How is stewardship actually worship?
Jesus devoted roughly 25 percent of his words in the Gospels to the resources God has entrusted to our stewardship. This includes some 28 passages in the Gospels. In the Old and New Testaments combined there are over 800 verses on the subject, addressing topics ranging from planning and budgeting, to saving and investing, to debt and tithing. Furthermore, money and wealth and possessions are among the greatest idols in our culture, and there is simply no way to be a disciple of Jesus apart from learning to worship God with stewardship.
Jesus stressed that we either worship our wealth or worship with our wealth. In Matthew 6:24 he said, “No one can serve two masters, for 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 God and money.”
Money is either a tool or an idol. When wealth is an idol, it is worshiped in pursuit of other perceived blessings, such as comfort, security, status, and power. But the Bible warns that money-idolatry, called “the love of money,” is a trap:
Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.6
The Bible speaks of many financial sins that accompany money idolatry. These include being continually torn between whether to obey God at financial loss or disobey God in order to retain wealth (as with the rich young ruler),7 giving from pride so that others will be impressed with your generosity and praise you,8 getting into the slavery of debt,9 enviously coveting the success and possessions of others rather than rejoicing with them,10 a diminished fear of the Lord,11 laziness,12 not providing for one’s family,13 poor financial planning leading to poverty,14 not leaving a generous financial legacy to your children and grandchildren,15 becoming a heretic because it is profitable,16 becoming selfish and therefore a bad friend,17 and robbing God by not giving to the cause of his ministry.18
Simply put, if we love money, we use God and people. However, if we love God, we are free to use money to love God and people. Our money is inextricably linked to our worship, both corporately and individually. As gathered Christians, we worship corporately by financially contributing to our local church as well as other ministries. We respond to God’s gifts and kindness by giving in return, so that the gospel can continue to reach other people, just as someone paid for it to reach us.
As scattered individuals, we worship by loving our family and loving others with our money by being considerate and generous. This may take the form of sharing our home and a meal with friends, loaning our truck to a neighbor, giving or lending money at no interest to someone who is in need, paying some bills for a single mother, or buying a Bible for our unbelieving coworker. Our whole lives are to be marked by worship, and how we use our money plays a role in this every day. Worship does happen on Sundays, but it does not end there. Every day with every dollar we are committing either worship or idolatry.
Paul speaks of worshiping with our money. In Philippians 4:18 he speaks of generous financial giving as a worship sacrifice, saying, “I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”
To help you grow as a worshiper with wealth rather than as a worshiper of wealth, five principles are helpful.
Jesus is your treasure. As Christians, we cannot too often or too deeply consider that God has given himself to us as a gift to receive and enjoy. As we see and savor Jesus as our treasure, our hearts are guarded against the idolatrous pursuit of lesser created things, and we are satisfied in the wonder of God’s loving generosity.
More stuff won’t make you happier. Ecclesiastes 5:10 says, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.” Despite all the advertising and marketing to the contrary, true, deep enduring joy does not come from what we possess. Why? Because our idols fail us by falling apart, becoming outdated, underperforming, and ultimately revealing themselves as liars.
Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”19 Indeed, if you reflect on the most joy you have had from your wealth, you will surely realize that your best memories are connected to your generous giving to others rather than to your receiving of generous gifts. This explains why generous people are more joyful than greedy, stingy people and also why God, who is the most generous, is also the happiest.
We should aspire to grow in our financial giving to our church, as well as to other ministries, as part of our spiritual maturation. Second Corinthians 8:7 says, “But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.” Too often the church is guilty of encouraging growth in all the spiritual disciplines and gifts other than giving. Of course, some churches emphasize giving at the expense of being Christ-centered, but it is vital nonetheless that Christians be exhorted and instructed in everything from biblical preaching to budgeting and investment training on how to seek to increase their giving every year and grow as godly financial stewards.
Generous stewards are storing up treasures in heaven. In Matthew 6:19–21, Jesus says:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Commenting on storing up treasures on earth, Randy Alcorn says, “Why not? Because earthly treasures are bad? No. Because they won’t last.”20 He continues:
As a Christian, you have inside knowledge of an eventual worldwide upheaval caused by Christ’s return. This is the ultimate insider trading tip: Earth’s currency will become worthless when Christ returns–or when you die, whichever comes first. (And either event could happen at any time). Investment experts known as market timers read signs that the stock market is about to take a downward turn, then recommend switching funds immediately into more dependable vehicles such as money markets, treasury bills, or certificates of deposit. Jesus functions here as the foremost market timer. He tells us to once and for all switch investment vehicles. He instructs us to transfer our funds from earth (which is volatile and ready to take a permanent dive) to heaven (which is totally dependable, insured by God Himself, and is coming soon to forever replace earth’s economy).21
When in your life has giving made you the most happy?
On a scale of 1–10, with 10 being an amazing steward and 1 being an awful steward, how would you rate yourself? What changes should you make?
6 1 Tim. 6:9–10.
7 Luke 18:18–30.
8 Matt. 6:1–4.
9 Prov. 22:7.
10 Eccles. 4:4.
11 Prov. 15:16.
12 Prov. 13:4.
13 1 Tim. 5:8.
14 Prov. 15:21–22; 21:5.
15 Prov. 13:22; 19:14.
16 1 Tim. 6:3–10.
17 James 4:1–4.
18 Mal. 3:8–10.
19 Acts 20:35.
20 Alcorn, The Treasure Principle, 13, emphasis in original.
21 Ibid., 14–15.