November 8th, 1959 @ 10:50 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-8-59 10:50 a.m.
To you who listen on the radio or are watching on television, you are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the 11:00 o’clock morning message entitled God’s Faithful Steward. The text, “Occupy till I come” [Luke 19:13], and the message is delivered in keeping with the great appeal through our Lord and the Holy Spirit of God in this church to oversubscribe its tremendous giving program for 1960.
In the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Luke, in the twelfth and following verses, Jesus said, “A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return” [Luke 19:12]. He is that nobleman who has gone away into heaven, waiting until His enemies be made His footstool [Hebrews 1:8, 13]. He is coming back again:
And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come….
And it came to pass, that when he returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained.
[Luke 19:13, 15]
And he calls them, one at a time. And they deliver an account of their stewardship to their returning lord. I could not think of a text more fraught or pregnant with meaning than my text of this morning: and Jesus said, “Occupy till I come” [Luke 19:13].
This doctrine of the stewardship of the servants of God is inwrought and woven into the very fabric of the Christian faith. If I had time this morning, I would speak of the use of that word “stewardship” in the Holy Scriptures. I do not have opportunity, for it would take a long time in itself. It is far more inwoven in the fabric of the Christian faith than we realize.
This word oikonomia, translated by many different words in the New Testament, it is a very difficult word to put into the English language, but the best simple translation is “stewardship.” Oikonomia is built out of two words. The Greek word for “house” is oikos. The Greek word for “law” is nomos. Oikonomia built on those two words literally means “the law of the house,” the management of the house. The Greek word for a steward is oikonomos. The oikonomos, “the steward,” had charge of the management of the house. The nobleman, the king, the rich man, whoever the owner was, always employed a faithful steward, an oikonomos. And that steward was responsible for the oikonomia, “the stewardship,” the management of the property of the house.
Now God takes that word, oikonomos, “steward,” oikonomia, “stewardship,” management, and He applies it to us. We, to whom God hath given the materialities of this life, that we might be faithful to God in all things. Just one or two instances of the use of the word: “Let a man so account of us,” says Paul in 1 Corinthians 4, “as ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” [1 Corinthians 4:1, 2]. Once again, in the same Corinthian letter, the ninth chapter and the sixteenth and seventeenth verses: “Necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! For I do this thing…having a dispensation of the gospel committed unto me” [1 Corinthians 9:16-17], oikonomia translated here “a dispensation,” a stewardship. A committal has been made unto me from God.
Just once again in Ephesians 3, the first part:
For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,
If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: if you have heard of the oikonomia, the dispensation, the stewardship, the committal God has made unto me.
[Ephesians 3:1, 2]
Now there is a great purpose. God’s purpose in committing to us the oikonomia, our stewardship, whatever I possess, every talent, every energy, every piece, every part, all of it, the gift of God, there is a purpose in the oikonomia, the stewardship that God hath committed to me, hath committed to us. And I name several of them.
The first one is this, God hath done it. Not that He needs me. He could do well without us. “If I were hungry,” He says, “I would not tell thee, for the world is Mine [Psalm 50:12,16], the silver, and the gold, and the cattle on a thousand hills” [Haggai 2:8]. Not that God needs us, not but that He could do without us, but God commits it to us—an oikonomia to us—for our discipline and our growth and our development.
God is not honored by pygmies and small affections, but God is honored in the great heart and in the great soul and in the growth of His children; not infantile, not babes, but strong, mature men and women grown up unto God. And the stewardship, the oikonomia, He has placed in our hands is for our development and our growth, that we might be strong unto God.
At the 8:15 service, I have been preaching now in the Book of Joshua, and God says to Joshua, “Every place where the sole of thy foot shall rest, I have given it unto thee for a possession” [Joshua 1:3]. God says, “I have given it unto thee,” but every inch of the ground was contested, and Joshua had to take it by force and by conquest. Yet God says, “I have given it unto thee” [Exodus 1:3].
In the passage of the Scripture that you read this morning in the Sermon on the Mount, “Behold,” says Jesus, “the fowls of the air, they sow not, neither do they reap, nor do they gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them” [Matthew 6:26]. Just how does the heavenly Father feed the birds? He feeds them when they get up at 4:30 o’clock every morning and stay with it all day long.
Now God could have given the land of promise to Joshua with a sweep of His hand. He could have brushed the enemies aside, but for the virility and the nobility and the development of His people, He had them to take it, to win it, to fight for it, to seize it, to possess it, though God says, “I give it to them” [Joshua 1:3]. The same thing about the birds, God feeds them, and God takes care of them, yes, when they get up before sunrise and stay with it until sunset.
