From my perspective there are two core passages in the Bible that are foundational to the principle of biblical stewardship. These passages are Deuteronomy 8 and Matthew 25. While it is outside the scope of this book to do a complete exegesis of each of these passages, we will spend some time gleaning from each what it means to be a responsible steward.
Matthew 25: The parable of the talents
In this well-known parable, Jesus describes a man who goes on a long journey and entrusts his property to his servants. To the first servant he gives five talents of money, to the second two talents and to the third one talent. Jesus says the man distributes these talents according to the ability of each servant. The man who had received five talents put that money to work and gained five more. Likewise, the one who had been given two talents gained two more. But the man who had been given one talent dug a hole in the ground to hide his master’s money, ensuring that his master’s money did not earn any return or interest.
When the master returns, he wants to settle accounts with his servants. The master commends the first two servants who have doubled their talents, saying, “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”
After praising the first two servants, the master turns to the third who had received one talent. The servant essentially blames the master for his inability to create another talent of wealth, saying, “I knew that you are hard man harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See here is what belongs to you.” Then the master calls him a wicked and lazy servant and says, “. . . you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.” In the end, Jesus says the servant is “worthless” and thrown outside into the darkness.
Like the master to his servants, God has entrusted us with talents and abilities and opportunity. The amount of money or talent or opportunity is not important; instead, what matters is our faithfulness to take what God has given to us and turn it into something more for his purposes. You see, when the servants invested their talents and earned more talents for the master, it was for the master. The earning of their profits wasn’t for themselves because their original investments weren’t their own.
We see the master giving money and opportunity for enrichment out of his abundance to his servants. This is exactly what God does with us. The servants use the master’s money to create more wealth, but not once do we ever see them claiming that money as their own. As Christian business owners, we should have the same attitude as the servants: the business that we have has been given to us by God and we are to use it to further His purposes and His agenda, not ours.
We also learn from Matthew 25 that good stewardship is a direct result of a good relationship between the master and servant. You’ll notice that the servant who is given one talent did not claim an inability to earn another talent. Instead he blamed the master and his wrong perception of the master’s character, attitudes, and possible reactions. While the text doesn’t seem to come out and say this, this seems to imply that had the servant tried in good faith and failed, the master would not have been upset with him. But the larger point is that the worthless servant did not have a close relationship with his master, did not know his master’s heart and therefore acted in ways that were out of character for his master.
If you are not walking with the Lord, you will not have a good idea as to what the Lord’s heart is when it comes to your business. Seeking the heart of God (see Chapter 2) and knowing God’s heart is central to the act of Biblical stewardship. Again, having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and being free from the bondage of sin is the only way to position yourself to engage in biblical stewardship. Running your business God’s way starts with your relationship with Jesus Christ.
Deuteronomy 8: Do not forget the Lord
In verses 10 through 20, Moses reminds the Israelites that significant danger lay in becoming wealthy. That danger centers on a drifting away from God and a growing arrogance in ourselves as the source of our wealth. Moses starts:
“When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”
A couple of verses later, Moses continues:
“You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hand have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today. If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed.” (Emphasis added)
Whatever talents and abilities, whatever opportunities and ideas, whatever connections and education we might have are wholly from the Lord. If we are talented, it is because the Lord created us that way. If we have significant opportunities to create wealth, it is because the Lord has positioned us to do so. If we have been given significant wealth through inheritance, it is because the Lord has been generous to us. If we have a new product idea, it is because the Lord has given it to us. There isn’t anything that you or I can point to in business and say “I did that on my own.” It is all from the Lord.
Here are the five core, foundational principles of biblical stewardship that we can exegete out of Matthew 25 and Deuteronomy 8.
- God is the source of everything and owns everything. By definition, everything we have is an entrustment from the Lord to be used for his purposes and his glory.
- Our relationship with God directly impacts our understanding of his heart, agenda and purposes for that which he has entrusted to us. This is why the central component of running a business God’s way is the quality of your relationship with Jesus Christ.
- Because we are merely stewards and not owners of anything, part of our entrustment is to faithfully represent the Lord and his interests on this earth.
- We as stewards take the initiative in getting to know the master.
- As stewards of that which God has given to us, we avoid conflicts of interest. We look out for the interests of Jesus Christ and put the interests of others ahead of ourselves.
Biblical stewardship and your small business
Because everything is from God, we have no reason to be possessive of anything we have. I think this is why Christ was so blunt in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 when he tells us to “give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Because wealth is a renewable resource, it seems to me that one of the purposes of business is to give and lend to those who ask.
Personally, I have a hard time with Christian business owners who create millions of dollars of wealth and spend most of it on themselves. Such self-indulgence is counter to the spirit of generosity that God has demonstrated toward us. If God generously gives us the opportunity to create significant wealth, we should spend that wealth under the direction of the Holy Spirit, considering the interests of others ahead of our own.
While I’m not advocating a life of poverty, I’m also challenging the American success story that is so individualistic that all success is directly and solely attributed to each individual’s own effort and talent. To this end, I find that both primary political parties in the United States today have got it wrong. One party wishes you to believe that your success is a direct result of government support and government programs. The other party wishes you to believe that your success in business is a direct result of your own efforts, ideas and talents and that very few other people really help you. Neither party recognizes that all of our wealth and our ability to produce wealth comes from God. Neither party recognizes our responsibility to God and our role as stewards of that for which he has entrusted to us.
When the stewards in Matthew 25 went and earned more money it was not for themselves. They were representing the master and did so in a faithful way. When we run our businesses, we are representing Jesus Christ in the marketplace. Let’s not give others any reason to drag the name of the Lord to the mud because of our words and actions. Our behavior, language, attitudes and methods of interaction should positively reflect the character of Jesus Christ. This is confirmed in second Corinthians 5.20 where Paul writes, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.”
While the master gave out of his abundance opportunity and resources for the stewards to create profit on his behalf in Matthew 25, it is also clear, in my estimation, that the worthless servant did not take the time to understand what the master really wanted and furthermore did not take the time to get to know the master’s heart. This is confirmed in Colossians 1.10: “And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.”
This is so countercultural to the American concept of creating wealth for yourself and your family through business that many will scoff and find this to be unworkable in today’s American business environment. My only response is that it is never unworkable to be faithful to that to which God has called us.
This chapter has just skimmed the surface of what it means to be a biblical steward. Hundreds of books have been written on this topic alone. Over time, I’ll be reviewing books on Biblical Stewardship and will place those reviews in the Book Reviews section of this web site. If you want more resources to study stewardship, please ping me directly through this web site.