The Heart of Stewardship
Topic: English Passage: Ephesians 5:15-17
A lot of us have our minds filled with facts. Facts about science. Facts about culture. Facts about history. Why do these kinds of things stay in your mind? What makes that stick? And how have they meaningfully contributed to your life?
For most of us, these kinds of topics fall into a category called “trivia.” Our culture is fascinated with trivia. It has become the foundation of game shows and board games. And over time, it’s easy to forget what the word “trivia” actually means. Merriam-Webster: “unimportant matters; facts or details of little worth or importance.”
Why is it that so much of our life is spent collecting information that means so little. If we compare our attention to the things of this world to our attention to the things of Christ, it can be somewhat jolting. It opens our eyes to think about how we are investing in what really matters.
I'm not going to take any volunteers, but how well do you know these things?
- The first 3 kings of Israel
- The 3 theological components of salvation (past, present, future)
- The four gospels
- The first 5 books of the Bible
- The 7 seals/trumpets/bowls of Revelation
- The 9 traits Paul lists as the fruit of the spirit
- The 9 beatitudes
- The 10 commandments
- The 12 minor prophets
- The 12 disciples
Some of those things might fall under the category of “biblical trivia,” but if you know those things and apply them to your life, they will make a substantial difference. I say that, not just from personal experience, but because that's what God has said. All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable. It equips us for life.
What about things that are a little more personal to you and to our church. Do you know who are the two missionaries our church directly supports from the budget? If you're a parent, can you name three of your kid’s teachers? Do you know the names of everyone who lives in the homes next to you and across the street or hallway? Can you say the names of the last three people you talked to about Christ?
We don’t want to pursue information solely for the sake of information. But the things we know, I would say, are going to be a reflection of the things we actually value. For one reason or another, all of us invest time and energy and money in things, or in events, or in people. The question is where is all of that going? And where is it supposed to go?
We are using our Sunday services to work through some of the basics of the Christian life, and each of these basic principle is part of our church membership covenant. This isn’t unique to our church; it’s part of what we believe all Christians should be pursuing.
If you have surrendered your life to Jesus, who is the only true Lord of this world, He will change the trajectory of your life. He saves you by His grace, and, by the same grace, He gives you a new heart with new desires.
There is a love and an appreciation for the corporate gathering of the church. There is a pursuit of personal holiness. There is a recognition of your life as a stewardship. There is a dedication to evangelism and prayer and the mutual love of the church. And there is a desire for unity.
As we mature in our spiritual life, we will grow in these areas, all of which are intimately related to Christ Himself. He’s at the center of it all. His love and His grace compels us.
We gather together as the body of Christ to worship Christ. We pursue holiness because we want to be more like Christ. We steward our resources to be more effective for Christ. We evangelize because we want to see Christ glorified. We pray because we know Christ hears us and responds. We show love to another out of our love for Christ. And we walk in unity because we are united in Christ.
Two weeks ago, we talked about the corporate gathering. Last week we talked about holiness. Today, we’re are going to be talking about stewardship, and I’d like to start by reading the paragraph on stewardship from our membership covenant.
Here’s what it says. Here is your commitment as a member of the body of Christ: “I will be a good steward of God’s blessings. I will consistently and cheerfully contribute time, talent, and resources, to the degree God provides, so that the ministry of spreading the gospel can continue in my local church and around the world.”
The word stewardship comes from the idea of a steward. A steward is someone who is responsible to manage something that belongs to somebody else. He is someone who has been put in charge of someone else’s belongings. Today, we might use the word “manager” or “supervisor.”
The manager is different than the owner. The manager is responsible for that which belongs to the owner. He will give an account. The owner expects results from the manager.
Our life is a stewardship, and this idea of stewardship reminds us that we are not the owners of our lives. God is; Christ is. He created us, and He redeemed us. So, since Christ is in charge of our lives, and since He commands us to live in light of His eternal truth, how should we live?
Like I said, the answers to that question are what we’ve laid out in our membership covenant. And since, we are going to talk about prayer and evangelism and ministry in the weeks to come, I don’t want to address those specifically today. What I want to do, is sort of step behind all those things and think about the heart of stewardship.
How is it that we can know more about the fictional characters in a TV show than we know about our neighbors or about Jesus Christ Himself? How does that happen? That’s a product of our hearts. And so, the real solution is found, first of all, in the heart. That’s going to be our focus today. We’re going to be talking about the heart of a faithful steward.
