Managing God's Gifts

King of the Earth

Pastor Lutzer | February 20, 2000

Summary

Nothing we have is ours, and when we recognize God’s ownership of the universe, we are set free from anxiety. 

Selected highlights from this sermon

God owns all things because He created all things. He made us managers over the world and all that is in it. But we must remember that what we think we own is actually God’s and should be used to bring Him glory.

We need to turn ownership of our talents and possessions back to God, and in that process, we’ll be set free from worry. 

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Alright, I’m going to begin with a question. Why are we on this planet anyway? Well, if you’ve been coming to Moody Church for a while you know that the real reason is because we are to live for the glory of God. You knew that, didn’t you? But more specifically, how does that work out in experience? That’s what we’re going to talk about today.

As a matter of fact, I’m going to make two promises at the beginning of this message, and then at the end of the message, you tell me whether or not I have overpromised. First of all, I think we’re going to find out exactly what we should be doing on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. It will finally free us up to figure out what we’re supposed to do tomorrow and the days that follow.
Secondly, as an added benefit, if we really understand what it is that I’m going to try to convey today from the Word, we are going to leave today free of all worries because we no longer are going to be bearing our burdens. That’s the agenda, and you tell me whether or not we have achieved it.

But in order to get from point A to point B, we have some territory that we have to cover, and today I’m going to give you the facts of life. Now I know that that expression sometimes refers to other things, but today you get the real facts of life – four of them – and we begin in the book of Genesis.

Genesis 1 opens with that majestic statement: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” we read in Genesis chapter 1. In those ten words we have the basis for science. In the beginning (time) God (personality) created (force) the heavens (space) and the earth (matter). What majestic ten words those are!

But what we’d like to do is to take a tour of what it says in the book of Genesis because fact number one is that God is the creator, and we’ll soon see the implications. Would you go with me as we take a tour, looking at what God did on every one of the days?

The first day God said in verses 3-5, “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”

The first day there was a tremendous victory because there may have been a previous creation. The earth was without form and void and darkness was there, but the moment God said, “Let there be light,” darkness was dispelled by the very word of God.

Let’s go on to day number two. That’s verse 6: “‘Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ So God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse” (In other words the terrestrial water and the atmospheric water). At that time it was as if a canopy of water covered the earth, and God said, “I want to separate them.” So there was sky and then there was the water that was on the face of the earth. The Lord did that.

Let’s go on now to day three – vegetation. We pick it up at verse 11: “And God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.’ And it was so.” God spoke and it happened.

Well, we’re going through these days quickly, aren’t we? But let’s move on now to the next day – day four. Verse 14: “And God said: ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.’ And it was so. And God made the two great lights — the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night.” And then I love these words: “Oh by the way (The by the way is a footnote.), he made the stars also.”

Scientists tell us that there are more stars in the sky than there are grains of sand on the beaches of the world. “Oh yeah, by the way, He made the stars also.” What a mighty, mighty great God we serve.

Now you may be puzzled because it does say that light was created on the first day. That may have been a light that was created sovereignly by God, and as the earth rotated it went into that light. It appears as if the sun and the moon were actually created later on in the fourth day, although there may be alternate explanations. But the simple fact is that by the time we get to day number 4, we see the greatness and the majesty and the awesome power of God. He made the stars also. I love it!

Let’s go on now to day number five. This is the day for the animals. We pick it up at verse 20. “‘Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.’ So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind.”

So we come to the end of day five. What conclusions do we draw from the first fact of life? God is the creator. What are the conclusions we can draw? First of all, God created whatever He pleased. “Our God is in the heavens,” the text says. “He has done whatsoever He has pleased.” In fact, I believe that God had a party. It says that the angels were created earlier, because in the book of Job it says that when creation took place the sons of God shouted for joy.

Can’t you just imagine God assembling all the angels, and getting them all together and saying, “Look, I want all of you to just watch this.” Boom! And it all happens. Obviously He restrained Himself. You know, He could have created a thousand planets to rotate around the sun. He could have created ten moons, or seven, or whatever, and He restrained Himself. He could have even created more stars, though He created hundreds of trillions of them. And by the way, those stars run with such precision, and of course, I’m talking about the rotation of the planets with such precision and accuracy that we can set our clocks by these planets that God put in motion.

