“STEWARDS OF OUR FINANCES”

I CORINTHIANS 16

Play Audio

           

            Sometimes our most innocuous and innocent comments cause us unexpected grief.  For example, take the washer and dryer incident in the Meyer family.  Roughly twenty-five years ago, Trudy and I were getting ready for bed, and she was telling me of her frustration about selling a house.  The buyers and sellers had gone back and forth a number of times, but the sale hit a stand still.  Trudy said, “The only thing standing between the purchase of the house is a washer and dryer.  My buyers want the sellers to include the washer and dryer in the sale and the sellers do not want to do it.  They want to take the washer and dryer with them.”

            I said, jokingly, as we climbed into bed, “Well, just sell them ours for $100 and be done with it,” and then I went to sleep.  It was an obvious joke.  No way was that a serious comment.  The next day, after work, Trudy said, “Your idea worked.  I sold the house.”

            I replied, “What idea?”  I really did not know what she was talking about.

            She said, exuberantly, “Your idea to sell them our washer and dryer for $100.  They said, ‘Great, we’ll take it,’ and bought the house.”

            I replied with a somewhat clenched jaw, “You mean to tell me you sold our perfectly good, seven year old washer and dryer for $100 so that we can go to Nebraska Furniture Mart and replace them for $800?  Trudy, didn’t you know I was kidding?”

            She laughed and said, “Well, think of it this way.  It will make for a great sermon illustration someday!”

            That “someday” is today, and I still don’t think it was worth seven hundred dollars!

            Well, something similar took place between the Apostle Paul and the Corinthian church.  A rather innocent, innocuous comment got Paul into hot water with the Corinthians.  In fact, his rather innocent comment led to his having to write a second letter to the Corinthians.  He had to write II Corinthians, primarily, in order to straighten out the innocent comment he made in our passage for today. 

            What got him into trouble with the Corinthians were his travel plans.  Listen to what he writes them beginning in verse five ...

 

            I will visit you after passing through Macedonia - for I intend to pass through Macedonia - and perhaps will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may send me on my way, wherever I go.

 

            By the way, Paul informs them that he is taking the overland route from Ephesus, where he is as he writes this letter, rather than coming directly to them by ship.  This will afford him the opportunity to visit some churches in Macedonia along the way, probably the churches in Philippi, Berea and Thessalonica.  Let’s continue,

 

            I do not want to see you just in passing, for  hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits.  But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.

 

            Simple, straight forward, innocent travel plans.  So what’s the problem?  Well, his travel plans changed and he did not visit the Corinthians as he said he would, and some of Paul’s critics in First Church Corinth used his change of plans against him.   Just like George W. Bush could not do anything right in the eyes of most Democrats, and Barrack Obama can’t do anything right in the eyes of most Republicans, Paul could not do anything right in the eyes of his critics, and they accused him of being wishy-washy, of saying one thing and doing another, of not coming to Corinth because he was afraid to face them, and so he had to write another letter to defend himself, and to explain his change in plans.  In fact, hold your finger in place in I Corinthians 16 and turn with me to II Corinthians, to the first chapter, verse 15.  Paul does not waste any time defending his actions,

 

            I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on to Judea.  Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this?  Do I make plans according to ordinary human standards, ready to say, “Yes, yes,” and No, no” at the same time?  As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been “Yes and No.” 

 

            That’s the beginning of his defense and Paul spends a lot of this book answering his critics in Corinth.  II Corinthians, however, was not only written to get Paul out of hot water, but it was also written because of something the Corinthians had promised to do that they had not done.  So Paul also writes II Corinthians urging them to come through on what they had promised to do.  Look with me at the first verse of I Corinthians 16.  This is what they had promised to do. 

 

            Now concerning the collection for the saints: you should follow the directions I gave to the churches in Galatia.  On the first day of every week, each of you is to put aside and save whatever you earn, so that collections do not need to be taken when I come.  And when I arrive, I will send any whom you approve with letters to take your gift to Jerusalem.  If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.

 

            Let me give the historical context.  The church in Jerusalem had fallen on hard times as a result of two things: first, great persecution by the Jews and second, a famine which had hit the area.  As a result the church was in danger of going under, so Paul had organized a “One Great Hour of Sharing” campaign for the Jerusalem church.  He did this to keep the “mother church” afloat, and also to strengthen the ties between the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem and the Gentile churches like Corinth in the Greek world.  Anyway, the Session in First Church Corinth voted to get involved in this offering, which was great, but they did not follow through with what they had promised to do.  They made a pledge and then reneged on their pledge, so Paul has to write them again - his second letter to the Corinthians - to light a fire under them, and if interested you can read about it in the eighth and ninth chapters of II Corinthians. 

