Possession is Nine-Tenths of Our Flaw

It is said that the clearest indicator of our priorities (and spiritual condition) is our checkbook register. Holy Scripture unequivocally demonstrates that the connections between our stewardship of our stuff—i.e., everything that God has entrusted to our care in this life—and the spiritual development of our soul—are very important to God. Possessions are mentioned 2,172 times in the Bible (three times more than love, seven times more than prayer, and eight times more than belief); approximately 15 percent of God’s Word deals with possessions (treasures hidden in a field, pearls, talents, pounds, barns, etc.); 17 of Jesus’ 38 parables are about possessions. Scripture also makes clear that what we do with our stuff will be judged at the end of our earthly existence: “So then each of us will be accountable to God” (Rom 14:12); “For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor 5:10). How then do God’s plain intentions inform how we live as faithful stewards?

Jesus advised, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Jesus was never one to preach against simply having possessions. He did teach a great deal about responsibility and seemed to understand that material possessions are important for our moral development; after all, if we had nothing, how would we learn responsible stewardship? It would be like saying to a child, “Learn to read, and then I will give you a book,” or “Learn to swim, and then I will let you go into the water.” Jesus’ teaching focused on our relationship with, and proper stewardship of, our material order, and he was very clear about it. It is not our possessions that are the problem. It is our attachment—from the original Old French attachir, which means “to be nailed to”—that causes all the difficulty. God gives us things so that we can learn to be good stewards of those things. As one author expressed it so beautifully, “Stewardship is God’s way of raising people, not man’s way of raising money.”

Jesus also indicated that there is a direct relationship between our stewardship of what has been entrusted to us in this life and that which will be entrusted to us in the next phase of life: “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest [i.e., earthly] wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?” (Luke 16:10-12). Someday, each of us will face the Owner of all that we are and all that we have, and we will have to answer questions like: Where did it all go? What did you spend it on? What was accomplished for eternity with all the things that were entrusted to you on earth? To whose kingdom were you really committed?

Fundamental to a proper understanding of stewardship is the realization that it’s not really my house, or my car, or my dining-room table, or my 401(k). If I died today, all of those things would remain on earth, and I would not. None of it is mine. I am simply a steward of things that belong to God and have been entrusted temporarily to my care.

The reckoning for our stewardship does not await the Final Judgment. The eternal consequences of our stewardship are being molded every day. Every moment brings us closer to eternity and the final accounting of whether our treasure was stored temporarily on earth or forever in heaven. We can’t take it with us, but we can send it on ahead. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:21).