Principles of Biblical Stewardship
Brief review of theme of Sermon on the Mount (life in God's kingdom). For the last two weeks, we have been studying what Jesus teaches about the relationship between God's kingdom and material wealth and anxiety >> Brief review of major points.
This raises a whole host of specific questions: How much money should I give, and to whom? What income level should I live at? How should I decide whether to buy this car or home? How much debt is allowable?
Trying to answer these specific questions first is backwards. It leads to the construction of legalistic rules that rarely fit the complexity of our situation or others. God's way is to teach us a different perspective on who we are, and then to provide us with principles that help us to live consistently with our new identity. When we learn and embrace our new identity, and begin to apply the associated principles, we will find much more light on our practical questions.
Foundational identity issue: steward or owner?
The watershed issue is one of identity: Who are we in relation to the material possessions we control? Here we find two different answers--one from our culture and one from the Bible--that cannot be reconciled. Our culture says we are OWNERS, while the Bible (especially Jesus) says we are STEWARDS (cf. Matt. 25;Lk. 16). Here are the key differences:
OWNER: My material resources belong exclusively to me.
STEWARD: My resources belong to God, who is the owner of all things (Ps. 24:1). He has temporarily entrusted these resources to me.
The concept of private property is valid in both paradigms. Since God has entrusted these resources to me and not to you, you do not have the right to make me use them the way you choose.
OWNER: I may use my resources however I wish.
STEWARD: I should use God's resources to advance his priorities.
OWNER: I am not accountable to anyone else for how I use my resources.
STEWARD: I will give an account to God for how I use his resources (not for salvation, but for reward).
How do you view yourself--as an OWNER or a STEWARD?
NON-CHRISTIANS: God's desire for you to become his steward is motivated by his love. He has a good purpose for your life, and he wants to guide you into it. The first step is to personally receive Christ . . .
CHRISTIANS: If you have received Christ, you are a STEWARD--whether you realize it or not. You have been bought with a price, and you should glorify God with all of your resources (1 Cor. 6:19b-20). If you have never done so before now, you should personally agree with God about this and present yourself to him as his steward.
Once you have done this, God gives you four important principles/implications to help you live consistently as a steward. I want to explain each how of these principles flow from the notion of stewardship, and suggest some ways that they help you live as an effective steward.
The first principle is the principle of contentment--we should learn to be satisfied with what we have materially, rather than always grasping for more. Read and explain 1 Tim. 6:7-9; Heb. 13:5; Phil. 4:11-13.
There are several reasons why should we practice this principle:
Because most of us are already "rich" by any sane definition of the term. We have far more than we need. "By any objective criterion, the 5 percent of the world's people who live in the Unites States are an incredibly rich aristocracy living on the same little planet with over a billion desperately poor neighbors . . . Our standard of living, compared with that of over a billion poor neighbors, is at least as luxurious as was the lifestyle of the medieval aristocracy compared with their serfs." (5 percent of world population consuming 80 percent of world's resources).
Because we know that identity, security, and fulfillment come from healthy love relationships with God and people--not from stacking up more wealth or any combination of toys.
Because God may call us to new and greater roles of service which entail smaller income. If we do not live modestly and below our means, we may be unwilling or unable to take advantage of these opportunities.
So that we can give more of God's financial resources to his priorities. From a stewardship perspective, the main reason why the principle of contentment is so important is so that we can practice the principle of generosity . . .
How can you know if you are practicing this principle? Consider the following questions:
Do you live consistently below your means? The most objective way to answer this question is to look at the average annual interest on your credit cards. If you regularly carry thousands of dollars of credit card debt, doesn't this usually signal that you can't wait until you can afford something before you get it? In other words, you are not content to live with what you have.
Just because I can afford something does not mean that I should acquire it! "Can I afford it?" is a responsible owner question--but the faithful steward also asks "How will this affect my ability to advance Gods purposes? This leads us to another way to know if you are practicing contentment . . .
Do you distinguish biblically between "needs" and "wants?" I am not saying that we may only purchase absolute needs; God permits us to have some luxuries. But I should at least be aware that it is a want, and not give into our culture's insidious indoctrination that this item (BIGGER HOUSES; NEWER CARS; EXPENSIVE CLOTHING & FURNITURE; EXTRAVAGANT VACATIONS; etc.) is something I need and deserve--especially if purchasing it is going to hinder my pursuit of God's priorities.
