Every human being is a steward of God. A person s stewardship responsibility does not depend upon the quantity or quality of his or her material possessions. Nor does it make any difference whether one is a Christian, Moslem, Jew, or atheist. God has a prior claim upon every human being simply because He has given man life. Man's stewardship, then, began before the existence of money. Stewardship involves the wise and unselfish use of life managing life according to God's guidelines for living. As such, it involves all that man is and has.
The effectiveness in our individual lives of the plan of salvation rests upon whether or not we recognize our dependence on and responsibility to God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. A personal relationship to the Life-giver ultimately results in eternal life. Therefore, stewardship is of vital importance to each of us.
Along with the other contributions it makes to the life of the church, wholistic stewardship education helps broaden our comprehension of stewardship. It teaches that stewardship involves responsibility to manage, use, and share wisely what God has entrusted to us. And what has God shared with every living being? Life! God calls for faithfulness in our sharing, whether it be sharing our possessions or our knowledge of the grace and "mystery of God."
"Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful" (1 Cor.4:2). Faithful in what? Faithful in sharing time, talents, body temple, treasure, knowledge, influence all that comprises the context and substance of human life. This is wholistic giving. It is a spiritual necessity to give wholistically because Jesus Christ came to restore and save the whole man. He did not come to earth to provide salvation for money.
Because He loves us, God gave a whole and complete gift—Jesus Christ—for our salvation. He seeks a whole and complete gift of ourselves in return, motivated by our love for Him.
Wholistic giving in its truest sense is not an isolated activity. It is a spiritual necessity because it demonstrates the extent and completeness of our gift, helping us pinpoint any areas of life we have reserved for ourselves rather than given to God. As such, it touches upon every aspect of our lives. As we respond to the revelations of our continuing need to surrender we will draw closer to the Lord. Our relationship with God is directly related to our stewardship.
An example of wholistic giving
The early Macedonian Christians responded liberally with their finances. "Their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality" (2 Cor. 8:2). In view of their deep poverty, why were their material gifts so generous? Because they "first gave their own selves to the Lord" (verse 5). This is an excellent example of wholistic giving and illustrates its spiritual necessity.
By their gifts the Macedonians demonstrated they had already given their lives "to the Lord." The gifts simply revealed what had already taken place in their relationships with Jesus Christ.
In 1969 I spent a week sharing stewardship principles with pastors and church administrators in an Asian country. As the days passed we became very good friends. Brotherly love, respect, and appreciation for one another was evident. The standard of living in that country at that time would have been considered very low by any standard in the world. Many of the church members were in real poverty. The pastors found it difficult to provide adequately for their families. In short, they had no money to spare.
I was there, in part, to help them comprehend the spiritual and financial potential of a partnership with God based on the Biblical principles of wholistic stewardship. Their churches must develop financial self-sufficiency. It was a new idea to them. They faced an extreme shortage of money. We dis cussed the problem openly, considering also their members' need to give more of their time and talents to help share the gospel.
As we approached the final days of our seminar I perceived some covert activity among my fellow pastors. I gave little thought to this until the final day, when after a brief break in our seminar program, one of the leaders called me to the podium. He stated that all the pastors had participated in purchasing a gift. He presented it to me as a demonstration of their love and of their appreciation for my ministry to them.
As I unwrapped a beautiful, intricately embroidered, and rather expensive shirt I was surprised and, strange as it may seem, on the verge of annoyance. Numerous thoughts raced through my mind. They are too poor. They need all the money they have. I don't need this shirt. I'm trying to help them become financially self-supporting. They should have used the money to share the gospel. How could I accept such a gift under these circumstances?
The expression of my surprise for their gift and their joyful response provided the moments I needed to put my thoughts back into perspective. This was a gift of love. The visible gift was a shirt. But it was simply a vehicle by which the pastors gave themselves. To reject their gift would be to reject them. I accepted the gift and rejoiced with them in it. And with that shirt I received a fuller comprehension of wholistic giving as a spiritual necessity and a grace of God.
