Deuteronomy 14:1-2, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Preaching Date: July 7, 2019
Key Sentence: Stewardship begins when you recognize whose you are.
I. You are God’s treasured possession
II. You were bought with a price
Welcome to the historic month of July, 2019. Why is it historic? The reason most people would cite is that this month marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, July 20th. But it’s also historic for Trinity because this month and next are the first time that we’ve ever had a sermon series on stewardship. Now some of you might be thinking “that’s not very notable.” But it is, because the subject of stewardship is both very practical and potentially very transforming. I’m excited about exploring it in various texts this summer.
I’m also excited about the lunar anniversary. I’m old enough to remember Apollo first-hand, though I was too young to be involved as anything other than a spectator. But living in Clear Lake and Friendswood all these years, being a fan of all things space, I appreciate what July 20th means. So for the first half of this series, I’m going to illustrate from the Apollo program, and compare and contrast it with the Biblical concept of stewardship, not just to remember Apollo but to expand our all too often limited idea of stewardship.
In the late fifties the United States and Russia were both working to launch a satellite into earth orbit. The Soviet Union got there first, in October 1957, launching Sputnik, a 184 pound satellite that circled the globe, beeping. This shocking challenge to U.S. technical and political superiority brought renewed efforts to launch American satellites, which finally succeeded on January 31, 1958. NASA was chartered later that year and a quiet race for the first manned flight was underway. The Soviet Union won again, as Yuri Gagarin orbited the earth in April, 1961. The U.S. Mercury program came in second.
President Eisenhower was not particularly interested in funding a space race, but presidential candidate John F. Kennedy made it an issue, and vice president Lyndon Johnson was a strong advocate. After Gagarin’s flight and the U.S. response Kennedy asked Johnson what space achievement we could hope to get to first. Johnson’s advisors said “a manned landing on the moon.” So, in June 1961 Kennedy said, to Congress, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” The following year at Rice University he repeated the pledge and said “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and to do the other things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Thus he launched one of the great missions in human history, eventually employing over 400,000 people in 20,000 companies, all with one goal of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely.
That’s where I want to make the first connection with stewardship, the actions of one who is a steward or manager of what belongs to someone else. In the Bible a steward managed not just finances, but all kinds of household activities, including the raising and education of children. Our working definition will be that a steward is one who manages or cares for something on behalf of another. As believers we are to live not as owners or independent operators, but as stewards of God, who has given us all things and given us responsibility to care for all things on his behalf. Like the 400,000 people who made Apollo possible, some of whom are in this room, we are on a mission, called to a task larger than ourselves, our own little part in the work of God’s great kingdom. And so all summer we will study how to be stewards, not because it’s easy but because it’s hard. We are stewards not for our own sake, but on behalf of God and for the sake of the kingdom, the coming climax of God’s big story.
We begin then, with a fundamental truth behind stewardship: we are not our own, but God’s. We don’t own ourselves, we belong to God. Once we embrace that, living as his stewards makes more sense than living for ourselves. That we belong to God is clear from the beginning when God made all things and made man in his image. If you paint a painting, write a book, invent a device or grow a watermelon, it’s yours. The watermelon doesn’t own you, you own it. Psalm 24:1-2 “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, 2for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.” We are God’s because he made everything and it’s his. Psalm 100:3 “It is he who made us, and we are his. We are his people.”
Now we rebelled against that in our first parents, Adam and Eve. We declared independence and we’ve acted independently ever since. But declaring it and acting on it doesn’t make it so. We’ve operated under a false understanding of the world ever since it became broken in that tragic event. The formal name for this is “expressive individualism.” It’s a disease, a disease nearly everyone has in contemporary Western culture, and we don’t even know we have it because it’s the water we swim in, and a fish isn’t aware of the water.
What is expressive individualism? Trevin Wax points to slogans we’ve all heard and perhaps affirm: “You be you. Be yourself. Be true to yourself. Follow your heart. Find yourself.” He quotes Yuval Levin, expressive individualism is “not only a desire to pursue one’s own path but also a yearning for fulfillment through the definition and articulation of one’s own identity.” Charles Taylor says it is the understanding “that each one of us has his/her own way of realizing our humanity, and that it is important to find and live out one’s own, as against conformity with a model imposed on us from outside, by society, or the previous generation, or religious or political authority.”
Wax points out that “many a Disney movie has followed a plot line of someone finding and forging one’s self-identity in opposition to the naysayers.” “What’s wrong with that?” we may be asking. We’re fish, we swim in this water. Trevin Wax explains this well “Expressive individualism would have us look deep into our hearts to discover our inner essence and express that to the world. But the gospel shows how the depths of our hearts are steeped in sin; it claims that what we need most is not expression, but redemption. The world says we should look inward. Tthe gospel says to look upward. In an expressive individualist society, that message is countercultural. . . looking up implies that something or Someone stands outside us and above us. Something that stands above us may exert some sort of authority or claim upon our lives. And like most good Westerners, we chafe against claims of moral authority.”
