[The following article is an edited transcription of our audio teaching, Financial Stewardship: God’s Heart Concerning Money and Possessions, by Dan Gallagher.]
Traditionally, there has been a lot of confusion in the Christian Church on the subject of money and material possessions and they can consume the majority of our thinking. I have spent many years thinking in terms of how to acquire goods, how to buy homes, how to buy businesses, or how to have the various things that are advertised to us. The dominant thing that we spend our day thinking about is money, so we can obtain things like food, clothing, and shelter. I think it is pretty easy to recognize the amount of energy that we spend on these kinds of things. It is really important for us to delve into the Word of God to see exactly what God’s heart is, what His instruction is, and how we should relate to money and material goods.
I read an article that asked the question, “What is your Bible I.Q. on money?” A statement that intrigued me was, “Over 500 verses are in the Bible on the subject of prayer, but it contains over 2,350 verses about money and material possessions.” I thought that was pretty intriguing, so I took the time to do a search on all the different types of property, money, and things of that sort in the Bible. I found that those references far exceeded 2,350 verses. I believe this is such a big area of our lives that God clearly wants us to have a solid understanding of His heart. Billy Graham once made the statement, “You tell me what you think about money, and I will tell you what you think about God.” I thought about that for a while. I think there is a lot of truth to the fact that if you took a good look at your checkbook or financial records, you could very quickly see where your heart is towards God. Just look to see how you spend your money and where you put your resources.
Jesus Christ was very clear in Matthew 6:24.
“No one 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 both God and Money.
When Jesus made that statement, it was not merely a statement of advisability. If that were the case, he would have said, “You should not serve God and money.” Nor did he make it a matter of accountability, “You must not serve God and money.” Jesus clearly said that it is an impossibility, “You cannot serve God and money.”
In light of that, my prayer for you is that this teaching will illuminate your heart. I pray that you will discover areas of your life where possibly you have not been thinking right with regard to your relationship with money and material possessions. I can tell you from my standpoint that this subject brought about some personal conviction of the sin in my own life. I never realized the subtleties that money had for me. I thought that I had this area completely in check, but I can tell you from personal experience—money and possessions are very intoxicating.
In order to understand stewardship, I think that we need to take the time to look at the two dominant theologies that have traditionally been promoted through the Christian Church. These theologies are called the Poverty Model and the Prosperity Model. Once we examine these, I want to go to the Word of God and see exactly what God’s heart is. In order to do this, we do need to take the time to understand what theologies have been promoted in Christianity.
The first theology is called Poverty Theology.
This is a theology that, for the majority of Christianity, has ruled the financial theology of the Church. You have to understand that the Church’s earliest history and earliest standard of living was what we would consider today, a poor one. Those people that were walking around with Christ, Peter, and the Apostles did not necessarily consider themselves poor. They considered their life as normal, but from our perspective, it was a poor life. Traditionally, society was broken down into the following categories:
– 1-3% of society was the ruling class.
– About 10% supported the ruling class (the scribes, clerics, the overseers), and they lived at a median income level.
– 80-90% lived at what we would consider the poverty level.
What we see in third-world countries today is very typical of what the world was back in Christ’s time on the earth and for the next couple of hundred years. What a man earned in a day—he needed to earn in order to eat that night. Each person usually had no more than one set of clothing. For someone to have two sets would have been very unusual. They might have only had one set of sandals. They did not go to their closet and decide which one of their thirty or forty shirts or which one of their ten pairs of jeans they were going to wear that day. The level of material abundance that we enjoy today is really unprecedented for the majority of man’s history. Minor exceptions to this did occur such as Solomon and other periods where societies as a whole did very well, but these were the exceptions, not the rule. That is why when you read the record that says, “Not many of you are rich (influential and powerful –AMP) and not many of you are noble” (1 Cor.1:26), that really was true. Not very many people were rich.
The Poverty Model produced movements like the monastic life-styles. These were the monks and the nuns. I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church, and I remember very well that the nuns swore off all physical possessions. The priests and nuns actually take a vow of poverty. That is because they emulate the Poverty Model. Their viewpoint is that it is more godly to be poor.
The Poverty Model led to movements like asceticism, which is basically a movement of the denial of material goods and a denial of self. We can see the records through the Dark Ages where the Roman Catholic Church was the dominant church. For the masses, the common people, an emulation of poverty was a higher or more noble way of being.
The Poverty Model can be absolutely supported by Scripture. In order to do this, however, you have to take the Scriptures out of context.
Financial Theology is such a large subject in the Bible that in order to understand it, we have to understand the entire scope / context of the Bible. We cannot take a couple of verses and look at them exclusively. If we do that, then we will see how it led to the errors of the Poverty and the Prosperity Models.
To support the Poverty Model, verses like Luke 6:20-24 are used.
(20) Looking at his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
(21) Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
(22) Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.
(23) “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.
(24) “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.
