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Stewardship in the Shorter Catechism

G. I. Williamson

The Shorter Catechism says nothing directly about giving money to the church. What it does is speak about our faith and practice in terms of basic general principles. If we then apply the principles, we find adequate direction regarding this matter.

This puts the Catechism in very good company, by the way. We see the same thing in the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer. The decalogue is also brief, yet how comprehensive it is. In six brief petitions of the Lord’s Prayer we find everything essential to acceptable prayer.

General Principles

The Catechism is subordinate to the Bible in authority, of course. Yet because it was written with great care and is very accurate, it is like the Scripture. It provides a summary of general principles of Scripture from which we can find direction for all of life—our stewardship included.

One of these general principles is found in the answer to the first question of the Catechism: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Here is the foundational principle for Christian stewardship. We are creatures. God did not make us so we could “do our own thing.” No, God made us to serve as his image and likeness. The Bible therefore says that we should do all for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31), and this we can only do if we serve God with our money.

A second principle is found in the answer to question 35. The Catechism tells the sad story of man’s fall into sin in questions 12 to 19, and then the incredibly wonderful story of our salvation in questions 20 to 34. Building on this, the glorious thing is that now, in Christ, we are “renewed in the whole man after the image of God” and therefore “enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.”

Putting these together then, we see that our Christian giving arises from the fact that we were created in order to glorify God—and to enjoy the privilege of doing so—forever. When we lost this through the fall, God provided a way of salvation so we could yet attain the end for which we had been created. This becomes a practical reality as we are “renewed after the image of God, and ... enabled ... [to] live unto righteousness.”

Reminders of Law and Love

But how do we “live unto righteousness?” We do this as we are obedient to God’s revealed will (Q. 39). And God’s revealed will is summarized in the Ten Commandments (Q. 42) and in the two great precepts of love. We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; and we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Matt. 22:37–40).

It is common today to think of law and love as opposites, in conflict with each other. But this is not true; “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:10). When we do what is right (as defined by God’s law) because we want to please God (because we love him), we are dying more and more to sin and living more and more in righteousness.

And when we really do this, it will show in our stewardship too! Consider the eighth commandment. In ancient Israel it was required, by God’s law, that a farmer leave something in the field so the poor could glean. The law demands, in other words, exactly what love itself would dictate. We give out of our bounty to a brother—and even a stranger in our midst—who is in dire need.

Again, consider the tenth commandment. The Catechism says this commandment means we ought to have “a right and charitable frame of spirit toward our neighbor, and all that is his.” Just as we are not to covet what belongs to those who have more than we do, so we are to share with those who have less.

The Bible teaches that Christians should tithe. But the way to bring this about is not to have the preacher constantly plead with people to give more to the church but to faithfully preach the gospel. Where people see the magnitude of God’s wonderful grace, they begin to understand the debt of gratitude they owe. And this will be acknowledged in cheerful and generous giving.

The Catechism encourages this, because the Bible teaches it.

Reprinted from New Horizons, May 1987.

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