And to guide us in our brief study, we’ll be looking at Ephesians chapter 5, verses 15-17. Three short verses made up of two sentences, which God’s Spirit has given to us through the Apostle Paul.
Here’s what they say, Ephesians 5:15-17: Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
As we think about the heart of a faithful steward, which is what we’re all called to be, I’m going to frame our lesson today around three key words. And these are going to be helpful for all of us.
The first word today is “monitor.” Not a computer monitor. Not a monitor lizard. I mean “monitor” as in the verb. A faithful steward is going to monitor his life.
God calls us to monitor our lives. The opening words in verse 15 say “Look carefully.” Two words in the Greek. Look carefully. Look at your life. Get an exact, accurate understanding of what’s going on. Monitor your life.
In the realm of finances, it’s important to monitor your money, isn’t it? A couple weeks ago, I thought I had more money in an account than I actually did. And I ended up over-drafting the account and one of my purchases was declined. The problem wasn’t that I didn’t have enough money. The problem was that I didn’t know where it was at the time. If I had been more aware of how much was actually in that account, I would have spared myself the time and the grief of having to correct it.
Speaking of money, Proverbs 27 says: “Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds, for riches do not last forever.”
In modern financial terms, that would be: Know where your money is and know where it’s going. A lot of families go into debt, not because they don’t have enough money, but because they don’t know where it’s going. They don’t see all the smaller expenses adding up. So, when you start helping someone out of debt, you start by monitoring their finances. Figure out where it’s all going.
Our passage today, though, calls for a monitoring that covers much more than your finances. Paul is saying: Learn to monitor your life.
Monitoring something means there’s a diligence. There’s an intentionality. We see that attitude in Jesus’ parable about the talents. Those faithful stewards who were purposeful with what they had been given were commended and rewarded. The steward who wasted his opportunities and did nothing with what he had been given was punished.
“Look carefully how you walk.” The resources of this life are limited. Your time is finite. Your resources are finite. Your giftedness is finite. Your energy is finite. It is a lie of Satan to think that we’ll always have another chance to do something. Before you know it, life will pass you by.
It’s like the sluggard of Proverbs who assumes he can plant seeds tomorrow. Eventually, it’s time for harvest, and he doesn’t have any food, so he goes hungry. He provides for no one.
James says this life is a vapor, a mist. Moses’ prayer in Psalm 90 says: “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
The brevity of this life isn’t supposed to lead us to despair. The fact that life is short shouldn’t burden us with fear. What is should do is move us to humility and to an urgent intentionality, because the clock is winding down.
In football, you get the two-minute warning. Everybody’s on high alert, right? Because everybody is very aware how precious the time is. Nobody is just trying to wing it. They have plays written down. And they’ve practiced it. There is a clear intentionality. There’s a focus.
That’s what the Apostle Paul is calling us to live with. We need to watch our lives very carefully. We need to monitor what’s going on.
So, take an inventory of your life—a real inventory. Do to your life what a manager or a steward would do for his business. What’s the outcome? What are the results? What am I investing in? And how can I do more for what really matters?
Don’t leave our time together thinking, “The Bible says I should do an inventory of my life.” Leave here actually doing the inventory. Monitor your life. And if you want help, talk to your spouse. Talk to your brothers and sisters in the Lord. Look carefully at how you walk, how you live your life.
Let me move on now to our second key word for a faithful steward. The key word here is motivation. Motivation. The heart of a faithful steward will have the proper motivation. What does God intend to drive our approach to holiness and fruitfulness? What is it that compels us?
Looking again at verse 15, and if you have a ESV, you see that word “then.” Look carefully then. The New American Standard puts it at the beginning, and it uses the word “therefore.”
For those of you who are familiar with reading your Bibles, it’s a common word that links a sentence to something that came before. In this case, it gives us the motivation for why we should be carefully looking at our lives. What is that motivation? For that, let’s just back up a verse.
Ephesians 5, verse 14—Awake O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” What is that talking about? That was Paul calling some of his readers to salvation. And for those who are already saved, it’s a reminder of the blessing that came as a result of salvation.
When you turn from sin and cry out for forgiveness, Jesus responds. He wipes your record clean on the basis of His death and resurrection. And then He fills you with his Spirit and makes you part of His family. That’s Christ shining on you in blessedness.