            This morning we continue our sermon series titled “Stewardship: It’s More than Money,” and thus far we have looked at our being stewards of the earth, stewards of our bodies, stewards of our gifts, stewards of our time, stewards of our character, and next week we will look at our being stewards of our relationships and the week after that our being stewards of the faith, but today we tackle the subject of “Stewardship: It’s Also About Money!” and in so doing I want to outline four financial stewardship principles that Paul outlines in just one verse, the second verse in chapter 16.  So, ready?  Here we go.

            Principle Number One: begin your week by giving to God ... on the first day of every week ... Don’t wait until the end of the week to give, after you have hit Starbuck’s and after you have shopped  at Shadow Lake or Cabela’s.  No, make giving a priority.  Give at the beginning of each week.

            We might call this the “Potato Chip Bag Principle.”  Many of you, like me are potato chip connoisseurs.  As potato chip connoisseurs where are the best chips, at the top of the bag or the bottom of the bag?  The top.  At the bottom the chips are broken and many of them are reduced to crumbs.  Give at the beginning of each week before you spend what you have extra by the end of week.  By the end of the week, God usually just gets the crumbs.

            Principle Number Two:  give regularly ... On the first day of every week ... the key word being “every.”  We aren’t to give most weeks, or some weeks, and we are not just to give in the last quarter of the year, but every week.  If our income is regular and consistent, that is if we don’t work on commission, then our giving is to be regular and consistent. 

            In most congregations people do not follow this second principle.  Track the receipts of just about every congregation in America and giving goes down in June, July and August and swells in November and December.  And it usually causes heartaches and headaches for those who are trustees and managers of the church budget.  Paul says give regularly so that we don’t have to have a special campaign to meet the pledge you made to the church in Jerusalem. 

            Principle number three:  everyone is to give ... on the first day of every week each of you ...

            No one is exempt from giving.  Rich Christians are to give and poor Christians are to give.  Young marrieds who have low incomes and high expenses are to give just at more mature people who are financially secure are to give.

            Again, a number of church goers are not familiar with this principle either.  In the average church in America, thirty-percent of those who come on a regular basis, who sing the hymns, attend meetings, expect their children to be educated, and who expect to be called upon when hospitalized never give.  They rely on others to keep the ministry of their church going. 

            Now, I don’t know for sure, but I have faith that we are doing better here than the average church, but in each and every church I have served I have identified with that rural pastor who was having difficulty motivating his people to experience the discipline and joy of financial stewardship.  He was having trouble with a percentage of people who never gave a thing so one Sunday he announced from the pulpit, “Before we pass the collection plate, I would like to request that the person who stole the chickens from Brother Harvey’s henhouse to please refrain from giving any money to the Lord this morning.  The Lord doesn’t want any money from a thief.”

            The collection plate was passed and for the first time ever, everybody at worship that day gave ... On the first day of every week each of you is to put something aside ... 

            Principle Number Four:  Give as God has prospered us ... On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper ...

             The old him goes, "Count your blessings, name them one by one, count your blessings, see what God hath done."   In other words, as we consider what to give we are to consider how God has prospered us.  Let’s do that for a moment.  Let’s take an inventory of what God has done for us and on that basis decide what we will each give, regularly, on the first day of the week.

            Let’s begin.  Are we healthy enough to get out this morning?  Check.  Do we have a regular income?  Check.  Are we able to set aside money for retirement or are we receiving retirement income right now?  Check.  Do we have any friends?  Check. Do we have a place to live?  Check.  Do we have heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer?  Check.  Do we have a way to travel around the city?  Check.  It seems most of us here today have been immensely prospered by God, and we are to give as God has prospered us.

            Let me close with this.  James I. McCord, president emeritus of Princeton Theological Seminary, once told the story of a man who commented that he was never coming back to a particular church because all they ever talked about in that church was give, give, give. Concluded Dr. McCord: I cannot think of a better definition of Christianity than that: give, give, give.

            He went on to say, “I am convinced that unless we learn to give we can never learn to be fully human. Let me ask you this. If there was a dog walking down the street, healthy coat, obviously in good shape, and he had a bone in his mouth, and that dog passed a flee bitten mutt that was near starvation, do you think that the healthy dog would stop and drop his bone in front of the sick dog? Oh, no. He would clinch his bone that much tighter in his teeth as he passed by. That is the nature of animals. Only man knows how to be a giver.”

            And we are to give as God has prospered us.