Among Christians, when we hear the word stewardship I’d guess that most of us immediately think of money. The way we think of and use our financial resources is definitely a central element in the discipline of stewardship.
I’m no financial counselor nor do I consider myself to have expertise here. There are countless excellent Christian resources available from experts — so for an informed treatise on how to budget or why to tithe, I’d recommend you go to a resource such as Crown Financial Ministries.
What I do want to say here comes more from a theological rather than fiscal perspective. When it comes to financial stewardship, we ought to consider the whole counsel of Scripture.
In the Old Testament we find tons and tons of Scriptural insight about money and resources, including powerful teachings about tithing and important principles about debt (avoiding it) and building wealth through wisdom (for example, Leviticus 27:30-33; Numbers 18:21-24; Malachi 3:6-12; Proverbs 22:7).
In the New Testament, however, we find teachings and interactions with Jesus that seem to contradict some of the Old Testament teachings. Rather than wealth being associated with blessing (OT), Jesus confronts wealth as a source of grave spiritual danger. Jesus himself lived basically without money or possessions in extreme simplicity (dependent upon the giving of others); he called a wealthy man to give away all he had (Luke 18:18-25) and praised a poor widow for doing the same (Mark 12:41-44); he warned that those who loved him could not love money (Matthew 6:24).
In evangelicalism today we find voices that point primarily to just one of these two approaches. One popular author and radio host provides a lot of helpful and practical wisdom about finances and staying out of debt; I listen to the show often and find it very helpful. Yet often I can’t help feeling like he’s missing a very central ingredient in his message: the Christ-like idea of sacrificial giving. Jesus, over and over again, called people to give in a way that hurt, that was radical, that was uncomfortable. In other words, Jesus didn’t say “wait to give extra until you’ve got a 6-month emergency fund built up.” Jesus lauded the great sacrifice of the widow in comparison to those who gave a small portion while maintaining their own comfort (Mark 12:41-44). Jesus called people out of comfort, into risk, giving all for the kingdom.
But on the other hand, we can also find voices in evangelicalism that go to the other extreme — that harshly judge “the rich,” that approach finances without a lot of wisdom, and that seem to throw Solomon’s Proverbial Old Testament wisdom out with the bath water. In this radical embrace of simplicity and sacrificial giving, many Old Testament teachings about the blessings of financial resources — and the way building wealth enables us to bless others — are simply ignored or overlooked.
I don’t have the answers to this quandary, other than to say we need to recognize this biblical paradox and we need to live within the tension it creates. If we swing to the “live-debt-free-and-build-wealth-but-don’t-give-extra-til-I’m-loaded” end of the pendulum, we may err by overlooking Jesus’ call to sacrifice and to put our own comfort WAY in the backseat. Jesus’ example shows us that giving ought to cost us something.
And if we swing to the other extreme, we’re in danger of both judgmentalism and a lack of wisdom that is also a form of poor stewardship. Radical simplicity may actually become a guise for a false humility, a lack of responsibility, and an undervaluing of biblical wisdom.
What does this mean for each of us? One Scripture sums up for me the mind-set of the tension, of the paradox — and an attitude that recognizes both the blessing and danger of money as well as the pride that often accompanies its pursuit.
“Give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God” (Proverbs 30:8-9).
Help me — help each of us — as we seek to honor you with our money . . . which is, actually, YOUR money. Challenge us. Lead us. Empower us to obey.