The idea of Biblical stewardship is not new, but can seem foreign in our current culture. Though Christians may be familiar with the underlying principles, they often do not ponder the deeper application to their lives.
Biblical stewardship is such a broad subject, that we will only skim the surface here. However, we will delve more deeply into the many areas that this idea impacts in other posts on this blog. This post will briefly look at what stewardship is, why it is important and how we can focus on having the mindset of a steward.
Why Is This Important?
Money and possessions are the second most talked about subject in the Bible (following the kingdom of heaven). It isn’t because God needs money, but because money and possessions reflect what we truly think about God. What we value determines where our heart is. Jesus said in Matthew 6: 21 “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Will we hold loosely to things of this world and desire Him and His glory, or will we hold more tightly to the things of this world and put Him in a lower place in our lives? Jesus said in Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
We are all serving someone or something. Who or what are you serving?
Biblical Stewardship Defined
Biblical stewardship provides a path to view and use the money and possessions God entrusts us with appropriately. It enables our thoughts and priorities to be refocused on Him, while providing a tool to meet our needs and bring Him glory. When done properly it keeps our priorities straight and brings balance in our lives.
The dictionary definition of stewardship is “the job or supervising or taking care of something, such as an organization or property.” In other words, a steward manages something for the benefit of someone else. With Biblical stewardship, we are tasked with managing the money, possessions, time and talents He entrusts us with for His glory.
Perhaps a practical example would help. Think of your local Chick-Fil-A franchise. The manager is responsible for everything from overseeing staff, cleaning the facility cooking the food etc, but they don’t own the franchise. The owner expects the manager to do their job and generate a profit for them. The manager receives a salary (and perhaps a bonus) for their work, while the owner keeps the profits.
Each of us are managing a franchise that is owned by God. The time, talents, money and other resources are not ours, and should not be used selfishly by us. Rather, they are entrusted to us by God to be used for His Glory.
Principle Based vs Rules
God could have made this stewardship idea very easy. He could have laid out rules for us to follow, such as give $5,000 a year to the church, have $0 in debt, live on $3,000 a month etc. Instead, God gave us principles to follow.
Biblical principles are general ideas that provide wide latitude for us to apply to our lives. They require us to think through what we will do (or not do) and why. It causes us to weigh competing goals and priorities to arrive at an answer that will be unique to us. There is no “right” answer for everyone, rather we all must wrestle with how to manage God’s resources effectively.
Though principles provide us freedom, the Bible is clear that we will be held accountable for our decisions (see Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 16:10-12). Thus, we need to carefully consider how we will live these principles out in our lives.
Key Stewardship Principles
1. God owns it all
Psalm 24:1 The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein
2. Live below your means
Proverbs 13:11 “Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.”
3. Avoid debt
Proverbs 22:7 “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.”
4. Give to support the Lord’s work
2 Corinthians 9:7 “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
5. Save for the future
Proverbs 6:6-8 “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.”
6. Provide for your family
Timothy 5:8 “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
If you have attended church for some period of time none of this should be new to you. Most churches will teach on stewardship and cover these points. The problem that I have seen is that very few people stop and think about how they will apply them.
Sadly, many Christians fall into the pattern of the world, which focuses on their pleasure, security and comfort. There is nothing wrong with any of those things (as they are blessings from the Lord), but if we are neglecting God’s interests, then we are no longer acting as the manager, but taking over the role of owner.
What are some questions we should be thinking about?
- If I buy this house/car/etc, will I need to reduce giving to the Lord’s work or volunteering at church (due to working more hours) to pay for it?
- When should I take on debt? Am I presuming upon God? Am I not allowing Him to provide for a need in His timing?
- Will taking this job make me less available for ministry opportunities?
- If both my spouse and I work outside the home, how will that impact our shepherding responsibility of our children and availability to minister?
- How much should I give to support the Lord’s work? Am I giving generously or out of compulsion?
- Is retirement Biblical? How should I spend time during this season of life?
- How much should I leave to my children as an inheritance? Will it become a snare or blessing for them?
What Can We Do?
Moving from our cultural norm to a Biblical view of stewardship takes work. Here are a few ideas to help move you in the right direction:
1. Fix our Pronouns
Have you ever stopped to think about how you talk about money and possessions? What are the pronouns you use? Do you say that this is my house, my car, my lawnmower etc? If God owns everything, then it is not my car, but His. Not my house, but His house. If my responsibility is to manage what God has provided (time, talents, money etc) for His glory, then that means He is the real owner, not me.
Our cultural view of money and possessions can easily permeate our words and thinking. Though pronouns are small, they put the focus of ownership back on us and not the Lord.
Changing our pronouns allow us to hold loosely to the things of this world and improve our perspective on stewardship.
