The Lord's Day Morning
November 3, 2007
Stewardship Sunday — 2007
I Chronicles 29:11-12
“Everything Is Yours, Lord”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. Please be seated. If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to I Chronicles, chapter 29. We’ll be looking at verses 11 and 12, but we’ll also be looking at some of the verses around them. The Deacons have chosen this as the Stewardship theme this year at First Presbyterian Church — “Everything Is Yours, Lord.” And it comes right out of this prayer of David.
I know some of you are nervous because this is the Sunday in which the pastor attempts to get into your wallet or pocketbook! I do not want to set your mind at ease — I said that right: I do not want to set your mind at ease. I'm actually after a lot more than that, and you’ll see why as we look at this passage today.
One of the things that I want to drive home today, in light of the truth of the word of God, is to ask you to look at the matter of stewardship in a way that you have not before. In particular, I want you to appreciate three things. I want you to see that stewardship is much broader than we tend to think about.
We typically think about stewardship in association with the church raising its funds, or at least the pledges for those funds, in connection with the next year's budget…and we need to think of stewardship as a much broader matter than that. Stewardship is not about what you do with ten percent of your money. Stewardship is about what you do with everything that you are, have, and do. Stewardship is about everything. It is a comprehensive category, and there's a reason for that. And the reason for that we will find out in this passage today.
So the first thing that I want you to do is to see that stewardship is broader than we tend to think about. It is about all of life. It is not just about the church budget. It is not just about the ten percent that you give. It is not just about the ninety percent of your budget that you spend on things other than the church and ministry. It is broader than even money and possessions. It's about all of life, and there's a reason for that.
Secondly, I want you to see that stewardship is profoundly a matter of the heart. It's not just about numbers and fund raising, because it's a matter of the heart…because it's a matter about you. Stewardship is about you and how you view who you are, and so it is a heart thing. This is something that our officers have been attempting to drive home to us for a number of years here. They have repeatedly said that if we will understand the larger biblical teaching about stewardship, the support of the church's ministry and benevolence will take care of itself. The other way they put it is if we would understand the heart matter of stewardship, the church's ministry and benevolence budget would take care of itself. Both of those things are true, and it flows out of a truth that we will learn in this passage.
Thirdly, I want you to see that the focus of our whole life as Christians…as followers of Christ, as disciples…is God's glory; but that in the pursuit of God's glory we find the only real joy that there is to experience in this world, or in the world to come.
And so let me just say that that's my agenda. It's much broader than enticing you or manipulating you into supporting the church's ministry budget. It is a profoundly biblical agenda that I have for us to talk about today, and this is in the spirit of what our deacons and elders have wanted us to think about when we think about stewardship. They view stewardship season as an opportunity for us to reorient ourselves to these biblical truths, and to get the big picture. And if we get the big picture of the Bible's teaching about who we are and about what we have, all of the other things with regard to the support of the church's ministry and benevolence will take care of themselves. And so I want us to do that looking at I Chronicles 29.
Now let me invite you to look at this whole chapter. Allow your eyes to scan the chapter, and let me give you just a little context so that you can appreciate just a part of the prayer that we're going to study today. Verses 11 and 12 are just part of a prayer that runs from verse 10 down to verse 25. This is David's final assembly with the people of God. The next thing that David is going to do is die. And he has assembled the people of God to talk to them about their giving to the building of the temple.
This is a dream of his. It has been a dream of his since he was the king, that he would be able to see a temple built to the living God in Jerusalem. You remember, David, way back in
I Samuel 7, had looked out on the tabernacle. From whence had he looked out on the tabernacle? From his palace. He was living in a huge cedar palace, and he looked out and he saw the tabernacle, and he thought, ‘You know, the ark of the covenant of God is housed in that tent over there. And here I am living in a splendorous palace of cedar. Something's not right here. God shouldn't be living in a tent.’ Now of course David knew that God didn't dwell in a tent. He understood that the ark of the covenant was simply a manifestation of the presence of God with His people, but it was very important. It was the central manifestation, the longest manifestation of God's presence with His people that He gave in the Old Testament. And so he sensed an incongruity in the ark of the covenant which symbolized the presence of God with His people being in a tent, while he was in a palace; and at that point, he purposed to build a temple.
