It’s not about you. With these four words, Rick Warren launched what would become a powerful movement – a movement of discipleship for the glory of God. Life in general, discipleship in particular, and stewardship even more specifically – none of these are about us. We are part of a larger story. God’s story.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism summarizes our purpose in life and in all that we do. Paul applies this to specific practices and behaviors in the Corinthian church:
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.1 Corinthians 10:31
What does this have to do with stewardship? Understanding the purpose of our life helps us understand the purpose of our stewardship. When we grasp how jealous God is for his glory and when we see how our stewardship brings glory to him, our understanding grows beyond budgets and record-keeping. We get to the heart of stewardship.
God’s Glory in the Old Testament
God’s glory is one of the macro themes of Scripture, running throughout the Bible. Man, made in the image of God, was created to bring God glory and to represent his glory to the world – to reign over the world as God’s representatives.
When God’s glory is challenged by pervasive sin in the world, he responds with a worldwide flood. We sometimes picture God shaking an angry fist at mankind and saying, “I’ll show you!” But in reality, the flood was a response to the fact that the world as ruled by men was not fulfilling the purpose for which God created it. Picture an inventor whose invention isn’t working, scrapping the model and starting over.
Later on, a group of people seeks to bring glory to themselves by building a tower reaching to the heavens. Forsaking God’s original command to Adam to fill the earth (Genesis 1:28) – a command later repeated to Noah (Genesis 9:1) – they settled together in a plain in Shinar and set out to build their tower. Their goal? To make a name for themselves (Genesis 11:4). God responds by confusing their language, bringing a halt to their efforts.
God even raises up opponents for the purpose of demonstrating his glory.
But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.Exodus 9:16
God’s Glory in the New Testament
Glory isn’t just an Old Testament theme. John’s gospel opens with a reference to having seen Jesus’ glory and continues with multiple references to the glory of the Father and the Son. Jesus referred to his coming crucifixion as his time to be glorified (John 12:23). He asked his Father to bring glory to his name, and the Father answered that he had done so and would do so again (John 12:28). A short time later in the Upper Room, Jesus tied his glory and the Father’s glory together (John 13:31-32). He began his famous prayer in John 17 with a petition that the Father would glorify him so that he could in turn bring glory to the Father (John 17:1-5).
The New Testament writers speak of the glory of God. Paul ends his doxology in the letter to the Romans with an acknowledgment of God’s glory (Romans 11:36). He prays for God to be glorified in the church and in Christ through all generations (Ephesians 3:21) and repeats this heart cry in a letter to Timothy (1 Timothy 1:17). Peter echoes this sentiment (1 Peter 5:11) as does Jude (Jude 25).
John even introduces the book of Revelation with a cry for God’s glory (Revelation 1:5-6) and shows God being glorified at multiple points in the visions God gave him (4:11; 5:13; 7:12). God’s glory is a pervasive theme from Genesis to Revelation.
Stewardship for God’s Glory
When we think of stewardship in terms of bringing glory to God with our lives, we begin to think differently about how we view it. We see a purpose to our stewardship – an end goal that we’re striving for. This brings meaning to those hours spent determining our financial priorities, creating a spending plan, and tracking where our money goes. And with a meaning behind it, we’re much more likely to continually grow as faithful stewards.
We Glorify Whom We Serve
God had just rescued the Israelites from their oppressors in Egypt. He had distinguished himself from the false gods of the Egyptians with plagues that struck specifically at their gods. He had gained glory for himself through Pharaoh, through the miracle at the Red Sea, and through the destruction of the mightiest army on earth. He wasn’t about to share his glory with false gods.
Our God is a jealous God – jealous for his glory and for our worship. But money challenges God’s lordship over our lives. Money is a chief rival god, vying for our service with the One True God. We glorify what/whom we serve, and since God will not share glory, we have to make a choice.
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.Matthew 6:24
If we choose to serve money, then by definition we cannot serve and glorify God. He won’t share our loyalty. This is why the first and greatest commandment is that we must love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. That doesn’t leave any room for loving money. In fact, Jesus tells us in the same passage that where we put our treasure (that is, whom/what we choose to serve) will determine where our hearts go:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”Matthew 6:19-21
The One we serve is the one we bring glory to – whether that’s God or money. It’s the object of our deepest affection and defines the purpose of our lives.
