The Meaning of Our Stewardship Program
November 10th, 1957 @ 7:30 PM
THE MEANING OF OUR STEWARDSHIP PROGRAM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-10-57 7:30 p.m.
Let’s turn to the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts and read from the twenty-eighth through the thirty-sixth verses. The twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts: Acts twenty. The twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, beginning at the twenty-eighth verse and reading through the thirty-sixth – Acts 20:28 through the 36th. We all have it? Now let’s read it together – Acts 20:28-36:
Take heed, therefore, unto yourselves and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God which He hath purchased with His own blood.
For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.
Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
Therefore watch, and remember that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.
And now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.
I have coveted no man’s silver or gold or apparel.
Yea, ye yourselves know that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me.
I have shewed you all things, how that so laboring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus how He said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."
And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down and prayed with them all.
This evening, I set out a fleece like Gideon did [Judges 6:36-40] about what I should preach on. In your program, the sermon is announced. As we go through the Bible, we are in the first chapter of the first Thessalonian letter, and it was so printed and prepared for tonight.
We are in the midst of a great appeal – one that is more meaningful than anyone of us, doubtless, realizes – this stewardship appeal. I very rarely preach concerning it – not more maybe than one time in a whole year. I have felt that I ought to do more than that, but in my preaching through the Bible, I hardly turn aside continuing where I left off Sunday morning, continuing Sunday night, and beginning the next Lord’s Day.
So the Gideon’s fleece that I put out: He didn’t realize, but I said at the Sunday morning hour, "After we’ve had an opportunity in that business office to see how our people have done, I’m going to ask Mr. Willis whether he thinks a message ought to be spoken concerning our support of God’s kingdom in the earth. If he says yes, I will prepare it. If he says no, I will continue in Thessalonians."
So I asked him this morning, "After we’ve had an opportunity to see how you’ve fared, Mr. Willis, what do you think? Should I preach Sunday night on stewardship?" And he answered immediately and very positively, "By all means, pastor. I think you should." So, tonight, I asked how we were doing.
Well, this Sunday school, on whom I count so much, has a great deal to do. You have a lot to do. You have not yet begun to do what you ought to do. Listen to me, Sunday school. Listen to me. To make a grade of "D" is easy. To make a grade of "C" is pretty easy. To make a grade of "B" is kind of easy. To make it "A" is hard. To make it "A+" is harder. To make it "A+++" is a job.
Now, anybody can get in the great mass of the pledge cards of the members of the Sunday school. I could do it without you – wouldn’t have to have you. I can do it myself. I can make an announcement that on such and such a day we’re going to pledge here at this church, and the great majority of the cards will come in without you. I don’t need you for that. What you’ve already done, I don’t need you for. I could do it myself without you. What we’re asking for is that however many you have in your Sunday school that many you have a report on. Now how have you done?
Now look here. Out of 5,800 members of our Sunday school, enrolled in our Sunday school, I do not believe you have in your Sunday school more than about 3,000 some odd of your cards turned in. And this was the night it was all to be done – 5,800 of them. I know what’s the matter: we just sit down; we just take it for granted. We make a telephone call, we write a note, we plan a program. If it clicks, fine; if it does it, fine. If it doesn’t, equally fine. That’s not the theme. That’s not the idea.
The idea is this: we have turned over to this Sunday school this appeal for all of our people to respond. And to get in the great mass is nothing – that’d come in anyway. The thing that we’re asking for is that the remainder of that group you be responsible for. Go get it. Be responsible for it under God. And then, if there is no response, write on the card, "This one is a member of my class, but there is no possibility of a response." Write it and turn it in, then it’s up to God. But between that and what we’ve done is your obligation. Sunday school, do it! You have a meeting tomorrow night; then you got another kind of a meeting Tuesday night; then down here Wednesday night; then you have Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and by Sunday it’s over. Whatever we’ve done we have done. Sunday is it – this coming Lord’s Day.
Now, Sunday school, do your best. Do it! Work at it. Toil at it like a serious student pouring over his books – not just to get by, to make a "D" or a "C," not even to make a "B" or an "A," but an "A+" and "triple plus." Do it, Sunday school. Do it. And all of us who are in the Sunday school are in the Training Union. And the purpose of it was to help us be great, godly, stalwart soldiers for Christ training for the army of the Lord. Get in there and help, every member of the Sunday school.
