By Harris Franklin Rall
We have considered Jesus' teaching about the world and man's relation to it. It is God's world and a good world. There is danger in its gifts, because men grasp at these things as ends instead of means. Nevertheless, for those who see God and follow him it is a good world, a world in which to love and to serve and to develop Christian character. But there is another and important side to this conception of the world. We shall study it later as the place in which God's kingdom is to be established, and we shall see that man has a part in this. That part we now begin to study under the theme of stewardship.
Jesus' Words About Stewardship
Words from the Last Days.—The greatest single message concerning stewardship is given in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25. 14-30). It was spoken during the last days in Jerusalem, and is one of a group of messages in which Jesus enforces upon his disciples the ideas of watchfulness and faithfulness. Here belong the words concerning faithful and faithless servants and concerning wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 24. 45-51; 25. 1-13). At that time Master and disciples apparently thought that they should see each other very soon again, and this lent urgency to the words. The disciples were servants whom the departing Lord was intrusting with a great treasure and a great responsibility, and he bids them think of the time of accounting.
Other Teachings.—But there are other passages which give the same truth and which are scattered throughout his teaching. He told them the story of the unrighteous steward (Luke 16. 1-13). He no more condoned what that unfaithful servant did than did the man's master. But this servant was an example in one point: as he was wise and diligent in his wickedness, so they were to be wise and diligent in their goodness. It is not enough to be harmless as doves, they must also be wise as serpents (Matthew 10. 16). They are the salt of the earth, the light of the world. Salt is not here for its own sake, but as a savor; light is not here for itself, but to give light to others. What they are is not enough, but what they do and count for (Matthew 5. 13-16). In these and in other teachings Jesus brings out his great conception of life whose further meaning we now consider.
Two Fundamental Principles
Not Ownership, but Stewardship.—This great teaching can be put in two propositions. The first is this: all that we have has been given us in trust. A great deal has been said in the church about stewardship in our day, but we are still far from grasping the radicalism of Jesus' teaching. Most men draw back from the sweeping proposition of socialism, which, though it does not declare against private ownership of all property, yet opposes private ownership of the means of production and distribution such as mines and fields and factories and railways. As a matter of fact, Jesus goes farther than that here. He declares that there is no absolute ownership of anything whatever. Nothing is held by man in fee simple—everything only in trust. We are trustees, and never absolute owners.
Possession Means Obligation.—If all that we have has been given us, then there follows the second proposition: all that we have we owe. For paganism property means simply power and privilege; for Jesus it means trust and responsibility. We are familiar with these pagan cries today, with the men who say, "This is my money, I shall do with it what I will; this is my business, and no one is to tell me how to run it." From the standpoint of Jesus only one position is possible: this is God's business, and I must run it for the good of men. Dives was probably quite as good as many a man to-day who pays his debts and keeps the law (or at least keeps out of it by the help of his lawyer), who indignantly asserts his right to run his own business and spend his own money, and who leaves his fortune to children who have not earned it and are not fitted to administer it.
Stewardship As Broad As Life
The Stewardship of Truth.—Simple as these propositions are, they have the widest meaning. They apply to all of life. It is unfortunate that with many people stewardship has come to mean simply tithing. Now Jesus refers to tithing only once, and then it is to condemn those who followed scrupulously the law of the tithe and forgot greater matters. Stewardship refers to all that a man is and all that he has, for there is not one thing that he has not gotten from God, nor one thing for which he is not responsible to God. For example, the disciples had a great treasure intrusted to them in the teachings of Jesus. You are responsible for this treasure, Jesus said; from it, like a good householder (steward), you are to bring forth things new and old (Matthew 13. 51, 52). It is this stewardship of truth and life that lies back of Christian missions. Because Christ has first come to us, we are to go into all the world with him (Matthew 28. 16-20). That is why we are to confess Christ before men (Matthew 10. 32, 33). That truth lies also in the parable of the sower. The seed of the truth has been given to us; we must scatter it, and not hoard it (Mark 4.1-9).
The Stewardship of Influence.—There is a stewardship of personal influence. The question of character is not an individual matter. We must be for the sake of others. A man's character is a vote that is cast every day for good and God, or against them. A few years ago President Gilman, of Johns Hopkins, wrote an interesting article on .'Five Great Gifts." He began with George Peabody, but he made plain that greater even than Mr. Peabody^s benevolent foundations, which are still working, was the good that his example accomplished. Especially in the gifts of John F. Slater, Johns Hopkins, and Enoch Pratt was his influence directly felt. All these together have in turn helped to influence such great benefactions as are connected with the names of Sage, Rockefeller, and Carnegie. Even more suggestive is the fact, given in a letter which President Gilman's article called forth, that back of Mr. Peabody's deed was the influence of a young man, himself without wealth or fame, who persuaded Mr. Peabody to this step and outlined its plan.
The Stewardship of Time.—There is the stewardship of time. There is no more interesting chapter in modern industry than the story of those by-products which often turn the scale between loss and profit in business. So it is with the by-products of a man's life. We forget that Paul's business was tent making and that his missions and his letters were by-products. William Carey was a cobbler, and the modern foreign missionary movement was his byproduct. With such men the by-product becomes the real business of life. There are strong capable business men to-day, men of wealth and large affairs, who are giving as much time and thought to church and philanthropy as they do to their business. With its great problems at home and abroad the church offers a field that should command the highest gifts and the largest talents.
The Stewardship Of Business
The Source of Money.—The stewardship of business is another suggestive theme. How we make our money is as much a part of our stewardship as how we spend it. We are forming a new conscience to-day in this matter. Once we praised men's gifts and did not ask as to their source. Now we see that righteousness must come before benevolence. The business itself belongs to God, and not simply a part of the proceeds. Here is the great steel industry.
