Personal Finance Series | Part 1 of 6
What do you think of when you hear someone mention stewardship? Money, talents, or ownership? For many, money is the first thing on their minds and that often leads to uncomfortable feelings.
Many Christians wrestle with the natural conflict between the word and the world–being in it or of it. Should Christians be concerned with money? I am and I’m very comfortable about it. I’d like to share some scripture about the practical management of money. I think I can use some charts and a little interpretation to put a lot of issues in perspective and maybe put some minds at ease.
Attitude and Ownership
The Bible does not say “money is the root of all evil”; 1 Timothy 6:10 says “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. . . .” This tells us that it is not money that is important, it is your attitude about it.
Attitude is tremendously important, but you would be surprised how misunderstood this is. Recently I watched a Larry King interview with Jesse Jackson, who had just co-authored a book, It’s About The Money. True to form, Larry challenged Jackson, a pastor, for writing a book about money and King misquoted the Bible about money being the root of all evil.
How we feel about money—or any possession, is very important to our Christian walk. We all need to reconcile how our hearts and minds deal with money. It is widely misunderstood and an obstacle to many.
If we are to be stewards, (Luke 16:1-13), then we should be good stewards. (See Luke 16 for the story of the unrighteous steward who was, never the less, shrewd). “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much . . .” (Luke 16:10). “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Money” (Luke 16:13). Where are we taught the skills of being good stewards?
Let’s face it; we don’t do much to teach or develop those skills. We don’t have weekly stewardship practice like our weekly choir practice. We don’t have stewardship school every Sunday morning. We don’t have weekly neighborhood stewardship study.
Why not? Why do many pastors give only the obligatory annual sermon and seem embarrassed and concerned that their congregations will feel that protecting “their” money is more important than their salvation (fairly common theme in contemporary church literature). Certainly pastors are not secure in knowing that their congregations understand how God uses money.
Why does the Bible talk more about money than any other subject? There is a natural conflict that has to do with our concepts of ownership. Once we get rid of our hang-ups about ownership most of our conflicts go away.
Stewardship is being responsible for the management of someone else’s property: It is being a manager or caretaker of assets that do not belong to us, but with which we have been entrusted.
Think in terms of management, not ownership. In his book A Biblical Blueprint for Financial Stability and Growth, Austin Pryor (Sound Mind Investing) says, “Wealth comes from management responsibilities, not ownership rights.”
There are really only two issues: ownership and attitude (heart). We have probably all heard a sermon discussing Malachi 3:8-10, the scripture traditionally used to justify giving ten percent to your home church (the “storehouse” of V10a.) Your pastor likely developed one or more of these themes: relationship to God, ownership, or attitude. I’ll assume your relationship to God. That leaves ownership and attitude (heart).
I’m personally not an Old Testament legalist nor am I going to try to convince you about what you are required to do. I have the advantage of having studied the subject and I have “the floor” so I can throw it all at you. I might even get you to walk away saying, “I agree, Ray has it figured out,” but such an approach doesn’t work. Anything I convince you of now, you can reject at any future time. No, you have to decide for yourself. I will present an argument. The victory has to be won in your heart.
How we feel about money—or any possession, is very important to our Christian walk. We all need to reconcile how our hearts and minds deal with money.
Verses pertaining to ownership
- Gen 14:20a “And he gave a tenth of all . . .” (Abraham to Priest)
- Mal. 3:10a “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse . . .”
- Ps 24:1 “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains . . .”
- Deut. 10:14 “Behold, to the Lord your God belong the heavens . . . the earth and all that is in it.”
- John 3:27 “John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, unless it has been given him from heaven.”
Verses pertaining to warnings about wealth
- Matt. 6:19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy . . .”
- Luke 12:34 “for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
- Matt. 6:24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
- Matt. 19:24 “Truly, I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
- 1 John 2:15-16 “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
Verses pertaining to balance
- Prov. 30:8-9 “. . . give me neither poverty nor riches . . . lest I be full and deny Thee.”
- Prov. 10:22 “It is the blessing of the Lord that makes rich, and He adds no sorrow to it.”
- Luke 12:20-21 “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared. So is the man who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
- Luke 12:48b “. . . And for everyone who has been given much shall much be required.”