And if you belong to this church, it’s inconceivable to me that anybody should have to encourage me to do this. It’s a privilege to do it. I like to do it. God has called me to do it. It is a part of this life that belongs to God.
Now, what I have to say, earnestly said, is this: don’t ever think that living in this world as we do that we are not subject to the laws of God like everything else God has made in this world. We are a church, and it belongs to Jesus and He gave His life for it. "Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it" [Ephesians 5:25]. It’s a divine institution. He built it Himself. It is directed, kept alive, by the quickening Spirit of God. But we’re still mundane. We are still terrestrial. We are still in this earth, and all of the things of this earthare we subject to even as others.
That’s not true only of us. It has been true ofall God’s children through all time through all the ages. The children of Israel, out in the wilderness, hungered and thirsted just like all the other people of the world [Exodus 16:3, 17:3]. Elijah at the Brook Cherith had to be fed [1 Kings 17:1-6]; and when the drought was hard upon Israel, the creek dried up as the creeks dried up everywhere else [1 Kings 17:7]. And the Lord sent him away from his own country to Phoenicia, to Zarephath, there to be fed by a widow [1 Kings 17:8-10]. God’s man still hungered and had to be fed. He thirsted and had to have water to drink.
And the Lord Jesus Christ was tempted by Satan because He too was subject to all of the laws of this life. He hungered, after forty days was faint, and the temptation was that He hungered! [Matthew 4:1-2; Luke 4:1-2] Had He not been hungry, to turn a stone into a loaf of bread would have been no appeal at all [Matthew 4:3-4; Luke 4:3-4].
So this church – mundane, terrestrial, of this earth – this church is subject to all of the other laws that all the other institutions are themselves a party to, and one of them is this. There’s not anything in this earth, if it is mundane, and if it is terrestrial, if it is of this life, if it’s down here – there’s not anything, not any organization, not any institution, that does not have its financial problem. Your home has it, and if you don’t solve it, you’ll live in difficulty and misery all of your life. A bank has it. A bank that doesn’t have a solution to its financial problem goes bankrupt. A business has it. A business that is not able to solve its financial problem – to pay its rent, to pay its employees, to pay its utilities, to carry on its work – will die.
And it is no less with a church. A church has a financial problem, and the church that does not meet it and solve it goes bankrupt. It fails, it staggers, it hesitates, it dwindles. It would die without it!
Now, churches turn to all kinds of things to meet that financial problem.While I was away about two or three Sundays ago, there was a reminder or a program – I do not know which – but in it was an insert. And when I came back, I saw that insert. "How shall we support our church? How shall we solve this financial problem?"
All right, there’s an answer here. Some churches try cooking. Then it says: "Food booth at the fair, pancake breakfasts, chicken dinners, spaghetti suppers." One of my members here took me over to a Methodist church here in this city, and they were having a supper in order to finance the church. That’s the way that some churches do.
Then the second. Other churches try merchandising: vanilla peddling, soap selling, rummage sales. And could I add kissing bees? This was written up in Life magazine, and I mentioned it to you one time when it happened. Up there in New England, the church, in order to raise money for it, had a kissing bee. Well, it was this. I never had heard of any such thing before – very interesting. I thought I’d read it, see if it had a good idea. Well, this was it.
They got a corn crib and filled it full of bushels and bushels of white ears of corn. Then they took about a bushel or so of red ears and mingled the red ears in with the white ears. Then they had a corn shucking. And all of the men were there brought in the community from everywhere – everybody invited – and they went through the corn crib, every man shucking ears. And when a fellow found a red ear of corn, why he got to kiss the girl of his choice. Now, for the men to participate in the kissing bee, they had to pay a sum of money. And the article in Life magazine ended with this sentence: "A great, wonderful time was had by all, and they raised for the church the great sum total of 295 dollars." Isn’t that a magnificent way to solve the financial problem of the church?
This third thing here is a tragic thing. Some churches even try gambling: bingo, raffles, lotteries, card parties. I can take you to one of the great, great cities of America in the North and the East, and the council of the city is utterly unable to pass any kind of legislation against gambling because the politics of the city is controlled by a certain church. "The church," they call themselves, and they support "the church" by bingo and by raffles and by lottery and by other forms of gambling. They so dominate the city, the council cannot pass laws against it! Consequently, the city is shot through and through. It’s honeycombed with an underworld that lives also on gambling. You don’t do it in the church and then not do it out there. When you do it in the church, you do it ten thousand times more out there.