So, first of all, God created whatever He pleased. Secondly, it is God who also sustains the Universe. Moment by moment, God keeps this universe together. Moment by moment it is unified. Moment by moment it continues. The Puritans were right when they called the laws of nature the custom of God. So when I drop something and it falls, like I am dropping the bulletin onto this desk or pulpit, it falls because God causes it to fall by the law of nature. But that’s His custom. If He wanted to change the custom and have this bulletin go up rather than go down, He could do that also.

There’s a third conclusion, and I want you to accept this conclusion, and I know you will. The third conclusion is that everything belongs to God. I mean, God created it. Can you imagine somewhere in the universe some being showing up and saying, “Hey, you created it but it’s mine?” It’s unthinkable. The entire universe belongs to God, God the owner of all things. All creatures of our God and King belong to Him. That’s the first fact of life. God is the creator.

May I give you the second? The second fact of life is that man is to be the manager. Now we get to the creation of man. That, of course, is on the sixth day, and we pick it up at verse 26: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

When we use the word man we’re talking about mankind. We’re talking about men and women, a very special creation, the only creation about which it says, “created in God’s image.” What does that mean? Does it mean only that we have personality, a mind, emotion and will? Well, it certainly means that, but there are animals that also have personality. They have minds of sorts. They have emotions, and they have a will. No, no, it’s much more than that – a little lesson in theology. There are communicable attributes that we can have that also God has. There are some that He has that can never be ours. We can never be omniscient. We can never be omnipresent. But we can be loving, because God created us in His image. We can value truth and justice, and we can have wisdom, and because of that likeness, and because we have a spiritual nature that is the jumping off point as it were between God and the world, man is created in the image of God, and yet he participates in the same creation as animals in the sense that he needs food to eat, and air to breathe. And God said, “You’re going to be My mediator between My creation and who I am.” That’s man! The image of God!

Now animals can have a certain degree of intelligence, but they can never have all of these other attributes. Years ago I was interested in the breaking down of animals’ speech to try to point out that they can talk. It is generally said that monkeys can talk. No, monkeys can have certain sounds that they can identify, and so forth, but they cannot think conceptually. You cannot discuss theology with a monkey. Put it this way. Monkeys can’t even discuss politics. (laughter) I know! That could be debated. About every four years that thesis that I always put forward comes under scrutiny and debate.

But the simple fact is that, you see, because of the fact that we are created in the image of God, we can pray, we can think conceptually, we can worship, we can admire truth and justice and righteousness and all those things, but now notice why man was created. The text says that he is to rule to be the king of the earth. “Let them rule.” And God is saying, in effect, “When man rules the world, I am ruling the world as creator because He is My representative. He is My caretaker. He is My manager. He is My steward.” Yes, king of the earth, but a king under subjection to God.

Notice they were both to rule – man and woman. It was God’s intention that Adam rule, and Eve was to rule alongside of him. This becomes clear in the New Testament when Jesus Christ now wants to rule on the throne of the universe, and we, as His bride, sit next to Him and rules along with Him. So God says, “Let them rule.” The battle of the sexes had not yet begun. Later on we’ll comment on that.

Notice that he was to rule over the fish of the sea. Just like Jesus commanded those fish to swim into Peter’s net, in the same way, I believe that Adam had the power to command fish and they would obey him. And just like the ravens fed Elijah, in the very same way Adam would have been able to use the animals that God brought to him, and be able to command them and they would obey. Now as a result of the fall, that has been lost - that we can command animals and they obey. And if you doubt that, just own a cat and see whether or not I am right.

So what God is saying is, “I want you to rule over the animals; I want you to rule over the ground.” And notice He put man into the Garden. This is now chapter 2, verse 15: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” An interesting important parenthesis, folks, is remember work did not come about as a result of the fall. Work happened already long before man fell. When he was put in the Garden of Eden, God recognized the value of work.

