Our Life with God, Lesson 6: Helping the Poor and Stewardship

We earlier looked at vocation—serving others in our everyday lives.  For this to happen well, it requires managing what we have in a good way.  Thus, a look into stewardship is proper.


The Origins of Stewardship

Genesis 1 tells us of God creating the world and everything in it.  “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1).

  • From the beginning, who “owned” the world and everything in it?


Genesis 1:27-28:

So God created man in his image; he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female.  God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply!  Fill the earth and subdue itRule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.”

  • Because God made Adam and Eve in His image, how was that reality lived out when it came to creation, the things of this world?


  • To us, “subdue” and “rule” can sound harsh. Discuss what such subduing and ruling would look like in a world without sin.


Genesis 2 goes into more depth about how God created man and woman.

Genesis 2:15: The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.

  • “work”: Hebrew, abad, to work but also to serve.  What God gave Adam to do was for the benefit of creation.
  • “watch over”: Hebrew, shamar, to keep, watch, and guard.  It is to keep what one has and let no harm come to it.

Genesis 2:19: God brought [the animals He created] to the man to see what he would name them.  Whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name.

To name something is to have some authority over it, which also implies some type of relationship to it.  Note: Adam names the animals of creation but does not name God; God lets us know His name.  The naming of the species shows that as His last and highest creation, God set us as stewards over creation, which was a reflection of being made “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27).

  • What did our fall into sin (Genesis 3:1-7) do when it came to being stewards, managers, of what God has given to us?


As Christians, we recognize God as the owner of everything.  The question that now confronts is this: “How do I manage what God owns in the best possible way?”


Stewardship within the Church

In the Old Covenant, God mandated a tithe.  “Tithe” means one-tenth.

  • Leviticus 27:30: Every tenth of the land’s produce, whether grain from the land or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy [set apart] to the Lord.

Read Deuteronomy 12:5-7

  • What else was part of the tithe?


Numbers 18:21, 24: I [God] give to the Levites all the tithes [every tenth] in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the Tent of Meeting….  I give to the Levites as their inheritance the tithes that the Israelites present as an offering to the Lord.  That is why I told them: “They will have no inheritance [of land] among the Israelites.”

  • Why did God institute the tithe?


  • Is a tithe still needed in the New Covenant?


A tithe is no longer mandatory, for pastors today are not forbidden from owning property and earning income.  For the Levites, they were allowed no source of income except the tithe.  The principle behind the tithe, however, still applies—if a congregation is to have a full-time pastor so he can focus on Word and Sacrament ministry.

Writing to the congregation at Corinth, Paul was reflecting on whether it was right for him not to receive wages from them.

  • 2 Corinthians 11:7-8: Did I commit a sin when I humbled myself by proclaiming to you the gospel of God free of charge, so that you could be exalted?  I robbed other churches by taking a salary from them in order to serve you!

Giving enough money to make sure a place can exist where the Word is preached and the Sacraments are administered and a pastor to do that is part of stewardship—but not all of it.


Serving Your Neighbor Through Good Stewardship

Last week, we learned about serving our neighbor through our various vocations.  We also serve through good stewardship.  Being a good steward of what we have enables us serve others in their need.

Read Matthew 6:1-4

  • To whom did Jesus speak His words of counsel about giving to the needy? (see Matthew 5:1)


  • What context in Jesus’ day helps us understand His warnings better?


  • Does Jesus command people (Mt 5:1) to give to the needy?


  • When Jesus says, “When you give to the needy…” what does “when” presuppose?


From within a Lutheran context, Martin Chemnitz defined giving to the needy as “a gracious gift, when the wants of the needy are relieved by the means which pertain to the sustenance of this life; and this takes place from the charity [love] of God” (On Almsgiving, Martin Chemnitz, translated by James A. Kellerman, pg. 5).

Martin Chemnitz saw Christians as the face of God’s love when they helped the needy.

One must show that God distributed the ownership of wealth so unequally… because He wished in this way to spread around opportunities for the human race to be united in the common task of sharing wealth and service.  Indeed, He also wants our faith to be seen and charity (love) exercised through that sharing of goods.  [On Almsgiving, pg. 5]


The Graphic from Last’s Week’s Lesson:

5, Vocation--Christ For Us, In Us, and Through Us


The Who and the How of Helping Those in Need

Matthew 25:37-40: [On the Last Day]: Then the righteous will say to him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you…”  The King will reply, “I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine [i.e., Christians], you did for me.”

