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First Quarter 2018 December 30–March 30)
COMMENTARY—STEWARDSHIP: MOTIVES OF THE HEART
Week 2: January 6–12
COMMENTARY ON "I SEE, I WANT, I TAKE"
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
This quarter’s lessons on stewardship are being taught to Adventists around the world to stimulate guilt and conviction that they need to use their money and resources to support their religion. While the lessons address materialism, greed, the prosperity gospel, and all manner of selfish substitutes for biblical giving, the underlying purpose remains: Adventists are being reminded to use their money for their church.
These lessons, however, are ultimately frustrating rather than helpful, because they look at the question of stewardship from an intellectual, guilt-driven perspective instead of from a biblical perspective. It is impossible to address one’s innate self-centeredness and greed without being born again.
Oh, yes—people who are not born-again can cultivate an ascetic lifestyle and can use self-control to deny themselves the indulgences they might secretly crave. Mystics have given up comforts and even necessities for millennia in the pursuit of heightened spirituality. Such self-denial, however, is not true worship, nor does it yield closeness to God. It only means the individual has denied himself.
Truly overcoming one’s self-destructive lusts, however, cannot happen unless one trusts God and accepts the forgiveness that comes from realizing Jesus’ blood of the covenant was shed for one’s sin. A person cannot stop worrying about having enough food, clothes, and money for supplies unless one believes that God’s promises cannot fail.
True stewardship is not possible apart from trusting God and knowing Jesus. These absolute facts are missing from the Sabbath School lessons.
The Teachers’ Edition of the Sabbath School quarterly asks three “Thought/Application Questions” on page 30. These questions are suggested so the Sabbath School teacher can lead the class in discussion that might help the members to overcome their natural desire for self-indulgence.
These questions, however, reveal the utter lack of understanding of the gospel of the Lord Jesus. Here they are:
1. Because self-control is essentially the surrender to divine control, what practical things might be done to clear away obstacles to the Holy Spirit?
2. How might the cultivation of other spiritual gifts contribute to the development of the self-control that is needed to overcome covetousness?
3. What are some useful approaches for apply self-control to each of the three steps [I see, I want, I take] that lead to covetousness?
First, self-control is NOT “surrender to divine control”. Quite the opposite. Self-control, apart from a life that is born again by the power of the Holy Spirit through belief in the Lord Jesus, is simply ascetic self-denial. The self-control that is listed in Galatians 5:22-23 as a part of the fruit of the Spirit is clearly NOT internal management of one’s own impulses. It is, rather, something that flows from the Holy Spirit.
As long as one equates internal strong will that refuses to indulge in one’s desires with biblical “self-control”, one will totally miss the point. He will have NO success. Therefore, the first thought question reveals the author’s (and Adventism’s) lack of understanding of the new birth by asking what practical things can be done to clear away obstacles to the Holy Spirit.
We are not in control of the Holy Spirit. We can refuse to obey Him, but we cannot stop Him from convicting us of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment (Jn. 16:8–11). The Holy Spirit’s conviction leads us to repentance and to trust in the sufficiency of the Lord Jesus’ shed blood for our spiritually dead condition.
We are born condemned (Jn. 3:18). We have no hope of exercising self-control or stewardship unless we believe in the Lord Jesus and are brought to life by His Spirit. We don’t manage circumstances to give the Holy Spirit opportunities. Rather, we submit to Him and admit our sin and our helpless need. Only then can we lose our attachment to worrying and hoarding material goods.
Second, we do not develop other spiritual gifts in order to develop the self control we need. This idea still reveals that Adventism lacks understanding of the change of heart and the presence of the Holy Spirit that are the fruit of trusting Jesus alone. Self-control is not a talent that we develop; it is not something we can trick ourselves into developing by focussing on other good deeds. In fact, the lesson betrays this idea in the final “Activities” it suggests that the teachers give their classes: preparing and serving food at a homeless shelter; organizing fund-raising activities for a local non-profit; visiting and encouraging the incarcerated at a local prison.
These activities will not develop self-control. They may develop an anxious pursuit of “selflessness” in an attempt to stop spending time on self-indulgence, but even these activities become the fulfillment of a sinful heart’s need to be filled with SOMETHING. True self-control cannot be achieved by diverting one’s attention toward urgent do-good-ism.
Finally, we can’t overcome the lesson’s “three steps that lead to covetousness” by trying to apply “self-control” to them. In first place, it is trivializing and misses the point to describe covetousness with three defined steps: seeing, wanting, taking. In fact, much of our human greed and covetousness is far more subtle. It is usually driven by deep emptiness and brokenness that cannot be easily defined. Moreover, covetousness is often unrecognized in the human heart. It masquerades as unfulfilled need, as something that is our normal right as humans. It’s not possible to address our desires for self-gratification by identifying three “steps”.
Good deeds cannot resolve our drive to self-indulgence, either. In fact, good deeds can become a substitute for the indulgence we feel we crave. We get our deep “hunger” fed by deflecting it and meeting others’ needs. Yet this deflection never addresses the real issue: we are sinners who need a Savior.
Trusting God’s Promises
When we finally realize that we cannot resolve our desire for self-gratification, our worry about having enough, and our need to have money and possessions enough to feel secure by practicing self-control, we come face-to-face with our sin.
Only the Lord Jesus can fill our need and cause us to stop serving ourselves.
Importantly, Matthew 6:25-34 and Luke 12:13-34 are not passages designed to reprimand us into “thinking differently”, guiltily repressing our worries because God takes care of the lilies and the birds. Rather, these passages are there to tell us a foundation truth: God asks us not to worry because His promises cannot fail!
If God promises to give His people what they need to live, to provide them with food, drink, clothing, and shelter, then our “job” is not to fight with worry but to trust His word. Trusting God’s word does not mean we understand and embrace the ways God keeps his promises. It means, rather, that we choose to believe Him and to act on His word with confidence, knowing that if He is caring for us and doing what He said we would do, then we do not have to worry about it. We can do the “next right thing” and behave responsibly, but we do not have to ensure that our futures are secure.
Only God can do that.
Unless one trusts Christ and receives the forgiveness that is ours when we believe that His blood has paid the price for our sin, we will not be able to rest in His finished work which includes His ongoing care of and provision for us.
In short, it is not possible to overcome covetousness and self-indulgence unless we trust the Lord Jesus for our eternal security and are born again and indwelled by His Spirit.
Adventism needs its members to feel compelled to give financially to support the growing organization that is losing membership from the financially secure developed countries while increasing in the developing countries where money is scarcer.
God’s people, however—those who truly trust Him and receive eternal life from Him on the basis of His once-for-all sacrifice for sin—will be able to let go of their grip on their money and possessions because they trust their God who saves and provides. He will care for them, and He will convict by His Spirit the ways they give and serve their fellow men and support the Lord’s work.
Stewardship is not about self-control so one can support Adventism. Stewardship is actually trusting God and holding loosely the gifts He has given for His glory. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. He Himself is our very great reward.