Enjoy this classic article by John Wimber. Originally published Winter, 1992.
In 1987 I took a close look at my congregation and drew a conclusion: the Anaheim Vineyard was deficient in many ways. We had worldwide visibility, but we were hurting in many respects. We had lagged in our Bible teaching, in ministry to the lost and poor, in prayers, and in financial giving- especially tithing. These were but four of eight areas in which we needed to grow.
What was the problem? It turned out to be me! I simply had not done my job with the people. I had been so busy working for spiritual renewal in other countries that I hadn’t provided the leadership needed at home.
So I called the congregation’s key leaders together and shared our new emphases and what we were going to do about them. One of them was on financial stewardship.
Why had I avoided speaking directly to so many issues about money that Jesus so frequently and pointedly talked about? Eventually I admitted to myself that I had fallen into the trap of overreacting to the false teachings of many “health and wealth” televangelists and Christian empire builders. In other words, I had shirked my responsibility to bring the full counsel of God’s word to one of the most sensitive areas in the lives of many Christians.
I don’t think I’m alone in my failing. I’ve talked with many other pastors who are so turned off by the selfserving and manipulative techniques of a few highly visible Christian leaders that they are reticent to preach about money. And a few members of their congregations don’t want them to teach about a subject that, they believe, is none of their pastor’s business!
But are people’s finances really none of our business? Jesus didn’t think so. Twelve of his thirtyeight parables had to do with money, as did onesixth of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It is now clear to me that pastors have a responsibility to preach and teach about money, for Christians cannot grow to maturity until their hearts and minds are conformed to Scripture on their use of money.
“If a person gets his attitude toward money straight,” Billy Graham once remarked, “it will help straighten out almost every other area in his life.” And the only way most people will straighten out the issue is if their pastors speak biblically and boldly about money.
A JEALOUS “GOD”
Money is a critical issue-the critical issue-for many Christians, because it exerts such a powerful pull on their hearts. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke directly to the rivalry between money and heaven. First, he asserted-to use a contemporary idiom-that he who dies with the most toys doesn’t win: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matt. 6:1920).
Woody Allen once remarked that “Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.” But what are those financial reasons? The world says that money buys security, power, freedom, identity, pleasure, and happiness. In effect, Jesus says, “That may be true-but only for the moment. A day is coming when you can’t take it with you.” Money can’t make anyone rich in the things that count for eternity. Nothing of God’s is obtainable by money (Acts 8:1824).
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus preached to people’s hearts, and he wanted his audience to understand money’s corrupting effects: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). Money promises us much, but it demands even more. “Give me your heart,” it says, “and I will save you.” Its promises are with out question among the greatest of Satan’s lies.
Money is a jealous “god.” It demands that we love it exclusively. “No one can serve two masters,” Jesus concluded in this section of the Sermon on the Mount. “Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matt. 6:24). This is why the primary task of the pastor, when it comes to teaching on money, is to convert people’s attitudes. Once their hearts are won, their practices will soon follow.
Martin Luther understood this all too well. He said, “Every Christian needs two conversions-one for the soul, and the other for his pocketbook.” For this to happen we must preach with passion and conviction, not in any way holding back those tough portions of Scripture that may offend some members of our congregations. For example, ask yourself if you have preached recently on these hard sayings of Jesus:
“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)
“Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.” (Luke 12:33)
“Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33)
Jesus presents a consistently negative understanding of material wealth. Paul paints a similar picture, warning leaders that wealth has a narcotic effect on believers, capable of bringing ruin to their faith: People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs…. 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 Tim. 6:910, 17)
There’s no question in Paul’s mind that pastors have a responsibility to warn and instruct those they lead in the proper use of money. Paul’s instruction to Timothy-the young pastor of the Ephesian church-was that he be forceful and direct, not mincing his words when talking about money. He didn’t say, “Suggest to those who are rich…” or “Gently remind those who are rich.” Paul said, “Command….”
Just this week a pastor in our church met with a young man who admitted that, until two years ago, he gave little money to the Lord’s work. “But I didn’t know any better,” he said. “I was ignorant. Then Pastor John started teaching from the Bible about money, and I learned what God expects from us.”
It isn’t enough merely to preach to people’s hearts; we must also teach to convert their thinking. What, then, must pastors tell their congregations about money? I believe the most fundamental issue in Scripture on finances is ownership. Who owns our possessions?
On numerous occasions Jesus used parables to teach basic truths about the kingdom of God. Several of the parables describe a king or merchant entrusting his possessions to servants, leaving the country for a time, then returning home to find out how the servants have behaved. For example, in the parable of the Talents, a man left three of his servants large amounts of money (“talents’) and then went on a journey (Matt. 25:1430). The first two servants invested their master’s talents wisely and doubled his money. Upon his return, the master praised them and invited them to share in his happiness.
The third servant, however, hid the master’s money and earned nothing in his absence. The master was angry with him: “You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. …throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 25:2627, 30)
This parable, which reinforces Christ’s exhortation that we be watchful in view of the unknown hour of his return, teaches that all we have is owned by God: eternal life, family, our next breath,, our material possessions. The idea that we possess anything is a deception. Both the rich and the poor die, and they each leave this world as they came into it: naked (Ps. 49:10; Eccl. 5:15; 1 Tim. 6:7).