I heard of a bunch of lazy, no-account, trifling, good-for-nothing seagulls that lived at a shrimp dock. And the fishermen threw to the seagulls their shrimp that had gone bad or was not commercial, and the seagulls lived off of the offerings of the shrimp from the fishermen. The day came when the shrimp moved to another part of the sea, and the shrimp boats did not come into that dock any longer, and those trifling, sorry, no-account, good-for-nothing seagulls sat on those posts and sat on the seashore until they starved to death. They had got so accustomed to being fed by the fishermen, they had lost the energy and the will to go out and forage for themselves.
That is the way with people. If God does for us, and does for us, and does for us, and does for us, and we do not do for ourselves, we become like those trifling, no- account, good-for-nothing seagulls. We are built up, we are strengthened, we are developed by the oikonomia, the assignment God hath placed in our hands. We are to take it and work with it and do with it pleasing unto God.
Over there in Europe, as you know, practically all of the Christian faith and churches, practically all of it is supported by taxation, by the government. And one of those European theologians was visiting America, and he said, “The most phenomenal thing that I have noticed in the development of the churches of our Lord in America is the great movement of stewardship among the Christian churches of America. For,” he said, “in Europe, there is no sense of obligation to God. The state pays the preacher. Tax money keeps up the church. But,” he said, “I have noticed in America, the stewardship movement has done for the churches of America. They have to stand on their own feet; they have to pay their own ministers; they have to contribute to the support of the work of the church. Not done by taxation. Please, God, let it never be done by taxation.” He said, “It has done for the churches of America what the Great Reformation did for the churches of Europe in the sixteenth century and what the great missionary movement did for the churches in the nineteenth century.”
God spoke, and the worlds came into being [Hebrews 11:3]. God still speaks, and the church is the means by which God’s people implement God’s purposes in the earth. By what right does the pastor stand in the sacred pulpit and ask from his people their time and their energy and their property, their talents, yea, and their very lives? He does it because God has spoken, and this is the will of heaven. “Occupy till I come” [Luke 19:13]; God gave us the oikonomia to develop us to be mature and strong unto God.
A second reason why God has committed it into our hands and into our care, the second reason: that we might learn that all things are in the hands of the sovereign Creator and sustainer of our world. That obviates this false distinction between secular and spiritual, for the great fundamental doctrine of the Word of God is this: that all things are of God, and unto God, and by God [Romans 11:36]. No thing is beyond the pale of the interest of God, and all things are in His hands. They belong to Him [Deuteronomy 10:14].
That is so opposite to so much of the philosophy of history and of the religion of history. For example, Plotinus, the great Neoplatonist, following the spirit of Plato but in a new way, Plotinus so made a difference between things spiritual and things earthly that he blushed because he had a body, and he tried to forget his birthday. In the Middle Ages the so-called church gave itself to a vast distinction between secularism and spirituality, and a man to be spiritual, had to go off somewhere behind a high wall, or in a desert, and there live a hermit, monastic life.
All of that is contrary to the great revelation of the truth of God in the Holy Scriptures. For listen to me: the Scriptures say, “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein” [Psalm 24:1]. All of it is God’s, the materialities as well as the intangibles and the spiritualities. All of it is unto God.
One of the great doctrines of the apostle Paul revealed in the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans is this, Paul refused to separate redemption from creation; but he said all creation shall be delivered in the day of the adoption of the children of God [Romans 8:19-23]. All creation shall be delivered from its death and its corruption, all of it. There is to be a new heaven. There is to be a new earth. There is to be a new life [Revelation 21:1-5]. There is to be a whole new outlook, all of it redeemed. All of it is of God.
He says these bodies of ours are bought with a price and are the temples of the Holy Spirit [1 Corinthians 6:19-20]. There is no such thing in the Bible as this is secular and this is spiritual. All of it belongs to God, says the Lord. And these things that God gives us, all of them are His, every one of them. If you have a little piece of ground, that’s God’s. If you have a little home somewhere, that is God’s. If you have a little bank account, that is God’s. If you have a body, a house to live in, that is God’s.
Everything is holy and sacred unto God, even the pots and the pans. In the New Jerusalem, they have written on them, “Holiness unto the Lord” [Zechariah 14:20-21] The pot in the kitchen, the pan you cook with as well as the sacred miter and breastplate of the high priest, all of it is alike. It has written on it, “Holiness unto the Lord” [Exodus 39:30].
Did you know that is where you get your name “church?” Kuriakos, in Greek, when you get that word kuriakos out of Greek and in common language and down through the generations, it comes out kirk. Kuriakos, kirk it is in Scotts, chirche, chirche, it would be in Anglo-Saxon, and finally, in our modern language, it comes out “church.” Well, what does kuriakos mean? Kuriakos is a simple Greek word meaning, “belonging to the Lord.” You have it in the eleventh chapter of 1 Corinthians. Kuriakos supper, the Lord’s Supper [1 Corinthians 11:20-27]. You have it in the first chapter of the Revelation, kuriakos day, the Lord’s Day [Revelation 1:10]. Kuriakos, the very name, “this is God’s,” this is the church. And all things pertaining to our lives are no less equally dedicated and consecrated unto Him. It belongs to God; “Occupy till I come” [Luke 19:13].
