The Semantics of Money


Tithing was a hard lesson to learn. But now at least 10% of everything we earn goes back to the church. We regularly support charities above and beyond that tithe. Yet for many years, in my mind all the money I earned was money I owned. That 10% or more was a generous helping for God–a tip, as if to say, “Great job on being God, keep up the good work.”

Maybe I was even a cheerful giver once or twice, but on a daily basis money issues clouded my head. Shamefully, I have often been obsessed with finances to the point of making myself physically ill with worry.

A couple months ago Ronnie and I made a prayerful commitment to actively become good stewards with our money. Within days our church announced an upcoming money class. I’ve heard countless sermons on money and even have a box full of Dave Ramsey goodies in my closet. But we’d asked God to guide us and he was clearly pointing this direction.

We went, and literally about three minutes into the talk, God pulled me aside in my mind and explained finances to me in a way that made sense. After all these years, I finally got it:

I am not an owner of money. I am a manager of money.

This isn’t merely semantics. The owner of a store and the manager of a store are often not the same person. The owner entrusts the manager to make wise decisions for the business. The manager has a lot of freedom in running the store, but also a lot of responsibility.

God reminded me about Stone, my twelve-year-old who chronically loses things, including expensive toys. He has a Nintendo DS that will disappear for months at a time. Or he’ll have the DS but lose the charger for three months so he can’t play it. And we lecture him about it, but it’s his. If he loses it and can’t play it, it’s his loss. Not ours.

There are three analogies with this idea:

1. He uses his money to buy a new toy. Something happens to it and he may be upset about it, but ultimately it was his, so he can do whatever he wants with it. In my experience, this is how most people view money. It’s ours to do as we wish.

2. He receives his new toy as a gift and subsequently loses it. He might (or perhaps should) feel guilty for the loss, but it was given to him. He owned it. So while his loss may disappoint the initial giver, it was ultimately his to handle as he wished so he’s only hurting himself. This is how many believers view their money in terms of keeping the 90%. God allows us to keep the 90%, again to do with it as we wish.

3. The toy belongs to someone else. Maybe it’s something special to me, from my childhood, and he comes and asks if he can play with it. I loan it to him and say, “This is mine, but I’m entrusting you with it for a time. Please take good care of it. It’s important to me.” Ideally he’ll take better care of it than he would something of his own. This is how God would view money, as something he’s entrusted us with but has been his all along.

It’s like loaning someone our cell phone to make a quick call. Or a friend feeding our pets while we’re out of town. We entrust people with things and expect they’d care for it better than their own.

And wasn’t this our initial task as humans? To care for the world God had entrusted to us? Now our world is defined almost exclusively by money, and we’d do good to manage it wisely, knowing it’s not ours in the first place.

I’ve felt a heavy weight lift since realizing I only have to manage the store that God already owns. I still try to take over and start running the place from time to time, but God is quick to remind who is the owner and who is merely the manager.

How do you view your role as a money manager?