2. Consider The Source(s)
When dealing with Biblical finance, it is challenging to get a balanced perspective of theology and practical steps to take from one person. This is because we are combining two topics that are not normally associated with one another in our culture, the Bible and finance. Generally, people have more experience or training with one or the other, but very rarely both.
When a Pastor teaches on stewardship, they can do a great job explaining the principles and underlying theology, but can’t usually help with the details of practical application (ie how to repay debt, save for retirement etc). A Christian financial advisor can help with the practical application, but normally has limited theological training.
The point is not to say that you should not listen to either, but rather understand their limitations. Ideally, having exposure to both will help bring about the appropriate balance.
3. Thoughtfully Consider Your Stewardship Role
When was the last time that you thought about your stewardship responsibility? Often times it can be easy to adopt what our culture is pushing (materialism, living for oneself etc), and not consider the Biblical principles at hand.
Preparing in advance how you will deal with issues such as debt, giving, inheritance etc can help you make wise informed decisions when they arise.
Here are a few resources I would recommend as you prepare for your journey:
A. The Bible – doing a concentrated study on the many passages that deal with money and possessions and thinking and praying through what they mean is invaluable. Sometimes these passages can get lost with other areas of study, so making a concentrated effort on this topic will be beneficial.
B. Reading other books on the topic – there are many really good books written on the topic. Larry Burkett has written extensively on the topic and his books have been very helpful for many people over the years. A book that I have also found helpful is “Money, Possessions and Eternity” by Randy Alcorn. It is a little thick, but not a difficult read. He is a Pastor who has done considerable study on the topic and will really challenge your thinking on the subject.
C. Find a good Christian Financial Advisor – someone who grasps the principles of Biblical stewardship and can help you apply them in the modern discipline of personal finance. At least getting a periodic check-up can be helpful to ensure you are made aware of the latest techniques and law changes that may impact your situation.
4. Start Small
As you work your way through some of the resources outlined above, it is important to not try and do too much all at once. Most people struggle with personal financial issues and can become overwhelmed quickly.
Consider picking one area to focus your efforts and begin to make changes over time to bring your situation into alignment with your stewardship goal. For example, if you desire to leave more of your estate to Christian ministries, set a timeline to consider your options and then contact an attorney to have your Will drafted. Then you can move on to the next area and so forth. Dealing with everything all at once may cause you to do nothing due to feeling overwhelmed.
The other important element is that this is a lifelong process. Once you have reviewed everything and made changes, you should periodically review your situation as things will change.
5. Stay Balanced
As with everything there needs to be a balance in our lives as we approach stewardship.
On the one side is thinking that you own the money and possessions that God has provided, and you seek to get the maximum enjoyment out of them (materialism). In other words, you do what you want and God’s priorities take a backseat. When this attitude is adopted, non-Christians see no difference in the way we live life, and that dishonors the Lord.
The other side is self-denial and living austerely while attempting to be good stewards (asceticism). Oftentimes this means not enjoying any (or very few) material blessings. As all blessings come from God, you are choosing not to accept blessings that the Lord is giving you. Though it may appear as being more spiritual, it is just as problematic as materialism.
In our present culture, more people struggle with materialism, but both views are on the extreme ends of the spectrum. Money and possessions are a tool, and when used appropriately they bring honor to God and joy to us.
Finding that balance is important, and should lead to tension…
6. There Should Be Tension
There is normally not enough money to go around and meet all your goals, hopes and dreams, so some are met, while others are not. As we live life, there should be a tension in our financial stewardship decisions.
What does this tension look like?
Perhaps a practical example would help. My wife and I would like more space in our home due to our expanding family. Looking at moving to another home would cost much more, meaning we would save less, reduce our flexibility financially to support the Lord’s work and also limit our witness to our current neighbors. We are trying to balance all of these things, yet be good stewards of the money, house, relationships and time God has provided. In the end we may or may not move, but it is much more than a financial decision.
So the tension should be evident as you struggle to meet conflicting goals. If it is never there, you may be overlooking something.
Though Biblical stewardship may be a challenge, I hope you enjoy the journey and the blessings of managing what God has provided for His glory!
- Are you living like the owner or the manager?
- In your desire to be a good steward, have you become stingy towards others? Our stewardship should encourage others to see God’s generosity and love, not push them away.
- Money and possessions make wonderful tools, but are terrible masters.
- Stewardship does not happen naturally. If you don’t pursue it, it won’t happen.
- You cannot outsource your stewardship responsibility. Though you can hire a Christian financial advisor or take a class to teach you about stewardship, ultimately you are the one responsible before the Lord for how things are managed.
- Martin Luther said “There are three conversions necessary: the conversion of the heart, mind and the purse.” Does this reflect your life?