A lot of people misunderstand the term “stewardship.” They think of it as a heavy burden or responsibility. They envision God saying to them, “Here’s some of my stuff. Now don’t lose or break any of it.”
But that isn’t the idea at all. Just look at the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) where Jesus tells the story of a wealthy landowner and three servants in what is arguably the clearest depiction of our intended relationship with God and money.
As the “master” prepares to leave on a journey, he entrusts his property to the three servants—different amounts to each one “according to his ability.” After a long time, the master returns, and he wants to see what his servants have done with what he entrusted to them. Two of them had used his resources productively, doubling their value. To each one, the master said, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness” (Matthew 25:21)
But the third servant was fearful of the master, so he hid what had been entrusted to him and gave it back to the master upon his return. The master called him “wicked” and “lazy,” saying he should have at least put the money on deposit with bankers to earn some interest.
What can we learn from the Parable of the Talents?
- First, everything belongs to God. Anything in our possession simply has been temporarily entrusted to our care to be managed according to the master’s principles and for His purposes.
- Second, we will be entrusted with as much as we can handle right now, and as we prove ourselves faithful in managing it, we will be entrusted with more.
To get more specific, let’s contrast a biblical approach to money with a cultural approach where stark differences can be found in our financial identity, purposes, and priorities.
The culture calls us consumers. We hear the term so often it’s easy not to notice. But to consume literally means to use up, waste, and squander. How’s that working out for us? God’s Word describes us as stewards or managers of God’s resources. That’s a very different financial identity, and it comes with a very different set of purposes.
Whereas consumers are led to believe that life is a competition for more, God’s Word says life is about contribution (Ephesians 2:10). Whereas consumers are led to believe that money and things bring happiness, God’s Word teaches us to love people, not things. And whereas consumers are led to believe that life is all about them, the Bible says that life is all about God (Matthew 22:36-40). Those are the three overarching purposes of our lives, so those are the three overarching purposes of money. Not surprisingly, fulfilling those purposes requires a different way of prioritizing the use of money than what our culture teaches.
There are just five choices when it comes to money. We can spend it, use it for debt payments, save it, invest it, or give it away. And that’s the order our culture encourages. But the Bible teaches a different approach where generosity comes first (Proverbs 3:9), saving and investing come next (Proverbs 21:20), and then comes spending. Along the way, we are cautioned against becoming enslaved to creditors (Proverbs 22:7).
So, that’s the essence of biblical financial stewardship. Everything belongs to God. We are managers of whatever he has entrusted to our care. As we prove ourselves faithful, He will entrust us with more. Financial faithfulness means using money to pursue the purposes of loving God and people well and making a difference in our lives. And that means ordering our use of money with generosity at the top of the list, followed by saving and investing portions of all that we receive, and then building our lifestyle on what remains, all the while avoiding the bondage of debt.
It’s a very simple financial framework that enables us to manage money effectively, joyfully, and in a way that honors God.
Matt Bell is the author of four Biblical money management books published by NavPress. He speaks at churches and conferences throughout the country and writes the MattAboutMoney blog.
This article should not be considered legal, tax, or financial advice. You may wish to consult a tax or financial advisor about your individual financial situation.