Daily we deal in one of the most dangerous threats to our spirituality and happiness, yet we cannot escape it. In the words of the apostle Paul, “The love of money is the root of all evil.” 1 Timothy 6:10. In our contemporary world, it is impossible to live without money, yet untold millions will trace their eternal loss to the dollar bill. The question before us, then, is, Will we master money or will money be our master? “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” Matthew 6:24.
In order to correctly understand how to master money, we must realize the purpose for which the Lord has put money into our hands. In the parable of the rich fool, this is aptly illustrated. This unnamed fool had been blessed abundantly by God. “The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully.” But his thoughts were not of gratitude: “What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?” His needs were supplied, but master money had taken the reins of his life. He answered himself, “I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.”
In this simple statement, there are ten references to himself. The fool thought solely of himself. He was thinking of his comfort, his convenience, his pleasure, and his retirement. His thoughts were not on what he could do for the One who had given the abundance nor of how to help those around him. As a result, the terrible verdict was pronounced upon the man who could think only of himself: “[Thou] fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?” He was not condemned for having farms and lands and barns. He was not condemned because he had been blessed with a particularly productive year. He was not condemned for his wise management. He was condemned because he thought and lived only for himself. His usage of the heavenly gifts was not the problem; it was the visible indicator of the root problem. Thus, the warning sounds down to our time: “So [is] he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” Luke 12:16–21.
Money is indicative of the heart condition. Are we thinking solely of ourselves and our families, or are we thinking outside of ourselves?
“As money is a snare, made so by the greed after it, we need to be guarded on every side. We are put into possession of money for a little while to try us individually. The soul has its test—whether money stands as having greater power over us than God and His requirements. Our Saviour says, ‘Ye cannot serve God and mammon.’ [Matthew 6:24.]” Manuscript Releases, vol. 16, 257.
“Money is not necessarily a curse; it is of high value because if rightly appropriated, it can do good in the salvation of souls, in blessing others who are poorer than ourselves. By an improvident or unwise use, . . . money will become a snare to the user. He who employs money to gratify pride and ambition makes it a curse rather than a blessing. Money is a constant test of the affections.” The Adventist Home, 372.
An Account of Stewardship
As we study Jesus’ parables, we find that a number of His parables were directly related to the principle of stewardship; especially does Luke record this recurring theme. Perhaps the most striking are the words found in Luke 16:2, “Give an account of thy stewardship.” Jesus has made it very clear that He has set each of us as stewards on this earth; stewards that will be called to give an account of our stewardship. The Lord has made us stewards of all that He has given us—time, talents, influence, health, family, and especially money. “The idea of stewardship should have a practical bearing upon all the people of God.” Testimonies, vol. 3, 387.
In no other parable is the lesson of stewardship taught so plainly as the parable of the talents. As the nobleman prepared to go to a far country to receive for himself the kingdom, he called his ten servants and gave to each of them a pound, or mina. The command was then given, “Occupy till I come.” Luke 19:13. The Greek word for occupy, pragmateuomai, does not have the connotation of sitting down and enjoying while awaiting the Lord’s return, but to be busy oneself and do business. The nobleman gave his servants the funds (enough to buy about 30 sheep or goats) and told them to be busy in working with the funds that he had given them. Then, as he returned, he required not just the mina that he had given, but also what they had gained from working with the master’s goods. “And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.” Luke 19:15.
The parallel is unmistakable. The command is given to us, “Occupy till I come,”—not by making our home in this world, doing our own business or seeking our own pleasure, but as stewards of the Master, doing business for Him. We are to be busy with the funds that He has given for the advancement of His interests. “God has left us in charge of His goods in His absence. Each steward has his own special work to do for the advancement of God’s kingdom. No one is excused. The Lord bids us all, ‘Occupy till I come.’ By His own wisdom He has given us direction for the use of His gifts. The talents of speech, memory, influence, property, are to accumulate for the glory of God and the advancement of His kingdom. He will bless the right use of His gifts.” Counsels on Stewardship, 116.
This parable, rightly understood, should change our entire perspective on life. We are to be living, working with the Master’s goods for the advancement of His kingdom—nothing more, nothing less. How is it with us? Are we being stewards of all that we have, busy about the Master’s service, or are we busy about our own service? Do we realize that for every dollar we spend an account will be required of our stewardship? If we are slack in our stewardship of the Lord’s goods, the command that none can refuse will come: “Give an account of thy stewardship.” “Wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury?” Luke 16:2; 19:23.
As we consider the unavoidable blessing and responsibility of stewardship and the fact that the usage we make of our stewardship is a constant test revealing the heart, we are led to ask, How can we practically master money and be stewards of the funds that the Lord has granted to us in our day and age? Let us consider three principles of Christian stewardship to help us to master what is ever clamoring for the mastery—money.