Careful investigation a few years ago showed that twenty to thirty per cent of the iron and steel workers were laboring seven days in the week and twelve hours a day. Our questions will not be silenced by gifts of library buildings, church organs, and peace palaces. If God is a real partner, as he should be in every business, then men will come first and dividends second.
Business as Service.—But Christian stewardship in business means more than avoiding injustice. Every business rightly conducted is a service rendered to man, and so a part of Christian stewardship. A study of what Henry Ford has done in Detroit will show not merely employment for thousands at good wages, but in these families more thrift, greater sobriety, and a general wholesome influence. The right conduct of business is a man's first opportunity for stewardship. It is so with a professional man. Many a physician who has little time for "religious" work is yet doing a large amount of Christian service. The career of Justice Brandeis of the United States Supreme Court affords a fine illustration. Years ago he was left a moderate fortune. He decided that the scale of living in his home should remain the same, and that he would serve the public with his talents, if necessary without compensation. In Oregon and Illinois his services, involving great labor without great fees, prevented the ten-hour-a-day laws for women from being declared unconstitutional, and elsewhere he gave other notable aid.
The Spending Of Money
What Money Is.—Christian stewardship has to do with the spending of money. And first we need a right conception of what money is. Money is not "filthy lucre." In itself it is not good or bad; that all depends upon the task to which it is set. It may become a minister of hell, degrading and destroying; or it may be a servant of light, bearing life to men. It is a useful servant, though not an easy one to rule. Men who have made it their master have exploited childhood, debauched manhood, defiled womanhood, and committed every crime in the calendar for its sake. It is a sharp test for any man's character, but it is also an instrument of almost unmeasured power for good. What is the five-dollar wage which you have just received? It is so much of yourself, of your sweat and muscle and brain. But while you are tied down to one place and one task, the five dollars are not. They will feed hungry children in Belgium or Poland or they will minister to the sick in a Chinese hospital.
The Power of Consecrated Money.—Not everything can be done by money, but it seems as though nothing were impossible when consecrated men and consecrated money went together. We have found that there was money enough to stamp out smallpox and yellow fever. The abolition of typhoid is a simple matter of the wise use of money, and its presence to-day is a disgrace to a city. A prominent writer on health pointed out to a New York audience a few years ago a plan by which new cases of tuberculosis could be made impossible in that city by the moderate sum of sixteen million dollars. Yonder in China are cities by the score and villages by the hundred that have no Christian teacher or preacher. There are hundreds of cities where the healing that comes with the power of modern science and with the spirit of Christ is practically unknown. There are scores of thousands of men and women in India who are waiting at the door of the Christian Church and cannot come in because there is no one there to teach them. Here on this side are men and women, preachers, teachers, physicians, who might be sent, while over there are native helpers who cannot be used because not even the pittance of a couple of dollars a week which would support them is available. There never was such an opportunity for Christian investment as to-day.
The Title to Money.—A man's right to money is dependent upon his use of it. That is clearly the teaching of Jesus in the parable of the talents. No man has any absolute right to property. Society is coming more and more to recognize that. If a piece of land is needed for the common good, the state may take it over by right of eminent domain. The inheritance tax goes still farther, and is coming to be more and more widely used. A man's moral right to leave money to his children is not absolute, but depends upon whether those children can receive it without injury to themselves and use it for the good of others. The Christian faith is dishonored when Christian men die leaving large wealth to their children and nothing to society.
Not a Law, but a Principle.—How shall the Christian spend his income? There is no ready-made rule on this subject. Christianity is not a religion of law, and we have no more right to enforce the Old Testament law on tithing here than its rules about circumcision and burnt-offerings. As a matter of fact, the strict Jew gave more than a tenth, and the law demanded more. Two yearly tithes were referred to in the Old Testament law, coming from different codes, but both taken as valid by the strict Jew (Numbers 18. 20-32; Deuteronomy 14. 22-26). Deuteronomy 14. 28, 29 provided for still another tithe to be given every third year, in which year the Jew thus gave a third of his income. In addition to all this there were very large freewill offerings. There are men who would be false to plain duty if they did not give more than a tenth. Some of them ought to give largely from their capital as well as income, as Mr. Carnegie and others have done.
Proportionate Giving.—One of the first duties ought to be to set aside a definite proportion of one's income. Giving by impulse is not the highest giving. Selfishness is hard to master. It is too easy to check the impulse. The interests of the Kingdom are too important to be treated in that haphazard fashion. Set aside a proportion and then invest it in God's work as carefully as you invest in your daily business. One business man personally known to the writer gives a fifth of his income as a minimum, and keeps it as a separate bank account, watching his gifts as carefully as he does his other business. By so doing he gives himself with his gift and multiplies its value. What this proportion shall be each man must determine.
If he starts with a tenth, he should certainly give more than that with increase of income.
Directions For Study
Scripture references: Matthew 25. 14-30; Luke 16. 1-13; Matthew 5. 13-16; 13. 51, 52; Mark 4. 1-9; Matthew 10. 32, 33; 28. 16-20.
Our last chapter discussed a man's world; this one has to do with his work in the world. For the Jews that work was keeping certain commandments; for Jesus it was being true to a trust.
In your own words state Jesus' conception of stewardship, and the idea of God and the world which goes with this.
Does the possession of the gospel and a Christian civilization bring any responsibility to us as individuals, as a church, as a nation?
Name typical instances in which the principle of stewardship is violated by men (1) in making money, (2) in keeping money, (3) in spending money, (4) in leaving money after death.
Name some kinds of stewardship that are especially needed to-day.
Giving is a form of investment. Name some of these investments which you think offer to the giver the largest promise of return to-day.
When is the best time for a man to give, before or after his death?