But you will remember, through the prophet Nathan the Lord told him, ‘David, no, you will not build the temple.’ Nevertheless, David spent the rest of his life setting aside his material resources to see the temple built, even though he himself would never see it built.
If that is not a picture of what ought to be the spirit of all of our giving, I don't know what is, because ultimately the reason that we give money to ministry in the First Presbyterian Church is we want to see a temple built that we will never see built until we are standing in glory with the angels and the elders and a multitude that no man can number, all naming the name which is above every name: Jesus Christ our Lord. And God the Father says, ‘Behold, the temple that I have been building from the foundation of the world: My people.’ That's why we give to First Presbyterian Church. Because we want to see men and women and boys and girls from every tribe and tongue and people and nation made into the temple of the living God, brought into the family of the living God, made to be brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, made to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. And we will never see that happen in this world. Oh, we’ll see glorious and encouraging little snippets of that, but we will never see that vision realized until in the words of the great hymn by William Walsham How, For All the Saints…until we see “the King of glory passing on His way”…we will not see the reason why we're giving to ministry until that day. David did the same thing.
So here he is. David standing amongst the people of God, encouraging them to be generous. Remember, David is going to give all of the plunder that he has collected from all of his wars that he's fought. He's going to give it to the Lord. And then he's going to give this vast fortune that he has accumulated to the Lord for the building of the temple. And so in I Chronicles 29, he turns to the people of God and he says, ‘Now I want you to give, but I don't want you to give because you feel coerced to give. I only want you to give willingly. So if you don't want to give willingly, please don't give. But it is my desire that you would want to give to the building of the temple.’ That's what's going on in I Chronicles 29.
And then the people give, and they give lavishly. And they are rejoicing in their giving! Look at verse 9. They’re rejoicing in their willing and free giving, and this lavish generosity on the part of the people of God to the building of the temple deeply moves David, and David prays a prayer. And the prayer that David prays has in it in verses 11 and 12 the theme verses from which our stewardship season has been drawn, and it's my privilege to expound those verses to you. But before I do, let me tell you what I'm going to try and show you from this passage. This passage will set before you three life-changing truths. They will be life-changing if you understand them, and if by the Holy Spirit their truths are brought deep into your heart so that your life is transformed by those truths.
First, truth No. 1 is that everything belongs to God. So if I could give you four words to sum up these three points, my first word would be Stewardship. Once you understand the truth “Everything belongs to God,” the theme of stewardship begins to make sense to you. It becomes logical as to why you ought to think of yourself as a steward and of everything in your life as an act of stewardship. Once you understand — what? That everything belongs to God. So let me just tell you ahead of time, that's one thing that I'm going to be pressing home from this passage. The second thing…and we could attach this word to it: Consecration. So the first word, Stewardship; second word, Consecration.
The second truth is this: God wants our willing consecration of ourselves to Him. That's why I said I'm not just after your wallet today. I'm after more than that. I'm after you, because this passage makes it clear that God wants our willing consecration of ourselves to Him–not just our stuff, but of ourselves. And we could attach to that great biblical truth and idea the word Consecration. So, Stewardship and Consecration.
The third idea I've got to give you two words for: Glory and Joy….glory and joy. So, Stewardship (one); Consecration (two); Glory and Joy (three), because the third life-changing truth is this: God's glory and all real joy are inseparably connected. God's glory and all real joy are inseparable connected. The truth is that God wants us to live in the pursuit of His glory, but when we live in the pursuit of His glory, what we find is the experience of true joy; and true joy is only experienced in the pursuit of His glory. So when you give yourself away in pursuit of His glory, what you find is He gives back to you a joy that you could not obtain otherwise, so that the pursuit of God's glory and the experience of real joy are inseparably connected. Those are the three things that I want us to learn today. I'm just giving you a heads-up.
Let's pray before we read God's word.
