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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Stewardship Series


                                     Stewardship

I know that the word stewardship and steward are not words that we commonly use today. Therefore, I want to review the definition of stewardship. A steward is a person who manages and administrates what has been entrusted to him by another. In the context of Christian stewardship, a steward is a person who manages what has been entrusted to him/her by God. God has entrusted us with many things. In this series we will focus on stewardship of our planet, our talents, spiritual gifts and abilities, our time, our bodies, other people, especially the poor, the Bible, and our money. Stewardship is the careful and responsible management of the things God has entrusted to our care.    


Week 1
Stewardship versus Ownership - 2 September 2012
Let’s start with the foundational principle: ownership.
The truth of God’s ownership is so simple, yet so profound!
Read I Chronicles 29:11-13.
“Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power
    and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,
    for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
Yours, Lord, is the kingdom;
    you are exalted as head over all.
12 Wealth and honor come from you;
    you are the ruler of all things.
In your hands are strength and power
    to exalt and give strength to all.
13 Now, our God, we give you thanks,
    and praise your glorious name.
14 “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.”
Read Psalm 24:1.
“The earth is the LORD'S, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.”
Discuss: What is ownership?
Some answers: It is the right of control; it is the right to use……………………………..
Discuss: What does it mean when you claim Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord?
There are hundreds of references to Jesus Christ as Lord!
Read 1 Corinthians1:9.
“God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Lord refers to the one to whom a person or thing belongs; a lord has power of decision; He is master.
Read Acts 4:24.
The Greek word “Lord” in Acts 4:24 is despotes, a term likened to “despot.” He is one who is in total control! When you say “Lord” you are saying he is the one who has total control!
What is the hardest area for us to let God have complete control?
Discuss: What right does God have to claim ownership?
Some answers might include: By right of creation, God has created you; by right of redemption, God has redeemed you. He bought back a second time! Satan stole mankind away. He held them in bondage. What did God do? He sent his Son to pay the payment—the death penalty. Read I Corinthians 6:19,20 and Romans 10:13.
Why does God expect us to make Him Lord?
Discuss: What should be your response to God’s ownership?
Some answers might include: Trust, eg Proverbs 3:5,6; Obedience; Stewardship
Concluding discussion
What is ownership?
What does “Lord” mean?
What is the hardest area in which to allow God complete control?
What does stewardship mean?
What is the relationship between ownership and stewardship? 



Week 2 
Stewardship of Creation – 9 September 2012

The environment: Pinpointing the problem
Aim of the lesson:
•    To consider what underlies and motivates the abuse of the environment through thoughtless "progress" even among Christian people.
Study passages: Genesis 1:20-31, Romans 8:5-25, Matthew 21:33-40
Notes
•    A Christian attitude? There should surely be a very great difference in attitude to the physical world between those who believe that the universe came into being by blind chance and those who believe it was created by God. Christians must surely have a special element of respect in their dealings with human beings, other living creatures and the natural environment in which God has placed us. Yet, sadly, the evidence does not show this to be the case. We Christians seldom show a special concern for our environment. Reluctantly, one has to acknowledge a measure of truth in what Lynn White says: "Christianity, in absolute contrast to ancient paganism and Asia's religions ... not only established a dualism of man and nature but also insisted that it is God's will that man exploit nature for his proper ends".
•    Two key words have been highlighted in the quotation -' 'dualism" and "exploit". They can help us understand why we as Christians do not have a good track record where care of the environment is concerned.
•    Dualism. This is a way of thinking that creates ad vision between things that essentially belong together. Dualism, for instance, sees a total separation between the spiritual and the material aspects of life, between the sacred and the secular, between religion and politics, and between God and humanity. Dualism was initially foreign to biblical thinking. It was imported from the ancient Persians and Greeks. Its effect has been to set up in us undesirable, unhealthy and, one could say unbiblical, patterns of thought and action, which have led us to believe that concern for the earth has nothing to do with our spiritual lives.
•    Exploitation. Lynn White is far from the only one who accuses Christians and Christianity of serving a God who wills His people to exploit and abuse the earth for their own ends. Much of the evidence in recent centuries supports their claim. Civilizations influenced by Christianity have laid waste the earth in wars and industrial ' 'development". We have opened ourselves to the charge in Ezekiel 34:18, that we have taken the good things of the earth and left it in a mess! A criticism often leveled at the Bible's teaching on our relation to the environment is that human beings were instructed by God at the point of creation to "subdue" the earth and to "have dominion over" all its creatures (see 20)
Genesis 1:26 and 28 - This appears to give human beings the license, even the duty, to use and abuse the world and its creatures to suit our whims. A common oversight is that the instructions were given to human beings before they fell away from God. In their first relationship with God, harmonious as it was, the ways in which they would have gone about subduing and having dominion would surely have been in keeping with the love of the creator-God who "saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good" (v 31). There is no place for exploitation here - only for appreciation and care as privileged fellow workers with God in His creation. After all, it is His not ours!



