The Stewordship of Money,
------------------------------------------------------------------------- m^~ n--------------- /-----
I he use of money has
a great deal to say
about the moral condition
of the one who uses it.
Contemporary Christians often make denunications of wealth and the wealthy, on the one hand, and fervent appeals for money, on the other. Ken Smith gently reveals the inconsistency in such attitudes by outlining the biblical teaching on the legitimate uses of money.
f we pause to consider our life, we must acknowledge that it is a gift of God. Our life, our talents, intel-
ligence, and temperament are all given to us by the Creator. Yet God, the Giver of life, lays total claim on the lives of men and women—especially those whom He has redeemed. This is clearly shown throughout the Bible.
In the Old Testament God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai. He gave die Law as the precise pattern of life by which His people were to live. He said, "I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the
house of bondage" (Exod. 20:2). Yet, this lordship of God over His people was not just an Old Testament concept.
In the New Testament we see the same theme. Paul says, "Ye are not your own. For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body" (1 Cor. 6:19-20). Jesus said that you are to "love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength" (Mark 12:30).
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We are to see ourselves as stewards —we are men and women who are managing someone else's resources. When we realize that our lives are not our own, it follows that our money is not our own. We are to be responsible stewards for its wise use and disposition.
Jesus Himself saw the lure of money and power in His third temptation (Matt. 4:8). He was taken up onto a high mountain and was shown all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. Satan said, "All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt bow down and worship me." But Jesus replied, "Worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve" (Matt. 4:10). In another place Jesus said, "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his soul?" (Matt. 16:26). We are not to put money first in our lives.
What Does the Bible
Say about Money and Its Use?
To be sure, "filthy lucre" is condemned in the Bible, but what exactly is this filthy lucre? Money itself is not what the Bible warns against. This paper or metal has no moral value, but the use of money has a great deal to say about the moral condition of the one who uses it.
Jesus said that the "love of money" is the root of all evil (1 Tim. 6:10). This is illustrated by the story that Jesus told of the rich fool (Luke 12:16-21). The story concerns a wealthy man who was never satisfied with what he possessed. When his bumper crop came in and filled his barns, he had those barns torn down in order to build bigger ones to make room for more wealth. His goal was to gratify his own greed. He is not condemned for having money, but rather for his wicked attitude toward money.
This greedy man stands in sharp contrast to Abraham, who had a proper attitude toward wealth. He prospered greatly with sheep, oxen, camels, and servants. He also believed the promise of God that his descendants would someday possess the land. However, Abraham held all these things loosely and lived in a tent. He built altars and gave tithes. He did not seek after wealth, but rather he sought after the glory of God.
Over and over again, Abraham dedicated his possessions to God. He dedicated all the males bought with his money. He held nothing back from God, not even his own son. Even Abraham's servant testified that "the Lord hath blessed my master greatly" (Gen. 24:35).
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Contrast this with Abraham's nephew Lot, who chose the lush valley of Sodom and Gomorrah, thinking only of himself (Gen. 13:10-12). God eventually judged the society of which Lot had become a part. As we see from Ezekiel 16, this judgment was not only for the sexual sins of the people of the valley, but also for their pride, their prosperous ease, and their lack of concern for the poor. Lot eventually had to flee Sodom, and in the process he lost everything, including his wife.
So many advertisers depict success and prestige in terms of possessions. Yet, possessions are not the Christian's standard of success. God has given us a very different measure of who we really are. The glory of being Christians is that we are already kings and priests in God's eyes—for we are sons and heirs! The believer who has the smile of God needs no other status symbol.
Wealth and the independence it brings can cause one to forget God. God warns the Israelites of this danger in Deuteronomy 8:13-14, when He says,
-hristianity should provide our highest motivation to live unselfishly,
"When thy herds and they flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord."
The Laodicean church in Revelation 3 said, "I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing." Jesus, however, pointed out to them that in God's sight they were wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked (3:17). Holding on to riches can be a real deterrent to entering the kingdom of heaven.
So why do we really wish riches for ourselves or for our children? Jesus said, "Verily I say unto you, that a rich
man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 19:23). Jesus also said, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven" (Matt. 6:19-20).
Finally, there is the deceitfulness of riches. Jesus, in the parable of the sower, talks of the seed that grows up only to be choked by thorns (Mark 4:7). He tells His disciples that this seed represents those who hear the word, but are kept from bearing fruit because they have been choked by the "deceitfulness of riches" (4:18-19).
Positive Statements and Applications
Wealth is often simply the consequence of diligence. And diligence is encouraged in the Bible. "Seest thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings" (Prov. 22:29). Paul said, "Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord" (Col. 3:23). Many proverbs praise the virtue of hard work, and condemn slothfulness as a sin. "If any would not work neither should he eat," Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 3:10.
Openhandedness is also praised in Scripture. Those who have the things of this world are to help the poor (Ps. 41:1). Jesus said that when you give a dinner, do not invite your friends, your relatives, and rich neighbors, but rather invite the poor and the maimed, and you will be blessed because they cannot repay you (Luke 14:12).
Fidelity and faithfulness are encouraged throughout the Scriptures in the use of money. Joseph was entrusted with responsibility for his master's business (Gen. 39:4). The men who were rebuilding the temple in 2 Kings 12 could be trusted with all the gold, silver, and money that was brought in. Daniel, the prime minister of Babylon, was a man who could be trusted. The deacons in Acts 6 were trusted with the distribution to the poor in the early church. These men were chosen, in part, for their honesty.