“The rationale for this form of rebellion against God is that conforming to nature or to an outside standard, seen in Christianity as obedience to God, stifles ‘the real me.’ To follow the ancient instructions of Scripture, to conform to a moral standard that comes from outside, feels like a betrayal of my identity. Submitting myself to Truth that comes from outside myself feels like I am abandoning the call to “live my truth.” And so, the primary message of the gospel, that confronts the “Me” with the claims of God, feels wrong.”
Do you see that? We need to spend the summer thinking about stewardship because the water we swim in has poisoned us against grasping the basic shape of the world, that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.” We need to start with “you are not your own,” because this basic truth of the Gospel feels wrong to us. And so I want to spend the rest of this message reinforcing not just the truth that you are not your own, but the beauty of it. When we escape the poison of “you be you,” we are freed to be many other beautiful things that make life worth living.
Let’s start with Deuteronomy 14:1-2 You are the sons of the Lord your God. You shall not cut yourselves or make any baldness on your foreheads for the dead. 2 For you are a people holy to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. You are not your own. However great a loss that may feel, consider what he offers in it’s place. First, “you are the sons of he Lord your God.” There is a family relationship here, which Deuteronomy makes clear is the adoption of a people by God, and the establishment of a set of values that set God’s family apart from the world. “You are a people holy the Lord your God,” that is, set apart for him. Third, you are chosen by him. “The Lord has chosen you to be his people.” Out of all the peoples on the earth God chose Israel, and out of all the people on earth God has chosen you and me.
And fourth, you are his treasured possession. I love that phrase. It’s like a counter-slogan to “You be you.” No, I’m not my own. I am his. But I am his treasured possession. God owns me, yes, but it is an owning that loves and treasures me. Just as we can treasure a gorgeous mineral or gemstone for its beauty, so God treasures us, not really for our beauty, but for the beauty uniquely formed in us through Christ. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says of this Hebrew word, “The basic meaning of this noun is ‘personal property.’” Do you love that or what? God says “you are my personal property.” It goes on to say “while the word occurs only eight times, it is filled with theological and spiritual truths.” Malachi says that those who fear the Lord become his treasured possessions, whom he will never forget, even in that time of great judgment. Psalm 135 affirms that Israel was God's personal possession. God uses the phrase three times in the writings of Moses, twice in Deuteronomy and once in Exodus. It is associated not only with being his people but keeping his commands, managing life the way he intends, not at our own whim. These passages are alluded to twice in the New Testament, Titus 2:14 and 1 Peter 2:9, where the ESV uses the phrase “a people for his own possession.”
My love for this word comes partially through its impact on my wife’s journey. “Years ago, God spoke to my heart as I studied His Word, saying, “Gail, YOU are my Treasured Possession.” In that moment, my understanding of God’s love went from academic to deep and personal. Knowing that I was God’s “treasured possession” lifted me above the lies I battled almost daily, “you are worthless”, “you are a failure.” It helped me trust Him in new ways, knowing that even in hard times He cared for me as His treasure. And it changed the way I looked at others, enabling me to see the people in my world both as God’s treasures and mine.”
His possession, yes, but treasured, always treasured. When our kids were small we tried to get them attached to a stuffed animal or doll, knowing that this could provide them with comfort in the dark or in new situations like the church nursery. Our daughter Hannah got very attached to a little pink bear in an skirt, whom she named “Pink Boo.” Pink Boo was her treasured possession, went everywhere with her, to the point where the whole family almost missed an airplane because we had to go back to a friend’s house to get Pink Boo.
The Deuteronomy 14 passage, as we saw, also talks about being God’s possession in three other key ways. We are sons of god, we are his people, and we are called to be holy. All of these are related to what I call “God’s Big Idea,” found throughout the Old Testament and expressed clearly in Leviticus 26:11-12 I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. 12And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.
We are his people, he is our God and he chooses to dwell with us. The first part of that, “we are his people,” implies that we are not our own. You can’t be his and be yours at the same time. You either identify with him or with yourself. You’re either a steward or an independent operator.
This big idea is God’s answer to the destructive separation of the fall. We live in a broken and fragmented world where everyone belongs to himself or herself and there is little or no community. People are separated not only from God, but from each other, isolated and in many cases painfully lonely. So God set as his goal for the restoration of humanity that we would be his people, no longer separated from him. He would be our God. We would no longer set ourselves up as god, nor pursue false gods. And he would dwell with us, Emmanuel, living in and among us. Notice that this is all plural. God’s big idea is not just for you as an individual, but for community. From Genesis to Revelation this is God’s goal, and in the end it will be perfectly realized. Revelation 21 “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
This big idea implies and requires a new mindset of separation to God, of a mission larger than ourselves, and of stewardship. When the apostle Paul seeks to encourage the people of Corinth to right living, he summarizes exactly this thread of Old Testament teaching. 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, 18and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”
So God’s big idea is that you are not your own. You are his people, sons and daughters of the living God, his treasured possession. This is the foundation of all stewardship, a radical change of mindset that embraces the idea that I am not mine, I am not in charge. I am not living for self-actualization but to become what he wants me to be, for his sake, for the sake of his people, and in order to do that I must use the resources of time, energy, talent and treasure that he gives me, whether great or small, in his service and in the pursuit of his big idea. This is the vision to which he has called us.