Now let me share my heart with you. Don’t you ever make the mistake of giving your children so much money when you die that they will never have to work. That is a curse upon your children. Give them just enough to remind them of the fact that you do love them, and then give the rest to missions. Give the rest to a church. If you say, “Which one?” well, come to me later and I could make some suggestions. (laughter) But do not curse them by taking work out their life, because productivity and the sense of work and the striving is all part of what God wants us to do. And even before the fall, man was put into the Garden to till it.

Alright, how far have we come in the facts of life? Fact number one, God is the creator. Fact number two, man is the manager.

Fact number three, the fall made us thieves. Let’s look at the text of chapter 3. You remember the story. The woman is there in the Garden and the serpent is discussing things with her, and after she says, “If we eat of the fruit of this tree we will die,” he says in verse 4, “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.”

Was Satan telling the truth? Well, to a certain extent he was. “If you eat, you will be like God. You will know good and evil. Unfortunately you will know good and evil experientially. It will not be just theoretical knowledge. You will have a kind of knowledge that not even God has because God knows what evil is like, but God has never done evil. Therefore he has never felt the effects of evil, you understand. And as a result of that, man has something that God hasn’t, and that is a terrible cursed experiential understanding of evil that eventually can damn us to hell if we do not repent.

But notice what Satan says. He says, “You will be like God.” Well, you know the rest of the story. They did eat, and notice what happened now. Ever since that time, man has always been wanting to swap places with God. He wants now to take what is His, and say, “This is mine, and it’s not God’s.”

Now, folks, I want us to look very briefly at some of the consequences of what happened as a result of the fall, and you know the story. In verse 11 we discover that human nature was tainted and irrevocably, unfortunately defiled because God comes and He asks Adam, and Adam says, “I’m naked,” and God says, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” And the man says, “The woman….” Aye aye aye!

Now folks, some of you have heard me say this before. But how can I come to a text like this and not say it again? I want you to notice that the man blamed the woman. “This weak-willed woman, Lord, whom you gave me….” He blamed the woman even though there wasn’t a chance in the world that he had married the wrong one. (laughter) Did you notice that?

And then, of course, God says to the woman, “What about you? What is this that you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent….” So, I’ll say one more line that some of you have heard. “The man blamed the woman, the woman blamed the serpent, and the serpent didn’t have a leg to stand on.” (laughter)

Wasn’t it Will Rogers who said that there were two eras in America? One was the passing of the buffalo, and the other was the passing of the buck. From now on, man was going to have a protective shell around him in which he will say, “You will never find who I really am.” Because of his shame and guilt, he is going to take all accusations, all truth, and it’s going to be filtered and deflected so that getting through to him is going to be so difficult that if he’s to be converted God is going to have to intervene and change his mind. Because of himself he is going to run from God, and he’s going to twist all the truth that comes through his system.

So man is tainted. Suffering comes in verse 16. To the woman He said, “You will greatly increase your pains in child bearing. With pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.” That’s a controversial text, but there it is. That’s the origin of the statement that women sometimes say about men. It usually begins with, “Hm, you can’t live with them, and you can’t live without them.”

And then notice that He says to Adam, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, cursed is the ground because of you. Now it is going to bear weeds and thorns and thistles, and you are going to have to sweat and you’re going to have to work in order to live. And things are not going to be nice. From now on, all of the world is going to be filled with striving.”

And what happens in the next chapter. Of course, as you know, Cain kills Abel, and you have all of this evil now spilling out in the human race, and as a result of that, man now no longer wants to be a manager, a caretaker. Man says, “I am the owner,” and covetousness (a desire for what other people have and for what we really don’t need, and maybe what God does not want to give us) is going to be a beast within the human soul because people are going to say, “I own it, I own it.” And that’s why you can find wealthy people in the world, and maybe in the church too, with hundreds of millions of dollars, watching other people in great poverty, being able to help and scarcely lifting a hand to help anyone because they say, “It’s mine. I am the owner.” What they are really saying is, “I have taken the place of God.”

Well, we are explaining the facts of life. God is the creator; therefore He’s the owner. Man is to be the caretaker. The Fall made us thieves to want to steal what belongs to God and call it ours. And now, number four, God is the redeemer. The purpose of redemption, my friend, is for God to work in people’s hearts in such a way that we now voluntarily give Him back the ownership that is His right.

