October 28, 2019

A Foundation for Finances

When you take a couple of dollars from your wallet to pay for a random purchase, do you think about financial stewardship? Does it cross your mind when you pay for groceries? Not likely. But what about when you fill out an application for a student loan or a mortgage?  

Whether we are making a small or large purchase, God considers financial stewardship of vital importance. It might surprise us to learn that it is a dominant subject in the Bible. Over 450 separate Biblical passages concern the proper handling of financial issues. Sixteen of Jesus’ thirty-eight parables mention the use of money or possessions. God gave us these Scriptures about money matters, because our attitude toward money matters!

Armed with so many Scriptures on the management of resources, it is our responsibility to identify godly principles concerning finance and apply them to our lives. Here are a few to consider.

We are simply stewards

In Psalm 24:1-2, we learn that everything in this world was created by God and therefore, belongs to Him: “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods.” The fullness of the earth encompasses all its resources, and “they that dwell” in the world includes us. Therefore, all of our material resources, as well as every aspect of our lives, are owned by God and under His control; we are simply His stewards.

Jesus used the concept of stewardship in several parables. In the parable of the talents, He likened the Kingdom of Heaven to “a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods” (Matthew 25:14). He said that when the master returned, each servant was either rewarded or punished according to how well he had managed what had been entrusted to him. The message conveyed is that we are stewards, and will one day be called to give an account to God for the way we have lived, including how our resources were utilized.  

The word steward can be defined as “manager, supervisor, or overseer.” In Bible times, the position of a steward was one of great responsibility. This can be seen in the life of Joseph who first served Potiphar, then the prison keeper, and finally Pharaoh. In Genesis 39:6, we read that Potiphar “left all that he had in Joseph’s hand; and he knew not ought he had, save the bread which he did eat.” Later, the prison keeper “committed to Joseph's hand all the prisoners that were in the prison,” and he “looked not to any thing that was under his hand” (Genesis 39:22-23). And Pharaoh, in making Joseph his steward, said, “Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou” (Genesis 41:40).

With such responsibility, an important quality in a steward is faithfulness. Jesus emphasized this in the parable of the unjust steward saying, “If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon [wealth], who will commit to your trust the true riches?” (Luke 16:11). The word faithful in this verse comes from the Greek word pistos, which means “reliable and trustworthy.”

For reflection: Knowing that we are God’s stewards, how should these qualities apply to the management of our resources? In what ways might faithful stewardship reflect on our testimonies?

The tithe is the Lord’s

One of the basic principles of Christian money management is the paying of tithes. This Biblical doctrine is the practice of returning to God a portion of what has been received from Him. Tithing was first mentioned in Scripture in Genesis 14 where the patriarch Abram, after recovering the stolen goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, paid “tithes of all” (verse 20) to Melchizedek, “the priest of the most high God” (verse 18).

Nearly three hundred years later, God gave the Law to the Children of Israel, and tithing was part of the divine instructions. Leviticus 27:30 states, “And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s.”

The word “tithe” comes from the Hebrew word ma’aser, which means “a tenth part,” and the word “increase” comes from the Hebrew tĕbuw'ah, meaning “produce, product, or revenue.” Therefore, to tithe is to return a tenth of one’s revenue to God. Examples of revenue are wages from a job, profit from a business, and gain from the resale of purchased items such as a house. That Abram paid “tithes of all” to Melchizedek before disbursing the recovered goods, is one indication that God’s portion is to be based on the full gain, before anything else, such as taxes, is taken out.

The purpose for the tithe was to support the work of God by providing for His house and the workers who maintained it. This was explained in Numbers 18:21: “And, behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle of the congregation.” In today’s setting, the tithe should go to support the church where one worships.

Jesus sanctioned the giving of tithes in the New Testament era. When speaking to the scribes and Pharisees, He said, “Ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone” (Matthew 23:23). By saying, “these ought ye to have done,” He indicated that tithing is expected of God’s people.

The importance of paying tithes was stressed in Malachi 3 where God asked, “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me . . . in tithes and offerings.” He warned that there is a consequence for those who neglect the practice: “Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me.” However, He is ready to bless those who obey: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:8-10).

For reflection: What are some of the blessings that come to an individual or a congregation through tithing? How have you personally been blessed by this practice?

Offerings yield blessings

In addition to the tithe, the Israelites were commanded in Deuteronomy 16:10-11 to appear before the Lord three times each year with “a tribute of a freewill offering of thine hand.” This was to be given “according as the Lord thy God hath blessed thee” for the poor, including “the Levite that is within thy gates, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are among you.” The people were encouraged to do this, that “the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which thou doest” (Deuteronomy 14:29).

Freewill offerings were also collected for building and maintaining God’s house. In preparation for the construction of the Tabernacle, the Lord told Moses, “Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring me an offering: of every man that giveth it willingly with his heart ye shall take my offering” (Exodus 25:2). As with the tithe, there was a blessing for those who gave offerings and a consequence for those who did not. In Haggai 1:9 we read, “Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little. . . . Why? saith the Lord of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house.”

