Every consideration of financial stewardship must begin with the recognition that money and possessions are not to become our God. According to the larger of Martin Luther’s two catechisms, our God is that on which our heart relies and depends. And as Luther goes on to note, money and possessions can very easily become an object of such reliance, dependence, and trust. The New Testament couldn’t agree any more fully or completely.
Take the Sermon on the Mount, for instance. At one point during that sermon, Jesus states the matter plainly. According to our Lord and Savior, we cannot serve both God and money, (Matthew 6:24). As a certain rich man was to learn (Matthew 16:16-22), our trust in God must always come before any trust we might have in bank accounts and investment portfolios. In complete keeping with the first and most important commandment (Exodus 20:3), any treatment of financial stewardship must begin with the recognition that money and possessions are not to become our God.
Once money and possessions have been put in their proper place, their use can be directed by two, other principles. The first is the love of both our human and nonhuman neighbors. The second is the praise and glorification of God. Both of these principles are so thoroughly biblical that any reader of the Bible will encounter them again and again. At first blush, they may seem to travel in different directions, but they really don’t. One cannot praise and glorify God unless one also prizes the world God loved so dearly that Jesus was given to die for it, (John 3:16). Or as another biblical writer puts it, it’s a lie to say we love God if we also don’t love the people and world we can actually see, (1 John 4:20).
After the above is understood, all that’s left to do is to praise and glorify God by using our financial resources to improve the spiritual or physical wellbeing of the world God loves so passionately. As we pursue that end, some would say we should give spiritual concerns the priority. Others would say the exact opposite, claiming that physical concerns should come first. My own opinion is that neither distinction is necessary.
To quote the Bible, as we image God for those around us, (Genesis 1:27), we are also to tend and till the world God has given us, (Genesis 2:15). Similarly, as we care for the harassed and the helpless, (Matthew 9:36), we are also to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Holy Trinity and teaching them to obey everything Jesus has commanded us, (Matthew 28:19-20). To me, any distinction made between physical and spiritual concerns is a false one. Both concerns are equally important. In my book, our financial stewardship should consciously seek to address both the spiritual and physical wellbeing of our neighbors, giving neither one short shrift. In terms of the particulars, prayer, the study of God’s Word, and fellowship with the Church and its worship will more than fill in the blanks. As the Holy Spirit fills in those blanks, may we respond as we are able, all the while knowing that we’ll praise and glorify God whenever we do so.
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