Questions for discussion:
1.   Can you think of examples in your own environment in which we are "guilty as charged" by Ezekiel (34:18)?
2.   In what ways are we (as Christians) separate from other people and in what ways do we belong together with them?
3.   Can you think of other reasons why human beings exploit and abuse the earth as they do?
4.   'Caring for nature is not merely a practical necessity. For the Christian it is a primary spiritual responsibility". Discuss.
5.   What does the Romans passage suggest to you about the future of the earth in God's scheme of things?
6.   Can you remember an experience in which the beauty of nature and the wonder of creation were brought home to you? Share with the group.
7.   Is the saving work of Jesus intended for human beings alone, or do you see it as having some effect on the whole creation?
8.   Can you think of some simple ways in which you (individually or as a group) could celebrate creation? 



Week 3
Stewardship of Our Talents and Abilities (Spiritual Gifts)
16 September 2012

The Parable of the Talents
Aim of the lesson
• To appreciate the gifts God has given us and look at how we are using them.
Study passage: Matthew 25:14-30.
Notes
• Jesus was on the Mount of Olives when the parables in Chapters 24 and 25 were told (Mt 24:3). Across the Kidron Valley they would have been able to see the walled city of Jerusalem and the magnificent temple. It must have been a wonderful sight. Yet Jesus looked at it and said it was all going to be desecrated and destroyed (Mt 24:1-2, 15). Why? Was it because Israel had failed to use her 'talent', her covenant relationship with God? This may have been one of the thoughts in Jesus' mind as He told the story. But of course it has a much broader and deeper meaning for the religious life as a whole.
• A talent was actually a measure of weight (about 30 kg). A talent of silver would today be worth several thousand rands. In the parable the talents are meant to represent all the gifts and blessings which God gives us; nature, material wealth, abilities, opportunity, health, character, intellect, grace, privilege, love etc. Some people receive in abundance, others get just a few. The main point is that these gifts (talents) really belong to God, not to us. They are loaned to us and we are accountable to God for the way we use them or misuse them. Obviously too, they must not be used selfishly but for Him, in His service, and in the service of others.
• Verse 14: 'a man going on a journey....' The reference here is to the time in which we are presently living, the period between Christ's ascension and His coming again. All three of the parables in Matthew 25 focus on the return of Christ and the final judgment.
• Verses 21-23: These two men had different gifts. But they had both worked equally hard and therefore they received equal rewards. We are not rewarded for our abilities or the quantity of the talents we have been entrusted with. We are rewarded for our diligence and for trying. The person who has very little may in fact have worked harder with it than the person who has plenty. It is interesting that the reward’ for work well done is not rest, but more work. Is there an implication here that there will still be work for us to do in heaven? It would seem so.
• Verses 18 and 25-27: This man failed to use his talent, either for his own benefit or for anyone else's. Even if he had ventured and lost God might still have said, 'well done'. We cannot excuse ourselves because we have received little. We cannot say, my gift is so insignificant that it doesn't matter if I don't do anything with it. God will accept our work with all its shortcomings provided we have tried, and done it with a good heart. • Verse 29: The law of gifts is very simple. If you don't use it you lose it. If you do use it, you get more.
Questions for discussion:
Mt 25:14-30
1.  Why does God give some people many gifts and some just a few?
2.  Why does God hold people accountable for the way they use the gifts they have been given? What right has He to do so?
3.  Why did the man with only one talent fail to use it?
4.  In the silence think for a moment what gifts has God given you? Make a list on paper. What have you done with your gifts? What more do you think you should be doing with them? Share what you have written with the group.
5.  How can we discover our gifts?


Week 4
Confirmation Sunday – 23 September 2012
Duties of Church Membership
Aim of the lesson:

•    To look at what is involved in being full and responsible members of the
Church.

Study passages: 2 Corinthians 9:6-12, Colossians 3:5-17, Hebrews 10:19-25, 13:1-7, 1 Peter 4:7-11, Mark 1:14-20,  Romans 8:12-17, Jeremiah 31:31-34

Notes:

•    Conditions of membership. Any club or organisation has conditions of membership and duties which it lays down for its members. The Methodist Church is no different.   It lays down three simple requirements for membership:

A sincere desire to be saved from sin
Faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour
Involvement in the fellowship of the Church

•    These three conditions are stated in our "Laws and Discipline" as follows:

"Membership is based upon a personal experience of the Lord Jesus Christ, brought about by his Spirit.
"All persons are welcomed into membership who sincerely desire to be saved from their sins through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and show the same in life and conduct, and who seek to have fellowship with Christ himself and his people by taking up the duties and privileges of the Methodist Church.