Someone can very easily look at this and say, “Look, it says that it is more blessed to be poor than rich or hungry than to have your belly full.” He also goes on in the latter part to say, “Woe to you who are rich….”The emphasis here is that it is better to be poor than to have an abundance.
Luke 12:22 is another verse that is commonly used to support the Poverty Model.
Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.
Jesus goes on to teach about how God takes care of the birds and clothes the lilies.
In Luke 12:33, Christ tells the man to sell his possessions.
Sell your possessions and give to the poor…
In Mark chapter ten is the record of the rich young man.
Mark 10:17, 21-23
(17) As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”…
(21) Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
(22) At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
(23) Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
By pulling these verses out of context, you can see where the idea could be supported that, “Wow, I really better not have anything. It is more godly for me to be poor and not have material possessions.” The problem with this type of thinking is that in other sections of Scripture, it clearly says that poverty is a curse. Now if poverty is such a noble way for us to go, then how can we make that consistent with other verses, such as 2 Samuel 3:29?
2 Samuel 3:29
May his blood fall upon the head of Joab and upon all his father’s house! May Joab’s house never be without someone who has a running sore or leprosy or who leans on a crutch or who falls by the sword or who lacks food.”
This is specifically talking about Joab’s family being cursed. Part of that curse is poverty. Psalm 109 records a curse against evil men.
(1) For the director of music. Of David. A psalm. O God, whom I praise, do not remain silent,
(2) for wicked and deceitful men have opened their mouths against me; they have spoken against me with lying tongues.
(3) With words of hatred they surround me; they attack me without cause.
(4) In return for my friendship they accuse me, but I am a man of prayer.
(5) They repay me evil for good, and hatred for my friendship.
(6) Appoint an evil man to oppose him; let an accuser stand at his right hand.
(7) When he is tried, let him be found guilty, and may his prayers condemn him.
(8) May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership.
(9) May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.
(10) May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes.
(11) May a creditor seize all he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.
(12) May no one extend kindness to him or take pity on his fatherless children.
(13) May his descendants be cut off, their names blotted out from the next generation.
(14) May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD; may the sin of his mother never be blotted out.
(15) May their sins always remain before the LORD, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth.
(16) For he never thought of doing a kindness, but hounded to death the poor and the needy and the brokenhearted.
(17) He loved to pronounce a curse– may it come on him; he found no pleasure in blessing– may it be far from him.
(18) He wore cursing as his garment; it entered into his body like water, into his bones like oil.
(19) May it be like a cloak wrapped about him, like a belt tied forever around him.
(20) May this be the LORD’s payment to my accusers, to those who speak evil of me.
This does not sound like a blessing to me. This was specifically stated as a curse. You can in no way reconcile the Poverty Model with the entire context of the Bible and say that this is God’s will. I think that most of us can readily recognize that.
Again, in order for Poverty Theology to work, we have to take verses out of their context. We need to just take the verses that we like and plug them into this model. To understand Financial Theology, we must look at the entire scope of the Bible.
With this teaching is a chart. At the top of the chart it lists Poverty, Prosperity, and Steward. On the left hand side, you will see the different areas. I have given you this chart to compare and contrast the three different financial models that we find in the Word of God.
Speaking just to the Poverty Model, you can see that its view of prosperity is that it is not good, and you are supposed to be non-materialistic. The Poverty Model can be summed up in a word—they consider possessions a curse. They feel that your needs are met by a carefree attitude; where God takes care of the birds and provides the food. The concept of material goods is that they reject them; however, they are totally preoccupied with material goods just to have their daily needs met because they do not have anything. Their attitude toward possessions is carefree. Their attitude toward the poor is that they are the poor. Their ability to help the poor does not exist because they are the poor. They rely on Scriptures like selling or giving all that you have to the poor, as shown above in Luke 12:33.
The second theology that is more pertinent to us today is called Prosperity Theology. This is a wing of Christianity that promises unlimited levels of material abundance. It is also known as “name-it and claim-it.” Many famous ministries are promoting this type of thinking.
I was involved in a ministry many years ago that promoted a version of the Prosperity Model. You can find different flavors of the Prosperity Model, but it is a more current trend. When I say current, I am speaking in terms of Christianity from approximately 33AD to the present time. This Prosperity Model has only seen rise in the last 30-40 years.
This type of theology relies on verses such as John 10:10.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
I am not going to make an argument that this verse does not include some form of financial prosperity; however, is that really the primary emphasis of this verse? I believe that the primary emphasis of this verse, when read in the scope of its context, is a spiritual life. I do believe that financial prosperity can be part of that, but you must see this verse in the scope of the Word and in light of the culture at that time. At that time, Jesus Christ would not have been speaking to any Israelite who would have taken this verse to mean strictly financial abundance. In many cultures, you have to recognize that physical and financial abundance is just totally not available. What about India where they have a Caste System? If you are born into a poor family, you will probably never get out of poverty. How then do you reconcile people who say a verse like John 10:10 is just about finances and physical abundance, and try to reconcile that against the reality of third-world countries? How about those in Africa that are born into poverty and will probably always live in poverty? If you go there and try to promote that John 10:10 is talking about physical abundance, then you are missing the point.
