Stewardship 1 – 2015 LSB #’s 609 v.1-4, 915, 609 v.5-7
Text – 1 Corinthians 4:7
The Joy of Receiving God’s Blessings
The text for today’s sermon comes from the Epistle reading in 1 Corinthians, specifically verse 7, which reads: “For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?”
Before we unpack this verse, let me take a moment to highlight what we’ll be hearing over the next three weeks. This series of sermons will revolve around – “Experiencing the Joy of Generosity,” & the weeks are broken into three separate aspects of the Christian life.
This Sunday it’s the Joy of Receiving God’s Blessings. Next week will center on the Joy of Managing God’s Blessings. On the 3rd Sunday we’ll learn about the Joy of Sharing God’s Blessings.
There’s a lot of joy coming in the next three Sundays. So let’s make sure we take a minute to understand fully what that joy is – how the heavenly Creator sees it. Many people consider joy & happiness to be the same, or at least very similar. On the surface that may sound accurate, but if we compare happiness to joy we learn of significant differences.
Differences in Meaning
Happiness is an emotion in which we experience feelings ranging from contentment & satisfaction to bliss & intense pleasure.
Joy is stronger, but less common than happiness. Witnessing or achieving selflessness to the point of personal sacrifice commonly triggers joy. It can be described as feeling spiritually connected to God or to other people.
Differences in Cause
Happiness comes from earthly experiences & material objects. Joy comes from spiritual experiences, from caring for others, from gratitude & thankfulness
Differences in Effect
Happiness shows itself in the person through an outward expression of elation. Joy shows itself in the person through an inward peace & contentment.
Differences in Time Period
Happiness is temporary, based upon outward circumstances. Joy is lasting, based upon inward circumstances.
There’s a wonderful quote in the devotions that are available for next week as a way of reflecting on this sermon. If you’re going to use them, some copies are available as you leave the service this morning. Please read them during the next two weeks so that your heart & mind will be prepared for the sermons to come.
The quote is from Epicurus, the Greek philosopher: “If you want to make a man happy, add not to his riches but take away from his desires.” We’ll modify what Epicurus said to this: “If you want to make a man happy for a short time add to his riches, but if you want to make a man joyful, content & at peace take away from his desires.”
There are some similarities between happiness & joy, but also significant differences. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. Happiness is not. Joy is present even in sorrow, but we cannot be happy when we are full of sorrow. Happiness is being elated, & you cannot be elated in grief. Joy is having peace & contentment. We can be at peace & content even in sorrow.
Hold on to that thought because we’ll come back to it later. Now let’s return to the text for today from 1 Corinthians. The book was written by St. Paul, at the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to address practical issues the church was dealing with. They had many struggles going on: sexual immorality, lack of unity, issues with marriage & idolatry. Doesn’t that list sound familiar? You & I deal with the same issues of sin that the church in Corinth wrestled with.
Another issue Paul speaks to is how the Corinthians had turned the Lord’s Supper, a wonderful means of God’s grace, into a drunken party. They even segregated people for the meal based upon their economic status. They did not know how to receive simply, humbly & joyfully this gift God was giving them in His Holy Supper.
Paul does not mince words when he points this out to them. He asked them: “For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7 ESV)
True, yet tough words, that are not only for the Corinthians. They definitely apply to our world today. Our people are great at seeking & receiving happiness, especially when that comes in the form of material riches, but our world is not very good at receiving blessings with joy, especially those blessings that remove desires instead of building wealth.
Many people, maybe even a large number here, look at worship in a completely opposite way than God would have us look at it. It is instinctive for us to see worship as something we do – a time for us to give back to God, sharing our time, our offerings & our songs. Doesn’t that sound right? However, that is not what worship is.
Worship is not about us doing the giving. After all, even our best responses are rather puny. Instead, the worship service is primarily about us doing the receiving – receiving God’s gifts, His blessings & His means of grace. Our heavenly Father’s response is never puny either. Almost everyone confuses things when it comes to what role worship plays in our lives.
Earlier in today’s service you received God’s forgiveness in His absolution. As I preach you are receiving God’s Word, & shortly after this you’ll receive the very body & blood of Jesus, along with life & salvation, in holy communion. Please be aware of this & what you are receiving, because stewardship also is greatly misunderstood. I believe, if we are truly honest with ourselves, it’s a knee-jerk reaction to cringe when the word stewardship enters our ears. We think, “Here come those sermons on how we should give our time, our talents & especially our money to God.” That is not what stewardship is.
