Most Christians would probably agree that stewardship of our money is an important aspect of our faith. But if we merely nod our head in agreement without taking demonstrable action, we may be in grave danger.
John Wesley proposed four questions about how to spend money. These questions are as pertinent today as in Wesley’s time (1703-1791).
The four questions are:
- In spending this money, am I acting like I owned it, or am I acting like the Lord’s trustee?
- What Scripture requires me to spend this money in this way?
- Can I offer up this purchase as a sacrifice to the Lord?
- Will God reward me for this expenditure at the resurrection of the just?
Wired from birth to think of things as belonging to us, we instinctively want to protect “our things” from others. A young child will cry out “That’s mine!” if he discovers a sibling playing with his toys. As adults we speak of how we earn what we have. With this perception of ownership, spending money becomes a right instead of a privilege and giving money becomes a burden rather than a joy. The Bible gives us the proper perspective – “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1)
Ownership and stewardship differ in one important aspect. Ownership entitles a person to decide how he uses his wealth; he answers to no one. A steward acts on behalf of the owner and at his direction. In either case property must be protected from theft.
In regard to Wesley’s first question, when we act as if we own our money we don’t protect it from theft so that we can use it for God’s purposes. Instead we protect it from being used for God’s purposes so that we can use it for our purposes. But the Bible proclaims that in doing so we become the thief. We rob God (Malachi 3:8) and place ourselves in danger of losing our life because we are not rich toward God (Luke 12:20). In contrast, when we act as his steward we store our treasure in heaven where the thief cannot steal it (Matthew 6:20). We are able to live life unshackled from worry (Matthew 6:31-34).
Wesley’s second question addresses God’s right, as owner, to direct how we spend our money. For example, he expects us to provide food, clothing and shelter for ourselves and for those depending on us. He also expects us to help the widow and orphan. He expects us to use our resources to spread the gospel. We can find many other commands in the Bible to guide us in our stewardship.
Wesley’s third question helps us prioritize our spending. When we act like we own our money, God gets our leftovers. We sacrifice not at all having already purchased what we wanted. When we act like a steward of God’s money, we give him the first fruits trusting him to provide our needs. If we don’t give this serious thought we will, by default, spend money on luxuries that God intended us to spend on furthering his kingdom. God gives his children good gifts to enjoy, but not everything he gives us is for our personal use.
The fourth question, emphasizes why, from an eternal perspective, it is important that we be good stewards. Having an “owner” mentality, unwilling to use money as God directs, results in eternal judgment (Matthew 25:30). Stewards get rewarded in eternity. When we faithfully steward God’s resources wisely, we share our master’s happiness forever (Matthew 25:23).
It is important to emphasize we are not saved by our stewardship. But how we spend our time and money is evidence at the last judgment that proves or disproves the genuineness of our professed faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. We spend our money on what we value. Good stewardship directs resources to advance the kingdom of God, thus showing faith in and love for the King (Matthew 25:31-40).
Wesley set a high standard consistent with the Bible. To seek God’s will so that every expenditure accomplishes his purpose is a concept foreign to Christians enchanted with Western individualism. Conforming to a society that opposes freedom to do God’s will in favor of a freedom designed to shield us from God’s will, results in our harm. Those who give nothing of their time and money to further God’s kingdom can expect to be among the goats, assigned to eternal punishment at the last judgment (Matthew 25:30; 25:41-46).