Wealth deceives us
Jesus could have chosen anything to set against God as he challenged his followers to choose whom they would serve. But he chose money. Why?
Like all false gods, money is deceitful. It promises security, freedom, power – all the while actually enslaving us. In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus identified wealth as one of the chief obstacles to bearing spiritual fruit:
The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.Matthew 13:22
Wealth can be an obstacle, a thorn. A rich man once came to Jesus and asked what he needed to do to be saved. Jesus opened his response with references to the Ten Commandments, but the man pressed in further. Jesus knew what the man truly lacked – he had given his heart to his wealth, not to God. He was keeping the commandments externally as a matter of observance, but his life was not given over to God. So Jesus put his finger on the problem and challenged the man to sell all his possessions, give to the poor, and follow him. Scripture tells us that “he went away sad, because he had great wealth.” (see Matthew 19:16-29)
We don’t often think of wealth as causing us to be sad! But there is a clear choice to be made in whom we will serve, whom we will glorify. It can’t be God and money; it’s an either/or. And choosing to serve anyone but God ultimately leads us to sadness.
Part of wealth’s deceitfulness is that it makes promises it can’t keep. It says, “trust me” – but wealth is not secure:
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.1 Timothy 6:17
In fact, the lure of wealth is a trap:
Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.1 Timothy 6:9
It’s possible, of course, to honor God with our wealth (Proverbs 3:9). When we see wealth as not something to set our affections on but as something we can use to serve God and others, we bring glory to God with our resources. Money itself is not evil – it’s when our wealth becomes the focus of our affections that it leads us into evil (1 Timothy 6:10).
Implications for a Life of Stewardship
What does all this mean when it comes to living out stewardship principles? How does the idea of stewardship for God’s glory affect the way we understand our role as managers of God’s possessions?
Stewardship is a whole-life outlook
While stewardship begins with our finances, it doesn’t end there. We’ll examine this in more detail in a future article, but God is not honored by tithes and offerings not accompanied by heart devotion to him. He sees through the duplicity.
Stewardship is about the majors
We often get caught up in debates over lesser matters regarding stewardship. Do we tithe on gross or net income? Does the entire tithe need to go to the local church? What about so-called “directed giving”? Does giving to secular non-profit organizations “count” as an offering?
These questions are not unimportant, but they’re not the heart of stewardship. When we start to think of stewardship in the larger context of bringing glory to God, we understand that the details are secondary to the overall purpose of managing our resources in a way that brings honor to God.
Stewardship depends on our hearts, not on our wealth
God can be honored in our wealth or in our lack of wealth. The wealth of the patriarchs was attributed to God’s blessing (Abraham – Genesis 21:22; Isaac – Genesis 26:28; Jacob – Genesis 33:11). The Queen of Sheba, on seeing how God had blessed Solomon, gave praise to God (1 Kings 9:10). Several women of means supported Jesus and the disciples as they traveled (Luke 8:1-3).
On the other hand, poverty and need can give God a chance to bring glory to himself through miracles, as when he provided a jar of flour that didn’t run out for the widow at Zarephath (1 Kings 17:7-24) or when he miraculously multiplied oil for another widow through Elisha (2 Kings 4:1-7). And giving from a position of need shows a level of sacrifice that honors God (Mark 12:41-44).
Neither wealth nor poverty determines our level of stewardship; we can honor God regardless of our financial position if we’re seeking his glory with our resources.
Stewardship is about God, not about us
Worship is about the One being worshiped, not about the worshipers. To be sure, we benefit from worship (after all, that’s what were designed for), but the point is God, not us.
The same thing is true of stewardship. We benefit from the financial freedom that Biblical stewardship brings – but it’s not about us. It’s about God – honoring him in our lives and in the eyes of others.
So, to take a hopefully permissible liberty with Paul’s directive quoted earlier, “Whatever you spend, whatever you save, whatever you give – however much you earn – do it all for the glory of God.”
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