WHAT IS STEWARDSHIP?
It is work which is done by a Steward. So, what is a steward?
Example 1: Yesterday Paula and I took our “rest day” at the National Trust property of Polesden Lacy – the weekend mansion of the rich and influential socialite Mrs Ronald Greville who, in the first ½ of the 20th C entertained, in lavish style, the rich, the famous and the royalty. Polesden Lacy was her home – but she did not run it herself. She had many servants, chief amongst which was Mr Bole. He was placed by her to be in charge of all of her servants. He was responsible for ordering all food and supplies for the household, the hiring and firing of staff, and all the financial and business affairs of the estate. His title? The House Steward. He was given total control of the all things to do with the running of the estate. It was left in his hands. He did not have to ask direction from his mistress but he was accountable to her. That is a steward
Example 2 – the bank manager: I do not manage the care of my money. I place it in a bank. I entrust my money to the bank manager to look after it, invest it, and make it grow. It is not his money but I do not interfere in how he manages it. He is the steward of my money.
The Biblical principle: In the Old Testament Joseph (of Amazing Technicolour Coat fame) was made the steward of the Egyptian noble Potiphar. Genesis 39: 4 tells us:
Joseph found favour in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned.
We here clearly see the relationship that exists between master and steward: all belongs to the master but the Steward is the servant to whom all is entrusted and whose job is to look after – and bring success – to all his master has. It is a “working together” relationship. My contention is that this IS the calling of God upon all our lives – that we are His Stewards in all that He has entrusted us with.
SO, AM I A STEWARD?
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it (Psalm 24:1)
- All belongs to Him
- I belong to Him
Therefore, all that I am and all that I have is held by me as a steward.
Nowhere is this more clearly explained than in the Parable of the Talents:
MATTHEW 25: 14-30
14 ‘Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 ‘After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. “Master,” he said, “you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.”
21 ‘His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”
22 ‘The man with two bags of gold also came. “Master,” he said, “you entrusted me with two bags of gold: see, I have gained two more.”
23 ‘His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”
24 ‘Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. “Master,” he said, “I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.”
26 ‘His master replied, “You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
28 ‘“So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
- V14 “It will be like” – what is “it”? Answer – the Kingdom of Heaven. So, those who are in God’s “domain”, here on earth, will live like this….
- The “man” is Jesus. The “journey” is His return to Heaven.
- His “servants” are us – His disciples, His followers. This, therefore, ties in with what we have already learnt – that we have the PRIVILEGE of being His servants here on earth – we are called to live for Him and to work for (and with) Him.
- He has “entrusted His wealth” to us. What a wonderful thought – that everything that He has, He has given to us – trusted us with. This word “entrust” is so powerful – He has not given us His “wealth” and said “you do with it whatever you want”. No! He has trusted us with it – almost as if He were saying to you and me “I am giving you everything that is mine and I am trusting that you are going to use it well and wisely”.
- We must clearly see the significance of this word “entrusted”. If a man has a bag of money and says to me “I am going away on a long journey and want to give you this gift before I go” then I am free to spend that money on whatever I want – it is for me to enjoy. However, if this man says to me “I am going away on a long journey and am entrusting this money to you – use it wisely” then I am clear that I have been given a responsibility to use this money to make more money which I am holding in trust for the one who gives it to me for he expects it back – with interest – when he returns. I am, from this moment on, steward of that which I have been given
- And what is it that He has given to us? Gold! This is something that is incredibly valuable. Now, gold is gold is gold. Don’t you just hate those who seem to have it all! Intelligence, good looks, wit, musical ability, talent with business. But, this parable teaches us that their “gold” is no better than the talent that a person has to arrange flowers, or make a cup of tea, or just hold someone’s hand when they are hurting. But, just like one servant got 5 bags of gold, another 2 and another 1, so some have been given more gifts or abilities than others. It could be argued that more is therefore required of them and so the greater blessing is on the one who has only a few talents.
- So, it is clear that the “wealth” that Jesus has given to each of us are our natural gifts and abilities – all equally valuable, but all very different. And the call of this parable is to go and use them for good. And good use brings an increase in the Kingdom of Heaven
- We call the use of these talents that God has given us “stewardship”. To put it another way, we have been called to be good stewards of all that God has given us. All the talents that we have are not ours –they have been given to us and we have been “entrusted” with them – to use them for Him.
- Now what is the difference between being a servant and being a steward? A servant is a role that each of us has. A steward is a servant who has been given a responsibility. In our case our stewardship is to use whatever gifts and abilities we have for Him – to build up His Kingdom here on earth.
- Now, there is another subtle but very important distinction between the role of a servant and the responsibility of a steward: a servant does what they are told; a steward gets on with the job of managing their area of responsibility and does not have to keep waiting for the orders.
- What are you called to be a “steward” of? Not all are called to be responsible for a church or a youth group or a woman’s meeting. But ALL have been called to be stewards of their own lives. In God’s eyes our lives as worth more than gold. Again we see the key word “entrusted” being key here. He has entrusted our lives to us. When we became His followers, His disciples, we “gave our lives to Him”. He has now given us our lives “in trust” – trusting that we will use our lives well in service to Him and building up the Kingdom of God. It is quite profound when we think of it like this!
Every faculty you have, your power of thinking or of moving your limbs from moment to moment, is given you by God. If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service, you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already.
