For many, the word stewardship triggers an immediate defensive reaction and a closed mind. Giving to God is a threat to our independence and our standard of living. It reduces our life options. The more we give, the less we have to live on—to make our mortgage repayments; to educate our children; to purchase our groceries, clothes, and electronic gadgets; to travel; and to entertain ourselves.
Our consumeristic mindset is reinforced by the messages we receive in the media. Our society equates personal happiness with the purchase of material possessions. We have a “work–spend–work-some more” lifestyle fueled by the desire to obtain things that we currently don’t have, thus (we are told), achieving enhanced fulfillment, satisfaction, and significance in our own eyes and those of others. When our consumeristic mindset becomes the lens through which we view the world, it provides the framework of values we use for decision-making and problem-solving.
Yet, a true understanding of stewardship is essential for us to grow as Christians. It’s a fundamental, indispensable principle of Christian living. It’s about building Christian character, and building our faith and dependence on God. He wants us to give for our benefit. It’s not, “What’s in it for God?” It’s not, “What’s in it for my church?” It’s “What’s in it for me?” Giving was designed by God to help us build a benevolent and generous character, a character just like God’s.
For those instinctively feeling scared or defensive about stewardship, the Giving Equation presents a simple mathematical formula to answer the question, “If I give my hard-earned income, what benefit do I get?” This formula provides understanding about why people are reluctant to give, and insights into the true meaning of stewardship; information that can change the giver’s life, and giving behaviors.
When Paul warned Christians not to conform to the consumeristic “pattern of this world,” he provided an answer to the mindset problem. “Be transformed,” he said, “by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2, NIV). According to Paul, the only way we can counteract our consumeristic mindset is to get new minds, to learn a new way of thinking.
The extent of the change required is encapsulated in the word transformed, derived from the ancient Greek word metamorphoo. It is defined as “a change in form, appearance, nature, or character,”1 or “a marked change, as in appearance or character.”2 The word is used to describe the dramatic changes in form of a caterpillar to a butterfly, or a tadpole to a frog. These examples demonstrate the extent to which our minds need to be transformed. It’s a radical change in thinking, in which we discard our default consumeristic mindset and replace it with God’s way of thinking. It means abandoning our materialistic values and replacing them with God-inspired values of benevolence, abundance, and generosity.
Note two things about the way Paul said, “Be transformed.” First, he used the passive voice. Let yourself be transformed. It’s hard to realize, and even harder for us to accept, that transformation is something that God does for us. It is not something we can do ourselves, as we have to “let God re-mould [our] minds from within” (Rom. 12:2, Phillips).
Second, Paul used the imperative voice. He didn’t say, “Consider being transformed.” Transformation is not an option, but a command. He was emphatic, concise, and to the point. You must be transformed. If you want to be a disciple of God, then transformation is compulsory. Let God do the transforming. So very, very simple, but in our do-it-yourself world, so very, very difficult.
THE BASIC EQUATION
Everyone is born with two things—a measure of time and a measure of talent. These two elements of life are inseparable. There’s no value in having time but no talent, or having immense talent but no time to capitalize on it. As Mel Rees said, “With time and talent every activity of life is possible. In fact, they are essential to life, for life is time and talent.” 3 Our life is the result of how we combine our time and talents. The money we earn is also the result of how we apply our time and talents. When we reduce these two simple concepts to an equation we get:
Time + Talents = Life
Time + Talents = Money
So, from a mathematical perspective, if life comprises time and talents, and money does as well, then money = life.
In Matthew 6:19–21, Jesus identified two ways of thinking—two perspectives on treasure management—on money and giving. What Jesus was saying was that where you invest your money, where you place your treasure, is a strong indicator of where your priorities lie, what you value in life, and how much you trust God for your future.
In the Giving Equation, I’ve called the “treasure on earth” way of thinking the “Me-economy,” because of its primary focus on satisfying my needs. The alternative way of thinking, looking at life from God’s perspective, is called the “G-economy.” The challenge is that we can’t live in two economies. The principles of the Me-economy and the G-economy are opposed to each other. Following one set of principles automatically excludes following the other. If you live in the Me-economy, you’ll hate the G-economy (Matt. 6:24–26). So we have to make an intentional choice to live in the G-economy, as “treasures on earth” is our default setting (“Don’t keep hoarding for yourselves earthly treasure” [Matt. 6:19, first part, The Passion Translation]).
GIVING IN THE ME-ECONOMY
So, let’s explore how giving looks in the Me-economy. Most people get paid every two weeks or monthly, or they receive a passive income such as interest or dividends. At the end of each pay period, income gets divided. Your income is figuratively set aside in parcels of money for future expenses such as rent or food, or for expenses already incurred, such as credit cards or home loans. The reality is that your income, which is the function of your time and talent, provides the money to fund your life and your lifestyle. Very little could take place in your life without the money provided by your income. That’s why in the giving equation money = life. It also follows that more money = more life, and less money = less life.
Let’s assume that you are a Meeconomy Christian who feels obliged to return a tithe or give an offering to God. Let’s characterize your giving as $G. The giving equation looks like this: money – $G. When you give money to God, you are, in reality, offering a portion of your life—both a portion of the life you expended in producing the money and also the life you could have spent the money on. So the Giving Equation in the Meeconomy looks like this:
Money – $G = Life – $G
Imagine you have $5,000 in the bank and you’re returning a tithe of $400 and an offering of $100. In Me-economy thinking, giving the $500 means that you not only have $500 less money, but you also have $500 less life. One of the reasons we’re reluctant to give to God is that giving seems to be making a deduction from my future life. If I give, I’m going to have to give something up—maybe a holiday or a new dress or the latest iPad.
