Wise Stewardship and the Identity of God as Triune Giver
As we know from birthdays and holidays, honorary events and public celebrations of service, giving speaks. It's not as banal as the price tag corresponding to the size of the giver's heart, but still, what and why a person gives says much of the giver. What does the practice of Christian giving say about the God we know and confess? Minimally, it should speak well of the God who has revealed himself as Giver of good gifts. In fact, our giving has everything to do with his character as Giver. In James 1:17 we are told he is the Giver of “every good and every perfect gift,” particularly the gift of wisdom which can only come “from above.” This gift of wisdom sits opposite what James says God does not give: temptation (v. 13). He is not the Giver of temptation but of the wisdom that navigates temptation’s many treacherous waters.
Giving and God the Father
But what else do we hear in James’s words about God the Giver? We learn that his identity as Giver is rooted in his identity as Creator and as Father. As the “Father of lights” he created the cosmic luminaries, but while the sun and moon cast shadows, there are no shadows in the One who is Light himself. He never changes. Yet, so far from compromising his identity as unchanging Giver, these luminaries serve as testimonies of his benevolent heart. The beautiful, daily cadence of the rising and setting of the sun and moon resounds with the music of his name as Creator who gives us light that we might better see and enjoy his handiwork. As Giver he fashioned the lights and all the splendor of his creation which those lights disclose to our eyes. Wisdom, then, as the gift of the Father of lights, illumines the path of Christian stewardship of his creation, its many resources and beauties. Wisdom leads away from any temptation that would divert us from becoming more and more like God the Gift-giver in whose image we have been created. If temptation is the distortion of our Father’s good gifts in various unseemly ways, then wisdom must include the proper ordering of those good gifts in the ways and forms that speak most eloquently of his own character.
It is God’s identity as Creator and Gift-giver, then, that sweetly links up the general call to Christian generosity with the specific form of generosity we call stewardship. We live in our Father’s world, and we are being renewed after the image of his glorious Son, the greatest Gift of all. And longing for his glory to advance in his work of a new creation, we use his gifts to further cultivate the soil of the Church in Christ from which this new creation is being grown. For these reasons, at least, Christian stewardship is a deliberate practice of wisdom on the part of those who are alert to life’s abundant testimonies of the Father’s benevolence, who long for the increase of his glory through his new creation, and who are becoming, by grace from above, like their Father in heaven: generous.
Giving and God the Son
Christian stewards give because they love. They love Christ and so they love his Church, and in their love they give not just money or time or possessions but they give themselves in their gifts. We've paused over God’s identity as Creator and Gift-giver and what it looks like to live well in our Father’s world. Now we ask a related question: what does faithful stewardship have to do with the Father’s gift of himself in his Son? Paul’s words to Corinthians suggest a way of thinking of that relationship. For Paul, Macedonian generosity is, on its own, a glowing testimony to the glory of the gospel. In fact, the Apostle calls it God’s grace given among them (2 Cor. 8:1). More specifically, he explains how God’s grace was visibly active in their giving despite much affliction and as a spiritual reflex of their love for the recipients of their sacrifices (vv. 2-5).
Reading the passage carefully, we discover how each high note of Paul’s praise of these brethren recalls a feature of Christ’s gracious, sacrificial gift of himself to us. As the Son gave himself in loving submission to the Father’s will, so the Macedonians gave themselves “first to the Lord” and only after this, and because of this, to the brethren (v. 5). Their sacrificial giving was the overflow of their devotion to their God. And yet as Christ’s self-giving far exceeded the narrow notion of simply doing one’s duty, so the Macedonians gave not only up to but beyond their ability, so effusive was their love (v. 3)! Small wonder, then, that Paul would soon encourage us to give “not out of compulsion but freely,” with the cheer of a devoted heart, inasmuch as it is the indescribable gift of Christ – of himself, and of the Father – that is glorified in any real Christian giving (2 Cor. 9:7).
Because our love for God pulls us away from a too-tight grasp of this life, our sacrificial giving goes beyond mere dutifulness to the generosity of a loving heart, for it is an echo of the Father’s gift of his Son, and thus of his love. This is a good reminder of what the great Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck once said when he explained that “the goodness of God appears as love when it not only conveys certain benefits but God himself.”
Giving and God the Spirit
We have noted the relationship of the Father and the Son to the grace and habit of giving. Now we think about the Spirit, and though the Spirit is not named explicitly, again we are drawn to the Apostle Paul’s words in 2 Cor. 8. Have you ever thought of the stewardship of your resources as a Christian in corporate rather than in individual terms? That the Spirit’s grace exercised in your own giving not only follows or mirrors the giving of other Christians but that it is of a piece with the one grace at work in the giving Church as one body in the Spirit? That the Spirit is doing one big thing in all of the little gifts given by weak and needy saints?
This is Paul’s assumption as he turns from the Macedonians’ gracious giving to his message for the Corinthians who are to follow their example. Through Titus, Paul had encouraged Corinthian participation in the one act of the Spirit’s grace flourishing among the Macedonians: he writes, “we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace” (v. 6). For Paul, there may be two groups of Christians – the Macedonians and the Corinthians – but there is only one “act of grace,” one act to which each contributes until it is complete.
How can this be? The answer is the ministry of the Spirit, the One who acts in the Body of Christ to produce the love and joy at work in the Macedonian giving (vv. 1-2; cf. Gal. 5:22-23) until the fullness of the Church’s glory in Christ is complete. That same Spirit, having united us to Christ, united us together as one in him as well, making our giving one just as we share one faith, one baptism, and one Lord. This remark by Paul sets up the more familiar words on giving that follow: “But as you excel in everything- in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you- see that you excel in this act of grace also” (v. 7).
As he turns from one expression of the Body of Christ to another, Paul’s message is clear: the one act of the Body’s giving-grace is one in which we each actively participate unto ultimate completion, so let us excel in the part we play in it! As we consider the wise stewardship of resources, then, let us remember what it is to be a steward, not the owner: as we belong to Christ, and so belong to one another in him, so our fellowship in joy and love overflows in the giving of a gift no longer capable of division or distinction among the brethren. Our giving is one as we are one in the Spirit of Christ, himself the given One.