But God’s big idea always leads us to God’s big story, the drama of our rescue and the hero who redeems us, the big story of the whole Bible that culminates at the cross. Our rescue in Jesus affirms and reinforces the truth that we are not our own. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
The context in 1st Corinthians is Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians that they flee all forms of sexual immorality. In verse 9 he gives a list of ways they used to live before Christ. Then he says “but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” He tells them their very bodies are not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, that they themselves are body parts of the Lord Jesus Christ, joined to the Lord, one spirit with him. “Therefore,” he says, “flee sexual immorality,” because sexual immorality is a sin you commit in your own body. But your body, he says in verse 18 is a temple or dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.” “You are not your own,” the basic premise of today’s study.
But why are you not your own? Not just because of creation but because of redemption. “For you were bought at a price.” Man, there’s a world in that phrase. The price with which you were bought was the redeeming blood, the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus Christ. When you were trapped in sin, Paul implies, you were your own. You were living the dream of expressive individualism. You were being you, seeking your own fulfillment.
But that’s a false path. You will never be enough to satisfy yourself. There is no life in it. As Paul says in Ephesians “You were dead in your trespasses and sins2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience, 3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” You were dead. This is the offer expressive individualism makes, this is its true outcome, it’s endpoint
But God’s big story is of a hero who rescues us. The verses we alluded to in Titus a few minutes ago say that “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession, zealous for good works.”
We are his personal property, his treasured possession because he gave himself, he redeemed us, bought us back at the price of his life, and purified us for himself. Therefore, Paul says, we are zealous for good works. In other word we are stewards, no longer living for ourselves but part of his great mission, his great story to rescue the world and establish the kingdom. Our little acts of stewardship, our good works are all and each the result of his redeeming love.
Therefore with Paul we say, Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I have been crucified with Christ. In other words my old nature, the natural me that was espressively individual, that sinned and deserved death, was in fact put to death on that cross, and I am given a new life that is lived in right submission to God. As Paul says in Colossians “for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” 2nd Corinthians, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
I have been crucified with Christ. When you are alive you might own something. If you’ve been crucified with Christ, you no longer own anything, even yourself. Instead Christ lives in you through the Holy Spirit, and now you live not as your own independent operator conforming to the cultural value of expressive individualism, seeking your own fulfillment, but you live by faith, by trusting the one who loved you and gave himself for you. This is where God’s big story and God’s big idea intersect. His big story is that we are rescued by the incarnation of God the Son, his sinless life, his sacrificial death, paying the price not of his own sin but of ours, his victorious resurrection, defeating sin, death and Satan, and his glorious ascension to the right hand of the Father.
Because of this big story, God’s big idea is at work in our lives now. By faith we become his people and he is restored to his rightful place as our God. We are renewed, cleansed of our sin and shame and given a new heart as new creations. Ephesians tells us that we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. And he dwells with us, God the Holy Spirit living in us, never to leave us or forsake us. In the end Jesus will return to rule and reign, to create new heavens and a new earth, the home of righteousness where we will dwell with him forever. This is the big idea outcome of the big story.
But implied in all this is stewardship. Implied in all this is dying to self and living for him who died for us and rose again. The foundational principle of stewardship is that we are not our own. We are his by virtue of creation and we are his by virtue of redemption.
So we strive to no longer serve ourselves, but to serve him, to no longer live for our own benefit, but for his purposes and on his mission. Go, he says, and make disciples of all nations. Love one another, he says, for by this all men will know that you are my disciples. Serve one another in love. Proclaim his glory. 1st Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
So we begin the series with a stark choice. You can worship our culture’s current idol, expressive individualism, being true to yourself no matter what the consequence to others, shaking your fist at the heavens and proclaiming “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” But you will find at the end that it’s all lie, not Invictus but Ozymandias. All the personal fulfillment it promised vanishes like dust in the wind and all the personal accomplishment fades like a withering flower. All the satisfaction it offered fades in the long slow coming of the night. You will rage, shake your fist at God. And die.
Or you can lose yourself and find real life. “Whoever finds his life will lose it,” Jesus says, “but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” The goal is to live for the true master of your fate, and to serve the true captain of your soul. You are not your own, but you have been called into the great story, to serve it and to tell it. We live not for ourselves but as stewards, those doing our own little part in the big story of the kingdom. The Apollo program was just that kind of stewardship, people who were not their own but were doing their part. For example, the Apollo capsule parachutes were made of high-tech fabric, sewn by hand, and there were only three people in the country certified to fold and pack them for the Apollo missions. They had to be relicensed by the FAA every six months to prove they knew what they were doing. And they were considered so valuable to NASA that they were forbidden to ride in the same car at the same time, out of fear they would be in a car accident and NASA would be without people to pack its Apollo parachutes.
John F. Kennedy said “The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time.” But this, this living for another who is greater than we are, this is the greatest adventure of all time, and we each have a role to play. The way we manage lives that are not our own is called stewardship, and each of us can get better at it this summer.