We Are to Develop and Model Right Attitudes to Provision and Wealth
Redeeming our use of money resources begins with the nurturing of biblical attitudes—from which right actions will flow. Three fundamental biblical attitudes are trusteeship, gratitude and contentment.
The first humans were directed by God to take care of the Garden and all creatures and plants within it. This is often called the “creation mandate.” God shared the day-to-day management of the Garden with Adam and Eve. They were to view themselves as caretakers of the created order.
This trusteeship is built on the principle that ultimate ownership of everything we have and inhabit is not ours, but God’s. God is the owner, who has entrusted management to us, to be exercised according to his purposes. As the Psalmist declares, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it” (Psalm 24:1). King David affirms the same in his prayer in front of the people of Israel, at the establishment of the Temple building fund. “All things come from you, and of your own have we given” (1 Chronicles 29:14b ). We have no right to claim absolute ownership of any of our resources, neither money, possessions, business, abilities, physical environment nor heritage. We are merely trustees of whatever provision or wealth we receive.
Fiduciary duty, or stewardship, is a key element of trusteeship. While trustees are given a great deal of freedom to act and make decisions regarding resource allocation, they do so on behalf of the true owners or beneficiaries of the body they manage. And, of course, the greater the resources entrusted to them, the greater their responsibility. Jesus picks up on this in his parable of the faithful or unfaithful slave, noting that, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded” (Luke 12:48b). Craig Blomberg puts it this way: “People in positions of power have no increased privilege—just increased responsibility!”
Acting as trustees of whatever wealth we have been given, is therefore foundational to a biblical perspective on provision and wealth. These resources are not for us to do with as we please. How we use them is not our business alone either. While God does not expect us to live on nothing, he does require us to maximise our resources for the building of God’s kingdom. Those fortunate enough to be born into affluence have a responsibility to use their wealth to provide for those who don’t have enough. They may accomplish this in a variety of ways, including donations, investments, and direct service.
The command to use our resources for the benefit of poor people is given directly in the book of Exodus.
For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild animals may eat. You shall do the same with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard. (Exodus 23:10–11)
Whoever owns land has a duty to let the poor use it free of charge one year in every seven, and even to let wild animals make use of it. This command is repeated in Deuteronomy in even simpler terms:
Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.” (Deuteronomy 15:11)
The crucial point is that we are not to hoard the resources entrusted to us for ourselves, maintaining lifestyles, homes and church facilities beyond what is needed.
Trusteeship reminds us who we are working for—God—and for what we are working toward—God’s kingdom. It centres us in a new economy and a different dream, one framed by God’s agenda for this world, and for us. As partners with God we have been called to participate in this cause with all the resources at our disposal—including our wealth.
Craig Blomberg, Neither Poverty Nor Riches (Eerdmans, 1999), 84.
If we understand that everything we have is God’s—including the very capacity to work, engage in business, create and produce, sell, and build wealth—we will be grateful to God.
Of course, if we are wealthy and have abundance, it’s easy to convince ourselves that what we have is mainly a result of our own hard work, intelligence and creative genius. The reality is quite the opposite. If we have been born into a loving family, a prosperous country, a good educational system, a stable society with the rule of law, we have the good fortune needed to make it possible for hard work to pay off. This is not to suggest that hard work never contributes to economic success. Clearly, it is often a factor. Yet even intelligence and creative genius needed to make hard work fruitful are gifts from God. The Apostle Paul puts it bluntly when he asks the Corinthians, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). Paul’s point is that even the very abilities we have are given to us by God. King David echoes this sentiment when in response to God’s generosity he prays, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?” (1 Chronicles 17:16). Biblically, the response to the blessing of provision and abundance is deep gratitude, even if our own work played a major role in generating our wealth.
Yet even among Christians, affluence seems to breed ingratitude and a sense of entitlement—as if we are somehow owed something. This betrays an inflated view of our own importance, and a very limited awareness of gift, grace and good fortune in our lives. Another factor that prevents us from experiencing gratitude is envy. It is easy to begrudge others for what they have, rather than being content and grateful for what we have if we see ourselves primarily as consumers, rather than servants. Western culture feeds this envy. Marketing, advertising, and even entertainment encourage us to make living like the rich our aspiration. In doing so, we crave for what others have—not only their possessions but also their abilities and circumstances. In contrast, the Bible commands us not to covet anything that belongs to our neighbor—whether positions at work, salaries, economic opportunities or bank balances—but to develop a growing gratitude for what we have been given.
How can we become more thankful? By giving thanks. We become more thankful through the simple act of giving thanks every day for whatever we have that we appreciate. Giving thanks actually changes our attitude. If, at the same time, we turn off or tune out the “aspirational” marketing and cultural messages, we can actually become more thankful and joyful in our lives.
Gratitude leads to contentment. Contentment is a delicious feeling in itself, and it is the antidote to greed and envy. The Bible presents a vision for economic life that doesn’t depend on ever-increasing consumption to prevent us from feeling disappointed. In this vision, it is possible to have enough and to cease longing for more. The Israelites experienced this in the wilderness, when every day God gave them exactly enough bread (“manna”) from heaven. “Those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed” (Exodus 16:18). Hebrews counsels us, “Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have” (Hebrews 13:5). In the same vein, Paul writes, “Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these” (1 Timothy 6:6-8). And in a letter written from a prison cell, Paul shares something of his own journey.
Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13)
Both Paul and the far-from-wealthy Philippian church he is writing to were barely surviving economically. Their attitude of being content in all economic situations challenges those who live in plenty to find contentment in what they have.
Contentment is knowing what is enough. What is enough profit? Pay? Hours employed? Savings accumulated? House size? Possessions? Given that none of us have a true gauge on what is sufficient and what is excessive, we will need help from others. What would it be like for Christians to meet in small groups to share their purchasing plans and reflect together whether they reflect true needs leading to gratitude and contentment, or envious aspirations that will lead merely to a sense of entitlement and discontent? So few Christians have tried this that it is hard to know what effect it might have simply to share our ideas about what is enough in practical terms.