Matthew 17:20 is another verse that is typically used to support Prosperity Theology. They try to build what we call a Faith System.
He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
The point that Prosperity Model preachers make is, “All you need is faith.” They take faith, and they turn it into believing.
Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done.
If you thus believe, then you will receive whatever you ask in prayer. People then begin to “believe” for a Mercedes Benz and to “believe” for bigger houses. The problem is that this is all about building a mental faith system. What is the definition of faith? Faith is confidence, trust, and assurance.
I was speaking in Dallas and as I was speaking, I began address the subject of “believing.” I heard as clearly as I have ever heard the Lord speak to me, he said, “Christian witchcraft.” After all, is that not what witchcraft is? Is it not an attempt to control the physical world through the power of the mind—making chants, incantations, and such? You control your physical universe by your mental energies. They build a system that promotes mind control, and then they call it faith. I believe that is where a lot of the falsehood in the Prosperity Model comes from. They promote Prosperity Theology by mis-appointing Scripture. I will state unequivocally that I believe that it is heresy, a false doctrine, and a devilish doctrine.
Prosperity Theology reduces the genuine family, father-child relationship that we have with God to a contractual arrangement. They eliminate this loving relationship with God as a father and promote that if you tithe God will honor that and give back to you. They put a lot of emphasis on the tithe to the point that they will say, “If you do not give, then God will not even spit in your direction.” They then will go beyond the tithe and say that you must give above the ten percent or twelve percent. Again, it is just entering into a contractual basis with God. They rely on James 1:6-7.
James 1:6 and 7
(6) But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.
(7) That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord;
This talks about faith and not doubting. God blesses those who walk in obedience, no doubt about it. He absolutely will bless, and God’s heart and desire is that we do have a blessing of abundance in our lives. We can go to the Word and see that.
Genesis 24:34 and 35
(34) So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant.
(35) The LORD has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy. He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, menservants and maidservants, and camels and donkeys.
Speaking of Abraham, when Abraham went back to his traditional family land, his servant said, “The LORD has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy.”
Also, we can see in Genesis 26:12-14, speaking of Isaac:
(12) Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the LORD blessed him.
(13) The man became rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy.
(14) He had so many flocks and herds and servants that the Philistines envied him.
I literally have five pages of verses that promote or support a Prosperity Theology. We can see the same with Jacob. We can see the ministry of Joseph from prison to royalty. We can see the blessings upon David’s family. Scripture absolutely teaches that God frequently rewards obedience with material abundance.
A problem arises when we think to ourselves that the evidence of my obedience is my prosperity. Now, wait a minute, let me repeat that because this is a subtle shift in thinking. Scripture absolutely teaches that God frequently rewards obedience with material abundance, but the problem arises when we think to ourselves that the evidence of our obedience, the evidence of our righteousness, the evidence of the correctness of our walk before God is our prosperity. Where in the Word does it say that? When we think to ourselves, “Okay, I have a whole lot of material possessions in my life, so therefore, I am standing righteous before God. I have a very large bank account, well, God must really be happy with me, then. The bigger my home, the newer my home, then the better I feel.”
From where is this righteousness coming? Is this not really idolatry? Is this not self-righteousness? This is not really godliness because our righteousness comes from God, and not from anything that we do. It is a trick of the Enemy to get our eyes off God. The Prosperity Model is a ploy of the god of this age (2 Cor. 4:4 – KJV), and for the most part, American Christianity is wrapped up in this affluence.
I have been caught in this trap. I thought that if I prospered; it was a sign of God’s blessing on my life. Now, it may be that I am prospering because God is blessing my life, but I do not rely on the blessings in my life—the evidence of what I see, my financial prosperity as evidence of God’s happiness with me. The problem was that when I prospered, I knew that I really was not doing much for God. Are there not a lot of people who prosper and have nothing to do with God? Do not use material possessions as evidence of your righteousness. Is that not one of the fundamental messages of the book of Job. You cannot reconcile Prosperity Theology with the reality of third-world countries. There are Christians there that are more loving, more kind, and more Christ-like than I have ever seen before; yet, they do not have anything that remotely approaches prosperity. I can speak from personal experience by having been to the Philippines. These were the most righteous, most God loving people that I have ever seen in my life, and yet they did not have anything that you could remotely call physical abundance. Please do not rely on your material abundance as a sign of your obedience. Does it not say that the rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous alike (Matt. 5:45)? Is it not available for the unrighteous to have abundance too? When you begin to use your material abundance as evidence of your righteousness before God, you are setting yourself up to be tricked by the god of this world.
Do not treat poverty and suffering as a sign of disobedience. Do you know how condemning that is? I know many people who have suffered and struggled with a lack of finances in their life, and they are under condemnation, guilt, and shame because they think that they do not have abundance because God is not happy with them. Where does it say that? You must recognize that the Devil also controls material goods. Just because you do not have material abundance in your life does not mean that God is not pleased or happy with you.
