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Materialism vs. Stewardship Part II: Faithful Stewardship
By Mrs. Jennie Chancey
May 20, 2004 - 2:39:00 PM

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In Part I of this series, I mentioned that we should resist consumerism and “teach others how to build stable, productive communities through hard work, careful spending, long-term investment, biblical charity, and multi-generational faithfulness.” This is a tall order, and it isn’t something we’re going to achieve overnight. Careful stewardship requires thought, prayer, and hard work. It will also be painful to practice in a culture built upon unbiblical economic methods (excessive taxation, fiat money, etc.). But we must face materialism head-on today and deal with it in our own homes if we hope to see change in the next generation.

Stewardship literally means being a steward—a person entrusted with the management of an estate. Word IQ defines stewardship as the “responsibility for taking good care of resources entrusted to one.” [1] The Standing Rules of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center puts it this way: “Christian stewardship is grateful and responsible use of God's gifts in the light of God's purpose as revealed in Jesus Christ. Christian stewards, empowered by the Holy Spirit, commit themselves to conscious, purposeful decisions.” [2] All of these definitions give us an excellent foundation for godly stewardship.

Last time we looked at the covetousness and idolatry inherent in material consumerism. Good stewardship sees things not as an end unto themselves but as tools to take dominion, build strong families, serve the Body of Christ, aid the poor, and reach the world with the gospel. Good stewardship is built upon a biblical view of wealth and poverty, need and desire. As I mentioned last time, the Bible does not present wealth as “evil” by itself. After all, “the LORD makes poor and makes rich; He brings low and lifts up” (I Sam. 2:7). Being rich is not a sin; loving wealth for its own sake is the sin. Hoarding earthly treasures just for the sake of having them is foolishness, as is trusting in wealth rather than God:

”And He said to them, ‘Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.’ Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: ‘The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, “What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?” So he said, "I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry."' But God said to him, "Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?” So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.’" (Luke 12:14-21)


Notice that the problem Jesus addresses isn’t the abundance of crops but the covetousness of the rich man. The familiar parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-29) clearly demonstrates that a faithful steward works to increase the goods of his master. Those who are faithful over a little are given even more to rule over (steward). Those who bury their talents and refuse to invest them wisely are stripped of even what little they have.

Again, the point here is to condemn the wrong use of money (bad stewardship), not to condemn money. And it is important to note that the lord praised each faithful steward without comparing one to another (not saying, for example, “Why couldn’t you turn your two talents into ten like the man with five talents did?”). The master gave each man as much as he desired that man to handle and praised him for being faithful over that amount. Christ illustrated this same principle in Mark 4:13-20, where He said that some seeds would produce thirtyfold, some would produce sixtyfold, and still others a hundredfold. In other words, we are to be faithful with what we have been given and work diligently to use it wisely. We are not to look at the neighbor who has been given ten talents and mourn over the fact that we’ve only been entrusted with two talents! God distributes both wealth and spiritual gifts as He sees fit, and He expects those who have been given more to produce more: “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:48b). We need to be content with what God has committed to us even as we work to increase it for His glory (and using His methods). And we need to take care that we do not harshly judge others or blame the culture in which we live for our economic woes:

”It is easy to point a finger at the culture around you. But don’t forget: you are the culture: get the log out of your own eye, and don’t seek legislation and the long arm of the state to rid your neighbor of the mote in his…. The biblical ethic of contentment does not mean a lack of drive or ambition. It does not mean apathy or inaction regarding genuine injustice in the world. But it does mean that we are not revolutionaries. We look neither to the state nor to chaos to achieve personal fulfillment or social improvement. Our aim is dominion under God’s rule.” [3]


This leads us to the purpose of money and material possessions. First of all, we are to remember that all things belong to God: “The earth is the LORD's, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1). “For every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50:10). Anything we possess is therefore a gift of God and entrusted to us by Him. The first thing the Lord requires is that we acknowledge His ownership by tithing back to Him a portion of the income He gives us: “’Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,’ Says the LORD of hosts, ‘If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it’” (Malachi 3:10). “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come” (I Cor. 16:1-2). The purpose of the tithe is manifold. It is used to provide an income for ministers of the gospel (I Cor. 9:3-14; I Tim. 5:17-18), support missionaries (I Cor. 9:14), help needy churches (II Cor. 8:1-15), provide for widows and orphans (I Tim. 5:3-10; James 1:2-7), reach out to the poor in our communities (Ex. 23:11; Lev. 23:22; Gal. 2:10), and to rejoice and feast before the Lord in thankfulness for His providence (Deut. 14:22-26).

