Stewardship is one of the more challenging principles of New Testament Christianity, not because it is difficult to understand but because of the all-encompassing nature of its application to daily living. Everything we have is entrusted to our care and must be utilized responsibly. Our time, our abilities, our opportunities, our money, our children, and our lives are all gifts given graciously by God to be used for His glory. Such a reality should humble us and compel us to give determined attention to discharging our responsibilities as faithfully as possible. This begins with a proper understanding of stewardship in general. This article is an attempt to study the fundamental aspects of stewardship so that we may faithfully carry out our obligations to the Master.
There are several Greek words in the New Testament that relate to the concept of stewardship but the two most common– oikonomos and oikonomia–are compound words meaning “house administrator.” In the New Testament world a steward was a servant who was charged with managing the household affairs of his master. He may be responsible for handling business transactions, finances, discipline, banquets, and a number of other items at the master’s discretion. Jesus made the application of this concept to every Christian in the parable recorded in Luke 12:35-48. Notably, He used the word steward (oikonomos) and slave (dulos) interchangeably in the context. Christians are servants of God (Rom. 6:18; Col. 3:24; etc.) who have been entrusted and must faithfully use all that God has given, to His glory. There are three words that best summarize our role as stewards.
First, stewardship involves measurability. In the parable of the talents Jesus said the talents were given to the servants “each according to his own ability” (Matt. 25:15). Another stewardship parable ends with this very challenging statement:
For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more (Luke 12:48).
God blesses people with a variety of different abilities, opportunities, and responsibilities and we much each use what we have to His glory. First Corinthians 12:12-31 identifies the varied nature of the body of Christ and emphasizes the fact that every part–every member–fulfills an important role in the overall function of the body. No member is too small or insignificant. Whether one, five, or ten talents, “as each one has received” (1 Pet. 4:10) so we must use.
Second, stewardship involves responsibility. Stewards in the ancient world were entrusted with the care of their master’s property. Consequently, reliability, trustworthiness, and integrity were required characteristics for each one. Our requirements as stewards are no different. Paul said,
Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful (1 Cor. 4:1-2).
Jesus asked, “Who then is that faithful and wise steward…”(Luke12:42) and later said,“He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much” (Luke 16:10). Fundamental to good stewardship is the faithful use of things entrusted to our care, which are not our property. Every blessing bequeathed to us is on loan.
Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
Responsible stewards recognize that they are entrusted with things that belong to God, and regularly consider whether or not they fulfill their duties in the best way possible.
Third, stewardship involves accountability. Ultimately, every steward will account to the Master for how he has managed the Master’s goods. The stewardship parables clearly emphasize this point as do a number of other passages throughout God’s Word. The Hebrews writer
And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account (Heb. 4:13).
The word “account” has to do with providing an explanation, a reckoning, or giving a record of assets and liabilities. Peter used the same word in 1 Peter 5:7 when he said “They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” Everyone will stand before the judgment seat and answer for how he discharged his duties as a steward. We are accountable to the Master for how we use His goods.
Stewardship is a challenging and humbling concept. Losing sight of our responsibility to faithfully use what God has given us proves easy in the hustle and bustle of life. As we consider our blessings, may we feel compelled to discharge our duties as faithfully as possible, to the glory of our great God.
-Cody Westbrook serves as the minister for the Southwest Church of Christ, Austin, TX.