Lesson 3: Financial Faithfulness— Can God Trust in You? (Selected Scriptures)Related Media
Around the turn of the century a magazine editor needed a bit more copy for an issue. So the night before the deadline, he sat down and typed out an article. He ran it on the back page, without a title.
He didn’t think much more about it until a few weeks later, when requests for that issue of the magazine started to pour in. When he checked as to why that issue was so popular, he discovered that people wanted that titleless article he had hastily banged out the night before his deadline.
The trickle of requests turned into a stream and then a flood. He got requests for 10, 100, 1,000 copies. He was just a small-time operator, and soon it looked as if he would have to be running full-time just to meet the demands for the back issue with that particular article. Then he got a request for 100,000 copies from the president of a large railroad. The editor replied that it would take him two years to fill that order. The railroad president persisted until he obtained permission to have the article printed at his own expense.
Somehow the article found its way into the hands of a Russian army officer, who ordered copies for every member of the Russian army. The Russians were at war with the Japanese at the time, and the article found its way into the Japanese army, where again it was printed for every soldier. In the final analysis, millions of copies of this article were distributed around the world.
What subject could possibly elicit that kind of response? Why did so many leaders want that article for those who served under them?
The article subsequently gained the title, “A Message to Garcia.” It concerned an incident in the Spanish-American War. The President had wanted a particular message delivered personally to a general named Garcia who was in the interior of Cuba. A man under the President had just taken the message from the President and, without fanfare, without questioning why, without procrastination or complaining, had taken the message through enemy lines, into the difficult mountainous terrain, had found Garcia, and delivered the message. The article was simply an essay extolling the faithfulness of that unnamed man who did his job well without anyone needing to harangue him about it.
The reason there was such an overwhelming demand for the article on the part of leaders in business and in the military was because there is such a lack of people who are faithful enough to pick up a task they have been assigned, to do it well, and to follow through without complaint or harassment.
This rare quality--faithfulness-should not be rare among God’s people. It is, in fact, a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22); and, it applies directly to our handling of money. Not only do we need to trust in God; He should be able to trust in us because we have proven ourselves to be faithful. The testing ground for faithfulness is money:
Christians must be faithful in financial matters.
Here are four biblical facets of financial faithfulness:
1. To be faithful in finances, I must operate as the manager, not the owner.
The psalmist proclaims, “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it” (Ps. 24:1). Jesus pointedly said that our money is not ours, but “that which is another’s” (Luke 16:12 in context), namely, God’s. God is the true owner of everything and everyone. Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and mammon” (= material possessions, riches; Matt. 6:24; Luke 16:13). He clearly means that either God or money is our master, but not both. There is no middle ground.
Thus one of the fundamental biblical principles in the realm of money is: I do not own anything; I only manage the money and possessions that God has entrusted to me. God does not own just ten percent, so that I’m free to spend the rest as I please. He owns it all, money and possessions. This concept has several ramifications:
A. As manager of God’s assets, I should be responsible.
Paul said that it is required of stewards (managers) that one be found trustworthy (1 Cor. 4:2). I was taught that if I borrow or use something belonging to someone else, I should treat it more carefully than even my own things, so that I can return it to the owner in good condition. That is especially true if the owner is God!
Proverbs 27:23-24 exhorts us, “Know well the condition of your flocks, and pay attention to your herds; for riches are not forever, nor does a crown endure to all generations.” In other words, possessions do not manage themselves. You must take care of your money and possessions, even if you are a king, or you will lose them. To be irresponsible with money or things is to be an unfaithful manager.
I’m often shocked by the way that Christian parents fail to teach their children to respect both their own and others’ property. We built a new church building in California, and I once saw some boys having a contest to see who could put a scuff mark with their shoes the highest on the wall! Someone gave me several large bags full of “gummy bears” candy, which I thought the kids would enjoy. I ended up throwing most of it away, because instead of eating it, the kids used them for ammunition (so that they got trampled into the carpet) and for sticking to the walls.
One couple, who graciously let the high school group meet in their home, told me that the kids would often step onto their couch to climb over it in order to get to another part of the living room, rather than walk around! Why aren’t parents teaching kids respect for property? Church buildings and property as well as personal possessions and money do not belong to us, but to the Lord. We need to treat these things responsibly. The fact that we are not to live for money or things does not imply that we are free to be negligent or irresponsible.
B. As manager of God’s assets, I am relieved from pressure.
As long as I’m being responsible and careful with what God has entrusted to me, when something beyond my control happens, it is not my problem. It’s God’s “problem”!
Many years ago, my office was at home. A woman from the church had been to see me. I watched out the window as she backed up her big car, and I winced as I saw my beautiful Mustang get bumped. Apparently she didn’t even realize what happened, because she just drove off. I went out and looked, and sure enough, there was a fresh crease in my fender. This woman had enough problems that I didn’t feel I should talk to her about what she had done. I remember feeling more grief than anger, because I thought, “Lord, this is Your car, and if that’s how You want to treat it, that’s Your business!” If it had been my car, I would have been a lot more bothered! Seeing it as God’s car relieved the pressure.