Providing for families and caring for the poor is the responsibility of both individuals and churches—it is not the job of the government to subsidize families through welfare or other social programs. Sadly, we have allowed the government to take over jobs that are the proper sphere of the family and the Church. As entitlement programs have increased, so has the tax burden. It is now at a point where most people (Christians included) would rather just let the state take care of the needy, because they feel they can’t afford to be very charitable. With income taxes eating anywhere from 15-50% of an individual’s income (not counting sales taxes, property taxes, meal taxes, etc.), it may, indeed, be painful for most of us to resume our biblical responsibility to care for the needy within our own families and reach out to the poor within our communities. [4] But we must take back this responsibility, even if it is painful, because Scripture clearly commands us to do so. Having few resources is not an excuse. St. Paul commended the churches in Macedonia for giving liberally even while deep in poverty (II Cor. 8:1-5). Again, to some the Lord grants great wealth, and they are able to give more “easily”—but they are responsible for more. To some, the Lord does not give great wealth, but He still expects them to cheerfully and freely give out of their lack. This doesn’t mean setting up a legalistic system of tithing and giving so that we can feel our charitable works are earning God’s favor. We are to give from the heart without compulsion or complaining: “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.” (II Cor. 9:7).

Now, giving isn’t just about money. It is also about the things we own, our time, and our talents. As we look around us at our possessions and consider our gifts, we should ask ourselves why we have them and what we intend to do with them. This does not mean that we have to get rid of something if we cannot think of a purely utilitarian function for it. One look at God’s created order should make it clear that even beautiful objects are not a waste and have a wonderful purpose in the world. But we’ll touch more upon that later. Let’s just make it clear that Christian stewardship does not mean mandatory asceticism or pietistic self-denial. Instead, it means using the things we are given in a God-glorifying, kingdom-building manner.

One problem we all face in our me-first culture is a lack of understanding of what things are meant to do. The modern-day “McMansion” is a glorified motel whose occupants can rush home to enjoy a hurried weekend before they dive back into the Monday-morning workaday world. This harried lifestyle makes home a stopping place and a fortress to keep out all the stresses of the 9-5 work week. But this is not the biblical view of the home. Throughout the Old and New Testaments, people used their homes to welcome friends and strangers, sometimes even entertaining angels as a result (Genesis 18). A common way to show acceptance of a stranger was to invite him into your home and offer to break bread with him (see I Kings 13:15, for example). God commanded His people to make strangers welcome and not to oppress them, remembering that they, too, had once been strangers in a strange land (Ex. 23:9). The home was not just a refuge from the world and a place where family members could enjoy their own possessions. Instead, the home was the central point from which the family ministry radiated. This should be the foundation for our view of the home and the things within its walls.

Home is also the cradle from which come the future citizens, artists, musicians, theologians, doctors, lawyers, mechanics, shopkeepers, fathers, mothers, and rulers of nations. Seen in this light, home is anything but a neutral ground. The things we put into our homes will shape the people who live within. They will affect the people we invite into our homes. They will communicate our understanding of the gospel and how it is applied to life. We can communicate a holy, just, beautiful view of the gospel, or we can communicate a shallow, thoughtless, warped view. There is no neutral ground here. What we do with our things tells others (even without speaking a single word) how we view God’s Word and believe it applies (or doesn’t apply) to the world. The gospel isn’t just for “out there somewhere;” it’s for the day-to-day of living within our families and communities. And, obviously, not one of us is perfect, and we will all fail as we communicate the gospel through our stewardship. But we can all search the scriptures and ask God to help us to humbly and gladly apply His principles in our homes and families—the starting point for reaching the world.

Next time I will discuss practical ways we can apply biblical economic principles in our own homes and communities.

NOTES


[1] wordiq.com/definition/Stewardship
[2] arc.episcopalchurch.org/congdev/Stewardship/definition.htm
[3] Chilton, David. Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators. Tyler Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1981, pg. 150.
[4] It is important to note here that we aren’t talking about creating “Christian welfare” systems that mimic government programs. The Bible says that “if anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (II Thess. 3:10). We are not to hand out money to people who can support themselves but to train them and help them to find work so that they can support themselves. Christian stewardship does not subsidize laziness or covetousness. Those who are unable to support themselves, should, of course, be supported and helped generously. There are Christians who believe the New Testament supports communism and socialism (citing verses about believers who pooled resources to help needy brethren or who held possessions in common during times of famine and persecution). However, these economic systems are built upon envy and theft, not upon hard work and biblical charity. David Chilton has written a thoroughly scriptural and soundly economic refutation of these systems in Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators, which is available free online at this link.

ADDITIONAL SOURCES


Obviously, there is a lot more that can be said about Christian stewardship. This article is by no means exhaustive and only touches upon this very important issue. I would encourage readers to seek out good resources on stewardship and learn more about how God would have us apply His principles in our own lives. Below is a short list of sources that cover economics and stewardship in greater detail.

Biblical Economics by R.C. Sproul, Jr. Available from Draught Horse Press.
Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators by David Chilton. Available as a free download from this link, or you can order it from American Vision.
Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt. Available from Three Rivers Press.
The Chalcedon Report. This is a Christian journal that focuses upon practical, biblical issues. I highly recommend the April 2004 issue, which focused entirely upon tithing and stewardship.

© Copyright 2002-2009 by LAF/BeautifulWomanhood.org

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