The three-dimensional Christian enterprise abounds with opportunities to vitalize, demonstrate, embody faith
by Peter Benyola
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
~ I Peter 4:10-11
Volunteers from several Orlando-area churches recently seized upon the opportunity to serve recovering victims of human trafficking by filling more than a hundred care packages that will be directed to these survivors.
The community service project, an “Action Team” hosted by Thrivent Financial on April 2, 2019, was given to Love Missions, a Sanford, Florida-based nonprofit that’s dedicated to the abolition of modern slavery through community awareness and education. Statistics from the National Human Trafficking Hotline indicate that Florida ranks third in volume among states in cases reported, with Central Florida as being one of the most concentrated areas of incidents.
This demonstration of Christian love was possible, first, because God has provided us internally with changed hearts and externally with abundance of resources; second, because Christians have been empowered to steward those gifts well; and third, because in our gratitude toward God for all He has given us in this life and the next, we want to live generously for others’ benefit.
In this article, we’ll seek to adduce that theology, far from being a mere abstraction, in fact is profoundly practical for every Christian, for all of life.
Fiduciary: we trust God, so God entrusts us
When we think of financial stewardship, we often associate it with the word “fiduciary.” From the Latin word fidere, which means “trust,” a fiduciary is someone who acts in confidence. All financial professionals, accountable to government regulators, are obligated to uphold fiduciary responsibility, planning in the best interests of the clients whose finances they manage.
Whence do we derive this modern concept of fiduciary? Etymologically, fiducia is derived from contractus fiduciae, a contract used under ancient Roman and civil law — as in the emancipation of children, connected with testamentary gifts and pledges — which essentially constituted a deal of sale of a person to a purchaser usually for mancipation (involuntary servitude), coupled with an agreement that the purchaser should sell the property back upon the fulfillment of certain covenantal conditions.
Our modern sensibilities might cause us to recoil at fiducia knowing what it meant in ancient Rome: the trade of human beings as if they are property — especially when we realize our country’s immediate and ubiquitous atrocity of human trafficking which often involves children. Yet, as Christians, we may find redemptive value in the word as we see an enlightening similarity in the concept of fiducia with our new status as God’s children by adoption.
In His substitutionary atonement, Jesus Christ brokered peace between God the Father and us, which emancipated us from slavery to sin to instead become slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:17-18). He redeemed us as property from the kingdom of darkness and transferred our ownership to the kingdom of light (I Corinthians 6:19-20, Colossians 1:12-14). Though we formerly were “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1-3), we now are reconciled as “children of light” (Ephesians 5:8), justified and adopted through fiducia: saving trust in the Lord (Romans 5:1-2, 8:15-17).
As the quest for God begins at our conversion to Christ (Psalm 14:1-3, Romans 3:10-12, cf. Isaiah 55:6-7, Hebrews 11:6), the trust that saves also must be embodied as the trust that seeks to restore God’s glory in a fallen world (II Corinthians 9:6-7, James 1:22-25, I Peter 4:10-11).
Because God has consigned resources to Christians and compelled us to steward them well, in a way, all Christians are “fiduciaries.” We can look back to the Protestant Reformation to understand the rich grounding of fiducia: a personal trust requiring complete reliance on the object of trust. Martin Luther, the seminal 16th-century Protestant Reformer, teaching what is eternally binding belief versus superficial belief, referred to apprehensio fiducialis, or “the apprehension of faith.” Faith is effectual only if, knowing about and conceding to the claims of Jesus, one personally trusts in Him alone for salvation (I Timothy 1:15, I Peter 4:19). Put simply, a person must have Christ in order to have genuine, saving faith. Luther argued that genuine, saving faith is a fides viva: a vital or living faith (Justified by Faith Alone, R.C. Sproul, pg. 47).
So when we consider the theological background of the concept of fiducia, in a meaningful way, we understand how the modern financial professional’s fiduciary relationship to his clients actually correlates to the trusting relationship between God and the believer.
Both the trusting faith and the living faith we’re discussing are provisions of God’s providence. Providence simply means that God both provides for and governs His creation (Psalm 103:19, Proverbs 16:33, Daniel 4:35, Romans 8:28, Ephesians 1:11). On providence, the Anglican theologian J.I. Packer has pointed out, “God is completely in charge of his world. His hand may be hidden, but his rule is absolute.” He is Yahweh Yireh, the Lord who provided the ram for Abraham to sacrifice instead of his son Isaac (Genesis 22:13-14). This providence was fully realized in God sending His Son into the world to die in place of His people (John 3:16-18, Philippians 4:19, I Peter 2:24). Broadly, God’s providence is that He superintends over all His creation with everything we need physically and spiritually (Psalm 104:1-35, 145:9, Matthew 5:45, II Peter 1:3-11).
In the spirit of Luther’s fides viva, God’s providence of the faith that saves us is enlivened in our response to that reality through gratitude, stewardship and generosity. In his 1535 commentary on Galatians 5:6, Luther ceded, “Idle faith is not justifying faith. In this terse manner Paul presents the whole life of a Christian. Inwardly it consists in faith towards God, outwardly in love towards our fellow-men.”
