A common practice that coincides with the start of a new year is the making of new year’s resolutions. A New Year’s resolution is a personal declaration of what one intends to do at the start of a new year in order to alter an undesirable behavior or trait, to accomplish a personal goal, or to better some aspect of one’s life. One of the most popular resolutions every year centers around our finances. Financial resolutions may take the form of resolving to spend less money, to save more money, or to get out of debt. If one of your resolutions revolves around money, then consider what the Bible has to say about financial stewardship.
The first component of financial stewardship entails giving God the “firstfruits.” The “firstfruits” terminology is not commonly used today, but it refers to a financial mindset that prioritizes God. After the Israelites took possession of the land of Canaan, they were required to offer to God some of the first harvest that they reaped (Deuteronomy 26:1-10). Why? Because He gave first. He gave them the land and He gave them the harvest, so they were expected to bring a basket of their first bounty back to Him. As a result, the giving of one’s “firstfruits” in the Israelite’s agricultural society demonstrated that God would receive financial priority.
This “firstfruits” mentality may not carry as much weight in an industrialized society, but Jesus made sure that the principle behind it applied to every disciple. In a section of Scripture in which Jesus addressed financial matters, He concluded with the words “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). To what is the phrase “all these things” referring? “All these things” is referring to the necessities of life such as food, water, and clothing, which Jesus indicated that God freely supplied to the flowers and birds. What is the condition for having "all these things...added to you"? The condition was the prioritization of God—seeking God first. So, when Jesus spent His time in Matthew 6 talking about wealth, finances, and stewardship, what He was trying to communicate is that the “firstfruits” mentality should not diminish in the New Testament. Solomon summarized the expectation well when He said, “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce” (Proverbs 3:9).
Now, it should be noted that God is realistic in His expectations of your giving. He does not expect you to give above your means (2 Corinthians 8:11), but He does expect you to give purposefully and cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7). It should also be noted that failure to prioritize God with our finances is considered a form of stealing from Him. In Malachi 3:8-9, God criticized the Jews for their failure to fulfill their covenant obligation of tithing and accused them of robbery as a result. As you examine your finances today can you wholeheartedly say that God takes precedence in your financial agenda? Or, are you guilty of robbing Him because you are not financially prioritizing “the Giver of all good gifts” (Matthew 7:11; James 1:17)?
The second component of financial stewardship is to avoid misappropriating God’s funds. There are many ways in which one can misappropriate the resources that God has entrusted to us, but quite possibly the most common means of such misappropriation is indebtedness. Debt is not identified in the Bible as a sin per se, but the Bible does discourage its usage. For example, Paul instructed Christians to “Owe no one anything except to love each other,” or, as another translation says, “Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another” (Romans 13:8). Why would Paul issue such an instruction? Consider the fact that Solomon equated indebtedness to slavery in Proverbs 22:7, saying “the rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave.” In other words, Solomon is saying that the accumulation of debt allows the one to whom you are indebted to be your functional master. This is a problem because Scripture indicates that as disciples we are to be mastered by no one but God. Remember, Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24). Thus, the basis of Paul’s instruction to “owe no one anything” is the fact that God is the only one to whom we should be indebted because He paid our greatest debt—the debt of sin (Romans 6:15-23; 1 Corinthians 7:23; 1 Peter 2:16).
There are other biblical principles that have a bearing on our attitude toward debt. For example, we should avoid indebtedness because it robs us of a pilgrim mentality. In Hebrews 11:13 and 1 Peter 2:11 we are identified as “strangers and pilgrims” and “sojourners and pilgrims.” Such monikers indicate that our current residence is not our permanent residence. We need to remember that everything we own will be destroyed one day (2 Peter 3:10). So, worshipping the idol of accumulation through indebtedness contradicts our identity as pilgrims. Additionally, we should avoid indebtedness because it can prevent us from investing in kingdom opportunities. When our money is tied up paying off debt, it is unavailable to be used for more beneficial things such as benevolent activities or evangelistic opportunities. We must not forget that Jesus instructed us to “lay up…treasures in heaven” rather than "on earth” in Matthew 6:19-20. As one preacher said, “kingdom investments are the only investments with an eternally prosperous dividend.”
In regards to the misappropriation of God’s funds, it should also be noted that failure to appropriately utilize the resources given to us by God is considered a form of laziness and is condemnable. In the Parable of the Talents, when the master received the financial report from the one talent servant, he was greatly disturbed by the one talent servant’s unwillingness to make the sacrifices and do the work that was required in order to wisely use the funds with which he was entrusted. As a result, the master called him “wicked and lazy,” stripped him of his resource, and condemned him by sending him to a place where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:26-30). An application that can be made from this parable is that God entrusts resources to us, such as money, and He expects us to utilize it wisely for His glory. Failure to do so comes with dire consequences. As you examine your finances today, can you wholeheartedly say that you are mastered by no one but God, that you are operating with a pilgrim’s mentality, that you are investing in heavenly treasures? Or, are you guilty of financial laziness because you are allowing debt to dictate your financial direction?