Ecclesiastes 8:14 is important here.
There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: righteous men who get what the wicked deserve, and wicked men who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless.
I have seen many righteous men in the Philippines getting what they do not deserve; and yet, I see daily many unrighteous men driving around in big cars and living in big homes, and they are not getting what they deserve, from God’s perspective.
As a quick review, Prosperity Theology is unhealthy. It is doctrinally unsound and unbalanced. It results in division. This is why I know that it is unhealthy because Prosperity Theology absolutely results in divisions. It separates the haves from the have-nots. Does it not develop a class structure within the Church, the rich verses the poor—those that have a lot, the Armani suits, the big cars? If we had a church based on Prosperity Theology, they would be the ones in the front row and we would be looking up to them. It sets up a class structure of rich verses poor. Christianity is not about this.
It also promotes condemnation. We go through this mental process: “I lack because I am doing something wrong.” I then have guilt and shame because of that lack. Christianity does not promote condemnation, but Prosperity Theology does. It also justifies a lack of compassion for others. I can look at those around me, and if they have a lack in their life, I can then justify it. I can say, “You lack because you do not have faith; it is your own fault. If you had faith like me, you would have things in your life.” Christianity is all about compassion for those that do not have, so any type of theology which promotes a lack of compassion has to be heresy, it has to be false teaching. It also encourages a self-righteous attitude like: “The more I have; the more righteous and better I feel about myself.” Where do we get that thinking? That is not a righteousness based on God. That is a righteousness based on works. It relies on the works of the flesh that I am driven to acquire. It is also embedded in a religious behavior versus a godly behavior. It relies on an external behavior of acquiring, working hard, and getting all these material goods versus the internal proper posturing of the heart. If you look at your chart, you will see that Prosperity Theology has a view of prosperity being a reward for being righteous. It is also that material goods can be summed up as “It is your covenantal right to have all these things.” I have actually heard preachers say that. They also live in the fact that their needs are met by a transaction.
“If I give to God, God will give to me. If I tithe to God, God will give back to me. If I do not give, then I do not have a right to go to God and have Him take care of my needs.”
They also look at material goods as if they own them. They are preoccupied with money and material goods because that makes them feel more righteous and makes them feel like they are standing more correctly before God. They are driven to acquire things as it also plays into that attitude of self-righteousness. Their attitude toward the poor is that they are lazy and lack faith, and if anything they feel that they owe it to their brothers and sisters to help them out. Their ability to help the poor is absolutely limited by their own greed. The Scripture in which they rely on is “to ask, to seek, and to knock, and it will be given to you” (Matt. 7:7 and 8).
That now brings us to the Stewardship Model.
I believe that we will find that this is God’s heart, and that God demonstrates to us what our relationship to material possessions is supposed to be. It is not poverty. It is not prosperity. It is stewardship. Stewardship, which we are going to take the rest of this teaching to explore, is a model in the balance between poverty and prosperity. You see, poverty and prosperity are the two opposite poles. They sit on the two extremes, but God rests right in the middle, in the balance.
In order for us to understand stewardship we first need to look at a couple of points. I will set a little more background for you.
1) God clearly warns us of the dangers of riches
Living in abundance and prosperity can be like walking on a razors edge—one small slip, and you can get cut. That is what God tells us over and over again in the Bible.
Proverbs 30:8 and 9
(8) Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.
(9) Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.
Is that not clear? That is God’s heart, neither poverty nor riches, but just a reliance on God. He clearly warns us that if you are living in poverty, you may be forced to steal, and that would dishonor God. Or, you may have too much and say, “Who is God?” and disown Him. Jesus warned us about this in Mark 4:18 and 19, and I am just touching on the tip of the iceberg here to make the point for you.
Mark 4:18 and 19
(18) Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word;
(19) but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.
That is the problem with material goods and material abundance. Nothing is wrong with it, but if you do not have it in check, properly balanced, then the wealth will be deceitful, and the desires of other things will come in and choke the Word from you. You will become unfruitful. Nothing is wrong with accumulation, but you can absolutely accumulate in a godly way. If it is not done properly, you will fall into the deceitfulness of wealth. You will fall into idolatry.
Also, the rich have many difficulties. Do you remember the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-31. I referred to this in a peripheral way when we first began this teaching.
Mark 10:21 and 22
(21) Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
(22) At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
It was an issue of the heart. It was not that anything was wrong with the wealth, but the wealth had the man’s heart. That is what idolatry is. Idolatry is always a matter of the heart. That is the problem with prosperity, and that is the problem with abundance. Nothing is wrong with them, but if you do not have them in proper check, then they will deceive you, and steal your heart. That is why verse 25 makes this point.
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.
The point is that for many rich men, their hearts are stolen away from God by their material possessions. Again, remember the danger of riches is that they lead to idolatry. That is why Proverbs 10:15 says:
The wealth of the rich is their fortified city [They rely on their wealth.], but poverty is the ruin of the poor.
