Whatever God makes, He owns. Now, what we own, as it were, we own as stewards who have been given gifts from God Himself. The ultimate ownership of all of our so-called possessions, of all of our property, is God Himself.
If you were to open your banking app and scroll through your purchases over the past month, what would you find? That's a hard question, a rather probing question, because as R.C. Sproul would say, where we spend our money reveals where our heart is and tells the story of our stewardship. Hi, I'm Nathan W. Bingham, and thank you for joining us today for Renewing Your Mind.
All week R.C. Sproul has been helping us, teaching us how to read the Bible, how to pray, how to worship, and how to be good servants. Well, today we come to the topic of stewardship, how we spend our money, not just our money but also our time and resources. You probably heard the expression, put your money where your mouth is. Well, Christians are those who do put their money where their mouth is because we take seriously investing in the kingdom of God.
Here's Dr. Sproul. Today we're going to look at the fifth item that we've been concerned with in terms of the five things that every Christian needs to know in order to grow into the fullness of Christ. And you will recall that the first four we've already looked at included how to study the Bible, how to pray, how to worship, how to serve.
And today we begin a look at the fifth one, which is how to be a good steward. Now keep in mind that we're learning these things so that we can take a hold of what we call the means of grace and those means by which God helps us to grow spiritually. And when we think of those means of grace, we don't often think of stewardship as one of them. But in fact, when we look at Scriptures, we see that God uses the disciplines given by the Holy Ghost and the instruction of His Word to make His people responsible stewards of the gifts that God has bestowed upon Him. And the whole concept of stewardship biblically begins with creation.
And creation is celebrated not only in the book of Genesis, but throughout the pages of Scripture, and especially in the Psalms, where part of the worship and the singing of the people of Israel in the Old Testament celebrated God's ownership of the whole universe. The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, and all those who dwell therein. God is the author of all things, the Creator of all things, and because He is the Creator and the author of all things, He is at the same time the owner of all things. Whatever God makes, He owns. Now what we own, as it were, we own as stewards who have been given gifts from God Himself. The ultimate ownership of all of our so-called possessions, of all of our property, is God Himself. So that's axiomatic, that before I think of how I serve God and worship God with my possessions, the first thing I have to understand is that whatever I own, it's not simply that God owned first, but that God still owns. And He has loaned these things, as it were, to me and expects me to manage these gifts in such a way that will bring honor and glory to Him. The word that is translated, stewardship, in the Bible is the Greek word oikonomia, oikonomia.
I'm writing this on the board that you people in radio land can't see, but you can imagine. And this board is not for your benefit, but the blackboard is for my benefit because I can't speak without writing these things down. And we see that word oikonomia, and I'm sure that you could readily guess what English word derives from this Greek word. Even though it is translated by the English word stewardship, the English word that in fact derives etymologically from it is the word economy, economy, oikonomia.
Economy comes from it. And the word economy, from this Greek word oikonomia, can be understood in this way. The word oikonomia is one of those words in the Greek language where two different distinct words — in this case, nouns — are joined together in a compound way to create a new word.
The first part, oiko, comes from the Greek word oikos, which is the Greek word for house. And the word nomos is a word we're familiar with, even if we don't know the language of antiquity. The word nomos is the word nomos is the Greek word for law. We speak of autonomy, heteronomy, and so on.
Antinomianism is antilawism. So the Greek word nomos is conjoined here with the Greek word for house, so that literally the word that is translated stewardship means house law or house rule. Now this is how it's linked to stewardship. The steward in the ancient culture was not the owner of the house, but he was hired by the owner of the house to manage the affairs of the house, to manage the property, to allocate the resources of the house, to make sure that the cupboards were filled with food, that the money was taken care of, that the lawn was taken care of, that the house was kept in good repair.
All of these dimensions of management were given to the steward. Now in the like manner, this whole concept of stewardship begins in the Garden of Eden, where God creates this wonderful environment and gives Adam and Eve full reign of the garden. And not only that, He gives to Adam and Eve what? Dominion over the entire creation. But Adam and Eve are not given ownership of the world, but they're given the responsibility of managing the world, of taking care of the garden, of taking care to make sure that the garden is tilled and cultivated, that it's not exploited, that it's not abused, and that the goods that are found there in Eden are not wasted. And so what we're talking about fundamentally in this idea of biblical stewardship is responsibility for managing or allocating the resources that do not belong to us. They belong ultimately to God. Now one of my jobs is to be president of Ligonier Ministries.
