the power to take all the fries despite his little arms surrounding them as a fort. Or that if I wanted to, I could go back to the counter and bring him so many fries that he could never eat them all. He also does not understand, “that I don’t need his French fries. I could go back to the counter and get as many fries as I wanted.” As the Dad thought about it, one or two fries really would not have made much of a difference for him that day. What he wanted was for his son Jimmy, to invite him into the wonderful little world he had made possible for his son. He wanted his son to be willing to share the very blessing that he had provided.

steward 3It seems an instinctive part of our fallen nature as human beings for us to deeply believe we have earned things that we have clearly been given. When we realize we didn’t somehow earn what we have without assistance, some of us start to be willing to generously share what we have.

That little picture is what stewardship is all about. That is the subject of the last chapter of 1 Corinthians. In that portion of the writing of the Apostle Paul, God offered a model of how we are to steward our time, talent, wealth and opportunity. His example of a simple collection reveals a broader principle…

Key Principle: God provides wealth, opportunities and people to allow us to steward His resources in ministry, and to help us invite Him on the journey of life.

That principle reveals what God does, but the real question is: “How can we use what He provided in a way that pleases Him?” Paul offered some help by the Spirit of God.

The Stewardship of Money Used for Ministry (16:1-4).

First, Paul challenged the people of Corinth concerning their giving of an offering to other believers who were in trouble and needed help (at Jerusalem). Paul wrote:

1 Corinthians 16:1 Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. 2 On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come. 3 When I arrive, whomever you may approve, I will send them with letters to carry your gift to Jerusalem; 4 and if it is fitting for me to go also, they will go with me.

There are four details Paul offered in what he wrote that will help us as we steward the “things” God put within our lives.

Detail One: He said their giving had a defined purpose.

The projects were directed from the priorities established by leaders who were responsible before God not to misdirect the funds (16:1). It appears that Paul’s real goal was to unite the Gentile givers and the Jewish recipients in love, a task that was not easy to accomplish!

Detail Two: He instructed their provision be set aside in a systematic way.

Setting aside the funds for the giving was to be a deliberate venture (not haphazard), but at the same time it was not a sterile one! This was an intentional act of worship (i.e. Phil. 4:18 “spiritual sacrifice”) as an organized collection for specific and measurable goals (1 Corinthians 16:2a). They were helping and they KNEW they were helping. They saw the planned use of the funds. This wasn’t a “blind taxation” but a deliberate sacrifice for others.

Detail three: He told them giving was responsive to God’s direction:

Let’s take a few moments on this point. The people were directed to give as God provided for each of them (16:2b). There was no simple formula, but it was scaled according to the blessing God offered them individually.

The simple fact is that we have nothing without the help of another, and even our very lives came from God using the body of others. We are nothing on our own and never have been. Truthfully we possess nothing permanent of ourselves. All that we are, all that we have, all that we will ever become is tied up in the good gifts of God to us. Here is how you can verify this truth: If you really think something belongs to you; die and try to keep somebody else from taking it.

A Note on TITHING and the Believer

Let’s take a moment, since we are in a passage about giving in a planned way, and deal with the age old question: “To tithe or not to tithe!” Many believers were raised to believe that we owe God a tenth of our increase. That isn’t true. We owe God everything, but that doesn’t necessarily instruct us on how much to give in our local church, or to ministry needs in general. Let me unpack that idea a bit.

In terms of those who teach “tithing”, they will cite the record of giving in the “tithe” extending back to the first book of the Bible. In Genesis 14:18-20, Abraham, after rescuing Lot, met with the enigmatic priest of the Living God name Melchizedek. After Melchizedek offered Abraham a blessing based on his rescue of people and goods, Abraham gave him a tenth of everything he has obtained from the battle. “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” —Genesis 14:18-20

Take a moment and consider this, not simply as a pattern, but as an event by itself. Did the inclusion of the story by Moses show that he intended the passage to teach believers to give to their Temple? If it did, was this to be later inferred in giving to their synagogue and after the advent of Jesus by believers in the church? In other words, are there any indications that Abraham’s act was to be instructive to us in an amount to give at our place of worship?

Consider this: Abraham wasn’t at Temple or church, and there is no internal instruction in the passage. In fact, there is a widely promoted theory of the passage that “tithing” in this text existed “before the conditions of the Law of Moses” and therefore superseded the Law. Yet, that reasoning is deeply flawed. While it is true that Abraham gave BEFORE THE LAW, his tithe was NOT from Abraham’s own wealth (Gen 13), but from the spoils of war. There are NO passages that indicate Abraham took anything from his own wealth at that time or any subsequent time. If we followed the pattern of that passage, we would give things taken from others and keep our own stuff. We would also learn to do it only one time.

