Handling the fruit of work (Part 1) – Good gifts entrusted to me

Christians often have an uneasy relationship with money. And there’s a sense in which this is a good thing. Jesus Himself warned, “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” (Matthew 19:24). Money can be a deadly distraction and temptation.

But we’re wrong if we then conclude that money is inherently evil. The Bible never teaches this; rather it is the love of money that is (1 Timothy 6:10).

The fact is that many of us are remunerated for our daily labour. We receive a pay cheque weekly, fortnightly or monthly. Our work produces fruit for us. So how are we to think about this money? If money can be a deadly distraction and temptation, but it is also not inherently evil, what are we to do with it? In this four part series we’ll consider a Christian approach to money that is good news. An approach to money that is transformed by the Gospel, both for our good and the good of those around us. A way of handling the fruit of our work that ultimately glorifies God. And the starting point is recognising that none of that fruit is ultimately our own. Rather they are good gifts entrusted to us by God.

Psalm 24 opens with the bold declaration, “The earth is the LORD’s and everything in it, the world all who live in it”. The message of this verse could not be plainer – everything in all creation ultimately belongs to God. The entire world is His. And all who dwell in it are His. 

Why does it all belong to God? The very next verse gives the reason. “The earth is the LORD’s…because He founded it on the seas and established it on the waters (Psalm 24: 1, 2). Everything belongs to God because He made everything! There is an inherent relationship between creation and ownership. Our copyright and patenting laws are based on this very principle. If you make something you have ownership rights over it; it rightfully belongs to you. And so it is with God. He made everything so everything ultimately belongs to Him.

But here is where the extravagant generosity of God comes into play. God entrusts that which belongs to Him – the earth and everything in it – to us! In Psalm 8 we read, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars you have set in place” – the earth and everything in it which God established – “what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him…You made Him ruler over the works of your hands, you put everything under his feet” (Psalm 8:3-4, 6). God entrusts His belongings to humanity.

But an important clarification needs to be made. God does not hand over ownership of the earth to humanity. No, He remains the owner (Psalm 24:1). Rather, humanity is given the task of stewarding that which belongs to God. We are entrusted with the responsibility of handling God’s property. What a responsibility!

However God’s generosity does not stop here, with one initial act of entrusting His belongings to us. Rather, He continues to gift His belongings to us, oftentimes through our work. The writer of Ecclesiastes observed this connection between our work and God’s provision of gifts. “This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labour under the sun during the few days of life God has given them – for this is their portion. Moreover when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their portion and be happy in their toil – this is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 5:18-19),

So even that which we might earn through our daily labour is not ultimately our own. Rather our daily labour is a chief means by which God provides for us, gifting us with the blessings of His creation. The fruits of our work are ultimately the gifts of an extravagantly generous God. “God richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17).

There is a sense then in which “possessions” is the wrong word to use to describe the fruit of our work and the things that we might purchase with it. God is the only true possessor of anything in all the earth; we are simply stewards.

But we can (and must) go one final step further. God has not simply been generous to us in creation, but also in salvation. As one writer says, “When it comes to his work of salvation, God’s generosity is seen in even brighter colours”. [1]

It is at the cross that we see the ultimate act of an extravagantly generous God, giving us His very self in order that we might be saved. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

In what sense was Jesus rich? Well He owns everything! And yet He became materially poor, without a place to lay His head (Luke 9:58). But Jesus is also morally rich, perfectly holy. But here He became poor also. “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

As a result of Jesus’ generosity, purchasing salvation for us, our life is no longer our own, but God’s. “You are not your own, you were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Like all those items that we think we own, but which ultimately belong to God, so too does our life belong to Him. He is the possessor; we are simply stewards.

C. S. Lewis developed this idea in his fictional tale The Screwtape Letters where he suggested that it is a trick of the devil to encourage us to speak of items we steward as “mine”. Senior demon Screwtape instructs his young nephew Wormwood to “teach [humans] not to notice the different senses of the possessive pronouns – the finely graded differences that run from ‘my boots’ through ‘my dog’, ‘my servant’, ‘my wife’, ‘my father’, ‘my master’ and ‘my country’, to ‘my God’…we have taught men to say ‘my God’ in a sense not really very different from ‘my boots’”. [2] Of course even the demons recognise this is a nonsense: “The humans are always putting up claims to ownership which sound equally funny in Heaven and in Hell and we must keep them doing so”. [3]

Instead, the starting point for understanding a Christian approach to money, which is good news, is recognising that we are stewards rather than possessors. That nothing is really “mine” in the sense of ownership, even my very life. This truth is wonderfully freeing, lifting the burden of ownership off of us. And it paves the way for us to handle the fruit of our work in a truly liberating way, a way that will stand out in stark contrast to the world around us. We will come to that as this series progresses. But for now the starting point might be changing the way that you speak, expressing with your words not ownership, but stewardship, and in turn thanking the extravagantly generous God who has entrusted just so much to you.

 

[1] Jeffery, Ovey & Sach, Pierced for our transgressions: rediscovering the glory of penal substitution, 127.

[2] C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, 114.

[3] C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, 113.

Image courtesy: abc.net.au

 

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