The First Stewardship Crisis

“Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden” by Lucas Cranach the Elder

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“The Lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And He said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.’He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.’ Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate’” (Genesis 3:9-13).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

If you read the theme of today’s message, you might have wondered: Stewardship? What does that have to do with Lent? Or the temptations in the garden or wilderness? Is this just because Pastor Moeller went to the Stewardship Workshop a few weeks ago? Did he decide it’s time for a stewardship emphasis?

No, this is not part of a special emphasis. We were reminded at the conference that the teaching of stewardship should be an on-going, year-round focus, and that is what we will continue to do. But I guess you could say that this sermon was influenced by the conference. Our presenter, the Rev. Dr. Nathan Meador happened to suggest that our readings for this First Sunday in Lent are a wonderful place to preach and teach about stewardship. He even began his presentation focusing on our Old Testament lesson and called it “The First Stewardship Crisis.” And he emphasized that the primary force in stewardship is repentance. What an excellent tie-in to Lent, this season of repentance!   

What is stewardship? The official LCMS definition says, “Christian stewardship is the free and joyous activity of the child of God and God’s family, the Church, in managing all of life and life’s resources for God’s purposes.” But while that’s a good definition of stewardship, it’s probably the wrong place to start. Being a steward is less about activity than it is a matter of identity. Not so much about what you do, but who you are and what God has created you to be. Humans were created to be stewards!

“God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (Genesis 1:27–28).

Stewardship is related to the image of God. An image is a reflection of the real thing, like the way the moon shines by reflecting the rays of the sun. The image of God is the way in which humans were created to be like God with the ability to live by faith in God, in perfect service to one another and creation. Faithful stewardship is the way we reflect the image of God.

God called Adam to stewardship. After creating him, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). Adam had it made. The Lord provided all good things, and the garden was full of trees with fruit for him to eat. Among the trees was the Tree of Life, the best of all.

There was one tree that was off limits—the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Many have asked why it would be there in the first place. Perhaps it is this: love never forces its way, and God loved this man. Therefore, the Lord would not force Adam to remain in the garden, alive forever. If Adam didn’t want to be loved, the tree is the exit door. He could choose darkness, sickness, decay, and death for himself and all who follow him. Clearly this was not a good or wise choice; but it was a choice. God did not force Adam to be loved and alive.

Clearly also, the Lord wanted Adam alive and holy, so He warned the man about the tree. He said, “Stay away from the tree, Adam. Stick with all the rest of Paradise. There’s plenty of good stuff to last you for eternity.”

Now, in telling Adam to avoid the tree, God gave Adam a command. In addition to making him His steward, God gave His Word to Adam. To his wife and the children who will follow, Adam was given a calling: out of love to them, he was to tell them to stay away from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Because he desired to serve them, he would preach God’s Word to them, repeating the God’s command to stay away from the tree, telling of the love of God who had given them all good things, including the Tree of Life. Adam was to be Pastor for his family, and it was his privilege and responsibility to teach them God’s Word.

Paradise didn’t last long. The serpent crawled into the garden and confronted  Eve: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” Already, the tempter called God’s Word into question, with his own half-truth. Eve bit. Instead of fleeing the tempter, she replied: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the Tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” Notice how she’d already added to God’s Word, making Him sound like a harsh taskmaster.

Having gained the woman’s attention, the serpent continued: “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” He basically called God a liar and said the only reason He said to not eat is He doesn’t want the competition.

The devil has a way of making sin sound better than Paradise, and Eve liked what she heard and saw. She ate from the Tree; and then gave some to Adam, who was right beside her. There stood Pastor Adam, entrusted with God’s Word, listening as the serpent tempted his bride. He watched mutedly while she fell prey, and then he participated in the sin. Adam failed to preach the Word, and so sin and death came into the world—and all of the fallout from the first stewardship crisis.

Yes, the fall in the garden was truly a stewardship crisis. Adam failed in his stewardship of God’s Word. Adam failed to protect the wife that God had given him. In plucking that forbidden fruit from the tree, Eve turned from receiver to taker. No longer content with what God had freely given, Eve seizes it for herself. She moved from being a steward to thinking she was the owner.

And isn’t that what all sin is—our attempts to be our own god? To think of ourselves as owners rather than stewards of a gracious God? Poor stewardship is theft. Worse yet, it’s idolatry. We’re claiming ownership of things that are not ours. We’re forgetting that everything we have at our disposal is not our own but has been placed into our stewardship by our loving, gracious God.

That first sin has lasting consequences. The perfect relationship of God and man was broken. Adam and Eve hid from God out of shame. Eve tried to pass the blame to the serpent. The perfect relationship of husband and wife was broken. Rather than accept responsibility as head of house and spiritual leader, Adam blamed his wife and God for giving him the woman.

Both suffered consequences directly. The image of God in which they were created is lost. The woman will experience pain in childbearing and raising a family. Adam will experience trials and troubles as he toils to scratch out a living from the ground. Both will experience turmoil and strife in what was intended to be the bliss and harmony of marriage. Both will die and return to the dust. Labor becomes hard and frustrating. God never takes away the role of stewardship, it just becomes more difficult. We are called to a pre-fall vocation in a post-fall world! 