By generosity, I mean that we should give sacrificially and consistently of our money in ways that will advance God's priorities. Let's look more closely at each of the main terms of this definition.
"God's priorities" include three main areas:
YOUR OWN LOCAL CHURCH (1 Tim. 5 implies this)
MISSIONS (Phil. 1,4)
THE POOR (Luke 12): Suggest Sider's book (Rich Christians in An Age of Hunger) on this
"But how much should I give?" The biblical answer is not a specific amount or even a percentage--but that you give sacrificially.
"Sacrificially" means that my giving cuts into my standard of living so that I feel it. "I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving way too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them." This also enables us to experience God's financial faithfulness in our lives.
This means that anyone can give sacrificially, no matter how little you have (STUDENTS; POOR; IN DEBT). Read Mark 12:41-44. "This is . . . the new mathematics, the arithmetic of heaven. God estimates our gifts not so much by their financial value, as by the sacrifice involved, the love that accompanies it, and the amount that is left. The supreme value of the widow's gift lay in the fact that she 'out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on' - while the others gave 'out of their surplus' (Mk. 12:44). Here is a searching test of our giving, but that incident should greatly encourage those who have only a little to give, but give it gladly." Therefore, those who have little should start giving now. The notion that "I will wait until later when I have more to give" is usually self-deception--those who do this usually still don't give when they have more because it is affected by covetousness (2 Cor. 9:5).
"What about tithing?" The tithe was an Old Testament tax, collected to support the Levites because they had no land allotment. 10 percent may be a good place to start in giving--but it should not be an outer limit! As my real income increases, and as my contentment grows, I should be able to get to the point where I can give substantially more than 10 percent!
"Consistently" means that our giving should be budgeted and off the top, rather than spontaneously and from what I have left over (1 Cor. 16:2). This is important for you, so you won't erode it through covetousness. This is also important for those who receive your money, so they can plan.
This is one reason why we recommend pledge commitments (GENERAL FUND; BUILDING FUND; WORLDTEAM), and why ATF is helpful.
Contentment and generosity are the two primary biblical principles of stewardship. There are two more principles that are facilitating rather than primary. In other words, while you can observe them and not be a good steward, you need to observe them to become a fully effective steward.
By awareness, I simply mean that you stay informed on the state of your financial affairs. From a stewardship perspective, since you must ultimately give an account to God of your financial affairs, you should keep track of your finances now. What would you think if your investment advisor couldn't produce a record of where your money is and what is happening with it? If it is important for him to be aware of your financial situation, how much more important is it for you to be aware of this as God's steward?
Financial awareness primarily means constructing a budget and then tracking it regularly. This is important for several reasons:
Timely payment of bills
Preparation for future needs (CAR REPAIRS; COLLEGE)
Digging out of debt
Living within your financial means
Keeping and increasing giving commitments
There are great tools (like QUICKEN) that help you set up a budget and stay aware of your financial situation. There is the CONSUMER CREDIT COUNSEL, which will help you set up a budget. We also have the PERSONAL FINANCE MINISTRY TEAM, which will help you with this and other matters. But you have to use them consistently.
The difficult part for most of us is getting started--because we have never done it before, or because we are afraid of how bad the situation is. Once you do it, it gets easier to do, and the progress you make is exciting!
It is my observation that Christians who fail to apply this principle usually fail at most of the above reasons, while those who develop this discipline usually become good stewards.
By the principle of counsel, I mean that we should seek godly advice on my financial affairs.
The owner says "My money matters are private, nobody's business!" This is usually because our identity is tied up in our portfolio, because we want to be autonomous, etc. But stewards are concerned with advancing God's priorities, and they recognize that
If owners seek secular financial counsel, how much more should we? Yes, since I am accountable to God, it should be counsel--not abrogating my responsibility to anyone else. But since God will call me to account for it, I should take this decision very seriously.
This means asking advice from spiritually mature Christians who are wise about money matters. Among the benefits are:
They can remind you of God's principles and priorities.
They can point out the likely consequences of your financial decisions.
They can alert you to opportunities for creative additional giving.
The goal here is movement in the right direction. We're not going to be able to go from deeply in debt consumers to generous givers in one year. But we can have that as our goal, and we can make progress toward each year.
VIDEO TESTIMONY > RECOMMEND "PERSONAL FINANCE TEAM"
 Ronald J. Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (Dallas: Word Publishers, 1997), p. 24.
 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Touchstone, 1996), p. 82.
Oswald Sanders, Enjoying Intimacy With God (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), p. 155.