Christians are not to seek to take advantage of others' ignorance or weakness. In Proverbs 20:14 we read about the person who is saying, "It's no good. It's no good," when he is bargaining, but after the deal is made he will boast of the good buy he got.
Business is sometimes very complex, and in many cases there are no easy solutions. For example, does a Christian businessman take the "market" price, or
does he sell for a fair return that may be a little less than he could get? Men have broken out of "accepted patterns" in the past in order to do the right thing. Henry Ford paid his factory workers much more than what was currently being paid to those round about. In whatever way a Christian business-person works through these hard problems, he or she must work with more factors in mind than only a maximum profit. Ron Sider, in Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, says that, "Profit as an end in itself is futile. The proper goal of production should be the satisfaction of human need."
John Stott in Christianity Today, in September 1977, stated: "I want to continue to defend the freedom for creative human enterprise for which capitalism stands only if such freedom is responsibly controlled and not made to be an excuse either for the spoliation of God's creation or for the exploitation of human beings made in His image."
Christianity should provide our highest motivation to live unselfishly. We Christians should be moved with compassion as we see the disparity between the wealth in the Western nations and the poverty in the Third and Fourth World countries. And this compassion should move us to action because we see ourselves as world citizens.
The problem is too complex to be solved simply by giving to relief agencies. Many of these nations need economic development to enable their people to be able to support themselves. Fresh radical thinking and action is surely required.
This radicalism is not a modern idea. Even in the Old Testament God gave the children of Israel some radical proposals. For example, every seventh year the sabbatical year was given to provide for the liberation of slaves and debtors (Lev. 25:10). God's concern was for the poor and disadvantaged.
The Hebrew slaves were to be freed in the seventh year and given not only their liberty, but they were to be given capital (in the form of sheep and goats from their master's flocks) so they could start again on their own. Also in the seventh year all debts were to be canceled, and God warned the people not to hold back loans on the sixth year knowing it was going to be lost in the next year.
God also had other laws that made provision for the poor. The crops were not to be stripped from the field. During the grain harvest the laborers were
not to reap in the corners of the fields. They were to leave some for the poor and strangers in the land.
How can we apply this to our situation today? Are we generous in our dealings with others, or do we insist on squeezing out every cent that is coming to us? God gave a reason for the Hebrews to be generous and open-handed. They were to be compassionate because God had shown compassion to them by freeing them from slavery. But sadly they did forget, and much of this part of the law was neglected. This hardness was one of the reasons that God
\re we generous in our deolings with others,
or do we insist
on squeezing out every
cent that is coming to us?
judged Israel by sending them into captivity for 70 years (2 Chron. 36:21).
The New Testament is even more radical than the Old Testament in its teaching on money. Jesus, for example, asked the rich young man to sell his goods and give to the poor—but he did not tell him to become destitute and friendless. Rather he said, "Come, follow me" (Luke 18:22).
Paul, too, called new believers to offer their money for the aid of other Christians. Paul was not at all embarrassed to appeal to the Christians to help at the time of famine in Judea. He said that the generosity of the Corinthians was the best way to prove the reality of their love—"your abundance may be a supply for their want" (2 Cor. 8:14).
The spirit in which we give is most important. We could paraphrase 1 Corinthians 13:3, "Though I give all my money to feed the poor and have not love it profits me nothing." We are to give freely. Jesus said, "Freely ye have received, freely give" (Matt. 10:8).
We are to give regularly on the first day of the week—each person is to lay aside in store (1 Cor. 16:2). We are to give cheerfully because "God loveth a cheerful giver" (2 Cor. 9:7). "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). If you want to feel good, do good. If you want to feel rich, give your riches. We need to realize what a joy it is to share and to give. This is the new lifestyle of sharing and giving rather than holding.
We are to check our motives when we are buying something—a new car, house, or clothes. Is it necessary or is it for our vanity? When we do buy, we should be wise. Such wisdom means that we do not always buy the cheapest because that may not be the most economical in the long run. We are also to be aware of the conflict between the ideal and the real—the aesthetic and the practical.
Also, we should be wary of get-rich-quick schemes. Usually, there is a greater risk for a potentially greater return. The most certain way of "getting ahead" is to save. Put simply, we must live below our income level, and we must forgo present enjoyment for future security. In our modern society many people think they can "have their cake and eat it too." But this is not possible.
Finally, prayerfully, set a reasonable standard of living with which we feel comfortable. If riches increase, this is not an automatic justification to shift our standard of living upward. Increased wealth only increases our responsibility to God for our stewardship.
We belong to God and are responsible for how we live and handle money. We are encouraged to work and to work well. If prosperity comes, we are to share it in a world context. Our lifestyle will be different from that of the world around us. There are many dangers in wrong attitudes about money, and we certainly need God's help in wise management. The secret is in a true appreciation for what God has done for us. The realization of what God has done for us is certainly the strongest motivation that we have to return our love to him.
■ Ken Smith is a prominent businessman and lay Christian leader in Vancouver, British Columbia. He has been actively involved with Regent College since its founding. This article is adapted from Crux (March 1984), the quarterly publication of Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia. Used by permission.
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