"As membership in the Church also involves fellowship it is the duty of all members in the Church to seek to cultivate this in every possible way."

•    Duties of Church   membership - The following eight things should probably be regarded as minimum goals for members of the Church:

1.      To follow the example of Christ in home and daily life.

2.      To bear personal witness to Jesus Christ.

3.      To be regular in private prayer each day.

4.      To read the Bible each day and seek to be obedient to God's Word.

5.      To attend worship every Sunday.

6.      To receive Holy Communion regularly.

7.      To give meaningful financial support to the work of the Church, locally and for the wider mission field.

8.      To be involved in serving others in the Church and community.

As we grow in our faith and walk with the Lord we will understand these duties at a deeper and clearer level. We may add others to the list, but these will always remain a basic minimum for us.

Questions for discussion:

1.             Read through all the study passages carefully. What do they teach us about the conditions of membership in the early Church? Make a list

2.      What do you think of the three basic conditions for membership in the Methodist Church? Are they reasonable? Should there be others?
3.      Go through the eight suggested duties one by one. What does each one mean? Are they too strict, not strict enough, or about right?

4.      What should the Church do about people who want to be members, but don't want to accept any of the responsibilities of membership?

5.      As a group make a list of some ways in which you could become more involved in the activities of your local church.

Something to do:
Spend some time thinking about how you have worked out the implications of your Confirmation. Have you kept the vows you once made? How can you make your membership of the Church count for something? 


Week 5
Stewardship of People – 30 September 2012
Caring for the Poor
Aim of the lesson:
• To examine our Christian responsibility to care for, identify with, and give to the poor.
Study passage: James 2:1-17, Luke 6:27-36, Luke 10:25-37
Notes:
• God has a deep concern for the poor. This is evident throughout the Bible (Ps 12:5, Amos 4:1, Jn 13:29). In New Testament times most people were poor and the gap between rich and poor was very great. Even today the vast majority of people in the world are poor, and this is just as true of Southern Africa, the area in which we live.
• There is a growing concern for equality and a fair distribution of wealth, and a new awareness that we are part of a world community in which we have a responsibility for the welfare of all. Efforts are being made to care for the poor, the starving, the homeless, the refugees, the aged, the young, the sick and the dying, and many more. The modern world has the technology and the ability to feed and raise the living standards of most people on earth. But unfortunately other factors like war, greed, sin, ignorance, apathy and the unbelievable population explosion have hampered these efforts.
• Christians should be in the front-line of efforts to improve social justice, to provide better working and living conditions, to ensure a better use of land and resources, and to provide a larger share for all. We must work for a day when there will be no more poor. But it will be a long time before that happens, and until then, the plight of the poor will remain the special responsibility of Christians and one of the main objects of our giving.
• Christians must also identify with the poor far more than they now do, as for example Mother Theresa has done in India. We must involve ourselves with their needs, through real caring love and practical help, but not of course in a paternalistic or condescending way. The Mission Department of our Church has just embarked on a programme called 'Zikhulise', meaning 'develop yourself’, which has precisely these aims. It deserves our full support.
• Giving to the needy in the Christian family is the first duty of Christian giving. The early Church in Jerusalem set aside specially consecrated deacons (i.e. servers) for this work (Acts 6:1-7). Paul also organized collections among the new churches for the poor in Jerusalem. The poor of the church are to be the special objects of our care (1 Cor 3:3, Gal 6:10, Heb, 13:16). For a Christian to beg is a disgrace to the Christian Church and so we must care for one another and minister to each other's needs within the Body of Christ. As Christians we should support our Poor Funds, and our Relief Funds as well as giving individual help wherever we can.
• Our giving must also reach outside the Christian fellowship. All those in need have a claim on our support and service. One of the best forms of Christian witness is to help others. Then those who receive our gifts may ask 'Why do you do this for me?', and it opens doors to be able to tell them about a Father who cares for all His children. It gives us an opportunity to witness to a Lord who has taught us to show our faith through good works.
Questions for discussion:
Jas 2:1-17
1.  What does our study passage have to teach us about being a Church of the poor?
2.  Is the Methodist Church today a Church of the poor or of the rich?
3.  In what practical ways could we be more active in caring for the poor, giving to the poor, and identifying with them?
Group exercise:
Try to arrange a 'pilgrimage of pain and hope' for your group or class during the week. Visit a needy part of the community. Make sure you meet the people and talk to them. As a group reflect on your experience and try to make some resolutions about helping and being involved.
Something to do:
Do something meaningful for a needy person this week, something that will involve a sacrifice on your part. Or: Fast for 36 hours this week to see how it feels to be hungry. Give the money you would have spent on meals to your Poor Fund, or to a Relief Fund, or to some other cause. 