Heavenly Father, this is Your word. We ask that You would open our eyes to behold wonderful things from it. We especially ask this, O Lord, because we live in a world in which people worship stuff, and people view themselves fundamentally as consumers, and they are tempted to the belief that the greatest purpose of this life is the accumulation of material comforts. Now, Heavenly Father, if we are going to be saved from all of these lies, we need to understand the truth of this passage. So by Your Holy Spirit, open our eyes to our sin, to ourselves; but more importantly, to Your word and to our Savior. For we ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear the word of the living God:
“Yours, O lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and You are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all. In Your hand are power and might, and in Your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
David's heart is filled with rejoicing. We learn that in verse 9. He's blown away with the generosity of the people of God in giving to the temple, and it leads him to a prayer. The prayer is full of thanksgiving, and it's full of praise, and it's full of adoration. And in that prayer and in the very part of that prayer that we have just heard read aloud in our ears — and I trust that we have taken it into our hearts — he asserts the first truth that I want us to consider today, and it is simply this: Everything belongs to God.
I. Everything belongs to God.
Do you realize that David has piled up the accumulation of his wealth and given it to the building of the temple? The plunder that he has gained from all the wars against the enemies of Israel, the personal wealth that he has amassed both from the gifts given to him by the countries around him and by the investment of his own personal fortune–he has given it to the Lord, and yet he acknowledges in this prayer that none of it belongs to him. His victories didn't belong to him, his personal majesty did not belong to him. It all belonged to God. In fact, David sums it up in the way that only a Hebrew can sum it up: “Everything in the heavens and in the earth.” That's a Hebrew way of saying “everything there is.” Everything in the heavens and in the earth belongs to You, Lord. It is Yours. In fact, in this passage David makes it clear that God rules over everything because everything belongs to Him; and everything belongs to Him, Moses tells us in Genesis 1, because God made everything. Because God made everything, He owns everything; because God owns everything, He rules over everything. And so the first principle of Christian stewardship is that everything belongs to God.
You can't give God something that doesn't already belong to Him, and yet here is the glorious point: Our God is so gracious as to give you everything that you have and then say, ‘I will take special joy when you give back to Me that which I have given to you, and which is already mine anyway. I will take delight in it, I will take delight in the heart of your giving; I will give you the privilege of giving to the One who gave you everything. Even though you have nothing to give Me, I will give you the privilege of giving back to Me.’ And David is overwhelmed by this. He knows what a privilege it is to give to the Lord, and so he acknowledges here that everything belongs to God.
Do you realize how life-altering a realization that is? You know I've told you before the story of the man in another state, who was a senior partner in the most prestigious law firm of that state, hearing his minister read the words, “In the beginning, God made the heavens and the earth.” And it dawned on him sitting in the pew for the first time that God made everything, and therefore He owned everything, and therefore He was the ruler over everything. And that man, immediately his heart sank when he heard that word read. It wasn't the sermon, it was just the reading of the Scripture. His heart sank. Why? Because he said, “I'm not living as if that's true. I'm not living like God made everything, owns everything, and is ruling over everything. In fact, I'm living like I own everything that I own.” And it was a life-altering moment for him. God converted him in the hearing of Genesis 1:1, because he suddenly realized he was not living in light of the truth that everything belongs to God. It changed his life to realize that everything belongs to God.
And David is rejoicing and celebrating, and wanting you to rejoice in and celebrate that truth. Do you realize how radical that is, though? It means that all of your possessions — not just a portion, but all of your possessions — belong to God. Your home belongs to God. Your car, or your cars, belong to God. Your clothes belong to God. You pastimes and hobbies and recreations belong to God. All of your other possessions — your money, your influence, your vocation — all of that belongs to God. You have it on loan from Him.
Now, my friends, you understand that that makes the theme of stewardship a rubric or a lens through which we view everything in life. If it all belongs to God…if everything I am and have and do belongs to God, then I have to think of myself as a steward. Because it's not mine. It's somebody else's. It's God's. And I will give an account to Him not just for the ten percent or whatever I give to the church and ministry, but for the way I use everything I have. For everything I have and am and do as a steward, I will give an account. That's why I said before we started this that I wanted you to understand how broad the category of stewardship is. It has to do with all of life, because what we are fundamentally is stewards, and what we do fundamentally is stewardship. The only question is do we do it biblically or not.
Do we do it in a God-centered, God-honoring way, or do we do it in a “me-centered and me-honoring” way? Do we view everything we have and are and do as belonging to God? David did. And he showed it in the priorities that he assigned to the use of his personal resources.
