“My houses. My cars. My bank accounts. My businesses. My properties. They are all mine. I’m a self made man.”
These phrases are frequently referenced and even celebrated in America. We use them so routinely that it’s almost second nature. But truthfully, in the nation that prides itself on capitalism and entrepreneurship, it should come as no wonder.
But in an era that condemns #FakeNews and seeks #Truth, are these statements accurate? Are they true? Or is there something deeply misleading about them?
In my years of pursuing the “American Dream” and seeking a bigger house, faster cars, larger bank accounts, and more profitable businesses, I have come to understand that there is a truth to these pursuits that sadly too often escapes our understanding.
As I’ve taken time to ponder, research and seek the meaning of life as it relates to possessions, wealth and stewardship, the following key truths have become clearer to me.
Truth 1: It’s not yours or mine
The first truth is that you and I don’t own what we routinely call ours or “Mine.” That home, car, property, bank account, business, or fill in the blank, is not yours or mine. There is a higher Power and Authority to whom it all belongs. The same One who created the universe, and you and me, also entrusted you and me with the possessions we have that we call our own. There are so many references in the Scriptures that affirm this truth, but here are just a couple:
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to Him.” (Psalm 24:1)
“Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things. Wealth and honor come from you alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion people are made great and given strength.” (1 Chronicles 29:11-12)
Truth 2: The “self-made” man does not exist. There is no such man
The idea that a man makes himself, as in his achievements, possessions and such, and they are are all his own creation, and it is he who is solely responsible for them, is false. In fact, it is the epitome of arrogance and it’s highly disingenuous to ignore every other person and circumstance that came together to enable such a person to achieve and possess. But worse, the idea of a “self-made” man ignores the One who breathed into each of us the gifts, skills, intellect, and health, and orchestrated the right circumstances that led to what our culture defines as success.
There are numerous examples in Scripture that speak to the flawed concept of a “self-made” man but in Deuteronomy 8 we read this warning from God:
“He did all this so you would never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’ Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful…” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18)
Truth 3: Gifts do not appear out of a vacuum
Along with the misunderstanding about someone being “self-made” is the idea that our unique giftedness is simply our own doing. It’s true that gifts can and should be cultivated, but they are initially embedded in us by a Power much greater than ourselves. Again, we see this truth playing out repeatedly in Scripture. For instance, when God led Moses to build the Tabernacle and Ark of the Covenant, God singled out a man named Bezalel to be responsible for all the work involving precious metals, gemstones, and woodwork and also appointed Oholiab to be his assistant. We read this about these two men:
“Look, I have specifically chosen Bezalel… I have filled him with the Spirit of God, giving him great wisdom, ability, and expertise in all kinds of crafts. He is a master craftsman, expert in working with gold, silver, and bronze. He is skilled in engraving and mounting gemstones and in carving wood. He is a master at every craft! I have personally appointed Oholiab… to be his assistant. Moreover, I have given special skill to all the gifted craftsmen so they can make all the things I have commanded you to make.” (Exodus 31:2-6)
Truth 4: You and I will give account someday for all the assets that were placed within our control
Perhaps this is the most sobering truth of all, at least for me. Whether we acknowledge that God owns it all, or that a “self-made” man is a delusion, or that our gifts come from God, someday you and I will give account for all that God placed within our control. The bank accounts and every other tangible asset and intangible gifts that we have controlled or will control are being monitored by our Heavenly Father. We will give account to Him for how we have managed and stewarded them. This also includes our time.
When I personally think about this truth, I am greatly disheartened as I recognize the many times I have mismanaged God’s resources, finite ones that He entrusted to me. But this truth also compels me to not merely look backwards but more importantly to focus on what is ahead. I cannot change yesterday but I can impact today and tomorrow.
What about you? Do you recognize that someday you will be called to account for every asset that is within your control? And if so, does that cause you to reevaluate your actions and priorities, and how you are using the finite resources in your life?
One of my favorite stories from Scripture relating to the topic of Stewardship is the Parable of the Three Servants in Matthew 25. The quick summary of the story is this.
A master goes away for some time but before he leaves he provides his three servants with funds to work with while he’s gone. To the first servant he gives five bags of silver; the second he gives two bags of silver; and the third he gives one bag. While the master is gone, the first and second servant get to work. When the master returns, they both doubled what the master gave them, with the first earning an additional five bags of silver and the second earning two more bags. Consequently, both servants are amply rewarded.
However, when the master calls the third servant forward, he is only able to return the original one bag of silver, having earned nothing for his master. The master rightly becomes very angry, takes away the one bag of silver that had been entrusted to him, and the third servant is severely punished.
So we come to understand that just like these servants, we are all given varying amounts of resources, but someday we will be required to account for everything that God gave us, whether a physical asset or an intangible gift, or even an opportunity or our time, that we may have squandered. Recognizing this truth should cause us to reevaluate our view of possessions, wealth and stewardship. And as you and I do this, I trust we will become the kind of stewards for whom our Master will someday say, “Well done good and faithful servant.”