But, like the servants in the parable of the Talents, we are entrusted with much.
We are stewards of God’s possessions.
Stewards manage another’s property. They are accountable to fulfill the wishes of the owner. We have been redeemed at the cross, and our entire lives were purchased with the precious blood of Christ. He now rightfully possesses the title deed to our souls and bodies, our aspirations, and bank accounts.
Unless the people we lead accept that they own nothing, and that they are accountable to the True Owner of their lives-all of our teaching on finances is in vain.
WISE INVESTMENT POLICY
Acknowledging that we are merely stewards of God’s property means that we must manage according to his direction. And he has clearly provided us direction for financial management in his word, the Bible.
In the remainder of this article I will mention critical issues about finances that most pastors would rather avoid teaching, but which we must address before our congregations can experience true financial freedom.
First, we must regularly warn people of the deceitfulness of riches, how money can be a major barrier to entering the kingdom of God. We live in a society in which money is the primary and, for many people, the only measure of personal worth. This is, of course, an absolute lie for the Christian. Our value is found in Christ and his work on the cross. So we must speak to this issue again and again. Jesus did:
“Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!’ The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, ‘Who then can be saved?’” (Mark 10:2326)
E. M. Bounds, reflecting on the deceitfulness of riches, said, “Few men get rich with clean hands. Fewer still get rich with religious hands. Fewer still hold onto their riches and hold on to Christ with a strong grasp at the same time.
Who can serve Christ and money?” Second, we must encourage people to develop a wise investment policy. John Wesley summed up the biblical teaching on this point in one sentence: “Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” Let’s take a closer look at each of these his points.
1. “Make all you can….” Scripture is full of advice and admonition on how to go about making all you can. It usually comes down to diligence and integrity:
“All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” (Prov. 14:23)
“He who works his land will have abundant food, but the one who chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty.” (Prov. 28:19)
“Like a partridge that hatches eggs it did not lay is the man who gains riches by unjust means. When his life is half gone, they will desert him, and in the end he will prove to be a fool.” (Jer. 17:11)
Our society encourages us to make all we can, but not necessarily in the way that Scripture tells us to go about it. Cut corners, look for “get rich quick schemes,” cheat, steal. Get it anyway you can except by hard work and wise investing. I’ve found especially that we can’t remind our young people too much about diligence and integrity, because they are profoundly influenced by the world’s propaganda when it comes to making money.
2. “…. s ave all you can.” Scripture leaves no doubt that Christians are to save:
“Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.” (Prov. 6:6)
“In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.” (Prov. 21:20)
People who save must resist western cultural values that encourage us to live for today, have it all now, and live beyond our means (Luke 12:15). I’ve discovered that before people can save they must learn from their pastoral leaders- from how we live and what we teach-about how to control their spending. This involves three things:
~ First, pastors must teach and be examples of debtfree living. We can’t save if we owe other’s our future paychecks. Living debt free is one of the keys to discipleship, for “the borrower is servant to the lender” (Prov. 22:7). When we build up consumer debt we become slaves to those we owe, limiting our options to serve God fully.
It isn’t enough just to teach that we should stay out of debt. Many of our people are already in serious debt, and they don’t know what to do about it. Our church regularly sponsors money management seminars that address such practical issues as how to get out of creditcard debt, how to live within your means, and how to run a budget.
~ Second, pastors must teach and be models of simple living. People who live simply know the dangers of wealth and have learned to be content with what they have (Prov. 30:79; Luke 3:14). When they receive raises in their salaries or unexpected inheritances, they ask themselves, “What is the minimum I can live on, so I can save and invest the maximum in the kingdom of God?”
I know a man in our church who is quite wealthy, but very few people know that he is. He has lived in the same modest home for years, drives old cars, and buys his clothing at Penney’s sales. This way, he says, he is able to save and be generous in investing in God’s work.
~ Third, pastors must teach and be models of those who set money aside for their families’ future: saving for emergencies, retirement, and children’s education. Proverbs 13:22 says, “A good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children.” It isn’t always possible to put aside adequate sums of money for these needs, but God will honor the small amounts that we save, causing it to grow and making up for any lack.
3. “…give all you can.” Finally pastors must teach and be models of those who invest wisely. The world’s motivation for investing is the accumulation of wealth for the purposes of personal power, pleasure, and security. In the kingdom, we invest with a different goal in mind: that we may honor God (1 Cor. 10:31). If all we have is a gift from God, the only wise investment is one that God approves of (1 Cor. 4:7).
So where does God tell us first to invest his money? In the kingdom of God, in tithes and alms (which are sacrifices beyond our tithes). Formerly I taught that a tithe was not necessarily 10 percent. But now I am convinced from Scripture that it is at least that, and that it should be given to the local church. Christians need to understand, from the Bible, their responsibility to give generously to God’s work. If you won’t teach them, nobody will.
God has entrusted the church with much. My challenge to every pastor reading this article is that you teach and preach God’s word with boldness, clarity, and no apology on the hard issues of financial stewardship that I have outlined here. If you and your congregation obey God’s directives, I guarantee you’ll receive an eternal return on your investment, “where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.”