"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” (Matt. 6:24).
I don’t claim to be a savvy economist, but I do know that God’s economy is very different from what is commonly understood as “the economy”—that is, the economy of the U.S. and Canada. Christians have a choice to make.
When we ask ourselves how to be good stewards of this world and whether good stewards can grow the economy, we have to ask first, which economy? Are we talking about the economy of the U.S. or Canada or any other country, or are we talking about the global economy? As stewards of God’s creation, God’s earth and everything on and in it, I believe we need to consider “the economy” as God’s global economy.
Early on, God instructs his people not to take advantage of people who are poor: “Do not take interest or any profit from them, but fear your God. . . . You must not lend them money at interest or sell them food at a profit. I am the Lord your God . . .” (Lev. 25:36-38). Unfortunately, we in the developed world have gained our wealth by exploiting “the poor” in the underdeveloped countries and obtaining their natural resources at unfair prices over the last couple of centuries.
God also called for his people to give the land they’d acquired (property) back to the original owners (stewards), and to release their slaves every 50th year. This was God’s way of to make right what was fundamentally wrong—some people having many possessions while others have little or almost none. To be good stewards of God’s world, we have to give back to the poor what we have unfairly taken from them.
God’s economy is totally different from the one we have created and have come to accept ever since our human parents first disobeyed God. It is based on the premise that everything we have and possess is only under our control for a limited time. As stewards of God’s earth, we don’t possess what we have. But often we behave as if we are the owners of our possessions instead of stewards.
The Bible calls us to look after the people who are vulnerable in our society, including the widows and those who are poor and needy. Over and over again, we are told not to forget the least in God’s kingdom. In answer to the rich young man who asks what he must do to gain eternal life, Jesus replies: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Matt. 19:21). Notice that this verse does not say, “Sell your possessions and give it to the poor.” It says, “Give to the poor.” Instead of a one-time act of giving to the poor, good stewards of God’s world will give to the poor continuously. The poor and needy will always be with us, and therefore they should always be part of our economic decisions.
In Acts 2 we get a glimpse of what God’s economy in this world might look like: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need” (vv. 44-45). Key in God’s economy is that we put other people’s needs above our possessions and act as stewards of what God has given us. That means willingly sharing what we have with people in need since we realize that our possessions are not really ours to start out with. We are only stewards of what God has entrusted us with in the first place.
Can Good Stewards Grow the Economy?
So can good stewards grow the economy? My answer is yes—as long as the economy we’re talking about is God’s global economy.
From those who have much—that’s us!—much will be asked. The big question that we all have to ask ourselves is, how much is enough? That single question leads to others, more specific: How much money do I really need? Do I need that bigger home? Do I need that new iPhone? Do I really need that new car? The real issue here is whether we are talking about needs or about things we want. What we really need is sufficient food, shelter, clothing, transportation, education, and health care. All the rest are luxuries. Surely these luxuries can make life more comfortable, but when they come at the expense of the livelihood of someone else, we should give them up for the sake of loving our neighbor.
By following God’s economic principles we will further God’s kingdom and live out the Greatest Commandment: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matt. 22:37-39).
Following Jesus comes at a cost, but the reward is incredible, both in this life and in the life to come. “Truly I tell you,” says Jesus to his disciples, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life” (Luke 18:29-30). Often Christians only focus on eternal life, but we are also told that we will be rewarded in this life. I can speak from my own experience that if you give generously you will be rewarded even more generously by God, our Father.
If we put our talents to work, which means sharing our possessions with the poor, God will reward us by multiplying what we already have in this life. On top of that God has granted us eternal life—and there’s no economic equation that can capture the value of eternal life. So regardless of the costs (in money, possessions, or even persecution) the reward for following God’s economic principles will always be greater.
No one in his or her right mind can pass up on this economic proposition. There is no greater return on investment (with possessions that are not ours to start out with) anywhere in the world
- Kollenhoven contends that “God’s economy is very different from what is commonly understood as ‘the economy’—that is, the economy of the U.S. and Canada.” Can you think of specific ways in which that is true? What are some differences? What are some similarities?
- How does the biblical notion that everything we own belongs to God shape our views of the economy? What does it mean for international trade, and for the way we should run our economy? What does it mean for the way we live our personal lives—how we work, buy, sell, and give?
- Kollenhoven points out that the ancient Israelites were to restore all lands to their original owners (and/or their descendants) so that the means of production would equalized at least once in everyone’s lifetime. That may be unrealistic in our economy. But what built-in equalizers could we devise to serve the same purpose: to give everyone opportunity to share in the wealth of God’s creation?
- To live as good participants in God’s economy, what sacrifices do we need to bring? What rewards will we reap?
- Read Luke 16:1-13, Jesus’ parable of the dishonest manager. What do you make of this story? How are we supposed to be like the dishonest manager? How are we not supposed to be like him?