Then this last in that leaflet: "Our church tries God’s way." Thank God for it. "Our church tries God’s way." Now, they didn’t have it here. They’ve got something else there, but here is what I want to read as God’s way. You listen to it. You don’t improve on it. This is the genius of the Christian faith. "Now concerning that collection" [1 Corinthians 16:1] – concerning that offering, that stewardship program, that financial problem. Kind of strange thing here: in your Bible, you have it divided with a chapter. There were no chapters in a letter that Paul wrote. You don’t write by chapter and verse when you write to somebody you love. You just write a letter. That’s the way Paul did to the church at Corinth. He wrote them a letter.
And the greatest chapter possibly in the Bible – certainly these neo-orthodox theologians like Karl Barth [1886-1968] and Emil Brunner [1889-1966] and Reinhold Niebuhr [1892-1971] and all the rest – they say the greatest chapter in the Bible, the climax of all apocalyptic revelation is the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians. Whether they’re true or not’s immaterial. Certainly one of the great, great, great revelations of the Bible – the great chapters – is the fifteenth of First Corinthians: "Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" [1 Corinthians 15:57] – raised incorruptible [1 Corinthians 15:52]. "Now concerning the collection" [1 Corinthians 16:1] – in the same breath, in the same voice – great resurrection. They just sang about that. Isn’t that a strange thing: sing about it tonight?
Now concerning the offering –
the collection –
as I gave order –
to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye:
Upon the first day of the week –
God’s Day, the Lord’s Day, Sunday –
Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store as God hath prospered him –
as he’s able –
that there be no gatherings –
no collections, no ding-dongings –
when I come.
[1 Corinthians 16:1-2]
And when I stand up to preach, we have carefully committed ourselves, and there’s no need for the pastor to exhort or to plead. "Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store as God hath prospered him" [1 Corinthians 16:2].
Now, I say, there is a genius in the Christian faith, and it is represented here in the genius of how God expects us to provide for His work in the earth. The genius of the Christian faith, the heart of the Christian faith is this: that everybody is in the love and care of God – everybody; the worth of the individual – that he’s important [Matthew 10:31], that his soul is immortal [Hebrews 9:27] and Jesus died to save him [John 3:16]. Every man is a man for whom Christ died [1 John 2:2]. That is the Christian faith.
Could I compare it? In that Korean War,day after day and time after time, we would read where the Chinese Communists would feed into the mall of the cannon and the guns of our American Armyhundreds of thousands of men. It was nothing to them! Mow them down like fodder, die like insects! What is it to a Communist? But let there be one American boy fall from his airplane into the wide expanse of the Pacific – just one – and you’d find the whole army and the whole navy and the whole air corps and every branch of every service combing those vast waves to see if they could find that one G.I.
Where’d you get that idea? Where’d it come from? It came from the teachings of Christ that one somebody is all important to God: that one somebody – even you, even I. We are known to God. We are named by the Lord. He knows us. He counts the number of the hairs in our heads [Matthew 10:30; Luke 12:7]. We’re not a number; we are somebody. And the religion of Jesus Christ is the religion of the one lost sheep [Luke 15:1-7], and the one lost coin [Luke 15:8-10], and the one lost boy [Luke 15:11-32]. When our Savior preached His great sermon on the new birth [John 3:1-21], He had one in His congregation – just one. At an evening service, He had Nicodemus there [John 3:1-2], and He prepared for him the greatest sermon on the new birth ever delivered [John 3:3-21]. When Jesus preached His great sermon on spiritual worship, He had a congregation of one: a despised Samaritan woman [John 4:1-26]. It’s a religion of the one somebody you, one somebody me.
When our Lord was raised from the dead, the last time He saw Simon Peter in the days of His flesh, Simon was cursing the Lord and denying His name [Matthew 26:69-75; Mark 14:66-72]. When He was raised from the dead, the Lord especially appeared to him and spoke to him [John 21:15-22]. He did it. I’m so glad, especially to Simon Peter.
