Spiritual Success or Distress?
Quarter 4, Lesson 7

Lesson Seven

Stewardship and Sacrifice

Text: Mark 12:38-44

"What would you do if you won a million dollars?" "Let me tell you what I would do if I won a million dollars." How often have you imagined using the one million, five million, or ten million dollar grand prize of some well known sweepstakes? How many times have you 'daydreamed' about how you would use a large, unexpected sum of money? How many times have you listed [in your mind] all the good things you would do if you suddenly received a large, unexpected inheritance? Have you ever made this statement: "If I had the money, I would take care of 'X' need in the congregation."

It is amazing to consider what we would do with the money we do not have. It is amazing to consider how our priorities would change if we acquired a large amount of unexpected money. It seems we would use the money we do not have in ways that we infrequently use the money we do have. It seems if we had more than enough money, we would use the surplus differently than we use what we actually have.

Perhaps the needs that we see overwhelm us. Perhaps they are so enormous we are convinced our help would be less than insignificant. "I am willing to do what I can, but what I can do will not make any real difference. The need still will be there."

Perhaps we are infected with the "sickness" of the American perspective. The typical perspective of the American culture is the "fix it" mentality. Most Americans believe there is a solution for every problem and a permanent fix for every needy situation. Commonly, Americans believe that solutions and fixes depend on money. The world's poor rarely consider permanent solutions or fixes. To the world's poor, such solutions and fixes do not exist. They think in terms of doing the possible at the moment of need. Most American Christians cannot reason from their perspective.

Perhaps we believe the significance and meaning of our actions depends on resolving a need or destroying a problem. If we cannot produce a permanent solution, we are powerless. So regret becomes the acceptable substitute for action. "I'm sorry," "I wish I could do something," and "I feel terrible about the situation" is justification for inactivity. "If I cannot destroy your hunger indefinitely, there is no point in feeding you a meal." "If I cannot destroy your indebtedness, I cannot help you with your immediate need." "Addressing the immediate situation is pointless because the same problem will reoccur next month."

Perhaps the most curious justification for inaction is stewardship. The reasoning proceeds in the following manner. "God expects us to be good stewards. Any attempt to address this need would be wasteful. The problem exists because of evil, irresponsibility, and ignorance. Anything we do will not produce lasting results. Nothing will change. So, being good stewards, it is our Master's will that we do nothing."

Christian stewardship is a complex, complicated matter. Christians do not want to enable a person to continue [deliberately] a wicked practice. But, it is not the Lord's will for Christians to be void of compassion, kindness, and mercy. Jesus fed those who tried to exploit him (John 6) and healed those who did not even say thank you (Luke 17:11-19).

To begin to understand Christian stewardship, Christians need to understand Jesus' greatest priority and God's greatest concern: helping people. Christians need to understand that helping people involves material assistance but is not limited to material assistance. Whatever their form, material wealth and prosperity are unimportant to God. God created both. Unless a material gift expresses the will and heart of the person, God is unimpressed. Because God values people, God's steward values people.

The only thing people possess is their wills. Certainly, a good steward obeys his master. Certainly, a good steward yields to his master's authority. God's good steward gives his or her will to God by giving his or her heart to people [Matthew 25:31-46]. God's steward does what he or she can do for people.

Read Mark 12:38-44.

  1. Of whom should Jesus' disciples "beware" (verse 38)? Who were these people?

  2. List the four reasons given in verses 38, 39, that the disciples should "beware" of these people.

  3. State the "greed reason" that the disciples should "beware" of these people (verse 40).

  4. What did Jesus watch (verse 41)? Why were people giving these gifts?

  5. What did the widow drop into the temple collection boxes (verse 42)?

  6. What did Jesus say of her act (verses 43, 44)?

God's highest standard for acts of stewardship is sacrifice. The amount given is not God's greatest standard of stewardship. God's concept of stewardship makes it possible for a poverty stricken person to be a better steward than a prosperous person. A small amount given (1) with great trust in God and (2) in great personal sacrifice is of greater significance to God than a large amount that represents little sacrifice. Whether the amount [or the act] is large or small, the key measurement of stewardship is sacrifice.

The contrast between the scribes and the widow is intentional. The scribes were among Israel's religious elite. They preserved scripture and safeguarded its integrity. Their work made them experts in the scripture. Jesus said [as a group] they were motivated by (1) a hunger for recognition and (2) greed.

The widow was part of a defenseless group. She lived in a male controlled society, and her husband was dead. She was defenseless, without power. Jesus said the religious, elite scribes [speaking of them as a group] stole defenseless widows' homes. They religiously compensated for their greedy deeds by offering long prayers.

There are several contrasts. The scribes wore fine clothing. The widow did not. The scribes held significant religious positions. The widow did not. The scribes were honored. The widow was not. The scribes were prominent in religious assemblies. The widow was not. The scribes [the experts who preserved God's word] were horrible stewards who would receive greater condemnation. This widow symbolized the trust in God necessary to be an exceptional steward. Her sacrifice expressed her stewardship.

Link to Teacher's Guide Quarter 4, Lesson 7

Copyright © 2000
David Chadwell & West-Ark Church of Christ

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