Now what goes with that territory? What is the responsibility of any chief executive officer of any organization? His primary task is the allocation of resources. We look at our ministry. We have a building that we have to take care of.
We have a student base constituents that have to be ministered to. We have a staff. We have equipment. We have computers and machines and all that sort of thing. And we have money.
We have so much time in which we can operate our ministry. And we cannot be effective in operating the ministry if we waste our time, waste our people, waste our money, destroy our facility, and allow our equipment to fall into disrepair. To do any of those things would be bad stewardship. And so if we have to spend money, you understand this in your own management of your own household, that if you decide to spend $50 here for food, that's $50 that you don't have to spend on clothes, or vice versa.
If you spend the $50 on clothes, you don't have it to spend on food. Everybody, I don't care if they're the richest person in the world, functions in a limited, finite set of resources. And so every time we use a resource, we make a decision.
And what the good steward does is that when he allocates a resource, whether it's his time, his labor, his money, his equipment, he is careful to use that resource in the most prudent way possible. And that's where God holds us accountable. He held Adam and Eve accountable for how they took care of their resources. They took care of that garden. And God now is interested in how we take care of our ministry, how we take care of our personal lives, how we take care of our house, how we take care of our financial resources.
All of these have to do with the pattern of managing and allocating resources. Now, one of the most gripping stories in the New Testament is Jesus' parable of the prodigal son. And what was the problem with the prodigal son? He received an inheritance that he did not earn.
It was given to him by his father. And as soon as he receives this inheritance from his father, instead of trying to use his wisdom to build this inheritance, to invest it, as we saw in the parable of the servants in our last lecture, instead he goes into a far country and wastes his inheritance in wine, women, and song, and ends up living in a pigsty. I mean, the whole story of the prodigal son, at least the first half of the story, and why he's called prodigal is because it's the story of a man who wastes his father's resources. It's the story of a man who wastes his life. And that's the worst sin against stewardship is to waste your life, because every life that has been placed here by God on this planet has been placed here to be used to His glory and to serve Him and to honor Him with what you produce and how you live. And a wasted life is a horrible, horrible tragedy. And that's what we read in the story of the prodigal son until he receives a new life and is brought to his senses, and he comes back home, back to his father's house in repentance, willing no longer to be a steward, but really to be a hired servant at the lowest level of the household.
And instead, his father, as you know, kills the fatted calf and has this great celebration to return his son into the family. Well, what the Scripture speaks of in terms of the Christian life is that the possession that we have been given that is the most valuable possession in all of the world is the pearl of great price, that is worth far more than silver and gold, far more than other precious stones. And that gift of Christ that is given to us is called in the New Testament a treasure. But we carry that treasure in earthen vessels.
Vessels. The metaphor is beautiful. You think of this precious, precious treasure carried around in a garbage can, as it were. That's what we are like when we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit living in us.
We have this heavenly treasure, but we're carrying it in weak vessels. Now, with respect to serving God with our substance, we have to look at the Old Testament concept of the tithe, because one of the things that people ask all the time is, okay, I understand I'm supposed to be a steward. I understand I'm supposed to serve God with whatever wealth God bestows upon me. What does that mean in terms of the Old Testament principle of the tithe? Now, I don't have time in this brief introduction to go through all of the nuances and the technical arguments that surround the debate regarding the Old Testament tithe. We'll look at some of these aspects in our next segment, but for now let me just say this, that there is a debate about how many tithes there were, whether the tithe was applied simply to religious matters, or did it also apply to the maintenance of the state. And of course, the biggest question regarding the tithe is, does the tithe belong to the Old Testament ceremonial law that is nowhere carried forward into the New Testament and is therefore now obsolete, or does the tithe approach or apply to the New Testament Christian? Well, again, without going into all of the details of this, let me just tell you what my view of the matter is. I am convinced that the Old Testament principle of the tithe still applies to the New Testament Christian, and for that I am profoundly grateful.
