Most people avoid the issue of preparing a will (estate planning) because it forces them to face their own mortality. They approach wills, revocable living trusts and other such documents as a morbid necessity reluctantly thrust upon them. As followers of Jesus Christ, we need a different view of the rationale for estate planning. Consider viewing the process as an important (and perhaps final) act of good Christian stewardship. By understanding the biblical foundation for preparing an estate plan the process becomes a spiritual exercise rather than a mechanical assignment.
Biblical Examples of Estate Planning
The first substantive account of estate planning in Scripture appears in Genesis 15. Abraham expresses to God his concern over his lack an heir. Not wanting to trust God’s direction in the matter, he goes outside God’s plan and conceives an heir with his wife’s servant, Hagar (Genesis 16). While attempting to accelerate God’s timetable, Abraham creates an unrest that continues to this day in the discord between Jews and Arabs.
Eventually, Abraham creates a plan pleasing to the Lord, and Genesis 25:5-6 records it for us as the Bible’s first recognizable estate plan-after giving gifts to each of his other children, Abraham then gives the remainder of his possessions to Isaac.
In the narrative of Isaac’s plan for property distribution we find a record of a will controlled by prevailing law. Here, Scripture introduces the concept of the birthright, giving the eldest son a double share of the estate, and also conveying the right of leadership over the family (Easton’s Bible Dictionary). Isaac prepares to pass the birthright to his first-born son, Esau. Jacob, the second-born, uses deception to con Isaac into giving it to him. When Esau attempts to right the wrong, Isaac explains that the actual passing of the birthright leaves no opening for a recall.
The Gospel of John reveals Jesus’ estate plan. While the only possessions Jesus actually had were the clothes on His back, and these were gambled over by His executioners, He did have something more precious than material possessions-His mother. While hanging on the cross, Jesus handed over this most priceless “possession” to a trusted friend. In John 19:26-27 we read that Jesus sees His mother and the disciple John standing nearby, He instructs John to take care of His mother. And from that point forward, John takes Mary into his own home and treats her as his mother. This story demonstrates that Jesus planned for the care of someone dependent upon Him.
Yet precedent should not set principle without further instruction. So the Scriptures provide some additional, essential guidelines prompting us to prepare our own estate plan.
God Owns It, We Just Manage It
The Scriptures teach us that the world and everything in it belongs to God, (Psalm 24:1; 50:12). A popular 1950’s gospel chorus by John W. Peterson paraphrases this truth of Scripture, “He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, the wealth in every mine” (Psalm 50:10; Haggai 2:8). God owns everything, and this includes everything titled in our name. Time and again the Bible calls us stewards (managers) of the assets the Lord has given us. He calls us to oversee those assets for and on His behalf. Therefore, the preparation an estate plan actually serves as the distribution clause for the assets He has entrusted to us.
Consistently, the Bible records the teaching of Jesus that God expects stewards to be faithful in their duties (Mat. 24:46: Lk 12:42ff). The Apostle Paul clearly states, “It is required in stewards that a man be found faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2-emphasis added). The Lord expects us to administer the assets He gives with the conviction that they belong to Him. Of course, this involves not only how we use those assets during our life, but how and to whom we transfer them upon our death.
Whether we realize it or not, the lack of an estate plan, or one not prepared according to our Christian values, testifies as to how strongly we believe in the truth of the Scriptural principle about faithful stewards. A properly laid out plan reveals how we believe God wants us to transfer the management of His property. Jesus said in Luke 12:34, “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” The inverse of this also rings true, “where your heart is, there will your treasure be also.” Preparation of an estate plan by a competent attorney demonstrates your desire to “honor the Lord with your substance” (Proverbs 3:9).
Other articles in this seven-part series, Guidelines for Christian Estate Planning:
Click here for Part I: The Biblical Basis for Estate Planning.
Click here for Part II: Biblical Guidelines for Estate Distribution (Article part 1).
Click here for Part III: Biblical Guidelines for Estate Distribution (Article part 2).
Click here for Part IV: Biblical Basis for Charitable Giving.
Click here for Part V: Guidelines for Selecting Charities.
Click here for Part VI: The Believer and Secular Charities.
Click here for Part VII: The Believer and the Ethical Will.
The Holy Bible, Passage Lookup – New International Version – BibleGateway.com
Easton’s Bible Dictionary, BibleGateway.com Dictionaries: BIRTHRIGHT
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