People problems produce the most immediate, stressful challenges to Christian stewardship. People problems are life's primary source for stress. Being God's people among people who choose to reject God results in stressful situations. Christians have opportunity to be merciful because people wrong us. Christians have opportunity to love our enemies because some people are enemies. Christians have opportunity to reject vengeance because some people are unjust to us. Christians have opportunity to forgive because some people sin against us. Jesus said, if we only love those who love us or greet those who greet us, we behave precisely as godless people behave (Matthew 5:46,47).
God uses Christian stewardship to heal sickness in human relationships. What sickness? Prejudice. Arrogance. Attitudes of superiority. Attitudes of condescension. Rejection. God's love is demonstrated powerfully through the human acts of Christian stewardship.
Israel was taught [correctly] that they were God's chosen people. God promised Abraham the nation of Israel would exist through his descendants. God rescued Abraham's descendants from Egyptian slavery and transformed them into that nation. God sustained Israel in the wilderness. After forty years, God gave Canaan to Israel as their homeland.
The Old Testament people called Israelites are the New Testament people called Jews. In the New Testament, the Jews who lived in their homeland segregated themselves from people who were not Jewish. A primary reason for this self-imposed isolation was religious. The isolation restricted the religious influences of people who were not Jewish. Jews in Palestine carefully monitored association with people outside the Jewish community.
When Christianity began in Acts 2, only Jews or Jewish converts became Christians. Early in Christianity, Jewish Christians regarded Christianity as a Jewish religious movement that fulfilled God's promise to Israel. The earliest Christians understanding of Jesus' great commission: "take the gospel to all the Jews scattered throughout the world."
The baptism of non-Jewish people who believed in Jesus Christ created a major crisis. First, the initial reaction of Jewish Christians to the conversion of people who were not Jewish was this: it is improper and inappropriate to include such people in the Christian community (Acts 11:1-3). Second, some Jewish Christians insisted that people who were not Jews could become Christians only if they observed Jewish customs and requirements (Acts 15:1,5).
How would you react if Christian strangers told your congregation (1) all of you were not saved and (2) your baptisms were meaningless. Would you feel rejected and resented? If you can be honest about your feelings in that situation, you can empathize with the feelings of many Christians who were not Jews.
What a barrier between Christians in God's family! God's community could never become the people God wanted as long as that barrier existed. Christian alienation could never achieve God's purposes. God removed the barrier (Ephesians 2:11-22), but many Christians did not.
Christian stewardship assaulted the barrier.
Read Acts 11:27-30.
Read 1 Corinthians 16:1-4.
Read Romans 15:25-27.
The barrier between many Jewish Christians and Christians who were not Jewish was enormous. The barrier was constructed of religious perspectives, cultural views, moral and ethical criteria, social customs, and physical heritage. From the Jewish perspective, God laid the foundations of that barrier in His promises to Abraham, erected the barrier in God's covenant with Israel at Sinai, and renewed the barrier in His promises through the prophets.
Paul stressed the fact that people who were not Jews [Gentiles] were included in the covenant God established with Abraham (Genesis 12:3b; 22:18; 26:4,5; Galatians 3:8).
God intended Jewish Christians and Christians who were not Jewish to be God's single community. Since the barrier was real, strong, and ancient, how could that happen? (1) It could happen if Jewish Christians, as God's stewards, shared spiritual things with Christians who were not Jews. (2) It could happen if Christians who were not Jews, as God's stewards, shared material things with Jewish Christians. Christian stewardship is that powerful today.
Link to Teacher's Guide Quarter 4, Lesson 8
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