Why? For this reason, the tithe is one of the most simple, wise, beautiful laws that God ever gave His people, because it was so manifestly fair. Listen to how the tithe worked in Israel. Every person in Israel was required to give 10 percent, 10 percent of his gain each year to God, so that if the man grew livestock and he had 10 calves born to him during that year, his increase was 10 calves. He was required to return one calf to God, one out of 10, and so on. If he had 100 calves, he would have to give 10 calves, depending on his produce. The same thing with those who had bushels of wheat.
If he increased his yield by 100 bushels of wheat this year over the last year, he had to give 10 bushels to God. Now, what was so nice about this was that everybody was on the same playing field. The wealthy and the poor had to pay the same percentage. Now, the wealthy people always had to pay more money than the poor people, but everybody paid the same percentage, so that you couldn't politicize the tithe, so that you couldn't have politicians come in there and create a class war between the poor and the rich and use economics as an instrument of gaining political power by saying to one group, we're going to tax you, but we're not going to tax you to the other group, or saying to the people, some of you are going to pay no percent, some of you are going to pay 5 percent, some of you are going to pay 15 percent, some of you are going to pay 40 percent. That's what creates wars. That's what creates hostility among people, the rich against the poor, the poor against the rich, the politics of envy.
There was none of that stuff under the law of God. God said everybody pays the same percentage. This was the original flat tax. Now again, not everybody paid the same amount. The wealthy paid much more than the poor. The poor just might pay the widow's mite, and the wealthy man might have to pay 100,000 pieces of gold, depending how much wealth he had.
But the point is, everybody had the same percentage. I wonder what would happen to our whole society if every time I voted for an increase in taxes, I was voting for an increase in taxes on myself. It's easy to vote a tax increase on the other guy, and that's the way we play the game in America. And economics become politicized so that the wealthy who don't want to play a higher level try to find loopholes or try to bribe officials to get their payments down. And those who are not so wealthy will band together to impose a tax on the wealthy that's not upon themselves, and everybody's out for themselves.
And greed and covetousness become the order of the day. But when God issues a tax, it doesn't work like that. Well, we ask now, why was there a tithe in the first place in Israel?
The tithe was given to support the Levites, and we'll see why in just a moment. We live in a world today where there's great debate and argument about what is supposed to rule the realm of economics. Is the government supposed to determine what is valuable, or are we to leave it to the natural forces of the market?
And you hear all this dispute between communists and capitalists about the free market and all of that. How do you determine what is valuable? Well, in the Old Testament, God understood something, folks. God understood that left to themselves, people would never place the same value on hearing the Word of God or on education than they would, for example, on physical medicine, on doctors, or on entertainers, or on business entrepreneurs. If you leave things completely to the market, the market will value entertainment.
The market will value entrepreneur producers, attorneys, doctors. But we look at our own country, and we see that the two lowest groups of paid professionals in the United States of America are teachers and pastors. And God knew that in Israel, and He set aside one whole tribe, the Levites. And He said, the Levites will not receive an inheritance here, and the Levites will be responsible for taking care of the matters of the church and for education. And God said, I am instituting the tithe to make sure that these people who are doing these things to which I put a supreme value will receive a proper payment.
That's the origin of the tithe. I remember when I was a little boy, my uncle took me to Forbes Field in Pittsburgh for a baseball game. And I was all excited as we moved through the turnstile, and there were these masses of people making their way to the seats next to the ball field. And as we were halfway to our seats, my uncle leaned down to me and said, hold on to your wallet. And so I grabbed a hold of my wallet.
I didn't know what the problem was. And I went in and I sat down. And when we got there, I said, do I still have to hold on to my wallet? And he said, no, it's okay now.
And I thought he was warning me against pick pockets. But I said, well, what's the problem? He says, well, didn't you see that man back there with the funny collar? And I said, what man? He said, he pointed out to a priest.
And I said, yes. He says, well, anytime you see a minister or a priest, he says, you've got to hang onto your wallet. He says, because these guys in the church, all they're after is your money, and they're constantly asking for money. And you hear this complaint against the church and against ministers all the time.
Part of it is a reaction to televangelists and all the rest because they have to raise enormous amounts of money to pay for television time and so on. But the whole idea of asking people for money to support the ministry of Christ has become a distasteful thing in our culture. And yet one of the most serious problems that we have in the Christian world is the problem of financing the work of Christ.
