By Benjamin C. Maxson, Director, General Conference Stewardship Ministries
Summary: Financial discipleship means making God primary in managing our finances. It means surrendering ownership to God and inviting Him to be intimately involved in each decision. It means taking God at His word and trusting Him to provide while applying His principles to the material side of life.
We walk through life ignoring the major choice we face in each activity of every day: Whom will we serve? Which god will we follow? Though Scripture describes this confrontation in only a few places, each generation faces the same decision.
The confrontation on the mountaintop was between 850 false prophets and one prophet of God. The issue was worship--Which god will the people serve (1 Kgs 18:21)? The challenge seemed so simple; the decision so easy. Yet it was a battle of life and death. The result was a revival that changed the direction of a nation.
We face a similar confrontation. Jesus puts it this way: No one can serve two masters. 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 both God and Money (Matt 6:24). In each activity, every day, Christ calls us to choose the god we will serve. And at every moment the choice is one of life or death.
The call to choose is bold and clear in most of life’s activities. However, when the situation is tied to our heart, the call is faint. Our personal finances is one such area: money and the heart are so co-dependent that the battle becomes fierce and Christ’s call seems but a whisper.
Pursuing the Creator
Why is money such an issue for God? Why does He refer to money or material possessions in more than 2200 biblical verses? Why can the way we deal with money compete with God? We cannot be God’s stewards and serve both God and money. Stewardship is a lifestyle lived within the lordship of Jesus Christ--discipleship. And how we integrate God into the material side of life is financial discipleship.
It is really a matter of whom (or what) we follow and depend on. If God is really owner, then to choose or focus on material things means to turn our back on the Creator. When we pursue the created instead of the Creator, we create our own materialistic god. We focus on material things for many reasons: planning for the future; providing for our families; achieving success; gaining independence; becoming wealthy; and even providing for the church. As innocuous, and even necessary, as many of these reasons may appear, they actually deny God’s role in our lives. Thus a focus on the material becomes essentially self-centered, building a reliance on ourselves and effectively making us our own gods.
Focusing on self
When money takes priority in our lives, we begin to build confidence in our own ability to provide for our needs, thereby effectively removing God from His position as owner and provider. We lose faith in Him when we place our faith in ourselves.
Paul wrote to young Timothy, For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Tim 6:10). Paul realized clearly how the love of money as a self-centered lifestyle can produce great evil in our lives. This clearly takes the place of God’s invitation to love Him with all our hearts (Deut 6:5; Mk 12:30).
We cannot simply ignore the issue of finances. After all, money is an integral part of life; it can challenge daily living in many different ways. Therefore, it is important to focus on how we can integrate our relationship with God into the way we deal with money.
Making God first
When dealing with the critical area of material possessions, we must realize that stewardship is really a lifestyle lived within the lordship of Jesus Christ. Within this stewardship lifestyle exists financial discipleship--the actions and attitudes that integrate God into the material side of life. Tithes and offerings are an important part of that financial discipleship.
Financial discipleship means making God primary in managing our finances. It means surrendering ownership to God and inviting Him to be intimately involved in each decision. It means taking God at His word and trusting Him to provide while applying His principles to the material side of life.
Giving Him the glory
The first step in financial discipleship is spiritual discipleship. We cannot make God lord of our material goods unless we first accept Him as lord of our lives. This starts with accepting the gift of the Cross, accepting the Savior who loves us and died for us. And we cannot expect to continue with God as lord of our lives if we do not allow Him to be lord of our material blessings.
When we accept Jesus as our personal Savior, He invites us to make Him first in our lives: But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matt 6:33). Recognizing God as owner, we acknowledge that He provides for all our needs, and that He trusts us to manage what really belongs to Him. This means we have to surrender control to Him.
To integrate Christ into the financial side of our lives, we must prioritize life around God, we must learn to manage material things to His glory. One of the ways to do this is to recognize money as an indicator of where our hearts are. Our checkbooks are a reflection of our discipleship.
Taking it to the Lord
Thus it is important that we worship God in the way we deal with our money. This means we put Him first in our decisions about money. For example, our tithes and offerings are part of worship that remind us that God is owner. Similarly, it is just as important to make every financial decision an act of worship. We must bring God into every decision-making process, asking Him to guide us in applying scriptural principles to how we use our money.
We cannot allow wrong motives to determine how we use our money, or even how we determine what to give as tithe or offerings. Greed, recognition or reward cannot help us in our worship. Motives can interfere with worship, making it self-centered. Only the Holy Spirit can be an effective guide to our decisions. Financial discipleship is really just an extension of our relationship with God as lord into the management of our physical or material blessings.
Financial discipleship opens the gates of opportunities to glorify God in daily life! It is a way to exalt Him in our own hearts, before the world.