C. As manager of God’s assets, I have the opportunity for advancement.
Note Luke 16:10-12. Jesus’ point is not, if you’re faithful with a little money, God will give you more money to manage. Neither is His point that if you’re faithful in some trivial job, God will give you a more important job (although both statements may be true). To interpret this passage correctly you must see that money is the “little thing” and that the “much” is the “true riches,” namely, heavenly riches which can’t be taken away. In the context of the parable, true riches are the souls of people who have been won to Christ through your faithful and wise use of money.
In other words, God views our faithfulness in managing the money He entrusts to us as the practice game. Money is a “little thing” to God, although it’s not to us! If we goof off in the practice game with the little thing (money), God isn’t going to put us in the big game (entrusting us with spiritual oversight of the souls which Jesus purchased with His blood). That’s why one requirement for elders is that they be good managers of their households, which includes finances (1 Tim. 3:1-7). If they aren’t faithful with the little matter of money, they won’t be faithful with the big matter of souls.
This means that if you desire to be used of God in evangelism and discipling others, you need to get your financial life in order. It also means that God will not bless our church with converts and solid growth unless we, the members, get our financial houses in order. If you want to advance in terms of responsibility in God’s service, prove yourself faithful in money matters and the Lord will give you true riches. To be faithful in finances, I must operate as the manager of God’s resources, not as the owner.
2. To be faithful in finances, I must keep the Owner’s objectives in mind.
Managers must know and carry out the will of the owner. Managers are not free to take a business any way they choose, unless the owner has given them that prerogative. They must work closely with the owner, under his direction, to find out how he wants his business managed and then to carry out his purpose.
In Luke 16:1-8, Jesus tells the parable of the unrighteous manager (or steward). Many have puzzled over this story in that, at first glance, it seems that Jesus is praising a crook. But Jesus explains the point in verse 9: “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that when it fails, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” In other words, use your money to win souls.
Jesus praised the shrewdness (not the crookedness) of the steward because he took the long-range view. He saw that his stewardship was quickly coming to an end. Thus he used what had been entrusted to him in the present to secure a comfortable living for himself in the future. Even so, our stewardship of this life is temporary; “unrighteous mammon” will fail. We will soon give an account of our stewardship. If we (“sons of light”) were as shrewd as the “sons of this age,” we would use “unrighteous mammon” (money and possessions), entrusted to us in the present, to win people to Jesus Christ, so that in the future when this earthly stewardship ends, we will be welcomed into heaven by all those who have been won through our wise use of money.
This means that a primary way that the Owner wants His managers to use their money is to further His kingdom. Years ago, Billy Graham received a copy of a letter sent by a young man to his fiancee, breaking off their engagement because he had become a Communist. It said in part:
We Communists ... live in virtual poverty. We turn back to the party every penny we make above what is absolutely necessary to keep us alive.
We Communists don’t have the time or the money for many movies or concerts or T-bone steaks or decent homes or new cars. We’ve been described as fanatics. We are fanatics. Our lives are dominated by one great overshadowing factor--the struggle for world Communism. We Communists have a philosophy of life, which no amount of money could buy. We have a cause to fight for, a definite purpose in life. We subordinate our petty, personal selves into a great movement of humanity, and if our personal lives seem hard or our egos appear to suffer through subordination to the Party, then we are adequately compensated by the thought that each of us in his small way is contributing to something new and true and better for mankind. (Billy Graham, Call to Commitment [Billy Graham Evangelistic Association], pp. 1-2, cited in Teacher’s Manual for the Ten Basic Steps Toward Christian Maturity [Campus Crusade for Christ], p. 389).
I wonder, could somebody tell by looking at your checkbook and the way you spend your money that are a manager for the Owner who is not willing that any should perish, but wants some from every tongue and tribe and nation to come to faith in Jesus Christ? A faithful manager keeps the owner’s objectives in mind.
3. To be faithful in finances, I must be hard-working and obedient to the Owner.
No owner is pleased with a lazy manager who doesn’t follow directions. To please our Owner, we must work hard and follow the instructions He gives us in His Word about money. I touch briefly on four areas:
A. To be faithful, I must be industrious, not lazy.
See 2 Thess. 3:8, 10-12; Acts 20:34-35; Prov. 6:6-11; 24:30-34. Hard work should not be mistaken for overwork! The Bible extols working hard; it condemns making a god out of your work. But so many people have never learned to work hard when they work. They play at their work, wasting time with unproductive things; and then they feel guilty when they take time off, so they don’t enjoy that.