– C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Now remember that stewardship is a responsibility rather than a role. So, our responsibility is to use our lives well, to live our lives well, to do all for Him and for His glory. I have heard of Christians who won’t get out of bed in the morning till they have asked God if “this is the right time to get up”; who won’t get dressed until they have asked God “should I wear my green or my red socks today?”; who won’t read a newspaper until they have asked which is the right one to buy! This is ludicrous! A good and wise steward uses their gifting, their common sense, their given wisdom, to do their job well. In the same way, your spiritual discipline of stewardship is to commit yourself to living your life well – and to using that which God has entrusted to you to serve Him well.
- We can now widen this out. From His great wealth He has endowed each of us with many gifts, talents and abilities in our lives. Some of us can sing well. Some of us understand how to use money well. Some of us can care well. Others can speak well. Still others can act well, or create lovely things, or arrange flowers, or cook, or mend cars. Let us remember that He has “entrusted” us with these gifts. Is it wrong to ask God how He wants us to use them? No, of course not. However, He has made us stewards of these gifts in our lives – He wants us to just get on and use them in our own way – rather than constantly having to tell us what to do. Let us not be paralysed by always needing to ask. A good steward just gets on with the job –whatever it is – and trusts that their Master (God) will gently stop them if they are going off in the wrong direction.
- So, let us look at how the stewards of Jesus’ wealth did in our parable. Two of them did magnificently! Using their own God-given abilities they took the responsibility of “getting on with the job” and saw an increase. Their reward? This was both a “well done good and faithful servant” (what an accolade) and also even more blessing from Jesus as a result.
- But what of the 3rd steward? What does it mean that he “hid” his “master’s money”?
- He did nothing with it. If we recognise God’s gifts to us and do nothing with them then we are in danger of the wrath of God
- He kept it all for himself. When we are disciples and use our God-given gifts and talents for our own personal, selfish, use – be it our time, our money, our talents – then we, again, are in danger of the wrath of God
I quite like this commentary which sheds light on this:
God does not want us to be ambivalent about the gifts he gives us. In fact, he warns us not to neglect our gifts:
1 Ti 4:14 “Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership.”
Some of us may not feel gifted but nevertheless God has gifted us. We may not have a public gift or a sensational gift but we have a gift. Paul tells us to activate our latent gifts. Our gift will not function without animating them. In order to discover what our gift is, we must read the label on the gift to see if God addresses the gift to us.
2 Ti 1:6 “Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.”
If someone were to give us a gift at Christmas and we threw it in the attic without opening it, it would be an insult to the giver. If Christians receive special supernatural endowments to do the work of God and leave them latent, this is an insult to God who gave the gift. God gave every Christian a special endowment to do his work without exception.
Will you stand at the Judgment Seat of Christ empty handed with no representation of using our gift responsibly? It will do no good to say, “Well, I wasn’t talented. I really do not have anything to offer the church. I am a speckled bird that does not fit in. I couldn’t do anything. All I could do was sit. All I could do was be a religious spectator all my life. I watch others serve. All I can do is pity myself all these years.”
Neglect of our gift is an indication of our lack of appreciation for the grace of God. Very few Christians seize their gifts and use them for God’s glory to the benefit of the body of Christ. Never did so many owe so much to so few.
CONCLUSIONS AND CHALLENGES FOR US
Stewardship IS a spiritual discipline for all those who have freely chosen to follow Jesus – and so be His disciples.
Everything that we have and all that we are has been given to us by Him and belongs to Him. We have been, therefore, called to be stewards of all that we have –which can be summarised by the 4 T’s:
Time – He has given us our lives and knows our end from our beginning. Are we being good stewards of our time?
Temple – the body that we have been given – our very lives – and the world in which we live – has been given to us by God to be thankful for and to care for. Are we being good stewards of our bodies and the world in which we live?
Talents – He has bestowed gifts and abilities on us –which we can use selfishly for ourselves or in His service. Are we being good stewards of our talents?
Treasures – all that we possess and the money that we earn or are given comes from Him. All our relationships – with family, friends, colleagues and church family – come from Him. Are we being good stewards of our treasures?
Are we going to take our responsibility as stewards of our lives, our talents, our gifting, our possessions, seriously?
George Barna in his book “The Habits of Highly Effective Churches” challenges us very clearly with these 4 T’s:
“Stewardship is…managing all of the resources that have been entrusted to us by God…all things are His. But He has appointed us the guardians of His estate. We have free reign with those resources, but will ultimately be held accountable by Him, according to the guidelines provided in the Bible” (p.135)
Are we going to acknowledge that we have been “entrusted” with them and that they are precious in God’s sight, of equal value to all other gifts, and that He trusts us to use them to build up the Kingdom of God?
Are we going to do a personal audit of the gifts that God has given us to steward and so recognise more clearly those things that we have been entrusted with?
Peter summarises our responsibility as stewards very succinctly:
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4:10)
Let us break this down:
- We have all received “gifts” from God – these are our talents, abilities and possessions
- He has given us these gifts “to serve others” – they are not for our selfish good but for the common good
- They are gifts that we have been entrusted with – we are to be His “faithful stewards”
- We are stewards of “God’s grace”. This is a bit trickier. God’s grace is giving us what we don’t deserve. He has called us to be His stewards in showing this grace to the world – we are to be constantly looking for ways in which we can be blessing others, helping others, caring for others – even though they have done nothing to deserve it.
- And “in its various forms” shows that God’s grace, shown through us, is not only about salvation but through every use of our talents that we can give to people.