God’s Word would say to a dictator, “You have no right to usurp God’s heritage.” God’s Word would say to a boss, ‘You have no right to Lord it over God’s inheritance.” God’s Word would say to a miser, “You have no right to hoard God’s estate.” All of it belongs to Him, all of it, and is to be used and dedicated for Him.
We are oikonomos, we are stewards. This is the Lord’s. And we are not stewards in the sense that He is a master and we are slaves. We are stewards in the sense that we are partners in our own Father’s house. This is our inheritance. And God does not treat us as slaves, but God treats us as sons, and when I deal with what is God’s, I deal with what is my very own. For God has dealt with us as partners, Father and Son and Company. It is a grand thing the Scriptures reveal to us between heaven and earth, between God and His children, a trusteeship, a responsibility, an oikonomia stewardship.
Now may I say a third thing why God has committed it into our care? “Occupy till I come” [Luke 19:13]. God has done that lest we sink into sordid avarice and covetousness. It is so easy to do that. Did you know it is the materialities of life that so often lead men into ruin? So often, “the love of money,” not money; the love of materialities, “the love” is the root of all kinds of evil. The rich young ruler had the world in his heart and much of it in his hands, and he went away sorrowful, but he went away [Matthew 19:21-22]. It was too much to give up for God. That man who was invited to the banquet of the Lord, he did not accept God’s invitation because, Jesus said, he thought more of his field and more of his oxen than he did of God [Luke 14:15-24]. And that farmer with his bursting barns who thought to lay up for himself, and God says, “Foolish man, today you die.” He was rich toward himself, but he was not rich toward God, Jesus said, and it ruined his soul [Luke 12:16-21]. Or that Dives, that rich gourmet, that glutton who feasted sumptuously every day and finally came to the place where he begged for a drop of cool water [Luke 16:19-24].
I want to show you something in the Scriptures that I never had seen before until preparing this message. Do you remember the story of the foolish man who built his house on the sand? Do you remember that? That closes the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:1-7:29]. The foolish man who built his house on the sand [Matthew 7:24-27], or that rich farmer with his bursting barn [Luke 12:16-21], or those five virgins who let the oil in their lamp dry and their light go out [Matthew 25:1-19], do you remember those three? In all three instances, Jesus does not condemn them for their wickedness, but He condemns them for their stupidity and their foolishness.
Isn’t that an amazing thing? Now I want to illustrate that to you in a parable Jesus told, and this looks like the most impossible story Jesus could ever tell, but it has that same thing in it. Not wickedness, but stupidity, foolishness, Jesus says. When a man takes the things of this life and instead of using it for being rich toward God, he uses it for the destruction of his own soul.
Now he is going to commend a rascal here, and he is a rascal—but he did according to his own low standard “a smart thing,” which he says the children of light have not got sense enough to do. Now I read you what Jesus said:
And Jesus said unto His disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he wasted his master’s goods.
And he called in that steward—that no-account rascal—and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy oikonomia, thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer oikonomos, my steward.
Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed.
I am resolved what to do, when I am put out of this oikonomia, that they may receive me into their houses.
So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto them, How much do you owe the lord?
And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty, and we count it paid.
Then he said to another, How much do you owe my lord? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said, Why, take the bill, write fifty, and that is paid.
And the lord commended the unjust steward, this no-account, lying, rascal, the lord commended him.
Law, have mercy, Lord! What is the matter here? “And the lord commended the unrighteous, the dishonest”—you have it translated “unjust”—“steward, and the lord commended him because he had done wisely” [Luke 16:8]. Isn’t that a funny thing? God has no premium upon stupidity, and ignorance, and dumbness; we sometimes think people are good because they are stupid, and dumb, and good-for-nothing:
The lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done smart: for the children of this world, He says, are in their generation wiser than the children of light.
I say unto you, Make friends for yourselves of the mammon of unrighteousness; that it may, in a time of failure, receive you into everlasting habitations.
He that is faithful in little is faithful in much, and so forth…
No servant can serve two masters—you cannot serve God and mammon.
[Luke 16:8-10, 13]
Now what does Jesus mean in all of that, which I have not time to read or go into? Simply this: that rascal, that dishonest steward had sense enough to take the materialities of life and in a scheme use them for his own future. God says, isn’t it strange that My children do not have that much sense, to take the materialities of life and to use them for their own future? For God says that you can take the materialities of this life and use them for God. Isn’t that an amazing thing?