And I think one of the most precious things in the Bible is something that nobody apparently ever realizes. All through the ministry of Christ, the Bible says that His brethren did not believe on Him [Mark 3:20-21; John 7:1-10]. They didn’t think He was the Messiah, the Son of God. But after the Lord was raised from the dead, the Scriptures say that Jesus, risen, appeared to James His brother [1 Corinthians 15:7]. And in the first chapter of Acts, at that prayer meeting before Pentecost, all of His brethren are there with His mother [Acts 1:12-14]. What a shame had Jesus gone back to glory and His family lost and unrepentant. But God, in Christ’s heart, is moved for that one. And He appeared to James, His brother, and through James all of the family were won to a faith in Him.
It is the faith of Christ – one. You are born one at a time. You are born again one at a time. We are baptized one at a time. We die one at a time, and the Lord looks upon it, and we are judged one at a time. And this thing of our stewardship is a matter of the one somebody you: every one of you, each one of you.
Whenever we think of the church in terms of masses and oceans and bucketsful, we’ve departed from the spirit and faith of the Lord Jesus because when He sees us, He sees us each individual, not by the mass, not by the gobs [Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:27]. But it’s you, and He calls you by name [Isaiah 43:1, 7, 45:3] and you and you and you. And it is thus in our stewardship response: one of us, each one of us, all of us, one in himself. You, you: "Let each one of you" [1 Corinthians 16:2; Ephesians 4:25, 5:33].
Now, what does that mean for the family? It means the rethinking of the purpose and construction of a family.
I came across a man within the last two weeks and something arose in the home. And he – tyrant that he was – he said, "I want you to know," speaking to his wife, "that I make the salary, and I bring in the money, and it is my check that is brought into this house and I run it. I make the money." And when I came across that, I thought, "Isn’t that strange? Isn’t that strange that his wife toils and works and makes the home and the family is nothing at all? That she bears him children and takes care of them and prays over them and weeps over them and ministers to them is nothing at all?" It is his. He does it. He makes it. It is his money. It is his check. It is his salary. It is his stipend and increment and income, and she is nothing at all. Is that according to the purpose of God?
"Each one of you" [1 Corinthians 16:1]. While he’s out there toiling in an office or in a place of business, she is back there toiling in the home, taking care of the family and the house and the children. And according to the Lord, they share alike [1 Peter 3:7]. She does this work, and he does this work, and both of them are together in the increment, in the income,before the Lord. He is to give according to how God has blessed him, and she is to give according to how God has blessed them. They are to share in it together. No man ought to fill out a pledge card for his family – for himself and all the others. You’re not to do it – not according to the Word of the Lord. But each one of us is to stand before the Lord individually [2 Corinthians 5:10]: man, you are; and wife, you are; and each one of the children, you are – all of us somebody before God.
Look. When you take a little child and it’s Saturday and he’s off to the picture show or out to the midway and you give him fifty cents for the show and you give him a quarter for peanuts and chewing gum and you give him a little extra for other things – you put seventy-five cents in his hand or ninety cents in his hand – and he goes out to have a good time, that’s on Saturday, then on Sunday, he comes to God’s house and you give him a nickel or a penny or a cent or a dime, you don’t need to say anything. He’s got the idea: peanuts and popcorn and a picture show and hamburger are big business, but Sunday school and church is a dime business, or a penny business, or a nickel business. He gets the idea. He learns quick and early. We’re not to do it.
By the Word of the Lord, every one of you [1 Corinthians 16:1] – that the husband and father, he has a part; that the wife and mother, she has a part; that the little boy and the little girl and the son and the teenager, they all are to have a part. And when you do that like God says it’s done, you grow straight and tall, and God’s Word prospers in the earth and your church is blessed of heaven.
Now, suffer me because I do not speak of these things from the pulpit often. Suffer me to speak now and listen to me as I speak of what that total represents. Whenever you have placed in your hands a giving outline of our church, there is a figure, and here are these long, extended items, and there is a summation; and you look at it, and it is all dollars and cents. Here it is in the dollars,and there it is in the dollars, and there it is and the sum. And then it’s all totaled up, and you have what you call a stewardship outline or a budget. You can look at it. There it is: dollars.
That’s not what it is. That’s not what it is. When you look at that, when you look at that – oh, that represents everything we seek to do for Jesus in this earth. That represents our church: it represents our ministry to little children; it represents our ministry to our teenagers; it represents our ministry to our young people; it represents our ministry to the church we’re trying to build and train up that it might live on thetomorrow. It represents our mission work here in the city. It represents the preaching of the gospel in this pulpit. It represents all that our church means as you see it and know it and love it and pray for it. And beyond, it represents everything we do for Jesus on the other side of the seas and here at home everywhere beyond this church: there, there, there around this earth our support, ourselves poured into that appeal for Christ bringing lost people to Jesus.
