When people asked John the Baptist what they should do to bear the fruit of repentance, he told them to share their clothes and food with the poor. Then he instructed tax collectors not to collect and pocket extra money. Finally, he told soldiers not to extort money or accuse falsely, and to be content with their wages.
No one had asked about money and possessions. Yet John’s answers showed that he couldn’t talk about spiritual change without addressing how people handle material things.
If John the Baptist were to visit us today, what conclusions would he draw about our attitudes and actions regarding money and possessions? Would the evidence convince him we are true followers of Jesus? Or would he see us as baptized versions of the world’s self-preoccupied materialists?
The Bible at times can feel extreme in what it teaches about money and possessions—sometimes it even shocks us. When we come to Scripture, it’s for comfort, not for assaults against our worldview, right? Let God talk about love and grace, thank you. Let us talk about money and possessions and do with them what feels comfortable. Were we honest, that’s what many of us would say.
Some believers ask each other tough questions: “Have you been spending time in the Word? Sharing your faith? Guarding your purity?” Yet how often do we ask, “Are you winning the battle against materialism?” Or, “Have you been peeking at those tempting magazines and websites? You know, the ones that entice you to greed?”
People are more open about their sexual struggles than about battling materialism, which may be the final frontier. Some churches do talk about getting out of debt, and I applaud that. But even if you’re debt-free, you can still be stingy and greedy. We don’t need to become smarter materialists; we need to repent of materialism and become smart stewards.
Your treasure, Your heart
What we do with our money doesn’t simply indicate where our heart is. According to Jesus, it determines where our heart goes. If our heart is where our treasure is (Matt. 6:19-21), then when we move our treasure somewhere else, our heart follows. This is a remarkable truth. If I want my heart somewhere, I need to put my money there.
Jesus sees our hearts and knows us well. He doesn’t call all disciples to give away everything. He does call us to take radical action that breaks our bondage to money and possessions, freeing us to live under His lordship. He calls us to dethrone all secondary treasures in order to elevate Him as our primary treasure. If we value anything or anyone more than we value Jesus, we are not living as His disciples should.
I appreciate how Tricia Mayer, a Microsoft executive who once wrote to me, defined stewardship: “Stewardship is the Christian life. It is about what we do with every resource given to us, every day we walk the earth, and every relationship we have. The difficult task of stewardship is mustering the discipline and will to manage the problem child called money.”
A steward is someone entrusted with wealth or property that does not belong to him. It’s his responsibility to manage that wealth in the best interests, and according to the stated wishes, of the true owner. The steward is granted by the owner sufficient resources and the authority to carry out his designated responsibilities.
With that in mind, consider what it means to be a steward of every aspect of your life. If we recognize that we’re stewards (rather than the owners) of all God has entrusted to us—time, talents, money, possessions, relationships—we might view these things differently.
When it comes to financial stewardship, God hasn’t handed us a standardized checklist to mark off. Rather, He’s provided us His Word with principles for effective financial stewardship—principles we must wrestle with and seek to understand. As a responsible steward consults the owner, seeking his direction, we must seek to know what matters to the Lord and how He would have us specifically care for what He’s entrusted to us.
Do you truly desire God’s wisdom and empowerment in making difficult stewardship decisions (and evaluating your own heart)? Then ask. He won’t leave you in the dark (James 1:5). He has given you His Word and His Spirit to guide you.
The nineteenth-century preacher John Wesley suggested that we ask ourselves four questions that can help us decide how to spend money. Notice that the last three flow directly out of the first:
1. In spending this money, am I acting as if I owned it, or am I acting as the Lord’s trustee?
2. What in Scripture requires me to spend this money in this way?
3. Can I offer up this purchase as a sacrifice to the Lord?
4. Will God reward me for this expenditure at the resurrection of the righteous?
If we really believe God is the owner of everything, shouldn’t we regularly be asking Him, “What do You want me to do with Your money and Your possessions?” And shouldn’t we be open to the possibility that He may want us to share large portions of His assets with those whose needs are greater than ours?
One of the most remarkable pieces of writing I’ve ever read on the subject of giving came from an unlikely source— novelist Stephen King. No one would accuse King of being a syrupy idealist. He may not understand that the glory of God is the higher reason to give, but he demonstrates a more accurate view of giving than many Christians:
A couple of years ago I found out what “you can’t take it with you” means. I found out while I was lying in a ditch at the side of a country road, covered with mud and blood and with the tibia of my right leg poking out the side of my jeans like a branch of a tree taken down in a thunderstorm. I had a MasterCard in my wallet, but when you’re lying in a ditch with broken glass in your hair, no one accepts MasterCard...We come in naked and broke. We may be dressed when we go out, but we’re just as broke. All the money you earn, all the stocks you buy, all the mutual funds you trade—all of that is mostly smoke and mirrors. So I want you to consider making your life one long gift to others. And why not? All you have is on loan, anyway. All that lasts is what you pass on.
I once spoke with a man who owns a profitable business and, for the first time in his life, believes he knows why God has blessed him financially. It’s not so he can drive nicer cars and live in a nicer house. It’s to give wealth to build God’s kingdom. At his request, I told him about several different opportunities to give, and I wish you could have heard the excitement in his voice as he walked away determined to liquidate more earthly assets and expand his eternal investment portfolio.
If the Holy Spirit is speaking to you about giving more, listen. A moment of conviction can be fleeting, as life’s cares and distractions easily eclipse any memory of the experience. When it comes to obedience, never procrastinate. Once we stand before the heavenly throne, it will be too late to go back and reclaim a lifetime of squandered opportunities. Face to face with God and gazing into His eyes, we’ll know exactly how we should have lived treasuring Him. We don’t have to wait to die to find out. His Spirit empowers us to live that way even now.
Written by Randy Alcorn
The article was selected from In Touch magazine.