That, by the way, is why stewardship is such an important spiritual issue. What you give to the church is only a part of a much broader picture, but it is a manifestation of whether you understand the bigger picture or not. If you are not generous in your giving to the work of God as a steward, it probably reflects the fact that you don't understand the bigger picture: that you are a steward. That's what you are–all of you, every single one of us! Whether you’re four or ninety-four, whether you’re a wealthy professional or whether you’re a ditch-digger, whether you’re an adult or a child, a man or a woman…no matter what you are in this congregation, no matter what else you are, you are a steward. Everyone is a steward, and your life is either oriented in serving the true God as a steward, or it is oriented towards serving a false god that you have set up in your heart, whatever it is…whoever it is. And David wants us to understand that everything belongs to the Lord…the true God, the one true God. And that changes everything in life. That's the first thing. So there's the word: Stewardship.
II. God wants our willing consecration of ourselves to Him
The second thing is this: Consecration. This is the thing that will blow your mind. If you’ll look at verses 6-8 in this passage, you’ll see the kinds of gifts that were given by the children of Israel for the building of the temple. And they gave lavishly. What's so fascinating is that in verse 5, David doesn't ask them to consecrate their stuff; he asks them to consecrate themselves. Look at the words of verse 5. What does David say? He says,
“Who then is willing to consecrate himself this day to the Lord?”
One commentator puts it this way:
“Here the lack of any distinction between one's self-offering and the offering of material things is very striking. Such sacrificial generosity arose from a whole heart, and because the giving was directed to the Lord and not just to a project. When they saw such a response, the people and king rejoiced together.”
Indeed they did! You see, David is not simply asking the people of God to give stuff, He's asking the people of God to give themselves. What does that sound like? Does it sound like something that Paul said in Romans 12:1, 2? That we are to consecrate ourselves, that we are to give ourselves “as a living sacrifice, which is our acceptable [or reasonable] service of worship.” It's a call for us in all that we are and have and do to give ourselves to the Lord. So stewardship is not just about you giving of your material resources, or your using of your material resources in such a way that will glorify God. It is about giving yourself to the Lord. That's why, if you understand that, the giving of your material resources to the Lord will take care of itself. Because it's a bigger thing. It's about giving yourself.
The Lord has brought into some of your experiences trials. Some of you are enduring pain of various kinds. Some of you have cancer. Some of you have family estrangements. Some of you have had your dearest, deepest hopes and dreams dashed to the ground. And David — and Jesus, we’ll see later — is asking you to view even your conduct in the midst of those trials as a stewardship. Will you give your believing response to God? To your cancer, and to your pain, and to your trials, and to your disappointments, as an act of worship to Him? As your stewardship? “My God, I will trust You, though You slay me.” Because you realize that God is not simply asking you to give stuff to Him. He's asking you to give you to Him, willingly.
That's what David is saying in this prayer. It's what Jesus will say in the prayer that we all prayed together just a few minutes ago in which we acknowledged that we belong to God, and that He's made us, and that we are made to live for His glory, which is forever. So there's the second word: Stewardship; Consecration…a self-consecration, a giving of ourselves and of our resources, and of our abilities to Him as a part of giving ourselves to God.
It's very interesting that in the Old Testament consecration was a ritual that was reserved for the priests. But here David is talking about all of Israel being consecrated to God. And so we in the new covenant, in the fullness of time, can enjoy all manifold blessings of Christ having come into this world, the Spirit's universal reign, have the privilege of consecrating ourselves to God, because we are, as Peter says, “a kingdom of priests, a royal nation, a holy priesthood” to our God.
III. God's glory and all real joy are inseparably connected
Third and last, though, not only Stewardship, not only Consecration, but Glory and Power. Here's how it goes. Stewardship is the pursuit of God's glory, but the only real joy there is is found in that self-denying, self-giving pursuit of God's glory. Stewardship is the pursuit of God's glory. It's deciding that God's glory is more important than me. God's glory is more important than what I own. God's glory is more important than my family. God's glory is more important than my reputation. God's glory is more important than my vocation. God's glory is more important than anything I am or have. And we give ourselves away in the pursuit of God's glory, but the minute we do, you know what we find? We find that the only real joy that there is is found in that self-abandoning, self-denying, self-giving pursuit of God's glory, and it happens in this passage.
