The Generous Life Week 6: Stewardship of Relationships

generouslife Today we wrap up our 6 week series called The Generous Life looking at the issue of stewardship. We started this series right after Easter, and we began to realize, that in a very profound way, that living a Generous Life is what it means to live Resurrection lives in the world.

We talked about stewarding the body that God has given to us. And we realized that if the resurrection was true, than God actually does care about humanity, and for more than just our “souls”. He does care about our bodies and how we use them and how we view them. That we are called to steward them well by exercising, getting enough sleep, etc.. But also he is concerned with how we view our bodies and our own self image.

We talked about God’s care for the environment and how he has called us to steward his good creation. He has called us to have dominion over the earth, and rule it in the exact same way that he has dominion and rules over it, with love and grace.

We spent two weeks talking about money. We talked about the importance of stewarding our financial resources well and also talked about the importance of giving to the local church, to be about the work of the Kingdom of God.

Last week we talked about stewarding of the gifts and talents that he has placed within each one of us. We talked about taking risks and using the gifts for his Kingdom instead of burying them in the ground, and/or using them for our own selfish gains and glory.

Today, we wrap up the series by coming full circle. By putting an exclamation point on our conversation. By coming around to the most important part of what it means to live resurrection lives. And sharing the foundation that we need to have when it comes to being a good steward. Without what we will be talking about today, everything that we have covered in these past 6 weeks, stewarding our bodies, the environment, our finances, and our gifts, would be done out of wrong motives. When it all comes down to it, stewardship, and living the Generous Life and living the resurrectional life, is all about love. Love of God and love of others.

Jesus said the same thing when it came to what the most important of the OT law was. In Matthew 22:34-40 we read these words, “Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.  One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:  “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

So let’s look at this text and see what it might have for us in relation to our topic today of stewardship of relationships.

The first thing we see is the Pharisee’s getting together for the expressed purpose of trapping Jesus with his words. The Pharisee’s had just seen the Sadducees asking a question of Jesus in relation to resurrection, even though they didn’t believe in it. So the Sadducees according to Matthew were silenced, so the Pharisees thought that they could get together, and come up with a better plan to get Jesus in trouble with the Religious leaders and possibly even the Roman empire itself. After getting together they ask Jesus a question that had been a question of the Jewish religious leaders from the time of the founding of the law of Moses. That question was “What is the most important commandment?” You see that was a raging debate in Jewish circles. There were a total of 613 laws that people sought to follow. These laws were divided into greater and smaller laws. So they wrestled with questions about the laws, which were more important than others, and what if two of the laws were somehow in tension which one would you follow.

So the Pharisees come to Jesus to get him to weigh in on this centuries old debate on which law is the most important. They ask him point blank, “What is the greatest commandment in the law?” His response is to pull together 2 commandments directly from the Old Testament.

The first and greatest commandment Jesus says is to love God with all your heart, soul and mind. His answer is pulled right from Deuteronomy 6:5 which every observant Jewish person would know by heart because Deuteronomy 6:5 is also part of the Shema, which is a Jewish prayer that they would pray daily. I believe Jesus starts with love of God as the greatest commandment, because I believe then everything flows out from there. If we love God with all of our hearts, soul and mind, then we will naturally seek to live out the Kingdom which includes loving our neighbors as ourselves.

So what does it mean to love God with all your heart, should and mind and what does that have to do with stewarding relationships? I believe in this text there are three relationships that are mentioned that we are called to steward, and the first one being our relationship with God. Jesus calls us to steward our relationship with him with our hearts, or with our emotions, and with our will. He calls us to love him with our soul, or with our lives and living solely for him. And he calls us to love him with our minds. Following Jesus, unlikely how it is so often portrayed in popular culture, is not about turning off our minds and becoming sheep who blindly follow. There is a book that I have and it unfortunately points to a scandal within contemporary evangelicalism. The book is called Scandal of the Evangelical Mind and the authors premise for writing the book is that the scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is no evangelical mind. But God calls us to use our minds in loving Him. We should not be afraid to read, study, interact and engage in critical thinking, not only about other world views and beliefs but our own as well.