- Heb. 13:5 “Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you nor will ever forsake you.’”
Verses pertaining to conviction
- James 2:15-16 “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is this? Faith with no works, is dead.”
- Luke 21:2-4 “And He saw a certain poor widow putting in two small copper coins. And He said, ’Truly, this poor widow put in more than all of them; for they out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.’”
- Matt. 25:40 “Truly, I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”
The tithe is first mentioned in Genesis 14:20, where Abraham gave a tenth of all of his possessions to the priest. This sets a pattern of recognizing dependence on God by giving ten percent of spoils of battles and crops throughout the Old Testament. The Malachi 3:8-10 verses suggest man is robbing God by not giving ten percent to his church. There is much Old Testament support for the tithe (ten percent) concept, but I don’t necessarily accept these legalistic arguments. If it was left up to me, I’d let you off that hook—at least for the moment. Rather, I want you to look at what both the Old and New Testaments say about ownership: “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it . . .” (Ps. 24:1). “To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it” (Deut. 10:14). “. . . ‘A man can receive only what is given him from heaven’” (John 3:27).
The Bible is certainly replete with the idea that God owns everything. He blesses us and entrusts us with a multitude of possessions from the gifts we receive from Him to the talents we use to earn a salary and the “luck” we have in investments. It is all His. Therefore, everything we have should be managed not because we’re the owners, but because we’re the stewards. He owns it all. In my mind, the first stewardship issue, ownership, is settled.
If you aren’t sure yet, then try convincing yourself that all your success and blessings are from your own strength. Who gave you the strength and abilities to work as you have and obtain what you have?
As you can see in the bulleted lists above, there are three other categories of thoughts (besides Ownership): Warnings, Balance and Conviction. These all have to do with attitude, or where your heart is. I won’t go through each scripture, but I’d like to focus on a few and explain the categories.
The Matthew 19:23 warning about how hard it is for a rich man to get to heaven always strikes me, because we are all rich. We are all subject to having material things interfere with our walk. That happens when your treasure spoken about in Luke 12:34 becomes the thing you hold dear in your heart; when it becomes more important than God. And to what end do we succumb to these temptations? Do our treasures have any eternal purchasing power? Matthew 6:19 warns us about treasures on earth as opposed to those in heaven. They become rust and dust and do not buy salvation.
Rather, verse 20 says “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven . . .” Christian author, David Mallonee, says, “I as a Christian have two accounts: earthly and heavenly.” In his book Foolproof Finances, he presents interesting ideas about how we add to each and why only one balance really matters.
There are good reasons for these warnings, because they address conflicts within our hearts. You may know the right answer in your mind, but the heart remains a battleground.
I am convicted and re-convicted by Jesus’ discussion (Matt. 25:35-45) of how we cared for Him when He was hungry, cold, or sick. When I don’t remember to do these things He reminds me of the underfed, ill clothed and sick people of the world and how those “least” among us are important to Him. “. . . ‘whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me’” (Matt. 25:40). How often have I helped them and honored Him?
But nothing convicts me more than the story of the widow’s mite. In Luke 21:4, Jesus says, “. . . but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” I sit on the board of a Christian retreat center where, after prayer, we often dig into our own pockets to solve problems for which we see no other solution. Many of us are once retired with second incomes and kids out of college. I remember the time when our twelve anonymous gifts totaled over $20,000 and a young wife and mother, attending her first meeting, asked cautiously how often we did this. Many of us quickly assured her that we were in different stages of life, that our blessings were different, and God’s expectations of us were different.
I believe He expects us to give as we are convicted and are able. I have seen people give $250 sacrificially, while others of our group easily gave $5,000 from their excess. Whether our gifts are out of our need or out of our excess, the measuring stick is not our wallets, but our hearts. I’m sure some of those gifts in the hundreds are far more pleasing to our Lord than some $5,000 gifts. I’m also convicted that at times I could have, and should have, given more of my excess.
As with many aspects of life, balance is important in our stewardship. God is not anti-money or wealth or success. He is the God of the rich just as He is the God of the poor. He knows our hearts and credits us for good or bad based on the feelings of our hearts. A couple of years ago Bill Gates gave a $5 billion gift to world health. That same day, you may have responded to the appeal of a friend’s son or daughter asking for support for a summer mission trip and you may have sent $100 that cost you a special dinner out or something your kids wanted. It is not about dollars, but about your heart (attitude). Which is the greater gift?