If we are going to be prepared for the kingdom of heaven and be among the faithful stewards in the day of reckoning, we must begin by prioritizing our finances. How do we prioritize? From the ever applicable words of the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on.” “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Matthew 6:19–21, 25, 33.
In managing our finances, we must put the Owner of all finances where He belongs—first. Jesus has promised that as long as we put God first, our needs will be supplied. Not that all of our needs will be airdropped from heaven, but, rather, He will supply the means and the ability for us to make use of His gifts, and, thus, He will provide for us.
Are we prioritizing the Giver of all good things in all our earning and spending habits? Do we realize that He has the very first claims upon our finances before anything else is considered? The kingdom of God must have a higher priority than our rent, mortgage, food, utilities, credit cards—everything.
One of the greatest aspects of the Jewish economy was the constant prioritizing of our heavenly Benefactor. When a child was born, sacrifices were required giving thanks for God’s goodness. (Leviticus 12:1–8.) The firstborn of all animals belonged to the Lord, to be offered as a sacrifice or redeemed. (Leviticus 27:26, 27.) Before the harvest could be harvested, the firstfruits had to be presented before the Lord. (Exodus 22:29.) After the final harvest took place, a feast of rejoicing and sacrifices of thanksgiving were offered. (Leviticus 23:39–41; Numbers 29:12–40.) The tithe, or ten percent, of their increase was required. (Leviticus 27:30, 32.) Then there was the second tithe used for two years to sustain the expenses of the annual gatherings and the third year used for the Levite and the poor. (Deuteronomy 14:22–29.) Then there were thank offerings (Leviticus 7:12–15), sin offerings (Leviticus 4), and freewill offerings (Leviticus 1–3). In their worship, they were always bringing an offering of their substance and giving it back to the Lord.
How much do we return to the Lord? “The contributions required of the Hebrews for religious and charitable purposes amounted to fully one fourth of their income. So heavy a tax upon the resources of the people might be expected to reduce them to poverty; but, on the contrary, the faithful observance of these regulations was one of the conditions of their prosperity.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 527.
“A conscientious few made returns to God of about one third of all their income for the benefit of religious interests and for the poor. These exactions were not from a particular class of the people, but from all, the requirement being proportioned according to the amount possessed.” Testimonies, vol. 4, 467, 468.
Sadly, we have forgotten the principle of prioritizing heaven first amid the bustle of bills and allurements in our world. Ellen White continued with these words: “There must be an awakening among us as a people upon this matter. There are but few men who feel conscience-stricken if they neglect their duty in beneficence.” Ibid., 468. Perhaps we render a faithful tithe and maybe even offerings, but when something extra comes, of what do we think? Do we think of giving a portion back to the One who gave it, or do we think that now we can get ahead or buy some coveted item?
Ellen White continues, “The majority of professed Christians part with their means with great reluctance. Many of them do not give one twentieth of their income to God, and many give far less than that; while there is a large class who rob God of the little tithe, and others who will give only the tithe. If all the tithes of our people flowed into the treasury of the Lord as they should, such blessings would be received that gifts and offerings for sacred purposes would be multiplied tenfold, and thus the channel between God and man would be kept open.” Ibid., 474.
Into which category do we fit—the many giving less or far less than one twentieth of our income? Are we robbing God of the little tithe? Are we giving only the tithe? Or are we spiritually awake, not waiting for the thrilling missionary appeals to arouse us? May the Lord help us each to have an awakening in this matter that the gifts and offerings would be multiplied tenfold.
As we study the Jewish economy, as instituted by Moses, may we realize that “God expects no less from us than He expected from His people anciently.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 300. What we put first indicates who or what we love the most. Money is the constant test of our affections. If we place the One who died for us first, we are manifesting that we are preparing to dwell with Him, but if we place the things of this world first, we are telling that we do not want to leave this present world.
“Of all our income we should make the first appropriation to God. . . . Yet our work needs tenfold more means now than was needed by the Jews. The great commission given to the apostles was to go throughout the world and preach the gospel. This shows the extension of the work and the increased responsibility resting upon the followers of Christ in our day. If the law required tithes and offerings thousands of years ago, how much more essential are they now! If the rich and poor were to give a sum proportionate to their property in the Jewish economy, it is doubly essential now.” Testimonies, vol. 4, 474.
An underlying principle in all financial management is to make a budget. In the corporate world, budgets and goals are essential to success; how much more so for a Christian. In Jesus’ illustration regarding the necessity of counting the cost of salvation, we see the essential principle of making a budget. “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has [enough] to finish it—lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ ” Luke 14:28–30. Jesus was asking, Which of you does not count the cost of a building project? Which of you does not make a budget?