Don’t you think of stewardship as giving to God with a special focus on material things? That is not stewardship. Stewardship begins & ends with our realizing what God has given to us. “…for God so loved the world that He gave!” Our heavenly Father has done the giving, His one & only Son. Joy, peace & contentment come from that. Period.
A pastor wrote about his confusion regarding what stewardship is. Here are his words:
“After 8th grade & Confirmation I went through high school & college years falling away from the church. I was somewhat involved, but honestly, it was rather hollow & I was really just going through the motions.
Then in the mid-1990s my one & only big brother was diagnosed with cancer & that rocked my world. One time after visiting him in the hospital I was headed home, but rather than going home I stopped at church. I knelt in front of the cross, & I prayed like I had never prayed before. And part of that prayer was my confused attempt at stewardship.
I tried to make a deal with God & said that, if He would heal my brother, in turn I would get more involved & would start tithing. I thought that stewardship started with me giving rather than me receiving what God was giving me.”
Happily, I can report that his brother is doing great & has been cancer-free for over 10 years. But, even more important to him, than the happiness he received in the news that his brother was well, is the joy & the peace & the contentment that he truly has now in understanding what he received from God on the cross.
That’s the reason that when the author of this sermon goes up to preach, he takes the time to kneel in front of the cross. It reminds him of what Jesus has given to him. Realizing what God has given to us is the source of our joy, but that realization doesn’t mean all Christians will always be happy. That’s important for us to realize as well.
Remember what we spoke of earlier – you cannot be happy when you are sorrowful, but you can have joy even in sorrow. Some weeks, our church experiences sorrowful times. Sometimes we are attending more funerals than baptisms. A baptism, of course, is a joyful event. Funeral days are definitely not happy times, but they can be joyful times for those who believe in Jesus as Savior.
Even in the sorrow of saying good-bye to a loved one, there is joy, contentment & peace in knowing what God has given them: life everlasting with Jesus.
Some time ago in the news two stories appeared side by side. They had huge similarities (like happiness & joyfulness), but had stark differences too. The stories were about two young women; both were suffering with inoperable brain tumors.
One, whose name was Brittany Maynard, had recently been married when she received her diagnosis, so she & her husband moved to Oregon where there is a “death with dignity” law. On November 1st, 2014, Brittany took some pills that her doctor had prescribed so that she would die, & she did.
The story next to that was about Lauren Hill who was a young lady diagnosed with a brain tumor as she was entering college. On November 1st, the same day Brittany died, Lauren played in her first & also last college basketball game, which she organized to serve as a fund raiser for building awareness of cancer research.
The game was televised on national TV, received a lot of press coverage, & raised significant money for research. Hearing about both of these stories, the words of the sermon text may echo in our ears: “For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive?”
We can see something different in Lauren Hill. We can see in her a person who recognizes the gift of life she’s received & is a joyful steward of that gift. One last comment I would like to make is this one pointed squarely at me. Sometimes, as a preacher, I need to remember the gift that all of us have received. That gift is the Gospel, the salvation we have through Jesus Christ, through His death on the cross & His resurrection from the grave.
Some pastors try to leave you at the end of the sermon with a way to apply the message to your life, & in doing this they emphasize what should be done, or what we should work towards. It’s a noble goal, but what that does is leave you with the Law, rather than with the Gospel. It leaves us with what we should give, instead of with what we are meant to receive.
Reading through all of 1 Corinthians we find St. Paul’s approach to be this: Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the letter to the church at Corinth ended with St. Paul pointing us to the cross of Jesus Christ.
When you come forward in a few moments to participate in that foretaste of the feast to come, together with the angels & archangels & all the company of heaven, be aware of the grace-filled gift that is given to you, a gift that you are receiving literally in the shadow of the cross where Christ died for you & for me.
From 1 Corinthians 15: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, & the power of sin is the law, but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” That is the Gospel! Amen!
Today Your mercy calls us to wash away our sin. However great our trespass, whatever we have been, however long from mercy our hearts have turned away, Your precious blood can wash us & make us clean today. Today Your gate is open, & all who enter in shall find a Father’s welcome & pardon for their sin. The past shall be forgotten, & present joy be given, a future grace be promised, a glorious crown in heaven. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet