The first axiom of Christian economics
Religion & Liberty Online

The first axiom of Christian economics

Note: This article is part of the ‘Principles Project,’ a list of principles, axioms, and beliefs that undergird a Christian view of economics, liberty, and virtue. Click here to read the introduction and other posts in this series.

The Principle: #1 – Because everything in creation belongs to God, man is never more than a steward and must act accordingly.

The Explanation: Economics can be defined as the science of purposeful individual action in an attempt to satisfy an unlimited number of wants with a limited set of means. In other words, humans act to satisfy their needs and desire using limited resources (i.e., things of value we can use when we need them to accomplish an activity).

“Broadly understood, economics has to do not only with money or taxes or business but with the management of resources,” says theologian R.C. Sproul. “That includes all of our resources, such as the resource of our unborn children and educational materials and policies.”

What sets a Christian perspective on economics apart from other views is our belief in the axiom found in Psalm 24:1: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” Because God owns everything in Creation—including us—we are never more than mere managers or stewards of his resources.

Although the management of God’s resources began when God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden (Genesis 2:15), the first mentions of both stewardship and economy in Scripture are found in the story of Joseph.

After begin sold into slavery by his own brothers, the biblical patriarch is put in charge of Potiphar’s household. Potiphar “entrusted to his care everything he owned. From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph” (Genesis 39:4-5, NIV). A steward in the ancient world, says Sproul, was a person who was given the responsibility and authority to rule over the affairs of the household.

The word stewardship comes from the Greek word oikonomia, which refers to someone who manages a household and is the root of the English word “economy.” Joseph began by controlling a household and would eventually control the entire economy of Egypt. In all of history, there have been few stewards who gained the status and power of Joseph. Yet while we may not manage as many resources as Joseph, every person is a steward because of their status as a human being and because they have been given power over some portion of God’s economy.

The Additional Info: Stewardship is an important concept in the Bible, since we are stewards in God’s household, his economy of all things. Here are three more things we should know about stewardship:

God made humans stewards over creation – God has made humans “rulers over the works” of his hands (Psalm 8:5-6). We’re entrusted with the resources of the Earth not for our own exploitation but for the cultivation of its use for the good of ourselves, our neighbors, and for those who come after us.

“That dominion over the earth is not a license to exploit, pillage, consume, or destroy the earth; it is a responsibility to exercise stewardship over our home by working and keeping it,” adds Sproul. “Working and keeping one’s home means preventing it from falling apart, keeping it orderly, maintaining it, preserving it, and making it beautiful.”

Stewardship is about all of life — Too often we tend to think of stewardship only in relation to finances (e.g., a church’s stewardship committee) or the environment (e.g., creation care). While both of these are important parts of God’s economy, Biblical stewardship is much broader. As Stephen Grabill explains, stewardship is a “form of whole-life discipleship that embraces every legitimate vocation and calling to fulfill God’s mission in the world.” And as Hugh Whelchel adds, “Stewardship is not one more thing we have to do, but a way of seeing everything we already do in a very different light.”

The basic form of stewardship is daily work — Work is the primary way in which we serve our neighbor. As Rev. Robert Sirico has said, “The Scripture provides an insight into our nature: We are all, man and woman, called into this life to find our vocation, the work that is uniquely ours and contributes to the flourishing of the wider community.”

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).