And as we saw at the end of our last message that God Himself instituted the tithe in Israel to make sure that the ministry of the Old Testament church could be done and that those who were involved in that enterprise would be properly remunerated for their service, as the principle in both Testaments is that the laborer is worthy of his hire. Now still, as I say, with all of this image that we have of ministers constantly asking for money and the idea of ministers riding around in gold Rolls Royces and diamond pinky rings and so on may be part of the TV image that you have. But still, in the final analysis, as I mentioned the last time, the lowest single-paid group of professional people in the United States of America today are pastors. And I don't know any minister who ever went into the ministry in order to get rich, because it is simply not a lucrative enterprise in our culture whatsoever. Also, we may understand that every year in America 16,000 ministers resign from the ministry. Now, there may be many, many reasons for that, but I'm involved constantly teaching pastors, and I also find out that there's a profound sense of discouragement among them because they're human beings and they feel like people do not appreciate their work and their labors. Now, obviously, we are called to perform these services even if people don't appreciate it.
And I understand that and I try to encourage my friends in that regard. But still, pastors are human. And one of the things that they encounter all the time, for example, is this, that the men in their congregations will give them great affirmation, speak kindly to them on Sunday morning. But the one place they will never invite their minister to go with them is to their office, because there is this assumption that the minister can't cut it in the business world, can't cut it in the commercial marketplace, and men tend to be embarrassed to be seen with their minister in that particular venue. Another thing that I talk to the people about is that every time the guys go out for lunch with the men in their congregation, the minister is never allowed to pay the bill.
Now, that's a small thing. And people pick up the check because they're trying to be nice to the pastor. But on the other hand, what they're saying is, you can't afford this.
Let me take care of it for you. And so we communicate in a million ways to the pastors who are serving us that they're really not worth very much. They're not worth much as human beings, and we have an objective way by which we express their value to us, and it's what we pay them.
And the pay scale, as I said in America, is the lowest of any professional, which can only mean objectively we place the lowest value on the work that they perform in our midst than we would any other professional group of people. And I think that's a tragedy. But the message gets through to the pastor. And so he has to shut his eyes to that, and he has to say, it doesn't matter what they pay me, I'm still going to be faithful to my calling, or else I'm going to leave because I can't take this anymore. Now, again, I think one of the great sins of our time is the exploitation of Christian workers. As I mentioned in our last message, I'm the CEO of a Christian ministry. We have somewhere around 60 full-time employees at Ligonier Ministry, and those employees do all kinds of things. They're involved in answering the telephone when you call.
They're involved if you order a tape or a book or something from Ligonier Ministry. Somebody has to take that order, enter it into your computer. Somebody has to get it back to the shipping department. Somebody has to manage the inventory.
Somebody has to take that off the shelf and put it in a box, wrap it up, put your address on it, and get it out to you within 24 hours or whatever. And then we have people that have to design the catalogs and all that kind of stuff. So you have 60 people working, and you have secretaries. Now, here's what I know.
I know that in the metropolitan area of Orlando, Florida, there are enough Christians here who want to be engaged in ministry that they would be willing to work for this ministry at a pay scale significantly lower than what their gifts and talents are worth in the general marketplace. And so there's a sense of which I know we don't have to compete with the cost of secretaries in the store or the building next door to us, that we can pay lower wages than what our people could make by just going next door. And guess what? I refuse to do that. I absolutely refuse to do it, because I have no right to presume on somebody else's sacrifice.
I have no right to impose a sacrifice on you. And that dishonors God and exploits people when I take advantage of their willingness to serve Christ with the gifts that are more valuable in the marketplace than we're going to. But Christian ministries do that all the time. And the excuse is, well, we're serving God.
Well, the other excuse is, it's the only way we can do the job because we don't have the finances. And I saw the largest poll ever taken on the religious habits of American people a few years ago. And in that religious poll of 65 million people in America who claim to be born again, who claim to be evangelical Christians, of that group, four percent said that they tithed their income to the work of Christ. Now, I don't know how accurate that poll is. You know, these polls can be off two or three percentage points.