2) Two classical views exist for property rights
In the western world we have a mind set in which we think in terms of absolute property rights. It might be slightly modified off the extreme of an absolute property right, but basically absolute property rights was based on the Romans’ view. Our civil legal system came from many of the Roman institutions. It states that ownership is a natural right. It defines ownership as the individual’s unconditional and exclusive power over property. It implies an owners right to use property as he pleases irrespective of the will of others; in other words, that is my car. I know that it is my car because I have a title deed to it. If I want to take my car and drive it over a cliff, as long as I own it with no bank loan on it -that is my car. I can do whatsoever I want with it—the same for my boat, my home, or whatever.
The problem with this type of thinking is that this is what led to slavery. It leads to a wealthy minority and an oppression of the majority. This mindset of absolute property rights ultimately led to the coliseum and the burning of slaves: “That slave is mine, and I can do with him whatever I want to do.”
When we look at the Bible we see another perspective towards material goods. This is what we call conditional property rights. God clearly says that all the earth, all property, belongs to Him – Yahweh. Man is merely a steward of God’s possessions. Is this not what He said in Genesis 2:15?
The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
This was not Adam’s in ownership. It was Adam’s in stewardship. In Exodus 19:5, Moses is speaking to Israel.
Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine,
You see, the whole earth is God’s. Again, we see this in Leviticus 25:23.
“‘The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants.
I then begin to realize that is really not my car. Yes, I have a title to it, but I realize that it really is not my car. Do you know how I ultimately know that it is not my car? Because you do not get to take it with you when you die. That is the lesson in Ecclesiastes 2.
(18) I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me.
(19) And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless.
(20) So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun.
Everything is meaningless because you spend your whole life accumulating and then acquiring and then trying to maintain and keep it up, and then guess what? You are going to die, whither away, and blow away like the dust, and someone else is going to come along and get it. The truth is that we begin to understand that material goods, that house, everything you have, is not your own. We need to get it in our heads that this is not our stuff—that it really is God’s. You and I are then going to be a long way on the path of understanding stewardship. We are caretakers. That is what a steward is. We thought that these things were ours, so that can justify taking less care of them than we should—Maybe not changing the oil in your car the way that you should. When we begin to think of things as God’s, our attitude toward them will begin to change immediately.
Many records can be found in Scripture to support this way of thinking. You can look at Job 41:11, Psalm 24:1, Psalm 50:12, 1 Corinthians 10:26. Many verses are there that clearly say that the earth is God’s.
Now wait a minute, I thought that Satan was the god of this age (2 Cor. 4:4 – KJV)? Yes, he is. He is the god of this age. This world is Yahweh’s, and even Satan, although he has control of it, is the steward of the world, and he is not doing a very good job. The material goods that you have, you realize from Job 1:21, Ecclesiastes 5:15 (and many others), that you brought nothing into the world, and you will leave with nothing. Even though Satan may be in control of the world (1 John 5:19), he does not have it in an ownership right. Satan has it in a stewardship right.
Now, we will take a deeper look into Scripture. I want to delve in here. I have nine points that I saw in the Bible that clearly show God’s heart. This thrilled me when I began to see this.
The first point is the principle of what we call Ancestral Lands.
Each Israelite family was given their own land. When they came into the land of Canaan, God said, “You will each have your own land.” The land was given to them in proportion to the size of their family. He did not guarantee them equality of income. He guaranteed them equality of opportunity. That is a very big point to understanding why some people in the Bible have and some people do not have. When they came into the land, God said, “You are all going to get your own land,” but if one man was lazy and did not work his land very much, he did not get very much. Another man who really worked hard received the reward of his labor. People began to realize that they were co-workers with God. That was the point. We are co-workers with God. We are stewards. That is what a steward is. He works side-by-side with the person who is the owner. The principle of Ancestral Lands is very clear. There are many records that refer to boundary markers, ancient land transactions, and to the disposing of the land. God was very concerned that each family would have the ability to provide for themselves. You can check this in Deuteronomy 19:14.
Do not move your neighbor’s boundary stone set up by your predecessors in the inheritance you receive in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess.
Deuteronomy 27:17 talks about being cursed if you move those boundaries.
“Cursed is the man who moves his neighbor’s boundary stone.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”
These verses also talk about this:
Men move boundary stones; they pasture flocks they have stolen.
Do not move an ancient boundary stone set up by your forefathers.
Judah’s leaders are like those who move boundary stones. I will pour out my wrath on them like a flood of water.
Again, the principle that you see when reading the Old Testament is a principal of Ancestral Lands. That was the sin with Ahab and Jezebel when they wanted Naboth’s vineyard (1 Kings 21). Naboth was not going to sell it because to them the land was so important. The land was God’s provision. That was God giving to each family the opportunity to provide for the family. You did not sell that land.
The second point is called the Year of Jubilee.
