His lord said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.”
Today we conclude our study of Question 141 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “What are the duties required in the eighth commandment?” The final part of the answer states, “The duties required in the eighth commandment are… avoiding unnecessary law-suits, and suretiship, or other like engagements; and an endeavour, by all just and lawful means, to procure, preserve, and further the wealth and outward estate of others, as well as our own.” Last time we looked at our duty to work for a living. This morning we consider our obligation to be good stewards of the wealth we have earned.
Of everything that you own, what possession do you prize the most? Is it something that you worked very hard to earn, or is it a precious family heirloom handed down to you through multiple generations? We all have our favorite “stuff” that we value and treasure for various reasons. This can be a good thing in our lives: when we are entrusted with an item that puts us in touch with our heritage so that we honor our fathers and mothers, or when we work very hard for something that enables us to appreciate and enjoy God’s good earth in some fashion. In the process of waiting and saving we learn patience and the value of hard work. And when we are finally able to purchase that item or are old enough to be entrusted with that inheritance, we receive it with thanksgiving to God and a real sense of accomplishment in our hearts. What I wanted, waited, or worked for is mine now. Yet, here we should remember that no thing in this world is ultimately ours. Whether it is currently “mine” or “yours,” it all belongs to God who has entrusted it to us for a very short while. Therefore, we are responsible to God to be good stewards of what is ultimately His “stuff.” That means we should do all that we can (lawfully) to procure, preserve, and further our own and others’ estates for the glory of God.
Today’s Catechism gives us very valuable instruction in how to be good stewards of God’s stuff. First, we are reminded of our duty to avoid unnecessary lawsuits. Some Christians wrongly interpret 1 Cor. 6:1-8 as forbidding Christians from initiating all lawsuits for any reason. That is not what this text is saying. Paul’s concern is the poor witness Christians are giving to unbelievers when they take one another to court for frivolous reasons, but we do have the right to seek justice and fair judgment when we believe we have been wronged. In fact, in this passage Paul advocates not that Christians cannot seek a fair judgment, but that for these lesser matters they should find a fellow believer to be the judge (v. 5). Thus, for the sake of our witness before the world and for the sake of being good stewards of what God has given to us and to others, we should try to avoid lawsuits where possible. But when it is a question of justice or when the glory of God and the good of His people are at stake, then it may be necessary to go to court.
A similar duty is to not unnecessarily become surety for another. To become surety means to be legally liable for another person’s debt. The book of Proverbs repeatedly warns against the unwise practice of taking on the debt of a “stranger.” Such a dubious act legally allows the stranger to steal from you with impunity which could bring you into bondage and put your hard earned wealth at risk. When we recall that this is actually putting God’s wealth at risk, we more easily see the reason for this prohibition. Even as people who say “It’s my body to do with as I want” are wrong, so also those who claim, “It’s my money to do with as I want.” As stated above, nothing we possess is ultimately ours. Every created thing belongs to God. He providentially gives to us what we call our possessions, and He has established an order whereby we work for what He gives so that in a sense we earn it. But our “earning” our pay from others creatures does not mean that it no longer belongs to our Creator God. God wants us to learn the value of hard work. He wants us to have dominion over the creation and make use of our gifts in order to produce more, for His glory and for our and others’ good. But we should always remember that what we have belongs to God, in order that we would be thankful, humble, generous, and that we would take care of and seek to glorify God with what He has entrusted to us of His own possessions. May God grant that we would be good stewards of His good gifts!