Solomon tells us the importance of planning and budgeting: “Through wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.” Proverbs 24:3, 4. It is only by wisdom and knowledge that a house will be built and its rooms filled. Not having a budget is one of the major reasons for financial embarrassment and failure of Christian stewardship.
Keeping accounts or budgeting is something that every single one of us needs to know how to do and practice. “All who expect to engage in the work of the Lord should learn how to keep accounts. In the world there are many who have made a failure of business and are looked upon as dishonest, who are true at heart, but who have failed to succeed because they did not know how to keep accounts.” Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, 218.
Even children can and should be taught to keep their simple accounts. “Let children be taught to keep an account. This will enable them to be accurate. The spendthrift boy will be the spendthrift man. The vain, selfish, self-caring girl will be the same kind of woman.” Child Guidance, 136.
Why are we given such strong counsel that we all need to keep accounts? Because otherwise we have no idea where our money is going and, thus, how effective we are being as stewards. We see something that would be handy, so we buy it; then we go on, not realizing how quickly these “little” expenses add up. It does not seem very expensive, or it is on sale; we have the money, but in the end, we have wasted our Lord’s money on trifles. “The amount daily spent in needless things, with the thought, ‘It is only a nickel,’ ‘It is only a dime,’ seems very little; but multiply these littles by the days of the year, and as the years go by, the array of figures will seem almost incredible.” The Adventist Home, 384. If we keep a budget, it helps to rein in these unknown expenses that deplete our bank account and the Lord’s treasury.
Make a Plan
First, make a plan. Put God first. Put the tithe down as your first expense; then consider how much you can give for offering. Then, start with your fixed expenses. How much is your mortgage, rent, or other fixed payments? Then estimate what utilities and food normally cost. When you have a framework of these basics, you will then be able to evaluate the little nickels that deplete budgets. After making a basic budget, keep track of all your expenses. “All should learn how to keep accounts. Some neglect this work as non-essential; but this is wrong. All expenses should be accurately stated.” Gospel Workers, 460.
To be wise stewards of the Lord’s means, we need to discipline ourselves to write down every expense. When our expenses are written down (or inputted into a computer program or spreadsheet), we are then able to categorize them together and to see how much we are spending and where. As we see how much we are spending, we can then adjust our budget and make goals for how we can be better stewards. The painful part then comes when we see how much the little luxuries are costing us, but that is just what we need to see so that we can then bring these excessive expenditures under control.
There are several areas that need particular attention in a budget. Number one, after putting God first in our finances, is getting out of debt. Solomon has warned us, “The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower [is] servant to the lender.” Proverbs 22:7. With 11 trillion dollars in American household debt, most today are servants to the financial institutions of the world. Debt drives people to work more, have less time for God, less family time, less personal time, and more stress. The result: decaying
spirituality, crumbling society, shattered homes, and broken bodies. How true is the apostle Paul’s maxim, “Owe no one anything except to love one another”! Romans 13:8. Credit cards are the worst offenders, but then there are also mortgages and car payments.
Many Christians have bought into the devil’s lie of buy now, pay later. We have been counseled, “Be determined never to incur another debt. Deny yourself a thousand things rather than run in debt. . . . Avoid it as you would the smallpox. Deny your taste, deny the indulgence of appetite, save your pence and pay your debts. Work them off as fast as possible. When you can stand forth a free man again, owing no man anything, you will have achieved a great victory.” “Shun the incurring of debt as you would shun leprosy.” Counsels on Stewardship, 257, 272.
While all debt is to be shunned, it is true that some debts are much less objectionable than others. Debt for a home is frequently unavoidable in our contemporary world, but with the Lord’s guidance and wise purchasing, there should be equity to back up the debt if difficulties arise. Thus, while still not desirable, it is much less objectionable than the unsecured consumer debt that is rampant today. This unsecured consumer debt is “one of Satan’s nets which he sets for souls.” Colporteur Ministry, 93. Are we budgeting to work off our debts as fast as possible, or are we trapped in society’s materialistic mesh?
Another area that needs to be placed in our budget is savings. Not only should we shun debt, but as responsible Christian stewards, we should have an emergency fund to fall back on, if need be, or to put in the Lord’s work. “[There is] treasure to be desired and oil in the dwelling of the wise; but a foolish man spendeth it up.” Proverbs 21:20. It is fun and easy to spend everything that comes in, but when adversity arises, by our unwise stewardship, we have no net to fall upon, and thus, the fall is much further and harder. In the dwelling of the wise, there are reserves in case of need. For seven years, Joseph taught the Egyptians the principle of saving, and without this wise stewardship, the entire land of Egypt may have perished.
“Had Brother and Sister B been economical managers, denying themselves, they could ere this have had a home of their own, and besides this have had means to draw upon in case of adversity.” Testimonies, vol. 3, 30.