Even if the man sold the land, every 50 years the land was to be returned to its original owner.
(8) “‘Count off seven sabbaths of years– seven times seven years– so that the seven sabbaths of years amount to a period of forty-nine years.
(9) Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land.
(10) Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own clan.
(11) The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines.
(12) For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields.
(13) “‘In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to his own property.
Now look at verse 23. We read this earlier but this is the context.
“‘The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants.
They could not sell the land permanently because every 50 years the land would return back to the original ancestral family.
But if he does not acquire the means to repay him, what he sold will remain in the possession of the buyer until the Year of Jubilee. It will be returned in the Jubilee, and he can then go back to his property.
The principle here is that God knew that it would not take long for the land to be controlled by a minority. This principle of the Year of Jubilee prevented the land from being controlled by a few people by returning it to the ancestral family every 50 years.
This is in line with the same concept of something that I heard a number of years ago. If we took all the wealth of the world and redistributed it evenly amongst all men and women, within one year it would be back in the hands of those that had it previously. That is because the majorities do not know how to steward it. The minority who know how to control it and who understand money and the principles of investment and return would just have it returned to them. This is the exact same principle. God knew that it would not take long for a minority to get the land back from the people who were given an equal share. That is why God said every 50 years, “Sorry, guess what? Monopoly game is over. We are shaking up the board, and we are going to return everything to the original ancestral families.”
Now, that is pretty cool. Think about this for a minute. God knew the greed that was in most men’s hearts to accumulate for themselves at the expense of all the others, so He put this mechanism in place to keep everything on a level playing field. The principle is that God wants every family to have resources to produce their own livelihood. This was the mechanism for correcting those errors. If my father sinned, got in debt, or became incapacitated in some way and the land got foreclosed on through a loan, the land may not come back to me in my lifetime, but it would come back to my children.
I really believe that this was a very big reason why God did not want Israel to have a king. He knew that once a king came into the situation the whole economic structure of the land would change. You had Saul, David, and then by the time that Solomon comes along things were pretty disgusting. Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, was only four generations from the inauguration of royalty, and his answer to the people was, “You think that my dad was bad. My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. I am going to whip you with scorpions” (1 Kings 12:10 and 11). Scripture talks about the wealth of Solomon with gold in the goblets and silver that was more common than stones. It was amazing the accumulation of wealth that happened within that short period of time.
The third principle is called the Sabbatical Year.
Please take some time and read Deuteronomy 15:1-18, I am only going to emphasize just a couple of those verses.
Deuteronomy 15:1 and 2
(1) At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts.
(2) This is how it is to be done:
The people of that time did not have such a thing as a 30-year mortgage. Every seven years debts were cancelled.
(11) There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.
(12) If a fellow Hebrew, a man or a woman, sells himself to you and serves you six years, in the seventh year you must let him go free.
(13) And when you release him, do not send him away empty-handed.
(14) Supply him liberally from your flock, your threshing floor and your winepress. Give to him as the LORD your God has blessed you.
Every seven years debts were cancelled. Every seven years servants were set free, not only set free, but they were sent out with supplies. You have to understand that during this time period, unlike today, debts were not used for commercial purposes. They were used because of calamity and poverty. Let’s say that my dad got sick or injured and cannot provide for the family. He then got a loan. The loan was for food so that they could eat. This was not like loaning $200,000.00 so that he could buy a house. These were minor loans. He may have put his children up as surety in return for the loan. If he did not make the payments, then they came and took his children away as slaves; however, the children could only be slaves for seven years because in the seventh year they were set free.
When I first read this, I thought, “This is crazy. How can God make this work? Who would want to give a loan and have the loan wiped out every seven years?” God speaks specifically to that.
(7) If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother.
(8) Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs.
(9) Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,”
Think of this example. My brother comes to me for a loan, it is five-and-a-half years into the seven year period of debts to be cancelled, or maybe it is six-and-a-half years into it. That means in six months debts will be cancelled. My attitude toward my brother is, “No, I do not want to loan to him because he will not pay me back since only six months are left before debts are wiped clean.” You see, it is not seven years from the day that I loaned him. The law was every seven years all debts were cancelled. God is giving us direction in this.
Deuteronomy 15:9 and 10
(9) Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward your needy brother and give him nothing. He may then appeal to the LORD against you, and you will be found guilty of sin.
(10) Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.
That is the point. They knew that God was their source. God was the one who ultimately provided for them. If they were generous in their giving and took care of their needy brothers, even though the debt would be cancelled in six months, God would supply liberally to them.
This also meant that they let their fields go fallow every seventh year.
Exodus 23:10 and 11
(10) “For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops,
(11) but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what they leave. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.
That is God’s heart. Even though poor people existed, they would be able to go out and have a provision from the land in the seventh year. That is the principle of the Sabbatical Year.
The fourth principal is called the Laws on Tithing.
Deuteronomy 14:26 talks about this. I was taught that the tithe was for the support of the church, the priests, and the Levites. But, tithing had more to it than that.
Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice.
The context of this is that they brought their tithe, they converted it to money, and then they took the money and bought food, wine, cattle, sheep, and ate it in the presence of the LORD. The tithe also provided for them.
Deuteronomy 14:28 and 29
(28) At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns,
(29) so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.
The tithe was not just for the support of the Levites. It was more than that. It also provided for the poor, the widows, and those that were in need.
The fifth point is called the Law of Gleaning.
This is God’s provision for the poor and the aliens.
Leviticus 19:9 and 10
(9) “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.
(10) Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.
This was not a guarantee of a handout (welfare). It was a guarantee of an opportunity. The people had to work hard for the grain that they received. God gives people the opportunity. As a co-worker (a steward), you have to go and do your part.
So she went out and began to glean in the fields behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech.
She went into the fields and worked steadily. She did the work.
She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.’ She went into the field and has worked steadily from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter.”
Ruth worked hard for the small basket of grain. Ruth understood the Law of Gleaning, which was God’s provision. That is God’s heart. It demonstrates stewardship. He gives you opportunity, and you have to do your part.
The sixth principle is called the Principle of Interest.
“If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest.
The interest here is something that most of you have heard about. It is the idea of usury, which is an excessive interest. In the East, money was typically not loaned for business purposes but because of illness and calamity. It was loaned at a rate of approximately twenty-five percent. It is proven that if you want to become wealthy and develop significant wealth, you need to increase your wealth at a rate of 25% per year. That was what these people were doing. They were taking advantage of others and charging excessive interest rates so that they could get wealthy. They were doing it at the expense of the disadvantaged.
Deuteronomy 23:19 and Leviticus 25:35-38 continues this Law of Interest. God, specifically with the identification of the interest principle, speaks directly to the idea of not taking advantage of the needy. That is a demonstration of His heart and how we should be as stewards.
The seventh principle is human life is always valued higher or over material goods.
The life of even the most degraded person is worth more than the most valuable possession. This was not true in all Middle Eastern societies, but in Israel, that is how it was. All citizens were equal. We could go to Babylon, Assyria, or Egypt, and they had one set of rules for the royalty, another for officials, another for priests, and another for a poor man, not so in Israel. God addresses this point about the treatment of slaves and runaway slaves. He clearly recognizes that human life is always valued over material goods.
“If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished,
If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand him over to his master.
The eighth principle is that God demonstrates His heart for the poor, the needy, the oppressed, and the less fortunate.
You can see this in the following verses:
He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.
He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.
There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.
(42) For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,
(43) I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
(44) “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
(45) “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
Is that not God’s heart? Is that not the way that we should live, a heart for the poor, the needy, the oppressed, and the less fortunate? That is very clear in Scripture.
The ninth principle is called the First Century Model.
I cannot even begin to understand how they could have all things in common.
Acts 2:44 and 45
(44) All the believers were together and had everything in common.
(45) Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.
This was not Communism. They did not just distribute to everyone equally. It says that they gave to anyone as he needed. These first century Christians were Hebrews; they were Israelites.
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.
No one claimed that they were their own. They knew that they were not their own. They knew that they were God’s. They were just stewards, and they provided for the needy. That was the contention in Acts 6 with the Grecian Jews and the Hebraic Jews because they were not being treated properly and fairly. They were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.
Even through the First Century Model, we see that God demonstrates His heart for all the poor and needy, and now we can begin to understand how in the first century it was easy for them. They knew that they were co-workers and stewards with God. They understood the principle of Ancestral Lands, they understood the principle of the Year of Jubilee, where every 50 years the land would be returned, and they understood that every seven years all debts were cancelled. They understood God’s heart. They could see how God demonstrated His heart through the laws of tithing, not just that it was going to support the Temple, but that it was also used for the people. They knew from birth about the law of gleanings. That is why Christ could walk through the fields and gather grain. He was not stealing grain. He was walking through and gathering the gleanings. They understood the principle of interest and usury. They knew that human life was valued over material goods. They saw clearly God’s heart all through Scripture; a heart for the poor, the needy, and the oppressed. They knew that they did not have an exclusive right to accumulate, but that it had to be balanced with generous giving.
Let’s recap the five principles that I have identified in Stewardship Theology.
1) We know that God owns everything. Satan is the god of this age, but he does not own it. He might be in control (1 John 5:19), but ultimately God owns it.
2) We recognize that possessions are neither good nor evil. If we sin in regard to possessions, we can do it two ways: a) improper accumulation—taking advantage of the poor and disadvantaged or gaining material goods through fraud, deceit, or theft b) improper disposal of possessions—accumulation of possessions must be balanced by generous care for others. To balance, we have to have it come in one end and flow out the other end. I do not have a right to accumulate. My right to accumulate is always balanced by my care for others.