B. To be faithful, I must provide for my family and have extra to give to those in need.
See 2 Thess. 3:6-12; Acts 20:34-35; 1 Tim. 5:8. We are responsible before God to work hard to provide for personal and family needs and to have extra for someone unable to work due to physical inability. If we do not provide for our families, Paul says that we’re worse than unbelievers, since even those who have never heard of Christ work to provide for their families.
C. To be faithful, I must be orderly with finances.
See 2 Thess. 3:7, 11 (“undisciplined”); Luke 14:28-30 (building a tower, count the cost in advance); Prov. 27:23 (“know well”; “pay attention”). If you owned a company and your manager didn’t keep good records of business transactions, everything would soon be utter chaos. You wouldn’t know whether you were making a profit or a loss, whether money had been set aside for taxes, whether employees’ paychecks would bounce, or what inventory you had.
Yet many Christians are disorganized when it comes to personal finances. If they had to give account to the Owner, they’d get fired! Being orderly means having some sort of family budget, so that you’re not wondering where the money went; you’re telling it where to go. It means having a filing system for records (not a piling system!), so that you can give an account to the government at tax time. It means having a current will, so that your family is cared for in case of your death. It means giving in a systematic, planned way, not just when the impulse grabs you. It means saving for needs that will arise (like car repairs).
D. To be faithful, I must be resourceful.
The principle of not wasting God’s resources runs throughout the Bible, but is personified in the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31:10-31 (esp. vv. 13, 14, 16, 19, 24). By resourcefulness, I mean being thrifty and efficient, not wasting things, shopping carefully, getting the most for your money, and fixing things rather than throwing them away whenever you can. While it can be carried to extremes, Christians should be concerned about ecology. Wasting the earth is a violation of good management.
Thus financial faithfulness means operating as the manager, not the owner; keeping the owner’s objectives in mind; being hard-working and obedient.
4. To be faithful in finances, I must follow through with the Owner’s plan.
See Matt. 24:45-46. It doesn’t do any good to start as good managers if we get sloppy and don’t follow through. Setting up a budget is a start; sticking to it and making it work is financial faithfulness. Promising to give systematically is wonderful; doing it is faithfulness to the Owner. Jesus said that the faithful servant is the one whom his master found doing his job when he returned.
A pastor was asked to define “faithful church involvement.” He replied: All I ask is that we apply the same standards to our church activities that we apply to other areas of life. If your car started three out of four times, would you call it a faithful car? If your paper boy skipped Mondays and Thursdays, would you call him faithful? If you didn’t show up at work two or three times a month, would your boss call you faithful? If your refrigerator quit a day every now and then, would you say, “Oh well, it works most of the time”? If your water heater greeted you with cold water one or two mornings a week when you were in the shower, would you say it was faithful? If you miss a couple of mortgage payments in a year’s time, would your mortgage company say, “Ten out of twelve isn’t bad”? And yet we’re hit and miss about our giving, our involvement in ministry and worship, and we somehow think we’re being faithful!
When we talk about giving our life for Christ, it sounds glamorous. We think of something big, something dramatic, maybe like Corrie ten Boom’s story, or some adventurous missionary saga, maybe even martyrdom. Someone put it this way, “We think giving our all to the Lord is like taking a $1,000 bill and laying it on the table: Here’s my life, Lord. I’m giving it all.”
But the reality for most of us is that He sends us to the bank and has us cash in the $1,000 for quarters. We go through life putting out 25 cents here and 50 cents there: Listen to the hurting person’s troubles, rather than saying, “I’m too busy.” Going to a committee meeting when you’d rather stay home. Giving a cup of water to a shaky old man in a nursing home. It would be easy to go out in a flash of glory. Its harder to live faithfully little by little over the long haul (from Leadership [Fall, 1984], p. 47).
Your response to this message may be to feel overwhelmed. Your management of the finances God has entrusted to you is so bad that you don’t know where to begin. Don’t let the enormity of the task make you procrastinate. Ask God to help you pick the most important area first, and begin there. Perhaps you’ve been acting as the owner, squandering everything on yourself; you need to turn your finances over to the true Owner and start managing it for Him. Maybe you need to work on a budget that is in line with the Owner’s priorities. Perhaps you need to set up a filing system or a will. Maybe you’re sloppy about giving to the Owner’s cause.
Whatever the area, start being faithful there. Remember, if you’re not faithful in the use of unrighteous mammon, God will not entrust the true riches to you (Luke 16:11)! If you are faithful, you will someday hear the joyous words, “Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21).
- 1. How can we know where to draw the line on personal things, such as homes, cars, entertainment, etc.?
- 2. When does hard work become overwork? Is it wrong for Christians to aim at financial success?
- 3. If a Christian is financially successful, is it wrong to live “well”? Must he give away everything above basic needs to the cause of Christ?
- 4. In view of 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12, is welfare right? Should the church help those who don’t work?
Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation