We make a living by what we get,
we make a life by what we give.
Many Christians limit their concept of stewardship to hearing sermons on tithing and calls for church building programs. That barely scratches the surface of God’s clearly expressed concept of stewardship for us. Biblical stewardship is so much more than your wallet. It is a whole-life responsibility that is a part of being a follower, a disciple, of Jesus Christ.
A steward in Old Testament times was a person who assumed responsibility and authority over the affairs of the household. It started with Adam who was given the command to be productive by being fruitful and multiplying. Next, Adam and Eve were given “dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1:28-30. That is stewardship.
Perhaps the best example of true Biblical stewardship is Joseph when he became a steward over Potiphar’s household. He was given authority over everything in the household. See Genesis 39. He was responsible to manage, he could not waste the household resources of the family and had a duty to make wise decisions for the overall good of the family and property of Potiphar.
Those examples of stewardship show that stewardship is vastly more than just money management. They included Adam and Joseph’s ’s time, family, home, work, day and even night. Adam and Joseph’s stewardship were whole-life responsibilities. Our stewardship is as well.
Stewardship is commonly described as including your time, your talents and your treasures, an excellent way to alliterate a truth. But even those terms could be said to understate the reach of stewardship as a whole-life responsibility. R. C. Sproul has pointed out that “stewardship is about exercising our God-given dominion over His creation, reflecting the image of our creator God in His care, responsibility, maintenance, protection, and beautification of His creation.” How Should I Think about Money? by R.C. Sproul. That expands stewardship to every aspect of life, the definition God intended and demonstrated when He gave us the gift of life through Jesus.
Bill Peel wrote an essay entitled Leadership Is Stewardship. That essay provides an outline that is useful for examining the concept of a whole-life responsibility.
Peel suggests that there are four important principles about Biblical stewardship that we must understand. Each quarter of this year we will examine one of the four well-identified and named principles using the 4 principle outline of Leadership Is Stewardship. First, let us look at The Principle of Ownership
1. The Principle of Ownership
Simply put, it is not your stuff! Our world is consumed with the idea of ownership, possession and having a little bit more. Perhaps Paul said it best, “What do you have that you did not receive?” 1 Corinthians 4:7. Oh, you worked for it? Well who made it possible for you to breathe, much less work? Who gave you the talents and abilities that allowed you to get the job? In all honesty, who got you the job?
The more we take credit for what we have, the more we deny God’s part in our lives. Since He owns it all, that part is a very large part.
1 The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.
It was His before creation, it was His at the time of creation, it has been His since then and it will always be His. God owns everything; at most we are stewards, managers or workers serving His purposes. That is true whether we recognize it or not. Therefore, stewardship is the commitment of all of our lives, time, family, home, and work to God’s service.
The expression of God’s ownership is not limited to just the Psalms. 1 Chronicles 29:11-12 says it with equal clarity:
1 Chronicles 29:11-12
11 Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power
for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
Yours, Lord, is the kingdom;
you are exalted as head over all.
12 Wealth and honor come from you;
you are the ruler of all things.
In your hands are strength and power
to exalt and give strength to all.
God’s expressions of ownership and dominion are throughout the Old Testament and abound in the New Testament as well. In Romans 1 at verse 20 Paul wrote that “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Ignoring His nature is even less useful than using an umbrella in a hurricane. After all, He is God.
2. The Principle of Responsibility
In examining this principle we run head-on into a great American tradition, or at least a strong modern trend, the idea that we have rights and we should hold fast to those rights. It is almost a shame that the founding fathers of these United States did not precede the Bill of Rights with a Bill of Responsibilities. In real life, every right has one or more corresponding responsibilities. That is a literal life truth and a Biblical one as well.
As Christians, we have an edge. We know that our citizenship ultimately is in heaven, not here on this earth. Paul wrote “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,” Phil. 3:20 (NIV).
But even with that, we have responsibilities here on earth. We owe to Caesar what is due to him. Matthew 22:21. We also have responsibilities given us by God. In Jesus’ Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30 and Luke 19:12-27) the master rewards those who are good and responsible stewards of the resources he left with them, and God punishes the one who did not. Having is a responsibility in itself. Do you just have for your own pleasure? Decidedly, the answer is that you have “stuff” for far more than just your own enjoyment. Start with the idea that you are to be faithful in the management of the authority and “stuff” God has given to you.