The more money I give, the less life I’ll have. That’s the essence of Me-economy thinking. That’s why Jesus said in Luke 6:38, “Give away your life” (The Message) because that’s how most people feel when they give. The rich farmer Jesus spoke about in Luke 12:13–21 could well have been the champion of the Meeconomy as he was storing up treasure on earth and was not “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21, NIV).
DEPENDENCE VERSUS INDEPENDENCE
Most of us spend our working week utilizing our time and talents to accumulate money to live on. We’re striving for independence, to be free from the control and influence of others. We want to control our own destiny. We believe that ultimate freedom comes from our independence. The independence message is one that we receive all through our lives.
By contrast, God offers the freedom of dependence as an alternative to the freedom of independence that the Meeconomy says we need. The Bible tells us that if we put God and His kingdom first in our lives, all the necessities of life— food, shelter, and clothing—will be provided (see Matt. 6:33). So giving is an act of trust. It doesn’t take much faith to give God whatever money is left after we’ve paid for everything else, but it does take faith to give money off the top.
The freedom of dependence is God’s plan. When we recognize God as the owner of everything, and our role as a manager, we are free to depend on Him; He has promised to supply all our needs (see Phil. 4:19). If God is our partner, at all times and under all circumstances, we’ll be free from worrying over the uncertainties of life. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. . . . Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matt. 6:25, 27, NIV).
GIVING IN THE G-ECONOMY
In Me-economy thinking, it’s important that you get more value, utility, or satisfaction than the cost of the purchase. Giving is a poor transaction in Me-economy terms: the more you give, the less money you have to support your lifestyle. The strategy in Me-economy thinking is to minimize your giving and keep as much of your money as you can—after all, you can’t afford to give away your life. You can’t afford to lose your independence
The G-economy mindset is the complete opposite. First, the motivation is different. Contrary to the get-and-keep philosophy of the Me-economy, the motto of the G-economy is give. “Give away your life;” Jesus directed in Luke 6:38 (The Message), “you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.” The underlying philosophy of G-economy is giving—generous, unrestrained, abundant giving
Jesus’ words indicate a paradox of the G-economy. In the Me-economy, you give but you lose. You’re left with less money (money – $G). If I give 10 percent of my income to God as tithe, logically I have to be worse off, don’t I? While Jesus said that when you give you are actually giving away your life, the paradox is that there’s a much greater return on your gift than you could imagine. When you give in the Meeconomy, you lose part of your life. When you give in the G-economy, you don’t lose because you get life back. And it’s given back with “bonus and blessing.” So when you give in the G-economy, you lose some of your life but get back an abundant life in return (see John 10:10).
The giving in both economies is also different. In the Me-economy, giving is purely transactional—the simple transfer of money—whereas in the G-economy giving is clothed in willingness, cheerfulness, and generosity. That’s why giving in the G-economy giving equation is denoted as $G+. So, this is how the giving equation looks in the G-economy
Money – $G+ = Life Abundant
You give from your God-given resources, but God gives from His unlimited resources (see Phil. 4:19). The New International Version puts it this way, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38)
WHAT’S THE PURPOSE OF GOD’S ABUNDANCE?
In order to comprehend what an abundant life might look like, it’s necessary to understand our abundant God and why He wants to pour blessings into our lives. The word “abundance” comes from the Latin word abundare, meaning to overflow.⁴ John says, “From God’s abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another” (John 1:16, NLT). Everything He is, everything He does, everything He gives is influenced by His generous heart—a heart that overflows with love.
Paul illustrated the superabundance of God when he said, “And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8, NIV; emphasis added). “All,” “all,” “all,” “every.” People who are “rich toward God” are generous to those in need (Luke 12:21; Matt. 25:34–36), and intentionally stockpile treasure in heaven.
Storing up treasure in heaven means seeking the kingdom of God above all else, living generously, and being confident that God will provide us with everything we need (see Matt. 6:33). It means seeking God’s guidance through prayer in how we live and give; to align our priorities with God’s priorities. If God is the Lord of our finances, then God will guide us in how to allocate our finances, including spending now and saving for the future.
THE GIVING EQUATION APPLICATION
The Bible is filled with stories about giving. Each of the biblical case studies analyzed in Chapter 6 support the Giving Equation. They demonstrate unequivocally the difference between giving in the Me-economy and giving in the G-economy. Me-economy givers— the rich young ruler and Zacchaeus before his conversion—showed a compulsive desire to accumulate more and more material possessions in their quest for independence. On the other hand, the G-economy givers—the widow, Zacchaeus after his conversion, the Macedonians, and Mary—all gave generously, reflecting the character of God. They recognized that giving to God should be the highest priority, a priority motivated by the grace that God gives so freely. In saving them, God had already opened the floodgates of heaven. He was a God they could worship and a God they could trust and depend on. So they gave out of the abundance of their hearts.
In conclusion, Paul summed up G-economy thinking in this way: “Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love [and give] like that” (Eph. 5:1, The Message, adapted).
1 “Transformation,” Dictionary.com, <http://dictionary. reference.com/browse/transformation>.
2 “Transformation,” The Free Dictionary, <http://www.thefreedictionary.com/transformation>.
3 M. Rees (1974), I Work for God, Litho, United States.
4 “Abundance,” Online Etymology Dictionary, <https://www.etymonline.com/word/abundance>.