“Wait!” some would argue. In Genesis 28:12-22, Jacob, after his visionary dream of Jacob’s Ladder (or stairway) and his reception of a blessing from God, promised God a tenth: “12 He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 And behold, the Lord stood [h]above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. 14 Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have [m]promised you.” 16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” 18 So Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on its top. 19 He called the name of that place Bethel; however, previously the name of the city had been Luz. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, 21 and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the Lord will be my God. 22 This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.”” —Genesis 28:12-22

It is true that is exactly what Jacob did. Here is the issue: There is no wider command in the passage that showed any broader application to other believers nor is there a record that God required this of him. He simply said that he did what was customary for a guardian king. In the period, a tithe was something you gave to a king or chieftain of an area in order to guarantee safe passage through their territory on a journey. You didn’t do it unless you passed through their property. Is the teaching of the tithe in this case a “deal with God”? Are we saying you should offer God “safe passage money” in a reciprocal agreement? I don’t think so.

It is also important to recognize the tithe was specifically in the Torah provisions mentioned in Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy (Leviticus 27:30; Numbers 18:26; Deuteronomy 14:24; 2 Chronicles 31:5). At the same time, most Christians don’t understand the tithing system was organized in a seven year cycle, (part of what is called the “Shemittah cycle”).

• Every year, the Bikkurim (or first fruits in the Bible) and the Terumah (called in the Bible a “heave offering”) were separated from the grain, wine and oil.

• The Ma’aser Rishon and the “Terumat Ma’aser” were specific gifts of a tenth of new agricultural produce, accompanying the gift to the priests of the Tabernacle for service compensation (Deuteronomy 14:22).

The idea was that these priests were cared for like “God’s princes” who “covered the people with protection” as a chieftain would when you passed through his territory. Unlike other offerings, where eating was restricted to consumption within the tabernacle, the yearly tithe to the Levites could be consumed anywhere as part of their compensation (Numbers 18:31). The “tithe” wasn’t a simple formula where people brought a tenth each week to worship, as is sometimes implied.

In fact, it was much more complicated. In years one, two, four and five of the Shemittah cycle, God commanded the priests to take the tithes to the “storehouse” where it would be distributed. This was likely NOT a command for a second tithe, but for tithe within a tithe, as seems clear in Nehemiah 10:38 (10% of 10% -or 1%, for the priestly charges).

In “year three” of the Shemittah cycle a “year of tithing” was called for from Deuteronomy 26:12-14 in which the Israelites set aside 10% of the increase of the crops and they were to given to the Levites, strangers, orphans, and widows. These “tithes” functioned like our taxes for the people of Israel and were mandatory, not optional giving. This tithe was distributed locally “within the gates” Deuteronomy 14:28 to support the Levites and assist the poor.

After many years in churches, I have heard the many reasons some simplified the “tithe system” and then argued to make it the pattern of giving in the church. Often these voices went to passages like Malachi 3, and argued for “consistency” in light of the idea that “God never changes” (Malachi 3:6). While God’s changeless nature is true, consider this: To move the tithe to the church because of the consistency of God’s nature is not a move to preserve faithfulness at all:

• Churches change when to give the tithe (Deuteronomy 26:12- The tithe was only given at certain times of the year).

• Churches change who receives the tithe (Nehemiah 10:38- the tithe could only go towards the Levites the poor, or festivals; not towards buildings or pastors).

• Churches change what was given as a tithe (Deuteronomy 14:22- The tithe normally only consisted of food and animals).

• Churches change essential uses for the tithe (The tithe was never used for initial building construction).

It seems clear the only thing the church has tried NOT to change is HOW MUCH is given – and even that is changed when one considers that tithing was not a “weekly deal” in the Bible.

Let me be clear: I am not trying to get you to give less money to your local church. I am trying to correct the mishandling of the Word and get you on a path based on consistent and obedient following of the text. There ARE passages on giving in the Bible. You should be giving to the work of your local church and its outreaches. I am not disputing that. Yet, the discussion by the Apostles in the various letters promoted giving but does not mention tithing. What IS mentioned are things of this sort:

• 2 Corinthians 9:7 talks about giving cheerfully,
• 2 Corinthians 8:12 encourages giving what you can afford,
• 1 Corinthians 16:1–2 discusses giving regularly (although this is a saved amount for a special Jerusalem offering),
• 1 Timothy 5:17–18 exhorts supporting the financial needs of Christian workers,
• Acts 11:29 promotes feeding the hungry.
• James 1:27 states that pure religion is to help widows and orphans.