This life of stewardship and urgency is not a way of earning salvation, it is the result of a transformed life. That’s the motivation here. Christ has shone onto your life, and now your life should shine as an expression of who you are. Let who you are in Christ be evident through your life. Let it be manifest.
Notice again, Paul uses the word “walk,” which is a way of talking about the direction and the effort of your life. This is actually a prominent theme in the letter.
Ephesians 2:2 talks about our life before salvation. We once walked in trespasses and sins, following the course of this world and the prince of the power of the air.
But Christ brought a change. And He calls us to change our walk. Ephesians 2:10—we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Our walk should change as a result of what Christ has done. Ephesians 4:1 says “I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”
Then in verse 17, he goes back to talking about the old life. He says: you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.
We’re not like them. We have been given an understanding of the truth. We know the truth. We are in God’s family. We have been given new hearts, so we should have a new walk.
And that’s why chapter 5 verse 2 says “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.”
Verse 8 says “at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light”
We don’t change our walk to be praised by men. We don’t do it to earn brownie points with God. We do it our of love for Christ and as a response to what He’s already done for us. That is the heart of a faithful steward.
Let’s finish up our time with the final key word. And that is the word “maximize.” Maximize. The heart of a faithful steward is strategic about how to maximize every opportunity. He wants to maximize his effectiveness. There’s a strategy to what we’re doing, and there is a battle against many forces.
If you have your Bible, which I hope you do, because it’s so much better to see this for yourself. If you have your Bible, make a note of the opening words of verse 16. This is such a powerful image, and you should meditate on it this week.
Verse 16: Making the best use of the time. Making the best use of the time.
The Greek word here is “to redeem” which besides being used in the sense of salvation, was used in the marketplace. It’s connected to the Greek word “agora,” which was the marketplace. The Greek here is exagorázo. It’s in an intensified sense of buying. And if you want a word picture, just think about what’s been happening with toilet paper and paper towels and Clorox wipes and hand sanitizer.
People are buying that up. If you are low on toilet paper, and you see it on sale, you buy what you can—because you don’t know if it’ll be there next time. That’s the sense here. Redeem the time! Take advantage while you can. Don’t waste this opportunity. Maximize the results for God’s glory.
Isn’t that getting a little bit extreme? Is it really that big a deal? Yes, it is? Why?
Verse 16—Because the days are evil. The days are evil.
This is all heading somewhere. My sinful nature and this sinful world are pointed in the same direction—away from God’s righteousness and straight toward God’s judgment.
If your house catches fire, you don’t have time to make some lemonade before you do something about it, right? This fire is only going toward one result—destruction, death. The days are evil, so don’t waste your time. Maximize it.
The days are evil, so we need to walk in righteousness, and we need to work for the proclamation of the truth.
Colossians 4 says it like this, and it uses four of the same words: Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.
Maximize the opportunities and the resources God has given so that you are making a difference for the kingdom of God—in your own life, in the lives of your brothers and sisters in the faith, and in the lives of unbelievers. Don’t waste this time.
And rather than scold us or guilt into this, Paul follows this us with a warning—a very practical warning. Verse 17—Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
This connects back to the end of verse 15. Don’t be unwise. Be wise.
You can walk in evil or you can walk in righteousness. You can walk in laziness or you can walk in diligence. You can walk in foolishness or you can walk in wisdom. Don’t be foolish. Don’t be stupid. Do what God would have you do. Do what will please Him. Connect the dots between what you know to be true and how you live your life. Maximize the opportunities He’s given you.
Benjamin Franklin has been quoted as saying: Plough deep, while sluggards sleep, and you shall have corn to sell and to keep.
J. C. Ryle, the 19th century English pastor has this quote, and if you can find anything by him, read it. Here’s what J.C. Ryle said: “Tomorrow is the devil's day, but today is God's. Satan does not care how spiritual your intentions are, or how holy your resolutions, if only they are determined to be done tomorrow.”
You get the point. We need to maximize our time along with every other resource God has given to us. Don't waste the opportunities you've been given.
Paul ends verse 17 with a very familiar word to us, but it’s so important in this context. Who are we aiming to please? To whom will we give an account? We are here to do the will of Christ the Lord. He’s our Lord. He’s our master. He owns us.
Let’s live for His kingdom and for His righteousness, knowing that He will give us a great reward one day.