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First Quarter 2018 December 30–March 30)
COMMENTARY—STEWARDSHIP: MOTIVES OF THE HEART
Week 6: February 3–9
COMMENTARY ON "THE MARKS OF A STEWARD"
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 week’s lesson establishes the characteristics of the author’s understanding of being a faithful steward: faithfulness, loyalty, a clear conscience, obedience, and trustworthiness. It also mentions accountability.
The Teachers Comments say, on page 80, “Just as a target provides goals for the archer, so our lesson provides goals for all those who would seek the path of committed stewardship. These marks of real stewardship, when integrated into the life, form the basis for purpose, success, meaning, and a sense of belonging.”
The lesson attempts to explain these qualities and how to develop them.
The lesson admonishes the reader to “remain faithful to God” in the face of temptations. The Bible, on the other hand, puts faithfulness into the hands of god. He is the One who keeps us faithful when we are his. To be sure, The Bible does speak of people being faithful, but that faithfulness is not self-generated nor the result of will power. It is the consequence of trusting God and of being submitted to Him, of being held by Him.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Corinthians 1:4–9).
Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. (2 Thessalonians 3:1–5)
The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself. (2 Tim. 2:11–13).
The Bible says little about “loyalty”. In fact, loyalty to God is similar, from a biblical standpoint, to faithfulness. Adventism teaches that we have to be “loyal” to God. As the lesson states on page 74, “It is not a contract that tries to foresee every contingency; nor is it just a list of rules. It is, rather, the visible expression of our personal beliefs, faith, and commitment.”
If that sentence is translated, it is admonishing the reader to stay “loyal” to Adventism in the face of public pressures and misunderstandings. Adventism knows it is different from other religions, including Christianity. Behind the scenes, Adventists emphasize from the cradle onward that members will have to be loyal to the Sabbath under pressure. Giving up the Sabbath would mean rejecting God, and Adventists know they must stay loyal to their beliefs.
Biblically, however, loyalty is not the word that describes the believer. It does, however, describe God and His loyal love and faithfulness to His own. Believers will be loyal because the triune God gives His Spirit to believers who have a new heart and a new spirit, and they know and love Him. They are “loyal” because He is loyal and faithful to preserve His own!
Once again, Adventism warps a clear conscience. They speak to people who do not know the true gospel, and they admonish them how to keep a clear conscience when they have no idea what truth actually is. In fact, the texts the lesson uses do not make sense apart from the context of the true gospel:
For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God (Hebrews 9:13–14).
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Heb. 10:19–25).
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer (1 Tim. 4:1–5).
Importantly, a biblical clear conscience is not one that comes from strong willpower managing one’s thoughts and deeds. Rather, it is the result of believing in the Lord Jesus and having His blood wash us clean. It does not mean we are sinless but that we are forgiven, justified, and alive. Adventism equates a clear conscience with being obedient to the law. In fact, the lesson says, “When God’s law has been inscribed on the heart of the believer, and the believer by faith seeks to follow that law, a clear conscience is the likely result.”
The Bible, however, is clear that only those who trust and believe in Jesus have clear consciences, and those clear consciences are His gift to us when we believe.
The 1 Timothy text above actually equates a seared, evil conscience with teaching doctrines of demons including refusing foods. Adventism itself teaches doctrines of demons, and these teaching flow from seared consciences. People who teach these beliefs have not been sprinkled clear from an evil conscience by the blood of Jesus, no matter how “sincere” they are.
For Adventists, obedience always includes the Ten Commandments. Biblically, however, obedience means believing God and trusting His word. In fact, the lesson actually uses 1 John 5:1–5 to attempt to uphold the Ten Commandments:
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 Jn. 5:1–5).
The lesson uses only verses 2–3, but in context, this passage is not referring to the law. Rather, it is referring to the teachings and sayings of Jesus. In fact, John tells us in John 13:31–35 that Jesus gave a new commandment:
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:31–35).
In the church, obedience is not toward the law. Rather, it is always something we render to the Lord Jesus through trusting Him and being willing to love others for Him—not for their sakes nor for ours, but for the Lord. He alone knows what we need to do in order to love for Him, and if we are willing, He will minister His love through us even when we do not know consciously exactly what to do.
A believer’s obedience is trust in God and His word, placing all our “weight” on His promises and power.
The lesson attempts to explain that a good steward is “trustworthy”, a person who displays “the crown jewel of ethics; it puts your moral principles on display in their purest form.”
Again, humans cannot develop “trustworthiness” apart from knowing Jesus and being born again. Our calling as true believers is to trust Jesus and allow His strength to be made perfect in our weakness. We depend on Him in order to do the next right thing. God does not ask us to develop moral characters; He asks us to believe. Once we have believed and have been born again, having repented of our sin, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14), and He will give us the ability to trust Him and to act with His trustworthiness in our lives.
The lesson ends with quotes from Ellen White about accountability, and then there are discussion questions. One of those is this: “Dwell more on how the promises of the gospel can help those who are struggling with a guilty conscience. What promises can they claim?”
People who are not born again cannot claim for themselves the promises of God that assure forgiveness. They are not for them because they are still in the domain of darkness. Those promises for forgiveness apply when one trusts in Jesus’ finished work and embraces the true gospel, not a counterfeit one.
A person struggling with a guilty conscience needs to repent and accept the reality that Jesus paid for his sin. Trying to believe spiritual affirmations will not relieve that guilty conscience; only being washed by the blood of Jesus will effect a clear conscience.
Finally, the characteristics of faithful people are only accessible when a person trust in the Lord Jesus and receives the payment of Jesus’ blood for their sin.