In my life, the value of speaking of a “tithe” as a tenth was a way to help me get into the pattern of giving.

I started with it, not as a law, but as an easy way to calculate personal giving.

It was a means of offering me a starting place in obedience to a systematic giving. I don’t have to tithe; I must give as God directs in a sacrificial, systematic and deliberate way. I must seek God as I ask what amount to give of what He has provided. Yet, I found a tenth an easy starting place for me – and you may as well. Pastor Mobley reminded me of this when he wrote:

A tithe is nothing more than a penny out of a dime, or a dime out of dollar. If God sat with you at a table, and gave you 10 dimes, what would cause you to say no if God asked for one of them back? Yet 90% of all people who say they love God will say no God, this is mine. We get upset about paying 10% when God is entitled to the full 100% to do as He pleases. The moment God puts money into our hands, “we declare this is mine. I’ll only give what I want to give.” Up goes the fortress around our fries. We have no idea of how blessed we are and of all the things that God has done for us.”

Some are afraid to begin to give regularly and systematically. They need to grow into this obedience. Perhaps it will help to understand there are a few things we should know about God and how He will meet our needs financially if we obey Him in systematic giving.

The first issue deals with God’s power and ability. Five thousand can be fed from a few loaves and fishes, because little is much when Jesus touches it. God knows how to meet needs – we need to trust that fact of Scripture.

The second issue we need to face concerns God’s willingness to provide. Jesus said the Father is willing to give you what you need, as a good father would. Is there any good dad you know who would ask their child to go to the store and purchase some milk, knowing that the milk would cost $2.99 but you only gave them .50 to purchase it? Not at all! If you expected them to bring home milk, you’d give them enough money to do it, and you aren’t a better father than God is.

There are people always wanting to give God something they don’t have. Lord If I had a million dollars, I would…..most of us would start lying. You see tithing is never an issue of amount, but rather of attitude. God says, you keep the $500,000 you would have given if you had a million, but let’s talk about the $450 check you do get every week or every two weeks or once a month. I’d rather have that $45 which tells me, go ahead and eat some of your fries.

The third issue of beginning to trust regards what we should know about God’s history and desire to work in partnership with us in reaching people. God could have sent a full grown Savior, but He implanted a baby in Mary. God could have sent an angel to preach the gospel to the people in your workplace, but God didn’t do that – He left YOU and I here.

The only time God asked His people to test Him was specifically in relation to trusting His provision and giving back to Him in obedience. God didn’t command we become poor. He told His people in Malachi 3:10-12 “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.

Detail four: Paul made clear the handling of the funds must be transparent.

In addition to believers learning to regularly and sacrificially give, Paul noted something else that was very important: The leader distanced himself from the handling of the money (16:2b-3) and the congregation chose the leaders that handled the money (16:3). Their leader gave credibility to the collection team, but had no other objective in being a part of the collection (16:4).

The Stewardship of Time and Opportunity in Ministry (16:5-9).

clock1 Corinthians 16:5 But I will come to you after I go through Macedonia, for I am going through Macedonia; 6 and perhaps I will stay with you, or even spend the winter, so that you may send me on my way wherever I may go. 7 For I do not wish to see you now [just] in passing; for I hope to remain with you for some time, if the Lord permits. 8 But I will remain in Ephesus until Pentecost; 9 for a wide door for effective [service] has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.

• Planning: The stated plan of the letter (16:5-7) reveals it is not unspiritual to make a plan when we rely on the Spirit to guide us (cp. Proverbs 3:5-6). We must be careful of two extremes – Self reliance (rushing ahead and not checking with God); Fearful indecision – we will make mistakes (we must desire to do His will – John 7:17).

• Sensitive Correction: Even Spirit led leaders had to constantly reassess the direction of God (16:8-9).

• Priorities: When given the choice between solving the problems between believers and defending new believers, the leader chose the latter (16:9). This decision was later criticized at Corinth, but believers must choose, in part, based on the recognition of opportunities God is presenting to them!