Look at verse 9. As the people radically and generously and sacrificially give to the building of the temple, what do they do? They rejoice! And David rejoices in their rejoicing! Isn't it an Old Testament picture of what we've been talking about in Philippians 2, where Paul's ready to stay in this rotten, disappointing, sin-filled, fallen world — why? “For your joy.” And what is it that he wants to get out of it? “Your joy.” And what does he want to rejoice in? “Your joy.”
And here's a picture of David rejoicing in their joy when they — what? When they gave radically and sacrificially and generously to the building of the temple. It gives them joy when they realize, ‘Hey, we just gave, and we kind of liked it! We gave, and we wanted to! We gave, and we gave a lot, but it was wonderful!’ And they start rejoicing, and then David starts rejoicing. And that's a picture of the Christian life: When you really, really care about the kingdom of God, when you really care about the glory of God and the privilege of being able to give yourself (who you are, what you have, and what you do) to it, it always entails the experience of joy. They are inseparably connected. There is no such thing as glorifying God without enjoying Him, and there is no enjoying God without glorifying Him. And when you give yourself away in glorifying God, you enjoy Him.
That's what disciples are, friends. They are people who are locked on to the pursuit of God's glory. That's why they tell people about Jesus Christ, because they want His glory to be spread to the edges of the world. They want people — men and women and boys and girls from every tribe and tongue and people and nation — to name the name which is above very name, to trust in Him for salvation as He is offered in the gospel, to be brought into His everlasting family, and to enjoy His eternal fellowship forever and ever. That's what they want. They think about it all the time. They live in such a way that all they are and have and do is bent to that end.
I had a very, very interesting experience on Friday of this past week. First time it has ever happened to me. A very, very kind man made an appointment with me to witness to me about his god and his religion. He was a very intelligent and kind, but determined, man. He made an appointment. He came into my office. He spent about a half an hour telling me about his religion and about his god, and encouraging me to read about it and to embrace that truth. Now I thought to myself…I had a lot of thoughts running through my mind! One was, “You know, it takes a little chutzpah to come to the pastor of First Presbyterian Church and witness to him for another god!” But then I started thinking, “You know, wonder how many folks at First Presbyterian Church have ever shown up at the door of a non-Christian religious leader in Jackson to tell him or her about Jesus Christ, because we're so desirous of His glory being spread to the ends of the earth?”
You see, that's what disciples do. They want everyone to know the glory of who Jesus is. And this man — he thought his god was glorious, and he wanted to tell me about it. My friends, if you’re a disciple, you’re more concerned about the glory of your gracious and forgiving Savior than you are that anyone else who believes in any god of this world is for the glory of that god which they worship, because you worship the one true and living God who has manifested himself in Jesus Christ. And so you live for His glory as a steward in all that you have and are and do. That's how comprehensive stewardship is.
So what do I want? You. Your heart, your soul, your mind, your strength…for Jesus…for God's glory. Your consecration to His cause, your concern for His glory. That's all I want. Just everything. That's all.
But that's how the gospel is, isn't it? It's the free gift that costs you everything. But even when you give everything, and even if you have to give up everything, you know what the marvel of it is? There's nothing that you can give that's not already His. And when you give to Him what's not yours (and it's already His), He gives you back joy inexpressible, full of glory. Stewardship's not a bad deal!
Our heavenly Father, in a few minutes we're going to sing that we give You only what already belongs to You, and that's true because everything belongs to You. I pray that we do so from hearts that have readied themselves to give all that we are and all that we have — in the midst of all of our trials — and all that we do, to You. If we do that, Lord, You’ll take care of the rest. You’ll take care of Your church, You’ll take care of Your mission, You’ll take care of Your ministry, and You’ll take care of us. Because after all, everything belongs to You. “And He who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him freely give us all things?” These prayers we pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
Would you take your hymnals out and turn to No. 432, and let's sing together We Give Thee But Thine Own.
Please be seated. We now have the opportunity not only to give the Lord His tithe and our offerings, we have the opportunity to pledge to support the ministry and benevolence of this congregation for the year to come. As you do so, may God grant that you would remember that everything belongs to the Lord, including you.
Would you please stand for the benediction. Receive God's blessing.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.