Now I am going to be speaking to those of you who have accepted Christ as your Savior, but I do not, by any stretch of the imagination, think that there are not many people who are listening to this message who have not. In other words, there may be many of you who do not know the forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ. You’ve never personally received Him, though you may be religious, and though you may have a lot of knowledge, because there is a personal relationship that comes. And this is what I want to explain. For those who know Christ as Savior, what God does is He wants us to voluntarily return to the position of where God has His rightful ownership where we are stewards again, where we are managers again, where we are caretakers, and God and God alone is the owner.

Let’s fast forward to the New Testament for just a moment. What do we find there in the New Testament? First of all, it says in 1 Corinthians 3: “For you are not your own. You’ve been bought with a price. Therefore glorify God in your body and your spirit, which is God’s.” What belongs to God? Listen, we all belong to God. All the creation of the earth, all the people of the earth belong to God by virtue of creation, but there’s another category of people that belong to Him by virtue of redemption. They are His special people that He purchased at high cost, born in sin, with a propensity to sin, but nevertheless saved out of that life, being given a new heart with new desires, names written in heaven, and that now is God’s people. And the text says, “You have been bought with a price. Therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

You are not your own. All that you are is a manager. You are not an owner. You can’t say, “This is my body. This is my money. These are my abilities.” You know, God gives people different abilities. He puts them in different circumstances of life, and then they begin to take the credit if they seem to be above someone in some area. Sin – grievous sin!

The Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:7: “Who makes you to differ from another, or what is it that you have not received? And if you have received it, why do you act as if you receive it not?” Actually the Word is, “Why do you glory as if you received it not?” Why is it that you are taking credit for what God has given you the ability to do? There are some of us here who have had all kinds of blessings that God has placed on our lap, and we act as if those blessings are ours.

There are some people who have the ability to earn money. There are some people who have the ability to give time and effort to the work of God, and they may even do so, but they may think to themselves, “What a nice boy am I,” like Little Jack Horner who sat in a corner. And they think to themselves that that is theirs. God says, “I want you to be rid of that notion. It is not yours. It is mine.” Restoring God’s ownership!

Let me give you a couple of conclusions that will help us tie this down. First of all, what are you supposed to be doing Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday? I told you a moment ago that I would answer that question. I’ll tell you. What we should be doing is managing all the gifts that God has given to us, managing our time and saying, “My time is God’s. I can’t just run off and do whatever I want to do without consulting God because I am a manager of His gifts.” Our time is God’s.

Our money is God’s. Our talents are God’s. Our home belongs to God. Our cars belong to God. The house that we live in belongs to God, and therefore it is with a sense of praise and gratitude that we serve Him, always asking this question: “Lord, what will you have me to do with what You have given to me?”

We represent God. That’s what Adam was supposed to do. God said, “Adam, when I rule the world, I’m going to be doing it through you. You are king of the earth. You are the custodian. But of course, I’m the owner of all things. Manage it well for Me.” And that’s what we’re supposed to be doing tomorrow.

You say, “Well, you also made the promise that this was going to take care of our worries.” Yes, it will because every time you and I worry, it really has to do with something that we own. For example, have you ever gone to bed at night really worried, unable to sleep as to whether or not your neighbor’s car is going to be broken into during the night? “I’m so concerned about his car that I can’t sleep.” Well, then, why are you worried about yours? “Well, that’s mine.” What do you mean it’s yours? It’s God’s.

I mean this sincerely. You give it over to God and you simply say, “That is yours. My house is yours. If you want someone to break into it, if this is really your plan and purpose, remember that they can only steal your stuff, and I’m not going to worry about what belongs to God. If He wants it broken into because He wants to teach me something through the experience, worry no longer plays a part because now it is God’s.”

I remember a woman who was told by her doctor that she had cancer. And she said she was worried about it for a little while until she realized something, that her body was not hers. It was God’s. “Well, God, this is your body if this is what you want. I don’t own this. This is your property.”

Do you understand how now with the transfer of ownership comes the transfer of anxiety because now it is up to God to take care of His property, to do with what He wants with His resources, and genuinely it does belong to Him? That’s what you’re supposed to do Monday morning. That’s what I’m supposed to do tomorrow.