Colonel Lou Sturbois, an old Bible-study brother from Leavenworth in the late 1980s used to say, “to whom much is given, much is expected.” Lou lives a consistent Christian life, and I felt convicted the first time I heard it. I liked it so much I thought it should be scripture. Later in my study of stewardship I found the statement in Luke 12:48 and now claim it often. Thanks, Lou.
So to summarize the strategic issues. Who owns it and where is your heart? I hope you see why I let you off the “legalistic” ten percent hook. How much is between you and God. Tithing and gifting are not requirements of Christianity; they are a product (reflection) of your relationship with God.
The Bible is certainly replete with the idea that God owns everything. He blesses us and entrusts us with a multitude of possessions from the gifts we receive from Him to the talents we use to earn a salary and the “luck” we have in investments. It is all His.
Let me introduce a few tactical thoughts. If we accept the issue of ownership and have a heart for the Lord, then we need to be good stewards of what He has given us. We need to know how to make, save and budget money. We need to know how to invest and minimize taxes and how to buy smart.
Much of this is skill, based on knowledge, and much is discipline. I like the story of the person whose spouse’s credit card was stolen and who didn’t report it because the thief was spending less than the spouse. A cute story, but how much more we respect the virtuous woman (capable wife in some translations) of Proverbs 31:10-31. Now, there is a steward.
There is a natural tension between consumption and sharing. It is the same tension as being “in,” but not “of” the world. We need a construct to help us organize our thoughts about money. Larry Burkett, the founder of Christian Financial Concepts, has given us such a way to organize our thinking. Let’s look at his chart:
|Larry Burkett’s Basic Concept|
|Tithe: Mal. 3:10a “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse…”|
|Tax: Matt. 22:21b “…Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s…”|
|Family Needs: I Tim. 5:8 “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.”|
|Debts: Ps. 37:21 “The wicked borrows and does not pay back…”|
|Surplus: 2 Cor. 8:14 “…at this present time your abundance being a supply for their want…”|
The order of the boxes suggests the priority of obligations and the sizes are rough approximations. He follows the Old Testament view that not just ten percent, but the first ten percent (first fruits) are the Lord’s. The tithe was not repealed when Jesus came to complete the law. It is a good guide, but if you are living in grace you are obedient to the spirit of the law, not worried so much about the letter of that law. Next, he uses the admonition of Jesus, “. . . ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s . . .’” (Matt. 22:21) to endorse, that next, we owe taxes.
The largest part is used to meet our obligation to our families. This is a very flexible box and in my view includes savings and investment, college and retirement. Next is debt, but in reality, debt service may come before some future family needs. The lines between the third and fourth boxes may be somewhat blurred. If you have debt, you should be working on paying it off. If not, the boxes for family needs and gifting may expand. Remember this is a concept, not a model.
I don’t find any place in the Bible that forbids debt, but there are lots of warnings about debt and an obligation to be honorable about our debt. The warnings are very severe to the point that many feel that having non-productive debt is forbidden. Productive debt (where the debt is to gain an appreciating holding such as a home mortgage or a loan for seed) is seen in the Bible, but consumer debt is close to the enslavement fear that predominates the Old Testament discussion of the dangers of debt.
Finally, there is surplus where we develop the ability to gift on top of our tithes and to invest in good works. The Bible describes the spirit of sharing in many ways. I use gifts to include all those things beyond the basic tithe: offerings, alms to the poor, humanitarian support and additional support to missions, churches and Christian organizations.
Two quick thoughts here. First, this is where the fruit of the heart is. From here, you can give generously. Here you are free to show the extent of your relationship with the Lord: not in amount, but in proportion to His blessing.
Second, this is why you need personal financial training. We all know that without a budget and discipline, the surplus area never appears. This is the reason why we all need a budget and a financial plan, why we all need to discipline our families. Living in the first three boxes and avoiding the fourth box many seem like enough, but it limits your ability to show your love and trust in the Lord. That would suggest an attitude that says I gave Him His ten percent, now the rest is mine. Not so! It is all His. We are stewards, and will be held accountable for our use of His resources.
