Kent A. Hansen, JD
Clayson, Mann, Yaeger & Hansen
Summary: Everything belongs to God (Psalm 50:10-12). Ownership is a concept alien to grace. We are stewards. That means everything we have belongs to God and we are responsible to use it to His glory.
I have a physician friend named Dave. Some years ago we sat in the youth chapel of our church talking after a business meeting. We were discussing our spiritual commitments. I told Dave: “I know one thing. I never again want to be part of the status quo. I want to be part of something that means something–that changes things, that changes me.”
Dave said, “I know what you mean. I used to think that if I studied hard and went to medical school and did well, I would be comfortable. That wasn’t it. Then I thought if I married and had a nice family and built a good practice and lived a good life, I would be comfortable. But that didn’t do it. Then I thought if I developed a relationship with Jesus, I would be comfortable. But that didn’t happen. Now I know that I’ll never be comfortable and that is okay because we aren’t meant to be comfortable on this earth. We aren’t intended to stay here.”
A woman was standing near us who overheard Dave’s remarks. She was a rising star in a well-known multi-level marketing program that was heavily promoted to make its participants wealthy. She apparently couldn’t believe what she was hearing and burst out, “But Dave, think of all the good you can do with the money you make as a doctor!”
His reply was quick, “But it’s not my money and that’s the thing about it.”
Dave’s words that night, 14 years ago, have inspired and encouraged me ever since. It is deceitful and presumptuous to think that when we do enough and earn enough we can share some of it with God. It all belongs to God (Psalm 50:10-12). Ownership is a concept alien to grace. We are stewards. That means everything we have belongs to God and we are responsible to use it to His glory.
Focus and priority
Money itself has no morality. It can be used as a tool for good or for evil. The obsession with money is a problem because it measures worth in human terms rather than God’s and thus denies Him as both our Provider and our Provision. The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: “Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains” (1 Timothy 6:6-10).
Those pains are real. I tell my students in the “Dentistry and the Law” course at the Loma Linda University School of Dentistry, “Whatever you do with your life do not do it for the money, because if you do it for the money there will never be enough.”
My work as an attorney brings me into contact with men and women who stretch themselves financially to own a home, a fine car, a recreational vehicle, and more. Many of them commute considerable distances and work long hours to cover the debt. Their children are left to long hours at day care centers or at home. My law office gets many calls inquiring about divorces after long holiday weekends because the callers discovered that their relationships have withered and died with all the attention paid to making a living rather than enjoying life.
Obsession with wealth also causes great turmoil. “The greedy person stirs up strife but whoever trusts in the Lord will be enriched” (Proverbs 28:25). James says that “greed and covetousness is at the root of conflicts and disputes leading to violence (James 4:1-2).
Integrity suffers with the financial stress. It is tempting to seek to evade tax obligations and creditors, violate one’s word to repay debts, undertake Sabbath work, and to stop tithing and making offerings at such times. Such actions are faithless and contradict Jesus’ instruction to “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things (material support) will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
The question is whether one is in love with the Giver or the gift? The rich young ruler was in love with the gift and rejected the Giver (Matthew 19:20-22). Zacchaeus who was rich fell in love with the Giver and became a giver himself as a result (Luke 19:8). It is not about the money, it is about the focus and priority. The poor can be every bit as obsessed with money as the wealthy. In either case, the love of money supplants the love of God.
Augur son of Jakeh writes in Proverbs 30:7-9: “Two things I ask of you; do not deny them to me before I die; Remove from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that I need, or I shall be full and deny you; and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I shall be poor and profane the name of my God.”
A God–honoring lifestyle
How then does the Christian practice a God-honoring lifestyle with money? Here are ten things that one can do to ensure fidelity in stewardship of our lives and the cause of God.
1. God must be honored in all of our decisions and actions. This can practically be done by examining what scripture says about the issue that concerns us. Is the decision God-honoring?