A grace of God
Words cannot adequately describe God's gracious dealings with humans as exemplified in the giving of Jesus Christ. God's Gift was given with no restrictions. It must only be accepted. Those who would accept it would internalize it—that is, the receivers would take on the characteristics of the Giver.
Grace describes both the Gift and the Giver. The Greek word charts occurs about 150 times in the New Testament. It is translated "grace" 130 times. In the other instances it is rendered by such words as "liberality," "benefit," "delight," "thanks," and "joy." These words attempt to describe the wholistic Gift of God, and the spirit in which the Gift of heaven was given. It is, in every aspect, a complete gift.
This understanding of grace adds fuller meaning to the 2 Corinthians 8:1 reference to "the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia." The members of the Macedonian churches gave in such a manner as to reflect the characteristics of God's gift, that is, Jesus. Paul was speaking of this kind of giving when he stated, "Therefore, as ye abound in everything, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also" (verse 7).
Such giving, whether God's or ours, proves the sincerity of love (see verse 8).
Wholistic giving and gospel sharing
The Biblical principle states, "Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord thy God which he hath given thee" (Deut. 16:17). Local church spiritual and financial plans provide opportunities for members to do so.
We can give only as God enables us to give, whether it be of time, talents, money, or knowledge. All that we share we originally received from God. Sharing the gospel is simply sharing "as we are able." When we share the gospel, we are sharing our spiritual experience, our relationship with God. And we use the "gifts" of life in the process of sharing. This, first of all, blesses us and then benefits those with whom we share. In this manner we demonstrate the truth that wholistic giving is a spiritual necessity. Wholistic giving reveals that love and faith are growing in us, that our characters are being reshaped after the character of the great Giver of all.
Propagating the gospel requires money. But financial contributions are a by-product rather than the primary objective of wholistic giving. Individual Christians need to understand the stewardship of the total life. This means not just the stewardship of money, but consecrating all the resources of life, and ultimately life itself, to God.
In essence, the blessings we have received should be shared as a result of a partnership, a living experience with Jesus Christ. Our financial gifts are important. They are urgently needed in the cause of God. However, the living experience and personal relationship are the critical, primary necessities.
Money never has been the basic problem God's cause has faced through the centuries. The problem lies in the defective spiritual experience of the recipients of God's gift of life.
Raising money for sharing the gospel should not be the paramount concern of pastors and other church leaders. Their challenge lies in satisfying the poverty of soul of their members, in leading them into an enriched experience with Jesus Christ, and in seeing that each member develops a living faith experience.
Wholistic stewardship education and wholistic giving should aim not merely to raise money for erecting buildings or for keeping the system operating. Fundraising must be done. But money should flow in rather naturally and easily as a result of the members' consecration. Wholistic stewardship's primary purpose is to help build Christian characters that will operate under all circumstances to the glory of God and that will find their fulfillment in salvation, the gift of eternity. Then we all will have unlimited health, unlimited abilities, unlimited resources—unlimited life.
To help fulfill these spiritual and financial objectives, wholistic steward ship seeks to emphasize individual participation in sharing the gospel through personal effort and financial support. Stewardship education seeks to help members view the spiritual and financial objectives the church adopts as opportunities to help share the gospel, opportunities to draw individuals close to God. Even a building program should be looked upon as an opportunity to share the gospel. Giving, of whatever kind, should grow out of each member's relationship with Jesus Christ as a personal Saviour.
Proper wholistic stewardship education will help organize and simplify church spiritual and financial plans. Then they will not detract from, but will actually enhance, the role of giving in the church's worship.
Those who manage God's goods in this way will understand the joy of Jesus, expressed in Hebrews 12:2: "Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God." Giving becomes a joy as individuals enter into this more complete partnership with Jesus Christ.
Wholistic giving is a spiritual necessity. Individuals who understand this will develop a living faith experience, a relationship of partnership with God that "endures all things" and surpasses understanding. Theirs is eternity!