At 12:55 pm the “mayday” call crackled through the speakers at the Flight Service Station on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. The desperate pilot of a Piper A22, a small single-engine plane, was reporting that he had run out of fuel and was preparing to ditch the aircraft in the waters of Cook Inlet. On board were four people, two adults and two young girls, ages 11 and 12. They had departed two hours earlier [to travel] a distance of about 150 miles. Under normal conditions it would have been a routine flight; however, the combination of fierce headwinds and a failure to top off the fuel tank had created a lethal situation. Upon hearing the plane’s tail number, the air traffic controller realized that his own daughter was one of the young passengers aboard the plane. In desperation himself, he did everything possible to assist the pilot; but suddenly the transmission was cut off. The plane had crashed into the icy waters. Four helicopters operating nearby began searching the area within minutes of the emergency call, but they found no evidence of the plane and no survivors. The aircraft had been traveling without water survival gear, leaving its four passengers with even less of a chance to make it through the ordeal. Fiercely cold Cook Inlet, with its unpredictable glacial currents, is considered among the most dangerous waters in the world. It can claim a life in minutes, and that day it claimed four. …For reasons we will never know, the pilot of that doomed aircraft chose not to use the resources that were at his disposal. He did not have enough fuel. He did not have the proper survival equipment. Perhaps he had not taken the time to get the day’s weather report. Whatever the case, he did not use the resources that were available; and in this instance the consequences were fatal. I wonder how many other people have died needlessly like these four people did. … I also wonder how many have died without Jesus — spiritually speaking from others being poor stewards of the resources God has placed them in charge of. …The stewardship of resources is a serious business; and God’s will is that we give it serious attention. This demands that we have the right perspective on our resources, and that is possible only if we have the right focus on our source.” (Story from Kirk Nowery: “The Stewardship of Life,” Page 118. From a sermon by Michael McCartney, 12 dollars a changed life, 6/20/2012)

The Stewardship of People Encounters in Ministry (16:10-24).

fitting people 21 Corinthians 16:10 Now if Timothy comes, see that he is with you without cause to be afraid, for he is doing the Lord’s work, as I also am. 11 So let no one despise him. But send him on his way in peace, so that he may come to me; for I expect him with the brethren. 12 But concerning Apollos our brother, I encouraged him greatly to come to you with the brethren; and it was not at all [his] desire to come now, but he will come when he has opportunity. 13 Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love. 15 Now I urge you, brethren (you know the household of Stephanas, that they were the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves for ministry to the saints), 16 that you also be in subjection to such men and to everyone who helps in the work and labors. 17 I rejoice over the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have supplied what was lacking on your part. 18 For they have refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men. 19 The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Prisca greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house. 20 All the brethren greet you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. 21 The greeting is in my own hand– Paul. 22 If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed. Maranatha. 23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. 24My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Paul included instructions on the handling of various people on the team as an act of stewardship!

The Missionary’s Younger Helper (16:10-11):

1) Don’t hurt the worker – he is NOT simply a means to an end (10);
2) Respect him though he may have obvious faults (i.e. fear; 11a);
3) Do not corner him but allow him to do his job (11b).

The Missionary’s Colleague (16:12):

1) There can be no competition nor envy on the team.
2) There will be differences, yet we must graciously allow God to lead others!

The Local Church’s Ministry Team (16:13-20):

1) Everyone is responsible for their own growth (1 Cor. 3:1ff) and their vigilance in following Jesus (16:13).
2) Everyone must act and respond in love (16:14).
3) We must respect the people that minister faithfully under the auspices of the godly leadership of the work (16:15-16).
4) Even those who are leaders in the work enjoy the refreshment of fellowship (16:17-18)
5) We are only as strong as the love we have for one another! (1 Cor. 16: 19-20).

Elizabeth Dole, former Secretary of Transportation & Presidential candidate said: Life is not just a few years to spend on self-indulgence and career advancement. It is a privilege, a responsibility, and a stewardship to be lived according to a much higher calling.

God provides wealth, opportunities and people to allow us to steward His resources in ministry, and to help us invite Him on the journey of life.

The film Schindler’s List chronicled the heroic efforts of a German industrialist named Oskar Schindler. Through his unselfish activities, over a thousand Jews on the trains to Auschwitz were saved. After Schindler found out what was happening at Auschwitz, he began a systematic effort to save as many Jews as he could. For money, he could buy Jews to work in his factory which was supposed to be a part of the military machine of Germany. On one hand he was buying as many Jews as he could, and on the other hand he was deliberately sabotaging the ammunition produced in his factory. He entered the war as a financially wealthy industrialist; by the end of the war, he was basically financially bankrupt. When the Germans surrendered, Schindler met with his workers and declared that at midnight they were all free to go. The most emotional scene of the film was when Schindler said good-bye to the financial manager of the plant, a Jew and his good and trusted friend. As he embraced his friend, Schindler sobbed and said, “I could have done more.” He looked at his automobile and asked, “Why did I save this? I could have bought 10 Jews with this.” Taking another small possession he cried, “This would have saved another one. Why didn’t I do more?” (James Forlines, Men’s Beat of Free Will Baptist Foreign Missions, April 1999, 4.)