A man entrusted money to three servants. He assigned five bags of gold to the first, two to the second, and one to the last. When he returned, the first two revealed that they had invested and doubled his money. “Well done, good and faithful servant!” he commended each of them. “Come and share your master’s happiness!” He proceeded to entrust more to them.
The third servant, however, had buried his portion. Calling the master a harsh man, he simply returned what he had been given. In response, the master denounced him as a wicked, lazy servant and sent him away.
Previously I described stewardship as an expression of integrity. In the parable above that Jesus told to his disciples, two of the servants acted with integrity, investing their master’s money in his absence. In other words, they served him well as stewards—protectors, managers, caretakers—of his property. The third servant was a lousy steward who failed to act in the best interest of his master.
Whom do we serve in our day? Most of us don’t live in a context with master-servant relationships. And though some of us may manage resources for our bosses, outside the workplace our finances are our own responsibility.
In fact, we live in a society that values financial independence. We believe that if we work hard enough we’ll achieve financial adequacy, if not success. This is the basis of the American Dream, equal opportunity employment, and the rags-to-riches stories we love to hear. All eyes turn to the immigrant farmers who became millionaires or the janitor who worked his way up to CEO. Anything seems possible.
We also dislike being told what to do with our money:
“I earned this, so I can spend it as I choose.”
“I’m healthy. Why am I coerced to buy health insurance?”
“I tithe 10 percent to God; the rest is mine.”
When we cannot spend our money as we please, we may feel that our freedom is being restricted—by our parents, the government, or even God.
God calls us to be his stewards, but his guidelines for money are not meant to limit our freedom. In fact, proper financial stewardship brings freedom. Freedom from worry that there will not be enough. Freedom from guilt over an unnecessary purchase. Freedom from slavery to our possessions. Freedom to share in our Master’s happiness.
Jesus makes it clear that no one can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). Either we serve money and become defined by wealth (or debt and poverty), or we serve our Creator and Provider, the One who can do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20), who holds the authority to “throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that [there will not be] room enough for it” (Malachi 3:10).
Who are we to withhold from him that which he has lavished upon us? We might tithe 10 percent, but 100 percent of our money—and our lives—is his and should be stewarded for his glory.
Investing Our Hearts
To that end, creating a budget is essential. In his book Free,Mark Scandrette advocates for developing a spending plan regardless of our financial circumstances. He dispels two objections people may have.
Some people think that they don’t make enough to need a budget. But making less creates the perfect opportunity to become disciplined in managing money. The servants who handled the money they were given well were put in charge of greater riches.
Other people feel that they make enough that they don’t have to concern themselves with a budget. Small, impulsive purchases seem inconsequential to them. But Scandrette notes: “A spending plan isn’t just useful for controlling spending. It’s also a reflection of a person’s deeper values and priorities.”
As Jesus pointed out in the Sermon on the Mount, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). This means that how we manage our money not only reflects our values, it also shapes them. Financial stewardship is thus as spiritual as it is practical.
Keeping detailed records helps us recognize how God provides for us. Using those records, we can write annual (monthly, weekly, etc.) budgets, which force us to evaluate necessities versus luxuries. Moreover, when we accurately plan and predict expenses, we can prioritize giving. Through tithes and generosity, we express trust in God and bless others.
Building a giving component into my budget has enabled me to support the ministry of others. It keeps them in my thoughts and aligns my heart to God’s work through them. Properly managed, money can deepen our relationships with God and with our neighbors.
In the upcoming holiday season, let us live as stewards of the Most High, free from materialism and financial anxiety and thus free to share in our Master’s happiness, and help others do likewise.
We have lots of resources to help you manage money in ways that honor God. Here are just a few:
Christopher K. Lee is a freelance writer and founder of PurposeRedeemed (purposeredeemed.com). He often speaks at colleges about work, meaning, and identity. Chris is an InterVarsity alumnus from Southern California.