Let me give you a second conclusion. The first is that we represent God in the world just like Adam was to represent God in the world. But, of course, ours is a little more complicated because of sin, but the same idea prevails. And this great desire for covetousness and ownership and possession (This is mine.) has to go. It has to be confessed as sin.

Second, God has the right to give, and therefore, He also has the right to take, doesn’t He? For example, God gives and He gives differently. He gives different gifts, different abilities, and different amounts. We notice this in the parables that Jesus told. I know there are different parables, but many of them show that they were not all given the same number of talents so it’s a different world out there. But then God comes along and He takes. He gives health, and then He gives sickness. He gives money and then the money may be lost. He gives time, and then the time may be taken away. He gives talents and then suddenly we find that we can’t serve anymore. And at the end of the day, we die, and that is the final retrieval when God says, “It’s time now to turn in the chips because your gifts on this earth (not in heaven) are finished because He has the right to give and He has the right to take. And all that we are is stewards of what He has given to us.

And therefore there’s a third and concluding conclusion, and that is that obviously every single manager has to give an account. Isn’t that true? If you work in a bank, or in a hospital and have a management position, what do those under you have to do? You give them various assignments, and then they have to account for them. They can either do them or they cannot do them. They can either do them well or they can do them poorly, but one thing is sure. They are going to be supervised, and at the end of the day they must say, “This I have done.” Well, you know, that’s exactly what the Scripture says. We shall give an account for the deeds done in the body whether good or bad. God comes and says, “What I want you to do is to show me what you did with what I gave you.”

Now follow this carefully. If you and I owned our time and our abilities and our money, and if that was really ours, God would have no right to ask us about it. He’d just simply say, “Hey look, that’s yours, and therefore you can use it as you wish because I have no right to tell an owner as to how to use his talents and his treasures.” But the reason that God is going to ask us about it is because it never was ours. We acted as if it was ours. Because of the fall we want to be as thieves. We want to say, “This is mine.” What God wants to do is to rid us of that and for us to realize it’s not mine.

So every morning what do we do before we get out of bed? We look into the eyes of God and we say, “Father, thank You for the bed I slept on today. Thank You for the opportunities of today. Thank You that I woke up alive. Thank You that I have the opportunity of serving You. And today I really have only one question. In light of eternity, what do you want me to do with the gifts You gave me because You are the owner, and I am the manager? And all that I have to do is to find out what my Father in heaven wants me to do with what He gave me.

Of course, you know, for those of you who are listening who have never trusted Christ as Savior, you know that this all begins, of course, by receiving a free gift from God’s hands. We receive many gifts from His hands, but the most important is the gift of eternal life that is given freely to those who stop trusting in themselves and their own goodness, and rituals and the whole bit, and transfer their trust to Christ alone.

Dr. Sweeting was here a number of weeks ago, and he quoted some words from a hymn that I looked up. And I would like to quote the same words that he did as he was thinking about the fact that sometimes those of us who have the opportunity to serve are given thanks for our service, and so forth. And yet we recognize that it is not of us. And I didn’t plan to quote these words, so I’m going to see how well I do.

Naught have I gotten but that I received.
Grace has bestowed it from when I believed.
Boasting excluded, pride I abase,
I’m only a sinner, saved by grace.

It is all of God. Are you willing to transfer that ownership to God today? Are you willing to say, “God, all that I am, all that I ever hope to be is Yours. I genuinely take my hands off of what I have called my own.” Are you willing to do that? Oh the struggle! Oh the beast that rises within us that says, “No, this is mine.” That’s because of the Fall. That’s sin. No, it’s God’s and God’s alone. “Father, what will Thou have me to do?” That’s the only question that’s legitimate in light of His gifts. Could you join me as we pray?

And Father, we ask today that You will free us from that possessiveness, that ownership that came as a result of the Fall, that desire to say, “Lord, I’m taking Your place; I will own.” Free us from that, Father. Oh grant that, Father, as a congregation, that we might flourish and see people come to know You as Savior and saints being built up, and the Sunday school being strong, and in all areas say, “Lord, this is for You.” In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

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