Monday, October 31, 2011

Our Stewardship Is about God, Not Us

Stewardship is an increasingly common word that pops up in a variety of contexts. In church settings, of course, “stewardship” is often associated with a sermon to challenge the local body to fulfill its responsibility to give generously in support of the ministries of the church. Meanwhile, conservationists are now using expressions such as “land stewardship,” “water stewardship, and “Earth stewardship.” It seems that “stewardship” is one of those topics like “mother and apple pie.” Who can be opposed to it?

Yet, many who are familiar with the word "stewardship" may have only a vague understanding of its deeper meaning and significance. The Judeo-Christian Scriptures provide the only true basis for stewardship because they are based on objective revelation of God Who is Creator and Owner of creation and has appointed mankind to be stewards of creation (Genesis 1: 26-28; 2:15). The Bible also is rich with examples of godly stewards whose role it was to oversee the possessions and affairs of an owner. Joseph’s life in Egypt is recounted in Genesis 37-50, and Daniel’s life in Babylon and Persia is recorded in the book of Daniel.

The Apostle Paul states that “it is required of stewards (Greek: oikonomos) that one be found trustworthy.” The good steward is bound by duty to manage that which doesn’t belong to him or her, and does so out of a virtuous disposition characterized by trustworthiness, faithfulness, industriousness, and so on. The Apostle Paul, in Colossians 3, expands the concept of stewardship much beyond simply the act of placing money into the offering plate. He states in verse 3, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men...”

How then does a person become a faithful steward? From a biblical perspective, what are the elements of good stewardship in each sphere of our lives—at home, at church, at work, and in the local and global community (See Oikonomia, September 30, 2011)? Each of these spheres operates as a definable “system” of inter-working parts, like a household, or (in Greek) oikos. Along this line of thinking, it is necessary that we learn from spiritual instruction to understand our place and role as submissive stewards toward Almighty God as we serve within the household of His creation. Our stewardship of the physical world around us, is further informed through study of the natural science of ecology (oikos + logos: “the study of the workings of the oikos, house). In addition, the social science of economics (Greek, oikos + nomos) emphasizes the management and distribution of goods and services that are developed out of the rich stores of energy and matter of creation?

Recently, while pondering the elements of good stewardship, I was enlightened by a radio message by Chuck Bentley of Crown Financial Services. In his October 17, 2011 podcast of My MoneyLife, Mr Bentley, states that “stewardship is about God, not you. And specifically, it’s about fulfilling God’s purposes for your life.” In other words, the good steward has a God-centered perspective, not a self-centered one. Back in the 1970's, this God-centered concept was nicely illustrated by Bill Bright, now with the Lord, in his widely used “Four Spiritual Laws” tracts as part of the ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.

To me, the Scriptural teaching that lays a good foundation for faithful stewardship is found in Romans 1. In verse 16, the Apostle Paul holds up the Gospel, the good news that Christ died for sinners (rebellious, self-centered stewards) and has the power to bring all who will acknowledge their sin and alienation back to God. Verse 17 states that the Gospel reveals the righteousness which is from God, and explains that we are made righteous not by works but by faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. Verse 18-19 lament the denial and refusal of many to respond to the truth of the Gospel, being without excuse because of God’s clear revelation in creation. Finally, verse 20 points at the very element necessary for anyone to please God--i.e. be reconciled to Him and exercise faithful, God-centered stewardship. This verse states that,

Although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks... – Romans 1:20a

As Bill Bright and Chuck Bentley emphasized, stewardship is not based on a self-centered perspective, but upon a God-centered perspective. The God-centered perspective begins as verse 20 states, with giving “honor to Him as God” out of a thankful heart. Honor begins in a daily prayer and walking relationship with God that is guided by our study and meditation in the Word of God under the teaching of the Spirit of God Who intercedes for us (Romans 8: 26). God’s Spirit helps us to apply the truths of Scripture [which] is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (II Timothy 3: 16).”

So, we can see that godly stewardship requires that we honor Him as God; or, as Proverbs 1:7 states, The reverent and worshipful fear of the Lord is the beginning and the principal and choice part of knowledge (Amplified Bible). God will help us to develop a God-centered relationship which provides for further knowledge, wisdom, and obedience to His Word. To this foundation for stewardship there must be added additional elements necessary for the steward to live in obedience within the spheres of life noted above. One of these is the need to understand the context within which our stewardship must be exercised. This context includes both the authority structure ordained by God and God’s created order which we are called to study and understand (i.e. oikos + logos, or ecology) and to manage with honesty and integrity (oikos + nomos, or economics). We will discuss these aspects further in future blog entries.

1 comment:

Jeff Gates said...

John, I agree that stewardship is crucial in the Christian life, but we must not forget that God enjoys seeing His people enjoy His gifts - or really when they enjoy what He lends them. Of course, we can only enjoy God's blessings when we take care of them. As I see it, God owns everything and wants people to wisely use His creation to honor Him, benefit others, and provide for themselves. Since people ultimately own nothing, they can only do this by using what God has lent them, i.e. material blessings, the bodies and minds of others, or their own bodies and minds. Even prayer is offered through the brains and lips that God has lent people. By taking care of what He has lent to people, they can best honor Him, benefit others, and provide for themselves. Dare we misuse what He has lent us and return it to Him in worse shape than when He lent it to us? Can others be benefitted by what God has lent to us if we fail to take care of it? Will we be able to use what God has lent us to provide for ourselves if we abuse what He has lent us? If we do not take care of the material and spiritual blessings God lends us, God will be honored less, others will be benefitted less, and we will be impoverished. Stewardship is crucial in the Christian life.