Generous God: generous people

Trinitarian, incarnational theology shapes our understanding of Christian stewardship. It points us to the life and love of Jesus, who represents and substitutes for us as the perfect human steward of God's grace in all its forms (1Pet 4:10 KJV).

From this perspective, Christian stewardship is a believer's active participation in Jesus' lavish generosity (his own love, which "compels us," see 2Cor 5:14), as he lives in union with the Father and the Holy Spirit (in the Trinity), and with all humanity (through his continuing incarnation).

I'm reminded here of a phrase coined by Mark Vincent in A Christian View of Money: Generous God, generous people.  

In the above cited passage from Peter's first epistle, the Apostle is addressing the stewardship of spiritual gifts (one aspect of God's amazing and bountiful grace to us). These gifts are the very ones that Jesus possesses in himself. Through the indwelling Spirit, he shares these gifts (abilities) with us in order that we might participate well with him in his ministry, including his ongoing generous stewardship of the grace of God.

Our calling then, as Christian stewards, is to share in Jesus' own ongoing stewardship. We do so through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, who unites us to Jesus and then shares with us the things of Jesus.

What is it that, with Jesus, we are stewarding?  Everything that God gives us: this good earth, our life, our time, our talents, and our treasure (money). Not surprisingly, Jesus has much to say about this 'whole life' view of stewardship, particularly the stewardship of our material possessions (including money). His teaching on this topic is often given in the form of parables in which Jesus, in effect, says "this is how I am" - and then invites us to "dive in" with him - to share in his generous love and life.

Because Jesus is generous God and generous man, as we share his love and life, we too are generous: he perfectly; we partially (headed toward the time in glory when we will share fully in his perfect humanity).

Some define Christian stewardship as a "faith response to God." Because he is generous to us, we are generous in response. I'm OK with that definition as far as it goes, but I think it is incomplete. It is more accurate to say that we are generous in our giving because we participate in the love and life of our generous God: Father, Son and Spirit.

A key here (and again I refer to what Mark Vincent teaches in his books), is to set aside in our lives a certain "margin to be generous."  Rather than using up all our time and treasure; we set some aside so that we have margin with which we can be spontaneously generous. Read the gospels and you'll see Jesus doing just this. Let us join with him, through the Spirit, and in so doing share in his expression of the Father's generous heart.

Comments

  1. Hi there!

    I feel that I need to throw in a word of caution relating to this matter of stewardship. I do so based on my 40 years of ministry. During that time, I have seen many abused and misused by others who were promoting "good Christian stewardship." One of the richest sources for this abuse and misuse is the misappropriation of Jesus' words about money and possessions as found in the Synoptic Gospels.

    For instance, the Story of the Rich Young Ruler in Matthew 19 is often used to get Christians to give sacrificially, usually to the church. But in so doing, the point of the story is missed. This point is not about giving. It is that we humans can't possibly be saved, no matter who we are, through our human effort.

    My caution, therefore, is that great care must be taken in using Jesus' Synoptic words about money and possessions lest the abuse and misuse of fellow Christians spring forth from this use.

    All the best!

    J. Richard Parker

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  2. Hi Richard,

    Your words of caution are appreciated.

    Like all aspects of Christian living, we can as ministers, become manipulative of people, rather than being what we are called to be, namely, "helpers of their joy" (Jesus, himself, of course, being the source of that joy, in the Spirit).

    I personally would not use the story of the Rich Young Ruler to speak directly to the issue of the stewardship of money. I think Jesus' message there speaks to a much broader truth, namely laying aside all we have and are to grab hold of Jesus, who, already, has grabbed hold of us.

    Rob Bell has a helpful exposition of this parable in his new book "Love Wins." Like Rob, I believe that the message of the parable is both for that one young ruler (who was living under the old covenant) and for us as followers of Jesus under the New Covenant (including the Christians in the first century Jewish-Christian communities to which Matthew originally wrote). The point is this: Jesus is our life! We are called to him, and with him to live a life of generosity.

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