Imagine having access to a near limitless fortune and being tasked to dispense it for the good of humanity. Billions of dollars are at your fingertips to start universities, cure diseases, and whatever else your heart desires. Whatever you can dream can be accomplished. Sounds incredible, right?
When we think of someone with this capability, perhaps none is more prominent than Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft who’s personally worth is nearly $90 Billion dollars. He’s pledged to give away half of this fortune and is making strides toward his goal with astounding progress.
But this article isn’t about Bill Gates.
This is about another Gates. Frederick T. Gates. A man who was perhaps the greatest philanthropist of all times and yet was nowhere near as wealthy as Bill Gates.
You see, Frederick T. Gates was the steward to John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil fortune.
In the early 1890’s Rockefeller had become one of the wealthiest men in the world and was feeling the strain of his fortune. He was beset by hundreds of begging letters, everyone wanting him to fund their special project. Feeling this burden, he turned to a former minister whose acquaintance he had made while considering a gift to start a Baptist seminary.
“I am in trouble, Mr. Gates. The pressure of these appeals for gifts has become too great for endurance. I haven’t the time or strength, with all my heavy business responsibilities, to deal with these demands properly. I am so constituted as to be unable to give away money with any satisfaction until I have made the most careful inquiry as to the worthiness of the cause. These investigations are now taking more of my time and energy than the Standard Oil itself.
I think you are the man. I want you to come to New York and open an office here. You can aid me in my benefactions by taking interviews and inquiries, and reporting the results for action. What do you say?” (American Heritage)
In a moment, Gates was elevated to steward of a fortune that he had not earned. For the next 30+ years he would be a pivotal figure in Rockefellers legacy. He shifted the face of a nation through systematic giving and creation of large institutions and foundations, including the University of Chicago, the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, the General Education Board, and the Rockefeller Foundation.
In his life, Gates oversaw the dispensing of what would be tens of billions of today’s dollars. He was also a mentor to Rockefeller Jr., who would inherit his father’s fortune and become an even greater philanthropist than Sr. himself.
So how are we to give like Gates?
The first lesson we can learn from Frederick T. Gates is how a steward must be humble. I know that I myself would struggle with the feeling that I wasn’t giving away “my” money, so it wasn’t as meaningful. After all, I want to be remembered like Rockefeller or Bill Gates, not just heard of from an obscure blog post like you likely just learned about ole’ Frederick!
As Christians, whether we’re Gates or Gates, we’re stewards of God’s resources. Psalm 24:1 says “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;” That pretty much covers everything!
The idea that money is ours to do with as we please is not a Biblical one. God owns it all. This isn’t just the tithe, which is the first 10% that we’re asked to return to Him (Malachi 3:8), but also our offerings and every other aspect of our budget. It is all God’s and He’s entrusted it to us to steward well. This doesn’t mean we need to give it all away, but it does mean that we need to make Godly decisions with every dollar, whether spending, investing, saving, or giving.
When we realize this, we suddenly become humble about our position. Whether we’ve been entrusted with much wealth or little, we cannot boast. It is God who brings the increase (1 Corinthians 3:7) and we can’t brag any more than Frederick could brag about his wealth. While he had great power and authority as given by the one who owned the wealth, he always understood his position as a steward.
The second lesson we can learn from F. T. Gates is to steward what you have right now. Gates was a Baptist minister turned fundraiser when Rockefeller met him. The reason Rockefeller entrusted him with his fortune is because he recognized his integrity and passion. He saw a man of deep faith and conviction that matched his own and knew that he would diligently steward his fortune as if it were his own.
As believers, God is looking for the same in you. God owns it all but has chosen to co-labor with believers to use it for the good of the world. Sure, He could magically make money appear when there’s a need, but most of the time He chooses to go through Christians who understand their positions as stewards and are willing to hear God’s voice and act in obedience to it.
This leads to the third lesson we can learn from Gates. We have unlimited resources.
Most people have thought at some point of what they would do if they won the lottery and suddenly had millions of dollars at their disposal. Now they would give generously and wisely! They’d do incredible things for sure. It’s a pity that they just don’t have the resources right now….well, maybe someday, right?
I’m here to tell you that as a Christian, you DO have the resources right now! You’ve been entrusted as a steward to the riches of the Kingdom of God!
Luke 16:10 says “”Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”. The biggest thing limiting your resources is YOU!
Now please don’t mistake what I’m saying as the “Prosperity Gospel”, which preaches that you should give to get. This is a perversion of the truth and I’ll be posting an article in March digging in to the topic in more detail. A good steward is not focused on getting more for themselves as much as they are being wise with what they have. It is only in this that they are able to handle more.
When we think that we don’t have enough to meet a need, we limit God. Imagine if the boy who gave the disciples his loaves and fishes had said “No” because he didn’t imagine it was enough to feed 5,000+ people. What an opportunity he’d have missed to be part of a miracle! Instead, he was willing to give from what he had and an impossibly large need was met.
God is a God of multiplication. He isn’t limited by our resources, but by the lack of understanding most Christians have of their position as Kingdom stewards. I’m not saying that you should give on a credit card with no plan to repay (that would go against all the Bible says about debt!), but you must learn to hear the voice of God and respond to needs with what you have now before He’ll be able to break it and use it.
We must learn to function as stewards of a great fortune. Rather than living in poverty, thinking we must hoard and guard what we have while we slowly accumulate more, we must learn to think like Frederick T. Gates must have thought. Free from the fear of lack and focused on being in tune with the owner’s heart. Giving generously and wisely and seeking an eternal impact while focusing on the here and now.
What’s even more, we are not only stewards, but sons and daughters of the King. We have the full resources of the Kingdom of God at our disposal and are tasked with using them to destroy the works of Satan. Focus on this and suddenly you’ll never find a need you can’t meet!
And that is how you give like Gates.