We live in a broken world that hates us, a world that is groaning as it waits its redemption. We live with a sinful nature that’s constantly turning us in ourselves, thinking about our desires, our comfort. A sinful nature prone to unbelief and idolatry. A selfish, sinful nature that seeks to make myself a god. And that affects our stewardship, often disabling the ministry of the Gospel.

A perceived lack of resources makes us fearful. Worrying that we have limited resources we are tempted to hold back more for ourselves, rather than trusting that the Lord will provide. We become so focused on ourselves, we fail to look for ways in which we can expand the ministry of the Gospel.

Or we give to the budget and not to the Lord. It’s the difference between philanthropy and stewardship. Both are motivations for giving. But the two are not equal. Philanthropy starts with the philosophy that “I am the owner and I will give some of what I own to support the projects and people that I wish.” Stewardship says, “It is all God’s; I manage it for Him, for sake of others, and for the Gospel.”

 But all is not gloom and doom: In the curse upon the serpent, we find a promise to God’s wayward stewards. God says to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her Offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heal” (Genesis 3:15). God promises a Savior, a Second Adam, who will come and be the faithful steward that Adam has not been. A Savior who will redeem mankind from sin, who will reconcile the world to Himself, who will defeat sin, death, and the devil.

We see this second Adam in our Gospel. Not in a lush garden, but in a wilderness. He’s the Son of God, with almighty power, but He is also fully human, and according to that nature He is weakened and hungry and at His most vulnerable. The devil, never one to play fair, seizes the opportunity.

Satan’s tactics have worked well throughout the centuries, so he sees no need to change from the ones he used on Adam and Eve; he just adjusts them to the intended victim. Instead of “eat the fruit,” it’s “Command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Instead of “If You eat, You will not die,” it’s “Throw Yourself down from the temple and You will not die.” Instead of “You will be like God,” it’s “Forget the suffering and cross. Wouldn’t You be more like God if you just started throwing Your weight and power around here?” Thus, the devil hits Jesus with temptations to forsake His Father’s will, to choose pleasure over hunger and pain, to enjoy power rather than submit like a lamb to the slaughter.

Each time, though, Jesus does what Adam didn’t do. He is the faithful steward. He resists temptation. Jesus refuses to take for Himself what the Father has not seen fit to give Him but trusts that He will provide Him with what He needs. Furthermore, where Adam failed to speak the Word of God, Jesus speaks the Word. Each time the devil tempts or twists God’s Word, Jesus quotes Scripture against him. Thus, the Second Adam succeeds completely at what the First Adam so miserably failed.

All of this He does for you. Jesus endures this temptation for you. He does not teach you how to do it for yourself, because you can’t do it for yourself. This is a common misunderstanding. We don’t say, “Jesus healed people to show us how to heal people.” We don’t say, “Jesus raised the dead to show us how to raise the dead.” But we’re always tempted to say, “Jesus resisted temptation to show us how to do it.” But that is incorrect. Jesus resisted temptation, because we couldn’t, because we sin; and then He submitted Himself to the cross to die for our sins.

All of His work, both His active and passive obedience for you, brings you this hope: For the sake of His Son, God the Father says to you: “I don’t hold your sins against you. I don’t remember the many times you give in to temptation. I don’t recall all the times you’ve failed to be a faithful steward. I don’t see all the times that you’ve tried to be your own god. You see, My Son took all your sins upon Himself at the cross; and when I condemned Him, I condemned them. When I raised Him, they remained dead. Therefore, you have no sins left for Me to see. In the place of that sin, My Son has given you the credit for His perfect obedience; therefore, when I look at you, I see only His righteousness.”

Do you see how freeing this is? Christ and His redeeming, reconciling work restores proper Christian stewardship. We do not seek to be good stewards of God’s creation in order to gain God’s favor; we seek to work and keep what is God’s because He has already graciously made us His stewards.

As Christians, we have entirely different motivation. A non-Christian steward cares for creation out of fear. A Christian cares for creation because it is God’s and has been entrusted to us by grace. We willingly share God’s resources with others because this is who we have been created to be, this is who are redeemed to be, and this is who the Holy Spirit calls us to be.

God is the ultimate actor in our stewardship. Christ redeemed us from sin, death, and the devil with His holy precious blood, His innocent suffering and death. By His death on the cross, He reconciled us to the Father and to our fellow man. Through the means of grace, the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies, and keep us in the one true faith. In gratefulness we use all that the Lord provides us for the good of our neighbor and the spread of His kingdom.

Christian stewardship begins in three places: the font, pulpit, and altar.

In Holy Baptism, you have been adopted as God’s beloved child, made a steward of His creation, given the gifts of the Holy Spirit, faith, forgiveness, and eternal life. Return to your Baptism daily through contrition and repentance. For there, you are being made into the image of God, as your old Adam is put to death and the new man arises to live in righteousness, innocence, blessedness forever.

In the Lord’s Supper, Christ gives you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins, for strengthening you in the faith and fervent love toward your neighbor. Come here often!

In God’s Word preached and spoken to you in Holy Absolution, God calls you to repentance and faith. Hold His Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it!

In these means of grace, you have forgiveness, life, and salvation. Indeed, for Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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