                                                                                   
Week 6
Stewardship of our Time – 7 October 2012

Study passages: Ephesians 5:8-17 (KJV – 16), Psalm 90:9-12

Read:
Time is the heritage of every person. Whether a king or street sweeper, an astronomer or truck driver, a business tycoon or grocery clerk, each of us has the same number of hours.
Many necessities and opportunities demand much of our day. Our work takes up a large percentage of our life. Being a good husband or wife, father or mother, employer or employee requires time.
As Christians, we have spiritual priorities as well. How many hours or days in a month should we set aside for evangelism and discipleship and the ministries of our church? What about caring for the poor, the orphans, and widows as God's Word commands (James 1:27; Galatians 2:10)?

Right Attitude About Time:

Read:
What should be our prayer concerning the use of the time that God gives us?
Why is the proper use of our time today so important? (James 4:13-15)
What does God demand of us in the stewardship of our time? (Psalm 62:8) When do you find this hardest to do?
What does Christ admonish us to do as stewards of time until He comes again? (Mark 13:33-37)
If we are wise stewards and heed the commands of our Lord, how will we use our time (Ephesians 5:15-16 )? What does making use of our time have to do with wisdom or with evil days?

Right Relationship with God:

As wise stewards concerned over the use of our time, what will we want to understand (Ephesians 5:17)?
What is necessary in order to know fully the will of God concerning the duties of our stewardship (Ephesians 5:18)?
What will the Holy Spirit give the faithful steward to enable him to perform the duties of stewardship (Acts 1:8)?
In whose name should the steward perform these duties (Colossians 3:17)?
What should be our attitude as we utilize the time over which God has made us stewards (Ephesians 5:19-21)?
How would you describe such a useful and joyous life (John 10:10)?

Most Important Use of Time:

As wise stewards who know and are obedient to the will of God, what will we spend so much of our time aggressively doing? (Mark 16:15)
What does God say about a soul winner in Proverbs 11:30?
Of what value is a soul according to Christ in Mark 8:36-37?
What is the greatest thing that has happened in your life?
What then is the greatest thing you can do for another?
What happens in God's presence when one repents and receives Christ? (Luke 15:7,10)
How did Paul feel about those whom he had won to Christ? (I Thessalonians 2:19-20)

Life Application:

Keeping track of how you spend your day can be of great value in evaluating the stewardship of your time. Record the number of hours spent on business, class, sleep, Christian service, recreation, etc. Place the total hours per week used in each activity below.

Study & Class:
 
Activities & Athletics:
 
Devotional Life:
 
Commuting:
 
Christian Service:

Employment:

Rest:

Laundry & Clean-up:

Recreation & Social Life:

Miscellaneous:






Week 7
Stewardship of our Bodies – 14 October 2012

Objective: To surrender our bodies to Christ, from the heart.

Study passages: Psalm 51, Galatians 5, Ephesians 5, Romans 12:1-2

Some time ago, my heart grieved as I learned of a respected Christian leader who had fallen into a life of sin. He had obviously not intended to do so, but when the temptation came, he yielded. As a result, his wife, his family, his friends, and fellow Christians suffered heartache. Most tragically, his testimony and witness for the Lord Jesus has suffered untold damage. Many have ridiculed and rejected the cause of Christ because of his sin.
Since God wants us to live a holy life, the enemy seeks to entrap us in sin and defeat. One of Satan's methods is to tempt us to misuse our bodies.
But God created our bodies for His glory. By surrendering them to Him, He can use us to further His kingdom and help us grow in our faith.
This study will help us understand the importance of giving control of your body to God. You will also discover danger areas in using your physical self and how to help further the cause of Christ with different parts of your body.

The Spirit and the Body:

Read 1 Peter 4:1-2 and Hebrews 10:1-10. How did Jesus regard His body?
What does Christ's sacrifice mean to us? (Hebrews 10:10) Look up the word "sanctified" in a Bible dictionary. How does this word relate to your stewardship?
What do you learn about the body of the Christian from Romans 8:8-9 and 12:1?
Express in your own words the additional reasons given in I Corinthians 6:19-20 for being a good steward of your body.

Individual Parts of the Body:

The Tongue
Why is it so important to be a good steward of the tongue? (James 1:26 and 3:2-6)
Why should you know concerning its use? (Matthew 12:36) List areas where you misuse your tongue. How has this affected your life? How should you use your tongue properly? (James 3:9-10, Ephesians 4:24, 29, Proverbs 21:23, Psalm 39:1)

The Heart
What must we understand about the heart? (Jeremiah 17:9) How can we counteract our natural tendencies? (Psalm 139:23-24)
What condition of heart does God require? (Psalm 51:17) What kind of heart does God look for and why? (II Chronicles 16:9, Matthew 5:8, II Thessalonians 3:5, Psalm 15:1-2)
What is the result of keeping your mind focused on God? (Isaiah 26:3) How can you keep your mind on Him? (Philippians 4:6-7, Deuteronomy 11:18)

The Hands
What does God think about the work of your hands? (Proverbs 12:14, 24) How did the apostles feel about the importance of what their hands had done? (Acts 20:34-35 and I Thessalonians 4:11-12)

The Feet
Contrast the feet of those who do evil with those who do good. (Isaiah 52:7, 59:7, Romans 3:15, Psalm 119:101,105; 56:13)
How do Romans 10:15 and Ephesians 6:15 relate to evangelism?

The Eyes
What is the importance of the eyes (Matthew 6:22-23) Describe what this means to you? What sins can we commit with our eyes? (Proverbs 21:4, 27:20, Jeremiah 22:17, Matthew 5:28, I John 2:16)
What privilege did the apostles have? (I John 1:1-3) How can we avoid temptation? (Psalm 19:8, 119:37, 121:1-2, 123:1)

The Ears
Write down ways we can misuse hearing. (Proverbs 21:13 II Timothy 4:3-4) What can listening to God give us? (Romans 10:17, John 5:24) How can you apply James 1:19-22 to your daily life? Give specific examples.

Sexual Expression:

Compare the sexual sins in I Corinthians 6:9-10,13-18 with marriage in I Corinthians 7:1-8.
God considered David a man after His own heart, yet what was David's greatest sin? (II Samuel 11:2-5; 14-17; 26-27)
What is God's stern judgment against misusers and abusers of sex? (I Corinthians 6:9-10) Why is it especially tragic if a Christian becomes involved in the misuse of sex? (I Corinthians 6:15-18)
How serious is sexual lust, according to Christ? (Matthew 5:28)
How can the application of the following verses enable you to overcome sexual lust? (Philippians 4:8, Psalm 119:9, 11; I Corinthians 10:13; Romans 6:11-13; I Thessalonians 4:3-5)
List the things in your life that tempt you to have impure thoughts. How can you apply these verses to each?

Life Application:

How does stewardship of each individual part of the body affect each part?
How could it affect the body as a whole?
How would you apply I Thessalonians 5:22 to the following: The use of your tongue; desires of your heart; control of your mind; work of your hands; where you go; what you see; what you hear; your conduct with members of the opposite sex? 


Week 8
Stewardship of the Bible – 21 October 2012
Aim of the lesson:

•    To encourage regular devotional reading of the Bible and give some pointers as to how to do it.

Study passage: Psalm 119:89-112
Notes:

·     The Bible is the soil from which all Christian faith grows. Who is God? Is there a Divine plan for the world? What is God's purpose for us? How should we live today? We cannot know these things ourselves. Only God can reveal them to us. There used to be a gramophone record label "His Master's Voice", and this is a good description of the Bible. In it we hear God's voice making known the Divine nature and will.
·     The purpose of reading the Bible. There are various reasons why we should read it:

-    To develop our relationship with God by coming to understand more of his mind, what things are truly important, how God works etc.
-    To meet with and get to know Jesus Christ, the Living Word (Jn 20:31).
-    To give God an opportunity to speak to us and guide us through the Holy Spirit.
-    To allow ourselves to become saturated with God's word. This will affect our thinking, enabling us to bear fruit for God, and helping us to be obedient to the teaching of Jesus (Jn 15:5-7, 2 Tim 3:16-17).

•    How to read the Bible

-    Be regular and disciplined. The Bible rewards those who "stick with it" Persistence is one of the essentials of all Christian living.
-    Read expectantly, believing that as we read God will meet with us and speak to us.
-    Come in reverence, for we are meeting with the living God.
-    Rely on the Holy Spirit to reveal truth to us and enable us to know God's will (Jn 16:13-14). (When we say God "speaks" to us we do not usually mean that we actually hear an audible voice, but rather that the Holy Spirit convicts us inwardly about truth, sin or duty.)
-    Allow sufficient time. Bible study cannot be rushed. We are told to "wait" on the Lord (Ps 27:13-14). Use the time as follows:
-    Read the passage slowly. Don't read too much at a time.
-    Think about it; allow the mind to grasp the meaning.
-    Where appropriate, use your imagination to picture the scene.
-    Ask what God is saying to you through the passage.
-    Ask how can I be obedient? What does God want me to do?
-    Keep a note book and write down special thoughts, commitments to be obedient etc.

