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First Things First

October 16th 2011 by Joel Schultz

Today complete our 3 week Stewardship emphsis entitled "Bearing Fruit for Jesus." We hear God's Wrd from Matthew 6 concerning our priorities concerning the stewardship (the faithful use) of our treasure. Read the message to find out more...

Stewardship Series, Bearing Fruit for Jesus" - Sermon 3 - "First Things First" - Matthew 6:19-34 – October 16, 2011 Once, a man said, “If I had some extra money, I’d give it to God, but I have just enough to support myself and my family.” And the same man said, “If I had some extra time, I’d give it to God, but every minute is taken up with my job, my family, my clubs, and what have you--every single minute.@ And the same man said, AIf I had a talent I'd give it to God, but I have no lovely voice; I have no special skill; I=ve never been able to lead a group; I can't think cleverly or quickly, the way I would like to.”

And God was touched, and although it was unlike him, God gave that man money, time, and a glorious talent. And then He waited, and waited, and waited.....And then after a while, He shrugged His shoulders, and He took all those things right back from the man, the money, the time and the glorious talent. After a while, the man sighed and said, “If I only had some of that money back, I'd give it to God. If I only had some of that time, I’d give it to God. If I could only rediscover that glorious talent, I'd give it to God.”

I think this is how many people view their personal situations when it comes to being fruitful stewards of the gifts that God gives. It is very easy to quite literally put everything in our lives before our stewardship B our use of the gifts God has given. It is very easy to tend to what seem to be our needs and view stewardship as giving what is left to the Lord B if there is anything left.

This morning we bring to conclusion a three Sunday sermon series on Stewardship called “Bearing Fruit for Jesus.” During this three week emphasis God’s Word has hopefully challenged you to honestly consider your stewardship of God’s abundant blessings in your life. If you have been absent for the past 2 Sundays, then I would encourage you to spend a few minutes reading the messages concerning the fruitful use of our time and the fruitful use of out talents on our website.

Today we focus specifically on the fruitful use of the money with which God blesses us. How we seek to bear fruit in the giving of our financial resources is perhaps best described by St. Paul in 2 Corinthians. Paul was encouraging the Corinthians in their financial stewardship and so he held up the Macedonian Christians as an example for them and us to follow.

Paul addresses the question: “What does a fruitful steward look like?” A fruitful steward excels in the grace of giving. Concerning the Macedonians, Paul declares: “I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability” (8:3). Paul then continues by encouraging the Corinthian Christians and modern day Christians to likewise excel in our giving. He says, “Just as you excel in everything B in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness, and in your love for us B see that you also excel in this grace of giving” (8:7).

Paul very simply gives encouragement in the matter of our stewardship of God’s gifts. He offers no minimums and suggests no average. While he does suggest that a proportion of income is set aside each week, he doesn’t give a percentage figure. He simply and pointedly says, “Excel in this grace of giving”

How do we excel in the grace of giving and bear fruit for Jesus? Well, St. Paul points us again to the Macedonian example: “They gave themselves first to the Lord” (8:5). It is the same starting point found in today’s Gospel lesson. Jesus says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Mt 6:33). This is the starting point of our stewardship – the use of everything – our time, talents, and treasure – that God gives to us. Our stewardship flows out of our relationship with our heavenly Father. If God is truly first in our lives then we will find it rather easy to “excel” in bearing fruit. By grace, God gives us hearts that cheerfully love and honor Him through our serving and giving.

But here’s the question: Do we truly “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness?” I know we want to. That’s why we are gathered here today – to seek His mercy, forgiveness, life. But, too often, we don’t allow God to have first place in our lives. We’d rather trust ourselves to be in charge – to determine what’s best for us, and how we’ll live our lives. Because of our spiritual blindness, we often are unable to see that everything will fail to bring satisfaction to us apart from God. We fail to believe the truth of our Gospel reading that God provides all we need.

We live in a world that wants us to focus on the power, position, prestige and everything else that the world has to give to us. Our world encourages us to be filled with ourselves. You should look after yourself; take care of yourself – after all, you’re # 1! So you should do whatever you want to do; just go for it and do it! Get everything you can, and just leave a little room for God. Be strong, be courageous, but not in the sense that God commanded Joshua (Joshua 1:9). Rather than seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, we are urged to be self confident, self sufficient! Be independent and do your own thing!

When we don’t place God first in our lives, bearing fruit for Jesus is impossible. When we do not “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” we are tempted to keep all the blessings God gives for ourselves, and to share little or nothing. But when we keep everything for ourselves, we do not honor God and we do not experience the true joy that accompanies giving of our time, talents, and treasure.

The Macedonians excelled in the grace of giving – of bearing fruit through the stewardship of their lives – because they placed God first. Because they sought God’s kingdom first and His righteousness, the Macedonians were overflowing with joy for the opportunity to give. They were eager and had a strong desire to give to the Lord’s work. They didn’t hold back out of fear for the future or selfish greed but they freely gave as much as they were able and even more. Is this a description of how we give our time, talents, and treasure?

Paul calls this kind of giving an act of grace. That may seem like a strange word to use for the act of giving of ourselves, but Paul wants to tie everything connected with giving closely to grace, the undeserved love, that God has given and continues to give to His people.

Gods grace is a giving grace; it centers around His gift of Jesus Christ and His redemptive work on our behalf. That grace moves the Christian, you and me, to be gracious – to freely, gladly, give everything, including material goods, back to the Lord. The offerings of the Christian, then, are much more than bills and coins, and time, and service. They are a part of one’s worship. The Christian who day by day is being graced by God acknowledges God’s grace with freely-given, grace-motivated gifts.

Consider God’s grace toward us. So great is His love that He eagerly and joyfully and voluntarily gave His one and only Son – all that He had – to pay the price for our failures. Jesus had absolutely everything. He was Lord of the universe. Everything was at His command. But because of His great love for us, He freely gave up all of it, so that through His poverty we might become rich – rich with eternal life. What incredible grace!

This is what was happening in the lives of the Macedonians. This is why they were motivated to give themselves to God and to be generous. They knew about God’s grace which reached down to them from heaven above. The Macedonians knew that it was because of God’s grace that He came to earth in the person of Jesus. With a singleness of heart and mind, Jesus emptied Himself of His riches and became poor, humble, and obedient to death. Through His resurrection, sin, death, and hell are undone. Salvation is won.

We have heard the same Gospel and through Word and Sacrament we are moved by the same Spirit as the Macedonian Christians of so long ago. The Gospel is not an excuse to be complacent in our giving, but it is the empowerment to excel in the grace of giving – to excel in bearing fruit!

Because of God’s grace and love given to us through His Son, we willingly surrender our time, talents, and treasures out of gratitude to Him. Like the Macedonian Christians, we give ourselves first to God, and He blesses us with the joy that results from bearing fruit for Jesus.

Once we were separated from God by our sins, but Jesus’ death at Calvary paid the price for all our sins. Now we have purpose for our lives: to have a relationship with Him, to love Him and serve Him, to give Him ourselves and the best of our blessings, and to enjoy fellowship with Him. May the Lord give us grace to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” so that we may be strengthened and encouraged and motivated to bear fruit for Jesus. Amen.

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