Look at that budget. Look at it. It represents us, me, you. That budget is us. I could never make that as clear as what I read in a magazine published by the Texas and Pacific Railway. There’s a little magazine that some kind friend mails to my house, and I look at it – published by the T&P Railroad whose headquarters are in this city. And this is what I read.
A fellow had a million dollar dream, and it is called "A Million Dollar Dream." He had a million dollars, and he awakened with a million dollars. "I’m not going to work anymore: going to ride around in the handsomest cars; going to dress in the most beautiful clothes; going to have the finest house; going to live like a millionaire, not going to work anymore." So he came downstairs a millionaire, saw his wife in tears over the breakfast table. She had ordered groceries. There was nothing to eat. They were never delivered. "Why, don’t worry, I’m a millionaire," he said.
He went to the telephone to order groceries. That phone was dead. "Don’t worry," he said, "I’ll go out. I need the walk, and I’ll bring back the groceries." He walked out the door. There were no milk bottles delivered. There’s no newspaper on the porch. He walked down the street, and it was empty. Not a thing was moving: not a bus, not a train, not anything. As he went to the store, they were all closed. Nothing, nothing. Soon a few people began to gather into the streets, and they were joined by others until the thousands of the city were in the streets. And he said, "What has happened? What has happened? Where can I buy bread?"
And the reply was, "Why, don’t you know? Don’t you know? Everybody is a millionaire, and nobody has to work anymore." The baker is a millionaire; he’s not baking any more. The farmer’s a millionaire; he’s not plowing any more. The shoeshine boy’s a millionaire; he’s not shining shoes any more. The bus driver’s a millionaire; he’s not driving a bus any more. Everybody is a millionaire, and nobody has to work.
And then the fellow said he awakened out of his dream. "Money is nothing. Money is paper to start a fire with. Money is only something when it represents your life, your effort, your toil, you."
When you come down here to this church and lay an offering and a gift at Jesus’ feet, that represents you. I’ve traded my life for it. Itoiled and worked for it. I used my mind and my hands for it. I turned myself into coin and currency, and here, I bring myself and dedicate it to Jesus. It’s you.
That summation of the budget is the summation of all of us. This represents us. And this one little word, it represents our gratitude to God.
They were having an appeal at a church asking the people to respond, and a man stood up and said, "Pastor, my wife and I want to give ten thousand dollars. We are dedicating it to the memory of our son who did not return from the war, and in memory of him, we want to dedicate this ten thousand dollars."
And when he had spoken, a mother put her hand on the arm of her husband and said, "Husband, stand up. Give them ten thousand dollars for our son." And the father said, "But wife, our boy wasn’t killed. He came back." And the mother replied, "Husband, that’s why! Do it! Do it because our boy came back from the war. Give it because he’s alive and we have it. Give it in gratitude to God."
What would I take for my two eyes? I wouldn’t sell them for the wealth of the world. They came from God. I did not make them. He gave them to me. What would I take for my hands or my feet? What would I take for the health and the strength that I have? They come from God. And out of gratitude, Lord, Lord, this is a small recompense for the unsearchable riches that I have from Thy gracious hands. And time would fail me to speak of our Savior – the saving of my soul, my hope of heaven: everything represented by Jesus our Lord. Out of a heart full of gratitude, Lord this I dedicate to Thee.
Blessed people, I need not speak further nor mention it again. Loving God, you will love to do this; and the Lord speed you in the way, give you and us every abiding and continuing victory.
Now, Billy, let’s sing our song. And while we sing it, somebody you to give your life in faith to Christ tonight: You come into the aisle and down here to the front and stand by me. "Here I come, pastor. Here I am. I give you my heart; I give my life; I give you my hand; I give my heart and my life to God." The sign of a commitment: "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in thine heart that He lives, that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved" [Romans 10:9]. And that is our confession. "Pastor, I give you my hand before the congregation. I confess Jesus as my Savior." Or into the fellowship of the church: somebody you, a family you – while we sing, would you come? While we stand and while we sing.