·     If you are just setting out on this road and don't know where to start, begin in the New Testament with Luke and move on to Acts, John, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Ephesians. Daily Bible study notes can take you on from there. (See below)

·     Commentaries - Many good commentaries exist and can help us to interpret the meaning of the passage. Ask your minister or your local Christian bookshop to advise you. However, it is more important to actually read the Bible yourself, not just books about the Bible. The Holy Spirit guides us into the truth. Discover things for yourself at first-hand.


·     Daily Bible study notes - These are intended to help with personal daily Bible study. A passage will be given to read, followed by a page or so of devotional comment and explanation. Various series are available: again, your minister or nearest Christian bookshop will advise you.

·     Bible study in a group - We often learn more in a group than as individuals. An essential part of our Bible study is to meet in Christian fellowship, in our class meeting or home fellowship group (Heb 10.25). If you are not already part of such a group, make a serious effort to join one.
Questions for discussion:

1.      Have you ever had an occasion when you have felt that the Bible has really "spoken" to you? Share what happened and how you felt.
2.      What benefits does the Psalmist get from studying God's Word (see the study passage)?
3.      What special things do we notice about a person who has spent many years in faithful study of God's Word?
4.      How can we be more systematic and disciplined about reading the Bible? What problems do we experience?
5.      Why is it important to apply what we learn in our Bible study? 




Week 9
Stewardship of Money – 28 October 2012

John Wesley — the Use of money
Aim of the lesson:
•   To study some implications of the stewardship of money.
Study passage: Luke 16:1-13
Introductory exercise:
Are group members intelligently informed about your congregation's budget needs? Why not allow 10 minutes for someone (e.g. Treasurer or minister) to explain how church finances work.
Notes:
•    A precious gift. Wesley's famous sermon on The Use of Money was preached to Methodists whose industry and thrift were already bringing them wealth. He makes it clear that it is not money, but the love of money, which is the root of all evil. "The fault", he says, "does not lie in the money, but in them that use it." In another sermon he speaks of "that precious talent which contains all the rest — money." He pronounces it "unspeakably precious if we are wise and faithful stewards of it."
•   Three Rules. Wesley reduced his instructions for the use of money to three plain rules, and claimed that by keeping them we prove ourselves to be faithful stewards of God's bounty. The rules are: Gain all you can; save all you can; give all you can.
•    Gain all you can. Methodists were to work diligently and to trade intelligently — but not to the extent of damaging their health. They were to engage in no "sinful trade", contrary to the laws of God or the country. They were forbidden to "rob the king of his customs"; today's equivalent would be to evade paying taxes. There was to be "no cheating or lying, or whatever is not consistent with a good conscience." They were to avoid unfair competition, which would damage their neighbor’s trade. They were also to avoid selling anything that might impair health. Gaining all one could was to be achieved only by honest industry.
•   Save all you can. This does not refer to building up a huge bank account, but was to be done by avoiding all expense that was not absolutely necessary. So Wesley cautions against expensive goods, needless ornaments, superfluous clothing and furniture, even "elegant rather than useful gardens". He also cautions against spoiling children with more money than necessity requires, maintaining that this is simply to put temptation in their way. Children should be educated in the right use of money and be taught not to squander it.
•    Give all you can. In giving all we can, we must provide first for the reasonable needs of our own families and dependants, and if there is anything over, we must "do good to them that are of the household of faith", and if there is anything still left, "do good to all men". "All that is laid out in this manner", says Wesley, "is really given to God." And this is as it should be, for Wesley maintained that all goods, including money, are God's sole property, and that we are but stewards of His bounty. In Wesley's own words: "Render unto God, not a tenth, not a third, not a half, but all that is God's, be it more or less; by employing it all ... in such a manner, that you may give a good account of your stewardship."
•    Wesley's own life squared with his teaching. It has been pointed out that the sales of Wesley's published works alone were enough to make him a rich man, but he never spent more than 30 pounds a year on his personal needs. Yet in a single year he gave away 1400 pounds, "through his brethren, the poor".
Questions for discussion:
1.  Examine the study passage. Is what Wesley taught consistent with it?
2.   Is Wesley's teaching in conflict with the traditional idea of the tithe?
3.   Wesley told his preachers: "You have nothing to do but save souls." Isn't he then being inconsistent in preaching on the use of money?
4.   What do you make of the three rules?
5.   Should a Christian with money to spare, give first to the Church and to the Christian poor, and only after that to needs in the outside world?
Something to do:
To what extent are you honestly "giving all you can"? Think about this and if necessary, do something about it.


Giving in the Old Testament
Aim of the lesson:
• To examine some of the principles of giving in the Old Testament and see what we can learn about our giving as Christians.
Study passage: Deuteronomy 26:1-15.
Notes:
• The first-fruits. In Old Testament times it was the practice to bring the first part of the harvest and the first-born animals to God (vs 2, Deut 15:19, Ex 23:16). Because the Jews had a strong belief that God was the Creator, all living things, vegetable, animal and human belonged to Him. It was therefore necessary to offer the first of these things back to Him to acknowledge His ownership of them. The person was then free to use the rest of them with His blessing. It was also believed that if they were faithful in this regard God would bless the rest of the crop with abundance. As Christians do we tend to give God the left-overs rather than the 'first-fruits'?
Note: In the New Testament the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit are sometimes spoken of as the 'first-fruits' of God's grace (Rom 8:23, 11:16, I Cor 15:20, Jas 1:18, Rev 14:4).
• Tithing. The normal standard of giving in the Old Testament was a tenth of one's crops, produce, live-stock, income etc (vs 12, Deut 14:22, Gen 28:22). In return God promised to bless the giver with plenty (vs 15, Mai 3:10). Every third year the tithe was given entirely to the poor and the Levites (priests), who had received no inheritance when the Promised Land was divided among the twelve tribes (Deut 14:28-29, Josh 18:7). For convenience people could give money instead of produce, but then they had to give one fifth extra (Lev 27:30-31).
• Proportional giving. Giving in proportion to the blessings one had received from God is mentioned in the Old Testament but does not seem to have been widely practiced (Deut 16:10, 16). This seems to be more in keeping with what Jesus taught about giving (Mk 12:41-44).
• Sacrifice. There were many different types of sacrifice in the Old Testament, but the common purpose behind all of them was to honour God, and in return to receive a blessing from Him. It might be to give thanks or remember some great act of God. It might be to receive forgiveness of sins, to restore fellowship with Him, or for good crops. An important assumption of all sacrifice was that, for the person making it, it had to cost them something (2 Sam 24:24). It meant giving up something precious for God. Today we no longer need to make sacrifices of this sort because Christ is our once-for-all sacrifice (Heb 7:27). But our giving to God still needs to reflect something of the costliness of Old Testament sacrifice.
• Giving the best. An offering had to be without blemish or defect because only the best was good enough for God (Deut 15:21).
• Thanksgiving. At the heart of all worship in the Old Testament (and the New Testament) was gratitude for God's blessings and goodness. It was as a sign of this thanksgiving that people were to bring their gifts and care for the needs of the poor. In the same way our giving to God must always be done in a spirit of thanksgiving, and it must be an essential part of our worship.
Questions for discussion:
Deut 26:1-15
1.  What lessons can we as Christians learn from the principles of Old Testament giving referred to above (a) the first-fruits (b) the tithe (c) proportional giving (d) sacrifice (e) giving the best (f) thanksgiving?
2.  What are the most important standards of Christian giving?
3.  Why do Christians give to God? What are we to give Him?