Jesus says the first and greatest commandment is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” Matthew 22:37. Solomon wrote: “The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life” Proverbs 22:4. To give the Lord our second-best or leftovers in time, money or devotion is to cheat God (Malachi 1:6-14). Yet, isn’t that exactly what so many of us do.
2. We must not take the name of the Lord to serve our human purposes. It is dishonoring to God and a violation of the Third Commandment to “make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God,” by using it to enhance business opportunities “for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses His name” Exodus 20:7. This happens when Christian symbols are placed on commercial advertising or when a reference to God or church membership is used to imply that one is more trustworthy and has a greater expertise because of the use of His name. Our honesty and best efforts need to speak for themselves. Neither should the name of God or His church be for sale (Acts 8:14-24).
3. Leaders at home, at work and at church must be above reproach when handling of personal and church finances. Honesty in handling finances is an issue of eternal salvation. “The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death” Proverbs 21:6. This honesty begins with personal and business finances. “The righteous walk in integrity–happy are the children who follow them” Proverbs 20:7.
The standard is high for church leaders as well. Paul says that one who is “a lover of money” or who cannot “manage his household well” is disqualified from church leadership (1 Timothy 3). Jesus says that there is a conflict between service of God and the pursuit of human wealth that cannot be reconciled (Matthew 6:24). There are few things that have disheartened me more as an attorney than to deal with church members who have been financially harmed by the greed and misrepresentation of a corrupt church leader. God demands the exemplary integrity by those who shepherd His flock (Ezekiel 34).
4. Due diligence is a part of honoring God in financial decisions. A steward will investigate whether an investment or use of funds is prudent. “The clever do all things intelligently, but the fool displays folly....Poverty and disgrace are for the one who ignores instruction, but one who heeds reproof is honored” (Proverbs 13:16-18). “Without counsel, plans go wrong, but with many advisers they succeed” Proverbs 15:22.
Someone focused only on making money as quickly as possible has a problem. “The plans of the diligent will certainly lead to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to want” Proverbs 21:5. “The miser is in a hurry to get rich and does not know that loss is sure to come” Proverbs 28:22.
Nehemiah carefully assessed the situation before seeking support to rebuild Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:11-16). Jesus said anything that His disciples undertake on His behalf requires carefully counting the cost before beginning (Luke 14:25-33). Leaping into a project or financial commitment with a cavalier “The Lord will provide” is a disgrace. Undertaking an investment because the profits “will support the Lord’s work” without considering first if the project methods and image accurately reflect the Lord’s revealed will is a disgrace. “Wealth hastily gotten will dwindle, but those who gather little by little will increase it” Proverbs 13:11.
5. We must help those in need. Jesus said that His judgment of the people at His Second Coming will turn on sins of omission. Those who were presented with need in the person of the hungry, thirsty, lonely strangers, destitute, sick, and imprisoned and do not respond with help will not enter into eternal life (Matthew 25:31-46).
We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ not our own good works, but our refusal or failure to help those in need shows our faithlessness. James wrote: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works is dead” James 2:14-17.
Generosity is its own reward because it reflects the grace and kindness of our Lord (Luke 6:27-36). “Some give freely, yet grow all the richer; others withhold what is due, and only suffer want. A generous person will be enriched, and one who gives water will get water” Proverbs 11:24-25.
6. We must be honest in all our dealings, not just finances. This should go without saying, but ever since the Fall, men and women have been tempted to hide or blame rather than to be transparent (Genesis 3:8-13). Purity of heart is required of those who will see God (Matthew 5:8). Sometimes in the darkest crisis, our integrity and honest stands for truth are all that we have going for us as we wait for God to act (Psalm 25:21).
If we would see Jesus Christ and dwell in his presence we must tell the truth, keep our word and honor our obligations even if hurts us personally and financially to do so (Psalm 15). “Who will ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in His holy place? Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and who do not swear deceitfully. They will receive blessing from the Lord, and vindication from the God of their salvation” Psalm 24:3-5. Achieving the furtherance of God’s work on earth never justifies employment of dishonest means. To think otherwise is to reject God’s providence. “Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of evildoers” Proverbs 14:4.