The theme of freewill offerings, which are often called “alms” in Scripture, was restated in the New Testament. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught, “But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth” (Matthew 6:3). By saying when instead of if, He implied that the giving of offerings was a common practice. He also instructed the Pharisees, “Give alms of such things as ye have” (Luke 11:41).

The Bible does not indicate how much God’s people should give in offerings. However, Paul admonished those in the Early Church to give generously from the heart, each one “as God hath prospered him” (1 Corinthians 16:2), advising that “he which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). This was true of the early Christians who gave of their substance to God and enjoyed gladness, singleness of heart, and favor with all the people (see Acts 2:46-47).

For reflection: God commends giving that is regular, in keeping with our income, and generous. What are some ways in which you could help those who lack resources or face an unexpected financial loss, such as a costly medical emergency?

Saving is wise

We read in Proverbs 21:20, “There is a treasure to be desired and oil in the dwelling of the wise; but a foolish man spendeth it up.” This verse implies that it is wise to maintain a reserve. One way to do this is by regularly setting aside a percentage of earnings to accumulate over time as savings.

Building savings can be difficult as it requires discipline to forgo expenditures now in order to save for something in the future. However, doing so offers many benefits. Having some savings allows us the freedom to help others, lessens the impact of emergency and unexpected expenses, and is a way to make large purchases, such as a vehicle, without going into debt. It also provides the necessary down payment on a house or the initial outlay for an education, and during retirement, it may keep us from becoming dependent on others.

Some may think that maintaining a savings, an emergency fund, or a retirement account shows a lack of trust in God for His provision. However, reliance on God is not determined by the size of our savings, but by the attitude of our hearts. King David had great riches and his attitude was, “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord our God” (Psalm 20:7).

Joseph’s life offers an example of someone who saved precisely because his trust was in God. As Pharaoh’s steward over Egypt, he heeded God’s warning of a coming famine and coordinated efforts to reserve a portion of each year’s harvest for seven years. As a result, the people of Egypt and Canaan were sustained through the seven years of famine that followed.

The spiritual danger is not in saving, but in relying upon our bank accounts for security. Another danger is in becoming greedy. Jesus warned against both in a parable found in Luke 12:15-21. He said to “beware of covetousness,” or greed, and then told of a rich man who tore down his barns and built larger ones to accommodate a plentiful harvest. After stockpiling his crops, the man said to himself, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease . . .” This man died that night, and because his trust had been misplaced, his efforts to save did not benefit either the poor or himself.

For reflection: When we save under God’s guidance, we and others will benefit. As our savings accounts begin to grow, how can we guard against transferring our trust from God to our own resources? What practical steps can we take to keep from becoming greedy?

A debtor is a servant

The writer of Proverbs likened being in debt to being enslaved, saying, “The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender” (Proverbs 22:7). It is important that we live free from financial bondage. We can avoid this by adopting a strategy to spend less than we earn, save in advance for large purchases, and exercise caution in taking on debt.

The Bible gives several warnings about debt. For example, the person who cosigns a loan is deemed “snared,” and advised to “deliver thyself as a roe from the hand of the hunter” (Proverbs 6:1-5). However, debt itself is not forbidden.  The Law of Moses included instructions to the Israelites for borrowing and lending. Specifically, they were not to require burdensome collateral (Deuteronomy 24:6) or charge interest amongst themselves (Deuteronomy 23:20). Also, they were to return all property to the original owner every fiftieth year (Leviticus 25:10). These laws, though particular to the nation of Israel, indicate that it is not a sin to borrow or lend.

Some types of debt unwisely bring borrowers into financial bondage.  A few examples of these are payday loans, signature loans, and personal lines of credit. Credit cards also fall into this category if not backed by a bank account with sufficient funds to pay the balance as it becomes due. Many troubles can stem from this type of debt, including high interest charges adding to the balance and a lowered credit rating. A better way to finance some long-term needs such as wedding expenses or a family vacation would be systematic saving in advance.

There are times when the decision to take on debt may not be unwise. One example could be the purchase of a home, where the value of the property provides collateral for the lender, and an adequate down payment anticipates long-term equity for the borrower. With regular payments, equity can build, making home ownership a sound investment. Another example could be a student loan if the cost of the education increases earning potential.

Debt of any kind risks financial stress, marital conflict, and strained friendships. It can also compromise integrity if regular and timely repayment is not made. Psalm 37:21 states, “The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again: but the righteous showeth mercy, and giveth.” Therefore, when borrowing, it is important to make sure our resources are being handled prayerfully and prudently, and the repayment terms do not leave us with burdensome financial obligations.

For reflection: Peace of mind and integrity of heart are of far greater value than anything that going into debt could buy. What are some examples of potential future expenses you could be saving for now?

May God help us to be faithful stewards of the resources He has granted us. We want to accept the challenge of managing our finances in accordance with His directives and will for our lives.

apostolic faith magazine