3) We recognize that man is a steward and co-worker with God. He is entrusted with the care of God’s possessions. We looked at being free and liberated. People have the responsibility and privilege of earning their own way as co-workers with God. As an example, my daughter came to me asking for money—that is not that unusual with children. She came one more time and asked for more money. The problem was that 30 days before that, I gave her a deadline to get out and find a job and stop relying on good old dad. I had been keeping an informal ledger, and I pulled it out and reviewed it with her. I then taught her the principles of stewardship and reminded her that I was a steward of God’s money that He had given to me, and I was not going to be a good steward if I just kept giving her money. She got up and walked out. A few days later, I had a request from a saint. It was a situation where with $900.00 they could buy $4,000.00 worth of used baking equipment. I sent them the $900.00 because it started a bakery where they now employ ten people. They are baking bread and using the proceeds to move the Word. That is stewardship. As hard as it was, I had to say, “No,” to my own daughter because it was not my money. It was God’s money. When you begin to treat all your possessions and money as God’s and yourself merely as the caretaker, you will then get what stewardship is all about. Stewardship develops a mind-set that can totally free you concerning material goods. You will lose attachment to them. They will not get in that place in your heart where they can steal your thoughts away from God. You will recognize your possessions as not being yours. Your possessions will not own you. You will be able to be free to let go of them as you need to. They are not yours anyway; they are God’s. Now I ask God, “God, how do you want me to spend your money?” You are free to give things away knowing that God will provide for you when you need it. I am always amazed at people who are hording and constantly accumulating. I walk into some people’s homes, and it is phenomenal how much stuff they have. Look at all the storage places we have around the world. Thirty years ago we got by with just having a garage. Now, we have bigger closets and bigger pantries; I do not understand this mind-set. I believe that it is an absolute trick of Satan to get our hearts stolen away from God by getting us attracted and attached to material possessions.
4) Possessions are entrusted to men in varying proportions. It depends on talents, calling, gifts, diligence, and labor. Just because your brother has more or your brother has less, has nothing to do with God being happy in your righteousness before Him. This completely supports the Wisdom Model. Doctors, engineers, and advanced education that is required for certain degrees, is all because people are co-workers with God. They have to go to school and put in time through internships to become doctors. That supports the Wisdom Model. God requires us to do our best. We are co-workers with Him, and it depends on our talents, our calling, our gifts, our diligence, and our labor. Possessions are entrusted to men in varying proportions.
5) It develops a freedom toward material possessions. Get in your heart that these things are not your own. They are God’s; therefore, I am willing to let go of them.
If you look at the chart, in summing up stewardship, you begin to realize that your view of prosperity is a trust. When you prosper, God is trusting you. Possessions can be summed up as merely a privilege. I do not have a right to possessions – they are a privilege. My needs are met by faithful administration of the things which God has entrusted to me. I do not look at it like the Prosperity Model where I own things. No, I am a steward of God’s things. I say, “God, how do you want me to use your things today?” I am preoccupied with wisdom, as that enables me to be a more faithful and diligent steward. My attitude toward possessions is that I am faithful and diligent. My attitude toward the poor is that I totally care for them, love them, and help them for they are merely disadvantaged. Did you have anything to do with the fact that you born in the United States of America verses Africa, Haiti, Philippines, or India? No, of course you did not. You happened to be born to the parents that you were, so your attitude toward the poor is that they are disadvantaged. It is not by any fault of their own. Your ability to help the poor is that you can help them generously because you are completely free in your relationship to material goods. The Scripture that the steward relies upon are those like the talents.
We recognize that a variety of lifestyles are available, a variety of wise ways of accumulation are available, and there are a variety of ways to disperse it. We can enjoy Creation without worshiping it. All our possessions are to be used in the context of devotion to God.
I was forwarded an interesting article a few months ago.
In the article is a blurb from the November 2002 Focus On The Family magazine.
“A research group in Champaign, Illinois recently published some startling statistics. In 1916 Protestants gave 2.9% of their income to the church. The figure climbed to 3.3% in 1933, which was coincidentally the period of the Great Depression. It remained steady at 3.3% at the latter part of the 20th Century, yet in 1999 when Americans were arguably more affluent than any other time in world history, Protestants gave just 2.6% of their income to churches. Someone observed that the more you have, the harder it is to let go of it.”
Is that not true according to the Scriptures that we see about material goods stealing the heart of man away from God?
My point is that as stewards we should recognize that our things are not ours; they are God’s. We use them as God directs our hearts. We identify where God wants us to place our goods and possessions. We help those as God directs us to do. I have seen that stewardship can be summed up in the following phrase:
“Stewardship, all that I am, all that I have, I use in dedicated-devotion to God.”
I encourage you to check your heart and check your life; are you being a good steward?
Are you using goods the way that God wants you to use them?
We know that Poverty Theology is not correct. We know that Prosperity Theology is wrong because it can develop a devotion to material things and a self-righteous attitude. Stewardship is the correct model; it is God’s heart and it is written all over the Word of God.
“Stewardship, all that I am, all that I have, I use in dedicated-devotion to God.”