To steward our relationship with God means that all of our facilities are used to grow in closer relationship with him. It means we spend time in the classic spiritual disciplines of Scripture reading and mediation, prayer, sabbath, silence, and even fasting. It means that we spend time reading, growing, asking questions, and exploring the Christian faith. It means that all of our selves, everything that makes us human, our intellect, our will, our desires, our feelings, our emotions, etc… need to be brought into play in stewarding our relationship with Him.

Now when we steward our relationship with God well, there will be a natural byproduct of our engaging with God, that being love of others. Jesus said it like this, “And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  Here Jesus is quoting from Leviticus 19:18. If the life of God is real in our life it will show by the presence of our love, first for God and for others. The more we steward our relationship with God, the more we will begin to love everyone we meet and come in contact with. If we are stewarding our relationship with God, and we don’t love our neighbors, than 1 John puts it this way, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”

So the second relationship that God calls us to steward is that of others or as Jesus puts it, neighbors. That includes those who would call themselves followers of Jesus and those who are not. How do we steward relationships with others? I think that is where crossover happens in how we look at our walk with God and our relationship with others. I would say one of the best ways to steward your relationships, with God and with others, is in relation to time. If you want to love God more. If you want to love him with all your heart, soul and mind, it means spending the time in relationship with Him. If you want to love your neighbor as you love yourself, that also requires time. Time spent with people. Without time there really is no relationship. And without time there really is no love. If you aren’t willing to invest time, whether in your relationship with God or in your relationship with others, I would challenge you to take a serious look at your life and see whether or not you actually love God and people.

The last relationship which I believe God wants us to steward as well is in our relationship to ourselves. He says we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. But I know many people who feel that they do a better job of loving others than loving themselves. Obviously Jesus isn’t saying that if you don’t love yourself then you are off the hook with loving others. I believe that one of the biggest things that I need to work on in my life has to do with loving myself and that is really rooted in my relationship with God. If I am stewarding my relationship with Him, and truly understanding what it means that I am made in the image of God. If I am spending time listening to the truth of His Word and how it calls me a son of the King of the world, instead of listening to the lies from the evil one calling me useless, evil, sinner with no hope of redemption, and a failure, this will help me to begin the journey of loving myself.

What does it mean to love yourself, not in a narcissistic way, but in a God honoring way? It means what we talked about the first week of this series. It means the external things like eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep, and probably one of the hardest in our culture of perpetual busyness, is taking a needed sabbath rest. But it goes beyond external things to deeper more substantial inner issues such as self-image, and where we derive our sense of self and self worth from. To love ourself means we begin to see ourselves through the eyes of Him. We begin to see ourselves as sons and daughter’s of the King. As someone who has intrinsic worth not because of anything we do, but because of whose we are and that we are created in the image and likeness of God.

So when you boil it all down. When you take the entirety of the Old and New Testament. Jesus and his life, death, and resurrection. The entirely to Christian and Church history. You come down to only one word. One word that sums up everything that God is calling his people to do and to be. That word is love. Love of God and Love of others.

If we got through this entire 6 week series and never got to this point, it would, in my opinion, be a waste. If we became a better stewards of our bodies, but didn’t love God, others, and ourselves more. If we became better stewards of the environment, but didn’t love God and the world around us and those who will be inheriting the planet from us. If we became better stewards of our financial resource and gave more to the local church, but didn’t love God, people and ourselves more. If we became better stewards of our talents and the gifts that God has given to each of us, but we weren’t using those gifts out of love for God, for others, and ourselves. Then we have just created another list of rules and laws to live by. This “Great Commandment” begins to come into their own when they are seen not as orders to be obeyed in our own strength but as invitations and promises to a new way of life. A Generous Life where we are stewards of our bodies, the environment, our money, our talents, and our relationships because we love God with all of our hearts, soul, and mind and we love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

So let’s unpack a little more about stewarding our relationships with God, others and ourselves. Let’s talk about how we can better steward those relationships. Let’s talk about concrete steps that we can take in order to be better stewards. And let’s see what God might be saying to each one of us and our community and what he wants us to take away from our conversation today and our series as a whole.

1. What thoughts, insights, questions, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?

2. How are you doing in stewarding your relationship with God? What is one thing that you might do to grow in stewarding your relationship with God?

3. How are you doing in stewarding your relationship with others and/or yourself? What is one thing that you might do to grow in stewarding your relationship with others and/or self?

4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?