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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Bible Studies on Stewardship of Money

Stewardship of Money 
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.
•    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.

Stewardship of Money 2
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.
• 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?

Stewardship of Money 3

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.
•  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?

Stewardship of Money 4
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.
•   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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