Stewardship Reflections from Luther's Catechism
This article takes a look at how the commandments come to us to give order and in that order we are offered freedom. In the same way a budget can helps us to offer the freedom that we might strive for. That freedom offers us a way to reorient our giving patterns in a way that are God honoring.
How can we respond to our call as stewards following what God commands?
Imagine you're on a beautiful beach. A hundred yards or so out in the water someone has set out some ropes and buoys. Beyond the ropes and buoys are dangerous undertows and shark activity. Within the boundaries, you can swim and play in safety and complete freedom. Can you go beyond the buoys? Of course you can. It's pretty easy to swim under beneath the rope and venture out. Is it smart to go beyond the buoys? No, because you're likely to get sucked down by the undertow or eaten alive by sharks. Now, think for a minute about a budget. It sets safe boundaries for how to use money. By spending [or saving] within the limits, you can safely and freely enjoy spending. What happens when we spend [or save] beyond the limits? We get sucked down by the undertow of debt and eaten by a whole series of financial sharks that want a piece of us.1
Until I heard this analogy during a Good $ense Budgeting Course, I understood the budgeting aspect of financial stewardship as a stressful, negative and restrictive activity only to be avoided or used by people who were in financial crisis. But, when I heard this story, it changed my perspective. This image provides a way for us to think about boundaries and budgets in financial stewardship with a sense of freedom rather than from a sense of restriction, from a sense of God's abundance rather than from a sense of scarcity.
"Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, [The Lord said in Exodus 19], you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites."2 God establishes and promises abundance and sees great possibility in the people of Israel, but God also knows the people of Israel will sin when left to themselves. Recognizing human limitations, God lays down the law, and graciously provides not only the Ten Commandments, but hundreds of other laws focused on relationship with God as well as relationship with one another. As we consider this relationship between financial stewardship and the Ten Commandments, it is interesting to remember that in the commandments, God first provides laws (Commandments 1-3) to orient and negotiate ones relationship toward God. When the importance for the relationship and honoring God's place in our lives is established, then God provides laws (Commandments 6-10) to orient and negotiate relationships in community with others. When first focusing on our relationship with God, it is likely the other laws will fall into place.
James Nestingen, in his commentary on Exodus 20, says "[The commandments] make explicit what is implicit in everyday life, bringing to hearing the fundamental requirements of life as a human being. In order to live as a creature, it is necessary to fear, love and trust your Creator, to use [God's] name properly and listen to what [God] has to say. And in order to live among other people, it is necessary to observe some elementary human requirements--to honor parents, protect life and its genesis, to respect property, the communication among neighbors and the trust necessary to community life. These requirements, love of God and the neighbor, hold for believers and unbelievers alike."3
As stewards, called or commanded to care for God's creation, long before God gave the Ten Commandments, how do we make sense of these commandments as the connect with financial stewardship? If the commandments are about ordering and orienting life, then I propose that stewardship practices, like giving and saving, order and orient our financial stewardship first toward God and then into the world.
Healthy financial stewardship practices that begin with giving, saving and then spending, consider the whole of what God gives us to steward. In this case, we are not only talking about tithing or the "other 90 percent" but we are looking at the full 100% of what we are given to steward, no matter how small or large that is. The act of giving and the commitment to grow that practice establishes and encourages our reliance on God. Giving, first to God, is an exercise in spiritual growth and provides cause to increase appreciation for economy, frugality and trust in God rather than in ourselves. Saving is a prudent stewardship practice that is both biblical and fiscally responsible, but the saving can easily become hoarding when the focus shifts away from God to a focus on self.
While these requirements or commandments were given to God's people as law, we also know that the good news of the gospel follows the law. For most Christians, law is rarely seen as good news, and yet the law provides the boundaries for living freely in relationship with God and one another. These laws and particularly the Ten Commandments, in this case, provide the ropes and buoys in the financial stewardship analogy. The commandments provide the boundaries and freedom for relationship with God and one another. For those of us eager to cross those boundaries, God promises consequences on the other side. To keep up the analogy, the consequences are those unknown sharks that will be on the others side of the rope, it's just that we don't know what they are and how they will affect us.
As we journey through Lent, studying the Ten Commandments through a financial stewardship lens provides a way for us to order and orient our lives first toward God and then into the world while at the same time the stewardship practices of giving, saving and spending offer a similar structure for ordering and orienting our financial stewardship, putting God first.
1 Dick Towner and John Tolifon. Good $ense Budget Course, Leader's Guide. (Barrington: Willow Creek
Association, 2002), 60-62.
2 The Holy Bible. New Revised Standard Version. (New York: American Bible Society, 1989)
3 James Arne Nestingen, "The Lenten First Lessons," Word & World, Volume 5, No. 1 (1985): 94.
The Series - Stewardship Reflections on Luther's Small Catechism
A Steward's Confession; God's Absolution by Cathy Malotky
Living in the Tension of a Stewards Baptism by Kevin Bergeson
Stewardship of the Lord's Prayer y Tom Struck
Death by Consumption, The 21st Century Tuberculosis and the Holy Communion by Rev. Kristin Foster
Rev. Erica Kennedy is the Asst. Director Financial Aid, Interim Dean of Students.