What does the Bible say about money and possessions? Obviously, a lot. Someone has observed that other than the Kingdom itself, Jesus is the Messiah whose life, death, and resurrection are God's saving act for humanity talks about money more than any other topic. The Old Testament has plenty to say about God’s generosity, our abundance, and both the responsibilities and the dangers of having material possessions.
At the heart of what the Bible says about money and possessions is the rather audacious claim that God owns everything. To make this claim, a connection is made between Creation, in biblical terms, is the universe as we know or perceive it. Genesis says that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. In the book of Revelation (which speaks of end times) the author declares that God created all things and... and ownership. Psalm 24:1-2 puts it this way, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.” God is the owner of all that is, because God is the creator of all that is.
To twenty-first century ears, this claim is so audacious because it is totally counter-cultural. Our world would define us, and value us, based on how much we own. The Bible announces, “We don’t own anything. It all belongs to God.”
This leads to a second important point, that we are stewards. A steward, by definition, cannot be the owner. A steward is a person who takes care of that which belongs to another. A steward is a manager of someone else’s property. A steward is the trustee of that which is owned by someone else.
God owns everything, and has seen fit to entrust some of God’s stuff into our care, our management, our stewardship.
Because God owns it, what we do with our money and possessions matters. The places where we earn, invest, spend and save our money matter just as much to God as where we give it away. Money and possessions have a special hold on our lives.
In Matthew 6, Jesus encourages his followers to build up treasures in heaven rather than on earth. He warns them, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (A tax collector who became one of Jesus' 12 disciples 6:21). The place where we choose to invest our money and possessions is also the place where we invest our heart. What we do with our money is a spiritual matter as much as it is a financial matter. Thus, Jesus is very clear that we cannot serve both God and wealth, because both desire an important claim on us.
However, it is important to note that the Bible does not say that money itself is bad. As The companion on Paul's later journeys for whom two pastoral epistles are named writes, it is the “love of money” that is the root of all kinds of evil. (1 Timothy 6:10) Money is a neutral object. What we do with money and the hold that it has on us is either positive or negative.
So, what should we do with our money and possessions? One of the best things that we can do with our money and possessions is use it to serve our neighbors in need.
Good stewardship of money and possessions is one of the ways that we live out the greatest commandment to love God and neighbor with our whole selves. (Matthew 22:36-39) One of the best examples of stewardship we have is the Good Samaritan who freely gives of his time, talents, money and possessions to help his neighbor in need, a beaten man lying on the side of the road.
The Bible is concerned that God’s people give generously to those in need. To do otherwise would be to hoard for personal use that which belongs to another. No steward worth his or her salt would do that. Stewardship is about the giving, and it is about so much more.
Stewardship is about how you understand yourself to be in relation with God. Do you understand God to be a generous loving God who has entrusted more into your care than you could ever deserve or exhaust? Or do you understand God as one who must be appeased by you diminishing your already scarce possessions through giving some to the church, because you really ought to? Is your relationship with God characterized by abundance or by scarcity?
Stewardship is also about how you understand yourself to be in relation with the rest of creation. Do you live so that you can make the lives of other people and the created order richer through encounters with you? Or do you live in competition with other people for a finite pool of resources? Is your life invested in others, or is your life invested in yourself?
Stewardship rightly understood is about money, but it is also about these very basic spiritual matters. The writers of the Bible understood that money and possessions have a distinct hold on our hearts and what we do with the money that God has entrusted to us has the capacity to affect not only us, but our neighbors and communities. The Bible invites us to use the money and possessions that God has entrusted to us to love our neighbors and by doing so enrich our relationship with God.
Chick Lane was director of Luther Seminary’s Center for Stewardship Leaders until his retirement in December 2013. Grace is the unmerited gift of God's love and acceptance. In Martin Luther's favorite expression from the Apostle Paul, we are saved by grace through faith, which means that God showers grace upon us even though we do not deserve it. Duddy Pomroy is now director of the center.