This fueled John Calvin’s defense of the faith twelve years later: “It is therefore faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone: just as it is the heat alone of the sun which warms the earth, and yet in the sun it is not alone, because it is constantly conjoined with light.” (Antidote to the Council of Trent, Canon 11)
Enterprise: a Christian lives to please God
In Bible teaching we often come across concepts such as living faith, stewardship and generosity — although there’s one “permanent essential” that we rarely hear about: enterprise. J.I. Packer defined enterprise as: a Christian lives not to please others but to please God, who tests our hearts (I Thessalonians 2:4).
“It is a familiar truth that every Christian’s life-purpose must be to glorify God. This is the believer’s official calling. Everything we say and do, all our obedience to God’s commands, all our relationships with others, all the use we make of the gifts, talents, and opportunities that God gives us, all our enduring of adverse situations and human hostility, must be so managed as to give God honor and praise for his goodness to those on whom he sets his love (1 Cor. 10:31; cf. Matt. 5:16; Eph. 3:10; Col. 3:17).
Equally important is the truth that every Christian’s full-time employment must be to please God. This may be properly described as the Christian’s personal calling. Jesus did not live to please himself, nor may we (John 8:29; Rom. 15:1-3). Pleasing God in everything must be our goal (2 Cor. 5:9; Col. 1:10, 1 Thess. 2:4; 4:1). Faith (Heb. 11:5-6), praise (Ps. 69:30-31), generosity (Phil. 4:18; Heb. 13:6), … and single-mindedness in Christian service (2 Tim. 2:4) combine to form the prescribed way to do it. God both enables us for this kind of living and takes pleasure in our practice of it. It is his regular procedure in sovereign grace to give what he commands and delight in the result (Heb. 13:21; cf. Phil. 2:12-13).
From the life-controlling summons to please God, we learn the precise sense in which true godliness is both relational and creative. … Creativity is part of God’s image in man, and it is meant to find expression in an enterprising style of life as we look for ways to show gratitude to God. Love will always ask whether more can be done to please, and more neighbor-love, more service of other’s needs, will always be a major part of the answer (I John 3:11-18). If our plans for pleasing God involve risk, we should remember that Jesus’ parable of the talents commends those who risked their money in the market and condemns the practitioner of timid inaction (Matt. 25:14-30).” (Concise Theology, J.I. Packer, pp. 185-186)
Triperspectivalism: viewing truth from three integral perspectives
With that in mind, triperspectivalism is further defined as viewing the same thing from three different perspectives: the normative, the situational and the existential. Some have found it helpful in learning about God and ourselves to take a triadic view of the truth He has revealed. Before we eventually explain the triad of providence, stewardship and generosity, it first will be helpful to set the foundation of triperspectivalism as it pertains to two areas of theology proper: the Trinity, and God’s lordship attributes.
Since the Triune God is three persons in one, the first way we can use this tool is in examining the Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who are coequal in substance yet their roles distinctive in the history of redemption. My friend John Frame has found it helpful to generalize these biblical distinctions in several ways:
Even though there are perspectives within the Trinity, the three persons are never separated. Each is “in” the others. Dr. Frame elaborates:
All this is not to imply that God is “one-part control, one-part authority, one-part presence.” God is all at once completely sovereign, infinite in wisdom, and perfect in love. God’s justice and His love, for instance, describe the same divine character but from different angles and separate contexts. God’s justice is His whole being, viewed from the perspective of legal rectitude: a standard which He defines by His own nature. Viewing God’s attributes from multiple perspectives doesn’t compromise divine simplicity — it just enhances our finite capacity to understand the attributes that comprise God’s simplicity.
As explained earlier, the gospel’s fiducia is good news for all of the Christian life. It reconciles us to God through Christ, and as we’ve observed, Christ’s lordship may be triperspectivally understood. As the supreme prophet, priest and king, He respectively is the universe’s preeminent authority, presence and controller. In these ways, He reflects the lordship attributes of the Trinity as a whole. The threefold office of Christ pertains to all areas of life, including how we steward our finances so that we have everything we need and more to pour into others for God’s glory, so that we follow the apostle’s instruction, (I Corinthians 10:31) “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Just as Christ transforms us, we in Christ are used to transform the world.
Luther often defended the Bible as the ultimate guide of truth, describing it as norma normans non normata: the “norm of norms that cannot be normed.” This, which describes the reformational principle sola Scriptura, or “Scripture alone,” simply means that the Bible is the sole authority in determining Christian doctrine and our practice. Since it sets the norms for everything else and nothing else norms it (Romans 3:19), it is the primary and ultimate “normative perspective.” Along these lines, Frame writes:
“Scripture calls us to a balanced view of God’s commands. We should not imagine that the law is simply a list of precepts, no matter how many. The law is part of our history, our situation. That history is gospel, the story of God bringing us his way of life and, indeed, of writing his law on our heart. And the gospel changes our hearts so that we can obey God’s commands in depth. The normative, situational, and existential perspectives are inseparable. An adequate biblical ethic is not just a list of precepts, nor is it merely a narrative of the gospel. It is a powerful word of the Holy Spirit to the heart. … We will miss the whole point of biblical ethics if we simply list commandments. The situational story and the existential application are important to the meaning of the law. We also miss the point if we try to reduce the commandments to the story of Jesus. He is the fulfillment of the law, but it is important for us to know how Scripture formulates the laws that Jesus has fulfilled. And we miss the point if we reduce the law to our inward subjectivity or if we reduce inward subjectivity to objective analysis.” (ibid., pp. 73-74)
It’s one thing to just discuss general, abstract philosophical and theological concepts. In order to really expose the grounding of the concept in God’s Word, we must exegete at least one passage from Scripture. Let’s consider Paul the Apostle’s prayer for the Christians at Ephesus.
(Ephesians 1:15-23) “For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
As we observe the Trinitarian structure of the passage, we read that Paul refers to God the Father as “The God of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Christ Himself, and the Holy Spirit as the Father and Son’s gift to Christians. The themes of control and power (v. 19), authority (v. 21) and presence (v. 22-23) pervade Paul’s prayer.
Elsewhere, Paul set the example and pressed the importance of generosity to the elders at Ephesus, as Luke recorded, (Acts 20:35) “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”
We can notice three perspectives underlying certain texts, even though viewing concepts in threes is directly familiar to Scripture, as it explains the three “abiding,” or enduring and lasting Christian virtues as faith, hope and love (I Corinthians 13:13). Also, holiness is the only attribute of God that we find Scripture ever elevates to the Hebrew superlative of the third degree: “holy, holy, holy” (cf. Isaiah 6:3, Psalm 99:3, 5, 9).
Each year on Maundy Thursday, many Christians celebrate the rule of love that Jesus gave His disciples at His passion, (John 13:34-35) “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
This mandatum novum that Christ issued might be triperspectivally understood:
- Normative perspective: Jesus commands us to love one another just as He has loved us.
- Situational perspective: In history, Jesus sacrificially loved us and set the example by which we are to love others.
- Existential perspective: Following Jesus’ example, we can experience love with each other and witness Jesus’ love to the world.
Using the triperspectival model, we can view the Christian enterprise to please God as comprised of His providence (situational), our stewardship (normative) and our generosity (existential). I present this not as a hard-and-fast application of the pedagogical tool forcing each of these into discrete categories, as there certainly is overlap between them; rather, this is an experiment to look at our Christian calling in a fresh and comprehensible way.
Viewing the Christian enterprise from the perspectives of providence, stewardship and generosity can help us better understand why it’s important for Christians to take advantage of service opportunities.
The Thrivent Way
As we’ve analyzed the Christian enterprise using the triperspectival approach, as an example we now can further assess the usefulness and potential impact of Thrivent’s model for giving back.
Thrivent is a unique type of organization called a frateral benefit society, in which member-owners are united by our common bond of Christianity. As a membership organization of Christians, Thrivent helps members be wise with money and live generously, resulting in stronger members, families and communities.
With our foundation of faith, we see money not as an end itself, but a tool: we’re planning not just for the prosperity of our own household. We’re using the assets God has given us to build a much bigger Kingdom.
As a member of Thrivent, I have a customized financial strategy that protects my loved ones, and which also allows me the opportunity to build wealth toward retirement and other long-term goals. Because I’m connected with Thrivent financial products, as a benefit member, I automatically have access to hundreds of dollars every year that are earmarked for community service activities.
Thrivent is the only Fortune 500 company which, through its common bond of Christianity (specifically, confession of the Apostles’ Creed), enjoys a tax-exempt status that enables the company to give away a substantial amount of its annual revenue in charitable giving. The Action Teams program is a tangible way that Thrivent sets out to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our communities.
Since everyone needs some form of financial plan, I have every reason to engage such a robust, well-established firm whose faith values align with my own; which is socially responsible in its approach; and which puts substantial resources in my hands to go serve my community in tangible ways.
Thrivent member-owners and financial professionals envision a world where Christians are more confident, content and living our God-given callings in service to one another, our churches and our communities. We are all on a lifelong journey to be wise with money and live generously.
The Thrivent Way has three principles:
- All we have is a gift from God.
- We are called to be wise stewards of these gifts.
- Generosity is an expression of faith.
We committed our Action Team to the Lord with this prayer.
Dear Heavenly Father,
We thank you for giving us gifts and talents to use in service and share our love for others. Place in our hearts a desire to live faithfully and do the things you have prepared in advance for us to do. Today we pray that you would bless the work of our hands. May we be good stewards of your blessings and may many lives and hearts be impacted today. May all honor and glory be yours.
We pray with the Psalmist, ‘Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!’ As we have received your word, allow us to return it to you in meaningful ways. Lord, we ask that you take your word and apply it to our minds that we might not grow shallow. Apply it to our hearts, that we might not grow cold. Apply it to our feet, that we might not just be hearers of your word, but doers also. Amen.