Christian Giving
Aim of the lesson:
• To examine our giving to the work of God in the light of Paul's teaching. Daily Readings: Sun: 2 Cor 9:1-15; Mon: Mk 12:41-44; Tue: 2 Sam 24:18-25; Wed: Mai 13:6-12; Thu: Lk 19:11-27; Fri: Acts 27:27-44; Sat: Acts 28:1-30.
Study Passage: 2 Corinthians 9:1-15.
Notes:
•  Background. In New Testament times at least two great famines affected the Roman Empire. During the first the Christians in Antioch decided to take a collection for the Christians in Judea, who were suffering more than most. They gave, each one as much as he or she could, and sent their gifts by the hands of Paul and Barnabas and the church elders (Acts 11:27-30). This was the first recorded example of Christian famine relief that we know of where Christians in one area got together to help the needy in another area. The same thing happened about twelve years later, and this event provides the background to our study-passage. In his instructions to the Christians in Corinth Paul teaches us several things about giving.
• Verses 1-4. Paul was not afraid to encourage a spirit of healthy competition. He told the Macedonian churches how well the Corinthian church gave, and he now urges the Corinthians not to let him down.
• Verse 5. When we give to God's work, or to the needy (which is the same thing, Mt 25:40) it should be done willingly and with a good heart (vs 7).
• Verse 6. We must give generously and not sparingly. Tithing, giving one tenth of what we receive back to God, is a well established biblical principle of giving (Mai 3:10) But truly speaking there should be no limits to how much a Christian is prepared to give to God, because we have acknowledged that everything we have belongs to Him anyway. If we sow sparingly we will reap in the same way. We should give in proportion to what we get. There should be no uniform assessments.
• Verse 7. Giving demands a purpose and a plan (1 Cor 16:2). We should make up our minds before-hand what we intend to give and carry out our purpose reverently and faithfully. Some people make promises but are very slow to carry them out. Our giving should be a sacred pledge. Being systematic also means we will keep an accurate account of our income and what we spend.
• Verses 8-14. The Old Testament often promises that if we give God will return our gifts to us with interest (Deut 15:10, 24:19). Paul however does not teach that we should 'give in order to get' from God. He says we should give freely and even recklessly, without hope of reward, trusting that God will meet our own needs (Phil 4:19). He might not bless us with material things but we will certainly receive spiritual graces; ability to do more good works and give more freely; the enlargement of our heart and soul; the increase of our love and devotion; greater joy and satisfaction. But more than this, those who receive our gifts will give thanks for us, and hopefully also give thanks and praise to God.
• Verse 15. No giving can be adequate return for the wonderful gift of God. The old Israelites were urged to give because God had rescued them from Egypt. Christians give because they have been saved by the precious blood of Jesus.
Questions for discussion:
2 Cor 9:1-15.
1.  Christians are asked to give to the work of God. What is the 'Work of God'? To what should we give? Why?
2.  Jesus said it was more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). What do you think He meant?
3.  How and what should Christians give?
4.  How can we be more systematic in our giving (a) as individuals, (b) as a congregation?
Group exercise:
Decide as a group on a project or a specific need to which you would like to give and make the necessary plans to do so. Later on, assess what you have done.
Something to do:
Spend time this week examining your own giving. Write down on paper what you are actually giving. How much do you receive each month, or each week? How does what you give compare with what you receive? What is God saying to you?

Tithing
Aim of the lesson:
•   General aim: Understanding Christian giving.
•   Understanding the biblical principle of tithing.
Study passages: Mal 3: 6-12, Mark 12: 41-44.
Notes:
•   Tithing. When Abraham was successful in battle, he gave a tenth of his possessions to the priest Melchizedek (Gen 14: 17-20). When Jacob dreamed of a ladder reaching up to heaven he had such a deep sense of the power and presence of God that he called the place Bethel (house of God), set up a memorial stone, and promised to give Him a tenth of his possessions and the increase of his possessions (Gen 28: 20-22). Tithing, giving a tenth of our income to God, is the biblical standard of giving and He promises that if we are faithful in this, He will bless us (Lev 27: 30, Deut 14: 22-29, 12: 6, 11, Neh 13: 5, Mai 3: 8-10, Heb 1: 5).
• Jesus accepted the principle of tithing but He stressed that our giving should come from a pure heart. He condemned those who tithed in a legalistic way but whose lives did not show evidence of the more important aspects of the law such as justice, mercy and faithfulness (Mt 23: 23, Lk 18: 12).
•   Christian giving requires more than just giving a tenth. Jesus taught that tithing was a basic minimum for Christians and mat we only begin to give when we have given over and above our tithe. The first tenth belongs to God anyway. If we fail to give it to God, we have in fact stolen what rightfully belongs to Him (Mai 3: 8-9). We start to really give to God when we give out of our nine-tenths. For a Christian there really are no legalistic laws and limits. Like the widow, we should be prepared to give our all to Him (Mk 12: 41-44).
•   What can we give to God? We can give Him nothing that He has not given us in the first place, but there are three clear areas of our lives in which we must give:
-        Our money. We must tithe our income to the work of God. The Bible teaches that money is the root of all evil (I Tim 6: 10) but also that we should be wise in putting it to work for God (Lk 16: 10-12).
-        Our time is also a gift from God. We ought to make sure that at least a tenth of our time is devoted to Him.
-        Our talents and gifts. Some are natural abilities, others are special gifts of the Spirit. God has many tasks to be done. He needs our talents and gifts, and we must ensure that they are consecrated to Him to be used in His service.
•   If we are faithful in giving, God promises to bless us (Mai 3: 10). We do not subscribe to the "prosperity gospel" preached by some churches these days, but there is clear teaching mat if we are faithful and obedient to God, He will supply all our need (Mt 6: 33, Phil 4: 19, Gal 6: 8-10).
Questions for discussion:
Mai 3: 6-12, Mark 12: 41-44.
1.   What insights come to you from the Malachi passage?
2.   In the Mark passage what differences can you find between the way in which the widow gave, and the way in which the rich people gave?
3.   Do you agree with the principle of tithing?
4.   Of what things is a Christian expected to tithe?
5.   Must our tithe be given to the Church or can we give it to the work of God in other ways?
6.   If we are faithful in giving, in what way can we expect God to supply our need?

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