7. We must live within the means that God provides to us. I have already mentioned that mismanagement of personal finances and greed disallows a worker from service to the Lord (1 Timothy 3:1-15). To borrow money to invest or to invest money that you cannot afford to lose is the height of folly. Debt enslaves. “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender” Proverbs 22:7.
Similarly, to pledge money that we don’t have or guarantee the debts of others is something that scripture instructs us to avoid. “Do not be one of those who give pledges, who become surety for debts. If you have nothing with which to pay, why should your bed be taken from under you” Proverbs 22:27-28. The best policy here is to say an emphatic “NO!” “To guarantee loans for a stranger brings trouble, but there is safety in refusing to do so” Proverbs 11:15.
I have watched church institutions borrow to build in the pressure to keep up with a competitor or to maintain pride of image. I have represented clients who foreclosed on debtors who pledged their homes and their businesses in order to purchase expensive cars and boats that their income would not support. God cannot be found in such pride.
8. We must give and serve for no other motivation than love. Paul denigrates religious service as meaning anything unless it is done in selfless love (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). “Christ’s love compels” true service, he says. Jesus commands us to give our entire lives in love (John 15:12-17, 1 John 3:16). Where do we get love like this. By an unwavering focus on Christ, giving ourselves day by day, hour by hour to Him. “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and love abides in them...We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:16, 19).
9 We must forgive. Jesus’s great parable of forgiveness in Matthew 18:23-55 concerned borrowing that was out of control and an insistence that a debt be repaid without consideration that the creditor had himself been forgiven a much greater debt. To insist on satisfaction in the things of this world without regard to God’s grace is a poor witness. Paul said it is a disgrace and a defeat to the Body of Christ when believers sue each other (1 Corinthians 6:1-7). My experience has been that such disputes usually result from a failure to do appropriate due diligence and failing to follow the right principles when laying the foundation of the relationship or transaction in dispute.
The most that a judge or jury can do for you is to give you money. Lawsuits only make sense at all if they make economic sense. Litigation is a poor method of obtaining healing of wounds or vindication of principles. Sometimes legal action is necessary to prevent manifest injustice or continuing harm to others, but only as a last resort. There are times when it is good stewardship to remedy the loss to a brother or sister or the church because of fraud or coercion. But again, litigation should be pursued only as a last resort when other avenues of redress have failed.
Jesus places reconciliation between brothers and sisters in Christ ahead of even worship in priority (Matthew 5:23-24). Since He gave His life that we can be reconciled to God for eternity, who are we to think our pride justifies holding out against reconciliation until we are vindicated.
10 We must pray always. There is nothing too small or too large to take to our Father in heaven. “Cast all your cares upon Him for he cares for you” 1 Peter 5:7. “...[Y]our Father in heaven will give good things to those who ask Him” Matthew 7:11.
Perhaps the best single guide to stewardship in scripture is the prayer that Jesus taught His disciples. It places our heavenly Father first. It asks for His kingdom to come and be accomplished in the action of His will. It requests our sustenance, what He deems best for our growth and development to be given to us on a current real-time basis.
It seeks the free flow of grace by asking His forgiveness even as we state we forgive those who owe us. It asks for His leading so that we avoid the temptations that would lead us away from His will and righteousness and to be delivered from the evil that will infuse this world until the return of Jesus Christ. It acknowledges that all sovereignty, power, and glory belong to Him and thus validate our petition to Him.
Praying the Lord’s Prayer is not to recite some mantra or magical incantation although many treat it that way. It is a prayer to be prayed with a surrendered heart or to surrender the heart. The praying of this prayer daily with all of our own concerns intertwined in its infrastructure is to acknowledge that He is God and we are not. We are His stewards and we seek His daily instructions. It is the only endeavor worthy of us.