But let's say it's off by four percentage points. And that would mean that 92 percent of professing evangelical people systematically, day in and day out, rob God and refuse to finance the work of Christ. Now, we go back to the Old Testament, to the book of Malachi, and we hear God's response to this type of problem. In Malachi chapter 3, in verse 8, we read this text, "'Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me.' But you say, in what way have we robbed you? In tithes and in offerings. And you are cursed with a curse because you have robbed Me.
Even this whole nation. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now on this,' says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you such blessing, that there will be not enough room for you to receive it.'" Now, this is not the local minister giving an appeal for funds.
This is God speaking to His covenant people. And He asked the question, will a man rob Me? Would you steal from God Himself? And of course, the people shrink back in horror from a question like that. And they think, of course we would never rob you.
I mean, we wouldn't think of ourselves as a people. I mean, we wouldn't think of robbing God. And God said, yet you have robbed Me.
How? In tithes and offerings. You have kept back for yourself that which belongs to Me, and that which I have required of you. Now, that's what happened in Old Testament Israel. That was a serious problem, a problem that the prophets had to come and rebuke the people. And God said, well, why don't you test Me and see what I do? If you honor Me, if you obey Me, I'm going to open up the windows of heaven and pour out so much blessing upon you, you're not even going to be able to have room to put it.
But no, you have elected to hold it back. Now, beloved, it is our duty as Christians to be stewards and to respond to the command of God. Now, again, some people say that the tithe does not apply to the New Testament.
I think it does. And we see people continuing to tithe in the New Testament in one of the earliest non-biblical books that we have in antiquity that did okay, or the so-called teaching of the apostles, which was written either at the end of the first century or early in the second century, has a significant portion of it given over to this question of supporting the work of the kingdom. And the tithe principle is clearly communicated there so that in the earliest documents that we have from the Christian church, we see that the primitive Christian community continued the practice of the tithe. Also, there's some wisdom found in the did okay in terms of prudential warnings given to the Christian saying, let your donation sweat in your hand before you give it.
An interesting metaphor, isn't it? Let your donation sweat in your hand before you give it. Now, notice that that injunction in the did okay is not that the donation is to sweat in your hand until your hand freezes over it so that you never give it. That's not the point. But the point of it is what?
Be very careful. Be very discerning where you give your donation. Now, that brings up another question that is controversial with respect to financing the kingdom. And from this text in Malachi, I read, God says, bring all the tithes into the storehouse that there may be food in My house. Again, in the Old Testament, the tithe, which was either in animals or in produce, was brought to a central location, to the storehouse, which was managed by the Levites. And so the whole tithe from the whole nation was brought into this single receiving place, and then it was distributed by the Levites according to the needs of the people of God and the cultists of Israel. Now, some people have taken that to mean that in the New Testament, there should be a single there should be a single storehouse where all of your tithe goes, and then that storehouse distributes the goods.
Well, there are two problems with that. In the first place, in the Old Testament, the Old Testament operated on the basis of a central sanctuary, where in this little country of Palestine, there was one central sanctuary in Jerusalem. When the New Testament church was established, churches were established in every town, in every city, in Ephesus, in Corinth, and Galatia, and so on.
No longer did you have the theocracy that you had in Israel. No longer did you have one central sanctuary. And so the idea of bringing your tithes into one central storehouse doesn't translate from the Old Testament to New Testament. But some people have done this, and they say, well, the local church is the storehouse, and the only appropriate place for you to give your tithe is to your local church. Well, again, there's not one word in sacred Scripture that identifies the local church with the Old Testament storehouse, number one. Number two, if we were to speculate that the church, the local church is the storehouse because of the storehouse principle carrying over, what we would have to argue for is the central location in the denomination or in the whole nation, where all our tithes, say if you're a Methodist or you're an Episcopalian or you're a Lutheran, all your tithes would have to go to the central receiving house in the Lutheran denomination or in the Presbyterian denomination. And then that central receiving agency would divvy it up into the local church and into the colleges and the seminaries and the other ministries that are required to do it. But I've never heard a local church favor that. It's just simply not biblical to say to people that all of their tithe has to go to their local church.