God says you can take the materialities of life and secure an inheritance in glory. God says you can take the materialities of life and use them in a way to be rich toward God. Isn’t that a funny thing, that a man can take filthy lucre, and that a man can take dirt of the soil of his farm, and a man can take all of the materialities of this life, and make them to glorify God? Isn’t that an amazing thing? But that’s the way God has arranged it. He has placed these things in our hands, and He watches us to see what we do with them. And when we allow them to bring to us ruin, God says we are stupid and dull and dumb and unwise. But when we take the materialities, the oikonomia, the possessions, the stewardship of this life and use it for God, use it wisely, God says, you are smart. You are laying up treasure in heaven [Matthew 6:20, 19:21]. You are being rich toward God [Luke 12:21].
Do you see this fellow here? What he had was a stewardship. That is what you have. You are not going to keep it. You use it just for a while, then it is gone. He had a stewardship. There was a day of reckoning. There was for him; there will be for you. Some people live as though they are going to take it with them; you are not going to take anything with you. You are going to leave it right down here in this earth. You may be rich as Croesus; you are going to leave every dime of it here in this world.
There is a day of reckoning. He had a day of reckoning, and Jesus commended him because when he saw the day of reckoning, he used what he had to secure himself for the future. God said he was smart; God says you are smart when you take the oikonomia of your life and use it to the glory of God. You are just being wise.
Now, of course, that is just an angle. That is just a facet. He is just emphasizing an aspect of the great truth. I want to emphasize the other aspect, the other side, and then I am through. [I] have to quit.
Ah, this thing of Christian giving. This thing of the use of our oikonomia, our stewardship, what God has given us, the body, whatever of the materialities of life. There are a lot of reasons why people respond to a worthy use of what they have. Sometimes they do it under coercion, I have got to, I just do not have any choice. Necessity is forced upon me, I have got to do it, so we do it grudgingly. Would like to do something else, but got to do this.
Sometimes they do it altruistically; we are contributing to a good cause, so here it is, preacher. Sometimes we do it with enlightened self-interest; the life you save may be your own. Or, I am going to give this seed corn to my neighbor over there because the pollen from his sorry corn corrupts my own fine corn, so he gives him seed corn, enlightened self-interest. Sometimes we give for respectability; every once in a while you will see a pledge card of a church that reads, In consideration of the gift of others, I will do so-and-so. To be respectable, you know. The psychiatrist sometimes says that we give because we have a feeling of shortcoming and guilt, and we haven’t done good in our lives, so we give to kind of equal it out. Every one of those is irrelevant, absolutely irrelevant, beside the point the Christian giving.
Here is the Christian way of life and Christian response: and they sang unto the Lamb this word:
Unto Him that loved us, and loosed us from our sins in His own blood,
And hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father…
to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
[Revelation 1:5, 6]
This is the Christian way, “Unto Him that loved us and loosed us from our sins in His own blood.” I was a captive and a prisoner. “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” [Romans 7:24]. I was a captive and a slave. He has freed me. I am now a free man. He has loosed us from our sins in His own blood [Revelation 1:5]. He hath made us kings unto God [Revelation 1:6]. I once was a pauper and a beggar. God hath given me the rich treasures of glory, princely riches and made me a king unto God [Revelation 1:6].
And the Lord hath made us priests, priests. I once thought that to build a world around my petty self was the acme and the zenith and the destiny of all smart-minded men, but now, God has made me a priest before heaven [Revelation 1:6]. That is, my life now is one of consecrated and dedicated service, mediating the truth of God, to men who know Him not, and representing in loving intercession men unto the Lord, a priest unto God, a consecrated service; no longer built around myself, but in the ministry and service of the Lord, and he is not talking about the preacher. There was not any clergy as such in the Bible, but he was talking about us; God’s born-again children. We are priests unto the Lord [Revelation 1:6], and all that we have, all of it, is to be used in consecration unto Him.
Oh, bless His name as we devote to Him our highest best. A talent, God hath given me a talent? Then occupy till He come [Luke 19:13]; use it for God. God hath given you a field, He hath given you a possession; use it for God, occupy till He come [Luke 19:13]. God has given you a life and a destiny, use it for Him, “Occupy till I come.” And being wise in the love of God, take the oikonomia and use it to be rich toward heaven [Luke 12:21], to lay up treasures in glory [Matthew 6:20]. Oh, that God would speed us in the way and see us through!
Now while we sing our song, somebody you, give your heart in faith to Jesus [Romans 10:8-13]. Somebody you, put his life in the fellowship of our beloved church [Hebrews 10:24-25]. Would you this morning? Would you? In the throng in this balcony round, is there somebody you, come down one of these stairways and stand by the pastor? “Pastor, today I give my heart and life to Jesus.” Would you, today? On this lower floor, somebody you, a family, as God shall say the word, shall lead the way, would you come? Would you make it now, while we stand and while we sing?