From an Attitude of Ownership to Trusteeship
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.