Paul Clarke, Bishop's Stortford, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
The first article in this series looked at the importance of a spiritual, principled life centred on the glory of God, self-denial and valuing and respecting others. This second article highlights the need for personal exercise in respect of God-given stewardship. Such exercise would include:-
- Time and opportunities to serve God.
- Abilities and gifts to demonstrate God's grace.
- Money and possessions to further God' s work.
- Caring for one's health and wellbeing.
Time and Opportunities
This can be illustrated by a parable of the Lord Jesus.11 As He approached Jerusalem, His disciples, caught up with the tension of events, thought that the kingdom of God would soon appear. Jesus told them the parable of the minas, (one mina equals three months' wages), to show that we must not allow what has been entrusted to us to render us unprepared for the Lord's coming. In the parable, the servants were all given the same amount, i.e. one mina, irrespective of ability or position, and each one recognized that the amount given belonged to his master!
The parable shows that we all have the same time and opportunity for the service of God. We all have twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week to use for His glory. This applies to everyone, whether believers or unbelievers. For example, the President of the United States, or a poor refugee in some shantytown, both have the same time to use or abuse for God. The review of the servants' stewardships showed that each one had used their time in different ways and achieved differing results. One servant had been particularly diligent and faithful, while another had despised his master by neglecting totally the opportunity freely given to him. The Lord Jesus called him a 'wicked servant'. Each servant was rewarded according to his own faithfulness and achievement. Paul later puts it another way, 'everyone will get from God the praise he deserves'.12 Notice also the scale of the rewards for faithfulness, ten cities for diligently using one mina! The reward far exceeded the size of the responsibility.
Paul encouraged Timothy in the light of the coming of Christ to be urgent, grasping every opportunity to preach the gospel,13 and he warned the Ephesian believers to 'buy up' the time because they lived in evil days.14 Our days may either be spent for ourselves or for God; the faithful steward will realize that every moment is given by God and should be lived for His glory. The supreme example is again that of our Lord Jesus who never wasted a moment and never regretted an action, but in everything glorified God.
CHALLENGE It is now almost 2000 years since the Lord Jesus issued the command to ‘Go . . . and preach the gospel’. Do we have a sense of urgency about communicating the gospel to this generation and using our time diligently for God?
Abilities and Gifts
We are all given the same amount of time, but abilities and gifts are clearly not all the same. It is important to realize that our talents, whether natural or spiritual, are a gift from God and should not be a matter for human boasting. In fact, God said as much when He spoke through the prophet Jeremiah, ‘Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his strength, nor let the rich man glory in his riches . . .!15
When He chose His twelve disciples, Jesus selected men of different backgrounds and abilities for different service. Peter would become a prominent leader and preacher, James an early martyr and Matthew the author of an important gospel. But in a coming day, they will be rewarded equally for their obedience and faithful service, having used the different gifts and abilities given to them by the Lord Jesus.
The Lord Jesus further illustrated this when He taught the parable of the talents.16 The servants were given varying amounts of money and different results were therefore required from them. Those who traded faithfully were praised by their master on his return and rewarded, not so much for their results but for their faithfulness.
Paul wrote to the Corinthian church about the variety of gifts and ministries,17 showing that gifts within the church are distributed by the sovereign will of the Spirit of God. Individual gifts and spheres of service are given by God, through His Spirit, and should be exercised in submission to Christ. There can be no room for pride, or false modesty, in what we perceive as being our skills and no excuse for engaging in service for God in any other way than diligently and enthusiastically. Spiritual gifts and talents have been given to us freely and sovereignly by God to be used in His church for the benefit of others and the furtherance of His purposes. They are not to be neglected but stirred up with exercise before God.
Paul's encouragement to Archippus to 'be sure to finish the task you were given in the Lord's service',18 should also serve as a stimulus for us to make every effort to use our individual gifts and abilities in the work of the Lord Jesus. We can be confident that 'the day' will declare the quality of the work we have undertaken for God, whether of gold, silver or precious stones and, where the work has lasting value, an eternal reward will be given.19
CHALLENGE Am I making every effort to use my abilities and gifts in the service of Christ, for the spread of the gospel and the benefit of His people?
Money and Possessions
The UN statistics (1998) for wealth put those with incomes in excess of £6,500 per annum as being among the top 9% income earners in the world! Whatever our position, the average U.K. citizen has never had so much disposable income. If we recognize with James that every good and perfect gift comes from God,20 then we must also accept that what God has committed to us in terms of money, possessions and houses belong primarily to Him and are to be held and used for His glory and praise. To argue that we have earned it so it is ours, only reflects a desire to keep our lives under our own control and not God's, and contravenes our governing spiritual principles (see article 1 and Acts 5. 4.).
Possessions bring responsibilities as to how faithful we are in their use. We are free to increase our own comforts and multiply our own pleasures, or seek to further the work of God by supporting His work and His workers. In determining what lifestyle is appropriate for us as we serve God, we should remember the answer to the question asked following the death of a rich man. 'How much did he leave?' Answer -'All of it!'. We should therefore with the help of God seek to develop biblical attitudes towards money and material possessions.
- We cannot serve God and money.21
- Earthly possessions are corruptible and can be taken from us by others.22
- We can be faithful or unfaithful in the stewardship of money and material possessions that have been entrusted to us by God.23
- The Lord Jesus sees what is done with what we have, and recognizes its true value.24
- We give to God according to what we have and not according to what we do not have.25
- Giving should be done secretly and not made a public affair.26
Many of the parables and stories Jesus told relate to money and possessions and demonstrate how important it is that we develop biblical, God honouring attitudes to them. To be like the rich fool and place our present hope and future security in our possessions will cause us to live as though God does not exist. Where there is true spiritual exercise, our money and possessions may be used to:
- Relieve the suffering of the poor.27
- Provide hospitality to refresh weary believers.28
- Support the Lord's servants.29
- Further the work of the gospel locally and world-wide.30
The outcome of giving ourselves to the Lord is to give to the work of God joyfully. In this we follow the supreme example of the Lord Jesus and show our love to others.31 Paul recognized that the gift he had received from the Philippian church was first of all a sacrifice they had made to God and with which He was delighted.32
How much should we give? Clearly, how much we give or, putting it another way, how much we keep, is a matter of individual responsibility, but Scripture does provide guidelines to help us.33 Where there is a willingness to be obedient to God then our giving will be:
- Sensitive, let each one give as he purposes in his heart.
- Regular, on the first day of the week.
- Proportional, as God has prospered.
- Cheerful, God loves a generous spirit in giving.
- Fruitful, he who sows bountifully will reap bountifully.
To neglect our responsibilities in the use of money and possessions will rob God of that which belongs to Him. From our perspective, we deprive the Lord's work and workers of financial assistance necessary to maintain the gospel at home and overseas and lessen our own spiritual blessing and joy.34
CHALLENGE Have I faced up to this important area of my life? The Lord Jesus said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’. Liberality in giving always results in generous reaping.35
Health and Wellbeing
When God gives us the spiritual desire and ability to carry out His will, He will also give the physical and mental wellbeing to achieve it. The level of health and strength provided by God will vary from person to person, and He may even allow suffering or disability in our lives to deepen our experience of Him.36 Sometimes we may find His ways with us are hard to understand and all we can do is to trust Him, believing that, 'As for God his way is perfect'.37
Paul wrote to Timothy and expressed concern that he should take care of his health.38 Bodily exercise – although not to be compared with godliness, is nevertheless useful. While we may accept the physical and mental limitations God has allowed in our lives, we also have a responsibility to ensure that any ill health or weakness is not the result of misuse or abuse of our bodies through sin or lack of self-control.
Our bodies have been purchased by God through the work of the Lord Jesus,39 and are no longer ours to use or misuse as we will. Just as an athlete keeps strict control to ensure maximum performance in competition, so a believer must be self-disciplined to avoid anything that might impair service for God.
In an increasingly demanding and unforgiving world, the responsi-bilities of life are intensifying the pressures on our lives and relationships. We need to ensure that in our desire to serve the Lord we do not become over-stretched or over-committed to so many activities that we eventually become physically and mentally exhausted. To allow this to happen is not wise stewardship and will result in:
- Minimal time spent alone with God.
- Increased stress, affecting our ability to study the word of God, to concentrate on our esponsibilities and to remember what we have learned.
- Impatience and short temper, impairing relationships with other believers, family and colleagues.
- Inadequate preparation for the work of God. This will affect both the content of our study and the effectiveness of its communication.
It is never possible to do all that we want to do, let alone respond to all that others ask of us. We need to achieve a balance that comes with spiritual maturity. This will allow us to be open to God and so be effective in His service, reflecting wise stewardship of our bodies and health. The perfect example is the Lord Jesus, and from the gospels we can see that:
- He did not allow others to determine His schedule, however urgent and needy the request might seem. 40
- He knew the need for rest so that tired bodies and minds might be refreshed. 41
- Although the disciples returned excited about what they had achieved, Jesus knew they needed rest before another period of service.
- He could discern between His Father's work, which He must do, and human activity that could be left. 42
- However busy He was, He was never too busy to speak to individuals or to spend considerable times in prayer to God. It has been wisely said, 'The man who is too busy to pray, is too busy‘.
We must learn to prioritise our time and activities or else we shall find that we are driven by activities, however worthy, and the requests of others, rather than by the priorities God has for us. Eventually, we will end up wondering how we can keep going or find more time in the day! We may sometimes simply have to say 'No!' Although we may recognize that we are stewards of what God has given us and accountable for how we use or misuse our bodies, we should also realize that others will be affected by our failure to achieve God's will and purpose for us.
CHALLENGE Is all I am doing really what God wants me to do? Do I find that because of demands placed on me I do not have sufficient time to prepare for what I am doing? What is the true motivation behind my service for God?
11. Luke 19. 12-27.
12. 1 Corinthians 4. 5, The New Testament American Translation (Edgar Goodspeed).
13. 2 Timothy 4. 2.
14. Ephesians 5. 16.
15. Jeremiah 9 verse 23.
16. Matthew 25 verses 14-30.
17. 1 Corinthians 12.
18. Colossians 4. 17. (GNB)
19. 1 Corinthians 3. 12 -14.
20. James 1 verse 17.
21. Matthew 6. 24.
22. Matthew 6. 19- 21; 1 Peter 1. 7.
23. Luke 16. 10- 13.
24. Luke 21. 1-4.
25. 2 Corinthians 8. 12.
26. Matthew 6. 4.
27. Acts 11. 29; Acts 20. 35; 2 Corinthians 8. 14-15.
28. Philemon 6 -7.
29. Philippians 4. 10.
30. Luke 8. 3.
31. 2 Corinthians 8. 1-24.
32. Philippians 4. 18.
33. 1 Corinthians 16. 1-2; 2 Corinthians 9. 6-15.
34. Malachi 3. 8-12; 2 Corinthians 9. 6-15.
35. Acts 20. 35; 2 Corinthians 9. 6.
36. John 11. 4.
37. Psalm 18. 30.
38. 1 Timothy 5. 23.
39. 1 Corinthians 6. 19-20.
40. John 11. 3.
41. Mark 6. 30-32.
42. John 5. 19-20.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Paul Clarke Following senior executive roles within the Lloyds TSB Group, Paul took early retairement in 1998 to devote more time to teaching and pastoral responsibilies within his local church. He has been an Editor of Service since 1998.