This goes far beyond your finances because it is a whole-life responsibility, although stewardship certainly does include your handling of money. In the area of your time, stewardship means scheduling time to meet with God in the Bible and to pray – as an individual and as a family. It is so easy to get busy. Stewardship includes giving time to the family God has given to you. It means being faithful and a servant to your spouse. Ephesians 5. Stewardship also means making certain that the spiritual gifts God gave to you are used to serve God faithfully. It means giving God from the first fruits of your earnings His part – and all you are able to give. It means working at your job and at all that you do as “working to the Lord.” Colossians 3:23-24. And it means treating others as your neighbors because you are a steward over the relationships and people God has given you. Luke 15:11-32. Stewardship as a whole-life responsibility means being the “salt” of the earth and the “light” of the world Matthew 5:13-16. And that only scratches the surface of a very deep topic.
An excellent expression of our responsibility can be found in The Baptist Faith & Message confession of faith. It states that “All Christians are under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society.” The confession adds “In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose . . . every form of greed, selfishness, and vice,” as well as “seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love.”
3. The Principle of Accountability
This principle takes us back to the Parable of the Talents. The steward who failed in his responsibility over what God entrusted to him was stripped of the talent he had been given.
Similarly, we will be called upon to give an account of how we have served as stewards of the many areas of our stewardship; our time, money, abilities, skills, talents, knowledge, information, wisdom, relationships, family, work and even our opportunities. We will all have to give an account to the rightful owner, God, as to how well we served as stewards. Our lives and our actions are being measured.
Given the fact that here at Idlewild it takes the time of over 200 members to bring in a new member, one area of accountability in our whole–life responsibility we might fear is in the area of witnessing or even inviting people to worship with us. Areas of accountability are, like this one, very personal and highly dependent upon our personal situations and circumstances. But note that Jesus did not give the steward an opportunity to attempt to justify his failure to manage well.
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.’”
Is this harsh? Perhaps by our “modern” standards it may appear to be harsh. But that merely emphasizes the incredible weight of our responsibility and the high level of accountability each of us has. What you have, everything, was given with a purpose in mind – God’s mind.
So what are we to do? It is a big task. Start with examining your heart and your life, your time, your money, your heart, your work, your home, your family and your service. That’s only a start. Are you what God would call faithful? Could you proudly stand before God as two of the stewards stood before their master and proclaim what you have done?
But you are busy! You are being pulled in a dozen directions and there is hardly time or energy left. How can you find the energy to do a little bit more? Always remember that the faithful stewards were given more. If you are faithful, God will redeem the time, energy and effort you put into your service of stewardship responsibilities. Matthew 25:28.
4. The Principle of Reward
Work is hard. After all, that is why it is named “work” and not “fun.” Why work? Is it only so you can eat, and have a life, a family and things like that? You likely are not going into work on a beautiful clear day because you just love the work. Take this thought to the next level. Why be a good steward? Actually, there are more and better answers to that second question than to “why work?” First, consider who you are a steward for, who you are serving.
23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,
24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
You have to love and respect that last sentence. “It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
Second, it is also what you are working for. Randy Alcorn puts it as bluntly and plainly as it can be said in The Treasure Principle:
We obtain rewards for doing good works (Ephesians 6:8, Romans 2:6, 10), persevering under persecution (Luke 6:22-23), caring for the needy (Matthew 25:20-21), and treating our enemies kindly (Luke 6:35). God also graciously gives us eternal rewards for generous giving: “Go, sell your possessions, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Matthew 19:21).
And that is only a very small fraction of the many times we are told of the rewards awaiting us. In the Parable of the Talents at Matthew 25:21 the master said: “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!”
However, it isn’t just about seeking rewards. Serving and giving and all of the aspects of being a good steward are the product of a changed life. 2 Corinthians 5:17. This is who and what you have become as a product of your new birth. Ephesians 2:10.
Your salvation is not a reward you are given for efforts, work or service. It is a gift from God. Ephesians 2:8-9. Randy Alcorn again says it well when he wrote “Belief determines our eternal destination…where we’ll be. Behavior determines our eternal rewards…what we’ll have.” We do not know the full extent or nature of those rewards but we have an exciting eternity ahead to explore them.
Are you confidant of your rewards? First, be certain of your salvation. Jesus is Lord and He is worthy of your praise. Romans 10:9 says, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Once you know that you know that you know, as Pastor Ken Whitten says it, then it is time to accept the enormous blessings as well as the enormous responsibilities of the new life you have.
About the Author
John Campbell has retired from a 40-year legal practice as a trial attorney in Tampa. He has served in multiple volunteer roles at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida, where he met Jesus. He began serving as the Executive Director of the Idlewild Foundation in 2016. He has been married to the love of his life, Mona Puckett Campbell, since 1972.