You may see that last box as barely more than a thin sliver today, but with planning, in a later season of life, this may be the biggest box and it may be used by God to bless many people. To get there you have to address how much is enough in box three. Many Christians never apply the discipline that would let their lives truly model their beliefs. We will discuss phases (seasons) of life in the fourth article.
It is my experience that the last box only grows to its potential when you are generous. Yielded hearts will recognize the tithe as a starting point and seek to do more. As they do more, they are blessed with the ability to do even more. You have to be a good steward to reach this point. Gifting at this level may be a spiritual gift, but it is one to which we can aspire. I can’t prove this, but I have seen many examples, and personally believe it.
As Christian stewards we need financial management skills just like we need musical, teaching and business skills in any church.
Now keep these stewardship references in mind, wrestle with them and add to them as other scripture convicts you.
To get from ownership and heart to stewardship, we need skills. The rest of these articles and the references that follow are about developing and sharpening these skills.
I have long understood the need for practical financial management skills, but didn’t fully appreciate the extent of need until I developed and taught an Army War College elective course on personal finance. Where the average elective course had 12 students, this course had 200. It wasn’t the highest-rated and most popular course in the college because I’m so charming. No, eighty percent of each War College class recognized the need to understand how to manage money. Mostly they reported that they had neglected it for 20 years and had serious worries about family security, college funding and retirement.
These were people who made twice the national medium income, and who have one of the best retirement programs in existence. But, they weren’t trained or educated in finance, and even those with decent investments were worried about what they didn’t know. That course gave them tools and skills. I continue to hear from people who say that course changed their lives.
Well, if it is important to manage your family resources, how important is it to manage the Lord’s assets in your trust? When I was first asked to teach personal finance from a Christian perspective, I was somewhat apologetic about all the money-grubbing Wall Street and tax strategy stuff I taught. In fact, I used scripture to open and close each class to make it seem more appropriate.
After all, if you are talking to Christians, you need to be scriptural. With the help of many attendees, and lots of thought and prayer, I’ve changed my views. Paul used a good portion of his second letter to the Corinthians (Chapters 8 and 9) teaching stewardship. It is another Christian skill to be developed.
As Christian stewards we need financial management skills just like we need musical, teaching and business skills in any church. I have led a number of week-long stewardship conferences and weekend “growth” conferences and am now very comfortable with teaching the money-grubbing stuff in any church.
More than that I advocate that we are called to many types of service, including the making and gifting of financial means. Some of us may be called to full-time service and some of us are called to financially enable their service. (see 2 Cor. 8:14). Your own planning and management now may allow you to be more receptive for His purposes during your post military life. For many of us, not to multiply our blessings would be to squander His gifts. How we use His gifts is all part of God’s plan for His family.
That is what Jesse Jackson was doing in his book. He has long campaigned for financial opportunity and equality. He now sees that part of the solution is helping people understand money, to help themselves. It is a compelling idea for me. The poor and uneducated are the worst spenders and pay the highest prices. They buy maintenance contracts with high profit margins from insurance companies because they’re afraid they won’t be able to pay to fix the television. They don’t take deductible insurance; they pay checking account and ATM fees, and worst of all, they carry balances on credit cards, one of the most grievous of “fiscal sins.” The system favors the rich, the smart and the educated.
Come join us in this study so we can grow that “surplus” box and you can have the joy of deciding which ministries to support.
Let me ask you now to keep this introduction in mind and ask yourself the hard question of, “where is your treasure?” For there will your heart be also. If you are sure about ownership and heart, then I challenge you to work on the skills necessary to multiply His talents in you.
About the author: COL Ray Porter, USA (Ret.), is a longtime OCF member and former Council member. He created and taught an elective course on personal finance at the Army War College in the late 1990s—widely regarded as one of the most popular elective courses during his tenure. After retirement from active duty in 1997, he spent several years teaching personal finance and stewardship for churches and military units throughout the U.S. and Germany.
Editor’s note: While some of the specific examples in this series may not be updated according to the latest tax codes or financial data and markets, the principles of stewardship and personal finance still hold true today. The advice and insight in this article alone should not be used to make personal financial and investment decisions. Always consult a financial advisor or accounting professional before making any decisions with regards to your personal finances and investments.