“To carefully reserve a portion of each week’s wages and lay by a certain sum every week which is not to be touched, should be your rule.” Selected Messages, vol. 2, 330.
Be it large or small, we can and should budget what we can to save. We must be certain that we are saving for the right reason, though; we are to save that we may give. “You might today have had a capital of means to use in case of emergency and to aid the cause of God, if you had economized as you should. Every week a portion of your wages should be reserved and in no case touched unless suffering actual want, or to render back to the Giver in offerings to God.” Ibid., 329. Are we, like Joseph, realizing that days of famine will come, or are we, like the fool, spending everything?
The lesson of economy is so important to learn that Jesus himself gave the example. “Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.” John 6:12. Nothing is to be lost. Economizing is sometimes the hardest to do because it means restricting our wants and desires. We are to make sure that not one fragment that could be saved and used in the Lord’s service is lost. We all have things that we can do without—be they trinkets, delicacies, books, or gadgets.
The trick in economizing is knowing the difference between wants and needs. Do we just want something, or do we really need it? Will it help us and others heavenward, or will it just steal time and space? Is it the best use of my funds, or could something else suffice? “You have a lesson to learn which you should not be backward in learning. It is to make a little go the longest way.” Testimonies, vol. 2, 432.
“It is so easy in preparing your table to throw out of your pocket twenty-five cents for extras. Take care of the pennies, and the dollars will take care of themselves. It is the mites here and the mites there that are spent for this, that, and the other, that soon run up into dollars.” Counsels on Stewardship, 257.
In all that we do, the world must know that, like Abraham, we are just strangers in this land—heaven is our home. “Let us fitly represent our faith by restricting our wants.” The Adventist Home, 375. How much do we buy that we could do without? Are we restricting our wants, or are we adding dress to blouse and tool to gadget?
“The fields are white for the harvest. Shall we not have means for gathering in the precious grain? . . . Will everyone cut off all needless expenditures? See what you can do in self-denial. Dispense with all that is not positively necessary.” Australasian Union Conference Record, January 1, 1900.
Are we dispensing with all that is not positively necessary, or are we desiring more and more? Do we realize the work that needs to be done, and are we living in accordance with our faith? Every time we enter a store, we should pray, for our belief in the soon coming of the Lord is being tested. Every time we come to the checkout counter, we should ask ourselves, Do I really need this item? Will this purchase be to the glory of God or to my own glory? Am I representing to the clerk that I believe that the end of all things is at hand?
It is true that, “Since mortals have bodies and heads and hearts to be provided for, some provision for the body must be made in order to hold a proper position in the world. Not to meet the world’s standards—oh, no, no indeed; but to be of influence in the world for good.” Selected Messages, Book 2, 330. Too often, though, we are providing for our bodies, heads, and hearts, and not the kingdom of God.
“God calls upon the young to deny themselves of needless ornaments and articles of dress, even if they cost but a few dimes, and place the amount in the charity box. He also calls upon those of mature age to stop when they are examining a gold watch or chain, or some expensive article of furniture, and ask themselves the question: Would it be right to expend so large an amount for that which we could do without or when a cheaper article would serve our purpose just as well?” Testimonies, vol. 4, 511.
May we learn not just to think before opening our pocketbook but, more importantly, to pray. May our faith shine strong not just on Sabbath morning, but going through the checkout line, as well.
Economy and Self-denial
The lesson of economy and self-denial is the underlying principle of the entire kingdom of heaven. “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any [man] will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” Matthew 16:24. Jesus denied himself, left heaven and came to save us. Do we think it hard to deny ourselves the trinkets of this world? This principle, more than any other in managing our finances, we need to learn; for it is self-denial that will prepare us for the mansions above.
“But they will not economize as others have done. . . . If they neglect to learn these lessons, their characters will not be found perfect in the day of God.” Testimonies, vol. 3, 30, 31. All heaven beats with the harmonies of self-sacrificing love, and if we do not learn the lesson here, our discordant note will find no place in the melodies above.
The Lord has entrusted us weak and erring mortals to be His stewards. All that we have and are is His, but He has given it to us for the upbuilding of His kingdom. Will we prove faithful to that high and holy trust?
Will we learn to master money, or will money be our master? By prioritizing, budgeting, and economizing, we have the tools to reveal to the world and unfallen beings who our Master really is. When Jesus returns, He is only returning for those who have learned to put God first in every area of their lives and those who have lifted the cross of self-denial for the Master. May we pray and strive each and every day to be among that group.
“Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence: a fire shall devour before him, and it shall be very tempestuous round about him. He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth, that he may judge his people. Gather my saints together unto me; those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice.” Psalm 50:3–5.
[All emphasis added.]