1 John 3:17: Whoever has earthly possessions and notices a brother [i.e., Christian] in need and withholds his compassion from him, how can the love of God be present in him?

James 2:15-16:

Suppose a brother [i.e., Christian] is without clothes and daily food and one of you tells him, “Go in peace, keep warm and eat well,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself is dead.

  • Do these passages deal with helping Christians or non-Christians?


  • Does this necessarily mean that we should not help non-Christians?


  • How then do we prioritize those whom we help?


2 Corinthians 9:7: [Paul speaking about helping the Christians in Jerusalem]: Each person should give as he has decided in his heart—not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

  • What factors in when choosing to help others, especially Christians?


Tobit 4:8: [Tobit instructing his son, Tobias]: Give in proportion to what you have.  If you have great wealth, give from your abundance; if you have but little, do not be afraid to give according to the little you have.

1 Corinthians 16:2 [Paul speaking about the collection to help the Christians in Jerusalem]: On the first day of the week, each of you should set something aside in proportion to what you have…

  • Besides the need, what principle guides how much you give when you help another?


Helping Others in the Early Church

The Didache is a 1st-century document, which some in the early Church used to catechize adult Gentile converts into an ethnically Jewish Church.  It quotes from St. Matthew’s Gospel but none of the other Gospels, attesting to an early date.

Didache 4:5: Do not be someone who extends his hand to receive but withdraws it when it comes to giving.

This was a quotation from Sirach 4:31: “Let not your hand be extended to receive, but withdrawn when it comes time to repay.”

  • For the first Christians, what were they taught regarding their wealth?


But what the Didache says next may, at first, sound crazy to us.  “But what you have through the work of your hands, give it as a ransom for your sins” (Didache 4:6).

If not understood properly, you could conclude that giving to the needy saves you, because it is a “ransom for your sins.”  Yet, Scripture passages can also teach the same if understood in that way:

  • Luke 11:38, 41: The Pharisee was surprised to see that [Jesus] didn’t first wash before the meal…. [Jesus said to him,] “Give from what is within you to the poor, and then everything will be clean for you.”
  • 1 Peter 4:8: Above all, show fervent love for one another, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
  • Tobit 12:9: Almsgiving delivers from death, and it will purge away every sin.


Justification Being Lived Out in Our Lives6, Meaning of Dikiaoo

The Greek word for justification, dikiaoo, has a range of meanings from “declare righteous,” “make righteous,” “show to be righteous” and “be righteous.”

When God “righteouses” us, what He does bears fruit.  Sometimes Scripture refers to this bearing of fruit in our lives as “sanctification” (being holy, being set apart); other times, even as “justification” (being righteous).  This is part of the ambiguity of language.

James 2:24 tells us: “A man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”  In this passage, justify means “show to be righteous” or “be righteous”: “a man is being righteous by works and not by faith alone.”

Often, we see our Christian lives as one or the other: justification or sanctification.  If so, we don’t know what to do with bible passages that say:

  • We are justified by works (James 2:24),
  • Our love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8),
  • Everything will be clean when we give to the poor (Luke 11:41), and
  • Almsgiving delivers from death, and it will purge away every sin (Tobit 12:9).

“Justification” is God having His way with us from being “declared righteous” to being “righteous.”  It is as Jesus says in John 15:5: “I am the vine; you are the branches.  The one who lives in me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without me.”

Giving what you have as a “ransom for your sins” (Didache 4:6) is living the divine life of Christ within you toward your neighbor.  Jesus is our Ransom.  His ransoming of us even turns what we do into a ransom for our sins, for it is simply the ongoing work of Christ for us through us.  “I am the vine; you are the branches.”  Although we participate in helping our neighbor (Jesus through us), this participation does not cause us to be “declared righteous” but is, instead, the “being righteous” aspect of justification.

Through the Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament, Jesus brings to us His righteousness (Christ for us).  That righteousness now lives within us, for Christ’s righteousness for us is real—making us righteous (Christ in us).  That righteousness is lived out toward others (Christ through us).  Yet, these outward actions of righteousness (also called “sanctification”) do not bring about Jesus declaring and making us righteous, for these outward righteous acts are a result of Christ for us and Christ in us.


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