I do think that the lion's share of a person's tithe should go to their local church, but I also think the principle is let the donation sweat in your hand before you give it so that you are discerning in where you give it and give it to where it can be used for the advancement of the kingdom of God, whether that's at a seminary, a Christian college with the Salvation Army, or any other Christian enterprise. All right, let me just say this, that when we are engaged in financing the kingdom of God, the biblical concept is that we are called to invest in the kingdom. We live in a country that was built on the principle of capitalism, and the fundamental idea of capitalism is this, that you are engaged in delayed gratification. Instead of taking your money that you make and spending it all now, the principle of capitalism is that you save it, you invest it instead of spending it, allowing your capital to go to work for you, allowing your capital to expand your wealth and to increase your wealth while you're sleeping, as it were, your money is working for you.
And so people invest in the stock market, and then they check the stock market every day to see how their investments are doing. And I think that's a very wise way to manage one's personal income, that if you make ten dollars an hour, say to yourself, okay, I'm going to live on eight dollars an hour. I'm going to take one dollar out of that ten, and I'm going to invest it in God, and the other dollar I'm going to take and invest it in mutual funds or whatever, because whatever money you have, that's what you have to live on, but we don't want to do that.
Instead, we spend twelve dollars on the ten dollars that we make, which is the American way. But the classic way of delayed gratification is you invest to increase. But I really believe that the most important investment we can ever make is in the kingdom of God, because it has eternal returns, not just for us, but for our family, our children, our grandchildren, and this generation of Christians has to invest for the next generation in the things of God. And this only follows Christ's advice, seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you. And so, my charge to you is when you are allocating your resources, when you are spending your money, that you think about how you can invest in Christ's kingdom. In Christ's kingdom, with the allocation of your resources, that means your time, your labor, your equipment, and your money.
That's how we support the ministry of Christ. Time, energy, labor, property, all of the resources that God has given to us, we are to direct. And the wonderful thing about the tithe is that if God prospers you, you don't have to feel guilty about it.
If you return to Him what He asks of you, then you can enjoy the rest as long as you use it wisely. But you can enjoy His prosperity, which is what He encourages us on the pages of sacred Scripture. In closing, I want to give a couple of practical comments on how to tithe.
People ask me that all the time. I hear people say, I'd like to tithe, but I can't afford to tithe. And I say, what you were saying to me is you cannot afford to live at the level you're living now and tithe.
That's what you're saying, although I really doubt that. I honestly believe that you invest in the kingdom of God, you're not going to lose anything in the final analysis. But the way to overcome that always is to tithe from the top, and learn that as early as you can in life with your children. If they get a dollar allowance, make sure that their first ten cents goes in the collection plate on Sunday morning, so that they learn the principle early, and they learn that even if, for example, if the government's going to come and tax your income, you know that you can't spend the money that the government's taken. Well, my obligation to God takes precedence over my obligation to government. He gets paid first. He gets paid from the top. And if you want to know how serious you are about investing in God's kingdom and what kind of a steward you really are, look at your checkbook, because your checkbook is an objective, concrete record of where your treasure is and of where your heart is and how much you care about financing the kingdom of God. Your checkbook tells the story of your stewardship.
Go look at it, because it won't lie to you. That was R.C. Sproul, helping us think biblically about how we use our time, energy, resources, and finances. You're listening to Renewing Your Mind. I'm Nathan W. Bingham. Today is the last day that we'll be featuring a message from Dr. Sproul's series, Five Things Every Christian Needs to Grow. All week, we have considered important topics, how to study the Bible, how to pray, how to worship, how to be good servants, and today, considering the topic of stewardship, how we use our time and our talents. And for your donation of any amount, we'll give you digital access to the full series.
It's 10 messages in full. So give your gift today at renewingyourmind.org. And when you do, not only will you have digital access to this series, lifetime access, in fact, so you can listen in the free Ligonier app or at ligonier.org, we'll send you the companion paperback book. You may be thinking of someone in your life that is new to the Christian faith or perhaps needs a refresher on these important topics of Bible study and prayer, and perhaps you'd give them this book. So give your gift today at renewingyourmind.org or by calling us at 1-800-435-4343. The Sermon on the Mount is perhaps the best known, most beloved, and most frequently quoted sermon of all time. Well, next week, Sinclair Ferguson will be joining us to walk us through this sermon of Jesus and show us how it teaches us how to be fruitful Christians living in this fallen world. So join us Monday here on Renewing Your Mind.
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