5 principles of gospel stewardship for Christmas and beyond
“There cannot be a surer rule, nor a stronger exhortation to the observance of it, than when we are taught that all the endowments which we possess are divine deposits entrusted to us for the very purpose of being distributed for the good of our neighbor.” — John Calvin
Even if you haven’t looked at a calendar in weeks, it’s hard to miss the signs of the start of the Christmas season. Stores dropped their pumpkins and other Halloween themed paraphernalia into their boxes November 1 and replaced them with Christmas trees and garland. The 24/7 Christmas music stations have already begun their rotation of the same 25 Christmas classics. The malls will get progressively more crowded and it won’t be long until our mailboxes are full of Christmas cards from long-lost relatives and friends.
A somewhat less welcome intruder in the mailbox begins showing up around Thanksgiving: the annual year-end solicitation letters. Some of the causes these letters represent are near and dear to our hearts while others are decidedly less so (begging the question of how we even got on their mailing list in the first place).
Though the glut of letters may be intimidating, the reality is that many of these non-profits make roughly 60% of their overall fundraising budget in December alone. Without those funds, many of these worthy causes would simply not exist. Much good can and has been done from the monies received from these year-end solicitations. However, for a gospel-minded believer with only limited resources, the question quickly arises – “how much and to which cause should I send my hard-earned money?”
Thankfully, the Bible has much to say about how we should think about the resources he has given us and the word the Bible uses to describe the appropriate relationship we should have to all our things is that of a “steward.” While a biblical concept of stewardship refers to more than just how we spend our money (it encompasses our time, our bodies, children, talents, etc.), a biblical concept of stewardship is absolutely critical to our understanding of how we should rightly handle the God-given resources he has charged us to care for. With that in mind, here are five biblical principles of gospel-stewardship that should help you as you consider where to invest your money this December (and beyond!).
1. Everything is God’s
From the first pages of Scripture, we are presented with a world that is completely and totally God’s. It is not, and never has been, our world to do with simply as we please. In Genesis 2 Adam is placed in the garden and given the responsibility to “work it and keep it.” The garden was not his, but he was given the privilege and responsibility of tending it and benefitting from its produce.
Though Adam sinned and much has changed since that day, Scripture is still clear that, “The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therin” (Ps. 24:1). All we now have, our money, our friends, our time, even our very bodies were given to us for a time to do with as he pleases.
In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus tells the story of a, “man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property” (Matt. 25:14). The man going on a journey is Jesus, and we are the servants. Everything we have is his property which he has entrusted to us. Our houses, our jobs, our bank accounts, even our children do not belong to us. They are God’s and he has entrusted them to us for a time.
It is easy to pay lip-service to this concept, but it is much more difficult to operate on a regular basis in light of this reality. It is difficult to say with Paul, “I have counted everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ” (Phil. 3:8).
2. Unequal distribution of resources is part of God’s design
The Parable of the Talents continues with, “To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away” (Matt. 25:15). Much can be gleaned from this one short verse, but what is clear is God intentionally doles out his “talents” unequally.
Talents, here, can be applied to physical resources, natural abilities, spiritual gifts, or anything else that comes to us from God. Even a cursory glance at the world tells us that he gives more to some than he does to others. A quick glance at the world around us is all we need to affirm this basic biblical principle.
I remember meeting what ended up being a close college friend for the first time. In what seemed like a day divinely orchestrated to display my deficiency, I was confronted with the fact that he was not just smarter than me, he was a far better athlete, and to top it all, he was musically gifted. I hated him instantly.
Over time the Lord helped me overcome my small-minded, selfishness, and see that inequality is part of his design. It’s not inherently unjust for some to have more talents, money, etc., than others. As his servants, we are to receive humbly what he has given us, not begrudging those who have more or disdaining those who have less. As Paul writes, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast?” (1 Cor. 4:7) We must remember that God is the source of this inequality. However, what we do with these resources can be just or unjust.
3. Gifts are given for his glory and the good of others
On multiple occasions, Paul referred to himself as a steward of God’s grace. “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor. 4:1) and again, “For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Jesus Christ on behalf of you Gentiles–assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given me for you” (Eph. 3:1-2). Paul recognized the incredible gift of grace he had been given in the gospel and felt a deep and profound sense of responsibility. This drove him to say, “For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16)
Paul knew that along with his gifts came an incredible responsibility. He was, as it says in the next verse, “entrusted with a stewardship” for the good of his fellow man and the glory of God. Peter makes the same point in 1 Peter when he encourages the churches in Asia Minor, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10).
As this passage should make clear, every resource given to us was not given simply and completely for our benefit. A blessing received is intended to bless others also. A helpful analogy to understand how Paul and Peter speak of gifts and abilities as distributed within the church is that of tools in building a house. A variety of tools—hammers, nails, saws, tape measures, levels, etc. —were handed out in the church. Our tendency is to polish each of our tools all the while showing them off to those around, when Jesus meant us to take those tools and get busy building his house.
4. Faithfulness is the key
Speaking of himself, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 4:2, “Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” The goal for a steward is not notoriety, or wealth, or success, or any other earthly measure of success that glorifies the recipient of the gift above the giver. The goal of a steward is to be found faithful and trustworthy by the one who made him a steward.
Returning again to the Parable of the Talents, upon the master’s return the servants are judged based on the “talents” they were given. The first two servants come bringing their talents and the additional talents that they had acquired in his absence. Each steward receives the same commendation from the master upon presenting their talents, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:23).
That one returned with five additional talents and the other with two didn’t seem to bother the master. The point is each servant did as much as they could with what they had been given. Notice too that each servant only returned as many talents as they have been given. The one with five didn’t return with six, just with five, and the master was pleased. The master knew the limits of each servant and judged the return based on the talents he had given that individual servant, not another servant.
This is comforting because there is only one Billy Graham, Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, or Billy Joel. We won’t be judged based on the skills, abilities, opportunities, and resources that these men had. Faithfulness for you doesn’t look like faithfulness for these men. God alone knows the gifts, talents, resources, and opportunities he has given us and he alone can determine whether we are a “good and faithful servant”. Pray that you will be found faithful.
5. What we do with our resources here will echo for eternity
This is one of the most important and misunderstood principles of stewardship in the broader evangelical culture. How we steward our resources here, on this earth, in the time and space he has allotted us, has eternal impact. What we do with the resources he has given us can be used to bring people from darkness to light, from bondage to freedom, from God’s wrath to his favor.
In the process, Scripture is clear we also store up for ourselves treasures in heaven. However, the point of our faithfulness is not that we may get a five-fold, ten-fold, or even 100-fold return on our monetary investment in this life. Any theology or philosophy that emphasizes the earthly, monetary payback as the sole motivation for giving now is hopelessly anti-Christian.
The New Testament is clear and consistent in its message: “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matt. 6:20).
The decisions, investments, and actions we take here and now within our short, fragile lives can have an impact on the kingdom of God that will echo for eternity. What an incredible privilege!
Michael Craig received his M.Div from Southern Seminary and currently serves as the Director of Advancement Operations. He is married to Emily and they have three young children – Aliza, Adelae, & Tytus.