Over the next several years, trillions of dollars are expected to pass from one generation to the next by inheritance. Developing a Biblical perspective on inheritance can mean the difference between that inheritance process honoring the Lord or missing a gigantic and eternal opportunity.
The words inherit, inheritance or heir are used over 240 times in our Old Testament. It is an extremely important theological concept in relation to God and his covenant relationship to the nation of Israel. By far the greater percentage of references refer to both the nation and the land it would control as an inheritance. The remaining few references address the family aspects of inheritance. What is important is that God “modeled” the concept of inheritance as a loving and holy Father toward his beloved children.
Consider these vital thoughts. As the owner of what would be passed (Psalm 24:1, 47:4, 89:11) God sovereignly partitioned out to his children (Deuteronomy 4:20, 32:9) what was His to give (Isaiah 49:8, 57:13). Yet He controlled the permanence of that via contingency (Numbers 33:50-56). In other words, the heir (Israel) must maintain his worthiness to retain and partake of the inheritance (Deuteronomy 20:16, 21:23, 26:1-19). Disobedience would be punishable (Jeremiah 16:9-13, 17:4), and result in loss. Yet ultimately possession of the inheritance would be restored due to God’s covenantal love (Ezekiel 47:13-14). God’s particular choice of the concept of inheritance would ensure the children of Israel understood they had no demand rights nor claim to this land. They received it by grace and thus were responsible to manage it well.
In today’s culture, too many Christians view the goods they possess as their own. Yes, by the grace of God we have been granted oversight and control, but ultimately all we have is God’s. Too few plan wisely to pass their goods in a way that honors the Lord. By poor planning and in many cases by no planning, goods are passed, mismanaged and lost to the eternal good they may have served.
Imagine for a moment an Old Testament family. Envision the father and mother working the land, breeding the animals, digging the wells, working and harvesting the crops. As the children grew up in that setting they were given greater and more important responsibilities to maintain the productiveness of the land. One day the father would become too frail to do the heavy work and would enter the phase of patriarch rather than laborer. Now his son would work as his parents had taught and trained. Eventually the parents would pass and the son would INHERIT the land.
At the personal level and by the modeling of God, inheritance had within it the idea of gaining the ultimate privilege of possession and oversight through obedience and self-proving industry. In today’s language, inheritance was more a “bestowal by virtue” than simply the taking possession of what was once another’s. Inheritance was the passing along of that which would provide, not the dropping in the lap of what had never been earned. By the process of training and industry, the privilege of inheritance was gained. It was not simply a right by genetic connection. That is why in some cases the inheritance would pass to a faithful servant rather than a son.
A wise servant shall have rule over a son that causeth shame, and shall have part of the inheritance among the brethren (family).
-Proverbs 17:2 (See also Proverbs 11:29a)
This process ensured the God-honoring capability of oversight by the next generation. The heir, via this Biblical “life-spanning” process, acquired the gravity needed to properly appreciate and manage the inheritance.
With this in mind, consider Proverbs 20:21:
An inheritance may be gotten hastily at the beginning; but the end thereof shall not be blessed.
The quick implication of the verse refers to an inheritance gained not by time, instruction, obedience and labor but one gained by just the opposite. This inheritance was gained quickly. The point of the word rendered “hastily” is not so much related to time as much to inappropriateness. It was gained without the years of work which would engender the spirit of appreciation needed to manage the inheritance well. We could accurately render the verse this way, “an inheritance which initially was gained inappropriately will in the end not be blessed.” The ultimate point of the author is that this inheritance, received in this fashion, will ultimately miss the blessing of God. It will not receive divine watch care because the heir will not appreciate and thus not manage well the inheritance.
Today’s statistics tell us the average inheritance is mismanaged, consumed and gone within 18 months. Will what you pass to your children help or hurt them spiritually? Have you seriously considered the question “how much is enough?” Be fair with your children, honor them and instruct them wisely but don’t shackle them with the burden of too much.
A passage absolutely critical to this question of how much is enough is Proverbs 30:8-9:
Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: lest I be full and deny thee and say, Who is the Lord? Or lest I be poor and steal and take the name of my God in vain.
The operative portion of that verse is the phrase “feed me with food convenient for me.” Here the wise man is imploring God to grant that allotment which would be fitting. That which is appropriate in relation to his spiritual capacity to respond rightly to what he would receive. The key word here is rendered “convenient.” The word speaks of a prescribed limit or boundary. It is used twice in Proverbs 8:29, “he gave the sea his decree, he appointed the foundations of the earth.” In Proverbs 31:15 it is rendered “portion” speaking of what the wise woman grants to her maidens. The wise man’s sensibilities had the gravity to request a portion that would aid him in avoiding a self-ruining temptation. To have too much might cause undue pride and a false sense of self-sufficiency. To have too little might result in acts of dishonor and a ruined testimony.
Part of the process of planning what to pass on to your heirs is a two-fold consideration. The sober evaluation of your children’s capacity to rightly receive and wisely manage what they inherit and the degree to which you have instructed and prepared your children for that inheritance.
In Luke 16, the manager was called to account for how he managed his master’s goods. We too will be examined by our God for how we managed and transferred His wealth to the next generation. Have you systematically and methodically trained your children? Do they themselves have the maturity of spirit and mind to manage well what they will receive? Are you prepared to answer to God for what you leave in their hands?
Just as you honored the Lord with faithful, systematic and proportionate giving during your life, so to in your final estate plan, your “final act of stewardship” God should be honored. (See Psalm One Counsel, Contrasting Christian & Secular Estate Planning.) First, consider your local church with at least a tithe of your estate. Plan wisely the amount that will bless and not hurt your children, and lastly, with what may remain consider how you can “partner up” (I Timothy 6:19) with additional ministries laying up treasure for yourselves in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21.)
You may want to consider creating a Family Vision Endowment through Eternal Vision to handle your end-o-life giving plans. We have developed this program to making ministry gifting efficient and to provide greater flexibility for the steward to change beneficiary designations without going through the expense of altering legal documents. Using a Family Vision Endowment provides privacy and may avoid the long and expensive process of probate.