Stewardship, Contentment, and God's Grace
While many Americans realize that the United States of America—and the world as a whole—is enveloped in a financial and economic crisis, fewer tend to realize that on a smaller level, their own homes are equally in trouble. Of course, those who have been affected by a layoff or some other dramatic consequence of the economic downturn can feel the sting of troublesome economic times. Yet others who still have jobs or regular income are doing very little to plan for the future or make life-altering financial adjustments. Many are continuing to live above their means and consider consumer debt to be a way of life. As a result, they are finding themselves and their families emotionally, physically, and spiritually affected in profoundly negative ways.
Sadly, statistics reveal that Christians do not think or act much differently from the world in this regard. They often live above their means, give very little to the Lord’s work, and justify their lack of fiscal responsibility. Debt is clearly wrong for either a Christian or a non-Christian, but the problem of debt is a bigger one than simply “owing someone else money.” The problem is a spiritual problem. A Christian who is in debt and who lives above his or her means needs a change of thinking in order to have a change of heart and life. Fiscal responsibility is one area where a believer can truly be “set apart” from the worldly philosophy and practice that permeates the lives of so many unbelievers.
The statistics are self-explanatory. Americans today are riddled with debt, have very little savings and many if not most have a negative net worth. Yet most Americans claim to be followers of Jesus Christ. Is this how Jesus would advise Christians to live their lives? Does debt, materialism and immediate gratification coincide with a biblical understanding of stewardship? Obviously not. God desires something better for His own. As Creator and Redeemer, He knows what is best and has revealed His perfect way—His plan— in His Word.
The Bible has more to say about money and stewardship than many other subjects. Therefore, we must consider its teachings and apply its principles to our lives if we are to bring glory to God and peace to our lives. If we are to be Christians who stand apart from the culture and shine forth as a positive example of our Lord and Savior, then we need to understand three important biblical principles and then govern our lives accordingly.
The Principle of God’s Sovereignty and Grace
Everything we have we owe to God’s goodness and grace. God is in control of all things, and He is the One who has entrusted us with our possessions. James wrote, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (Jas. 1:17). This must be understood as foundational for any proper perspective and understanding of finances or material possessions. For us to think that we are worthy of our “things” (“I deserve it”) or that we have merited our possessions (“I earned it”) is to set up “self” as an idol rather than recognize the truth of God’s sovereign and gracious Person.
The Principle of Stewardship
Everything we possess really belongs to God in the first place (Psa. 24:1). As Christians, we realize that because of God’s sovereignty and grace, and because of the great price He paid for our salvation, those things with which He has entrusted us must be used to further His cause and His glory. Paul told the Corinthian believers, “know ye not that … ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). Self-fulfillment and self-satisfaction have no place in the Christian life. We are merely stewards (household managers) of our time, talents, money and possessions. As stewards, we are required to be faithful in our handling of that which God has entrusted to us (1 Cor. 4:2).
The Principle of Contentment
Happiness and satisfaction in life must not—no, cannot—come from things but from a personal relationship with our sovereign and gracious Creator and Redeemer. Relationship with God first, and relationships with others second, are the means by which true joy and fulfillment are obtained in life. Things cannot fully satisfy. The apostle Paul learned that he could be content at any time in any place because of his position “in the Lord.” Philippians 4:10-19 reveals that true contentment only comes when a Christian is living a life that glorifies God as he or she is trusting in and focusing upon God’s providence, power and provision. Remember, “godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out” (1 Tim. 6:6-7).
With these three important principles in mind, let us consider some practical application to our daily lives with regard to money and finance.
First, Christians must avoid debt as much as possible. Of course, it is not possible for most people to pay cash for something as costly as a house, but most (if not all) other needs should not be purchased without having the cash to pay in full. Borrowing money makes one a slave to the lender, and being in such a position places great strain and limits on the life of the believer.
Second, Christians must live within—or better yet below—their means. Living within one’s means demonstrates a life of discipline and self-control. Yet living below one’s means demonstrates not only discipline and self-control, but wisdom and maturity. It enables a believer to save for the future and give to others and the Lord’s work as God leads.
Third, Christians must reject the pull of the materialistic culture and find contentment in Jesus Christ. The believer who need to buy the latest “things” or who needs to “keep up with the Jones’s” is failing to find his or her contentment and identity in Jesus Christ. God’s Word makes is clear that “things” will never truly satisfy while “godliness with contentment is great gain.” No matter what our circumstances, we can always rejoice “in the Lord” because of who He is, what He has done for us and what He has promised us.
Fourth, Christians must give. When we truly understand the importance of giving and the price paid for our own salvation (God “gave” His only begotten Son), we will be more thankful for the gifts given to us and will purpose to follow our Savior’s example by giving back to Him. God has given so much to us. In fact, everything we possess rightfully belongs to Him, and He has merely entrusted it to us as His stewards.
Fifth, Christians must teach these principles to the next generation. Being content, serving as good stewards and recognizing God’s grace and sovereignty do not come naturally to man. As sinners by birth and by deed, all of us—including our children and grandchildren—must be born again and then instructed in the truths of God’s Word. We have a tremendous privilege and responsibility to share the truth with future generations so they will not embrace the philosophies of the world but, rather, will seek the mind and will of God as they are taught through His Word and as they emulate the example of their elders.
The apostle John’s exhortation rings as true as ever for God’s children today: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 Jn. 5:21). As we grow closer to Christ and set ourselves apart from the prevailing worldly philosophies of greed, materialism, and self-centeredness, we will shine forth as examples of what it truly means to love God and others.
— By Matt Costella, director of the Fundamental Evangelistic Association