Stewardship is an important biblical word and vital Christian concept. Unfortunately, we usually think it refers only to money.
A steward is one who has been given the responsibility to manage or care for someone or something. He’s not the owner. The steward is simply the caretaker. He’s the manager of property belonging to another. As a result, the steward is accountable to the actual owner.
The Bible says that God is the owner of everything and that he gives humanity a stewardship to care for and manage his gifts. Our lives are to be comprehensively God-Centered. God owns everything. We do not. Everything is ultimately for God, not us.
In theory, this all sounds right and good. Few Christians would dispute it. However, the issue of stewardship being lived out is a perennial problem for believers. For example, when you read these verses, don't you have a little something inside of you that wants to resist them? Or at least qualify them?
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)
Can you imagine putting one of these as your life verse? Whether I live or die, it's all Christ! And I'm good with either. Let me live and I'll magnify Jesus. Take my life and I go and see Jesus. It's all Jesus; and I'm good with that! I do all for the glory of God. I do everything, everyday, all the time, for the showcasing of the glory of God. That's me.
Sometimes we encounter these verses and their corresponding principles and say, "Oh, that's just Paul being Paul. That is varsity Christianity. I play on the little league team." Instead of taking these verses to be literal and personal they become ethereal.
It shouldn’t be this way. Paul and other Christians viewed this as the right response to the gospel. They viewed life in light of a stewardship. They worked for and served God in light of his ownership of all things.
Jonathan Edwards, the 18th Century preacher and writer understood the concept of gospel stewardship when he wrote his 70 Resolutions. These personal declarations of what and who he wanted to be pivoted out of the fact that he was to be a steward of his entire life. Here is a sampling:
# 52 I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age. July 8, 1723.
#70 Let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak.
# 6 Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.
# 4 Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it.
# 5 Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.
# 7 Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.
Quite an impressive list, and it's only a sampling. The point with Edwards and the Apostle Paul is that the Christian must view his/her life in terms of a stewardship. Far from being exclusively on the varsity team, stewardship is to be characteristic of every Christian.
How Do We Become Good Stewards?
Start by remembering these three truths:
1) God is the owner and giver of all good things.
In the beginning there was only God. If we were to undo every moment all the way back to the beginning we would be left with God. He initiated and brought forth creation. (Genesis 1:1, 2; Psalm 24:1, 2)
There is nothing that is that is not God's. He has the title deed to everything from crickets to countries. He is the owner of our time as well as our treasures. He is the basis and end of our joy. It's all his.
In fact, the Bible goes so far as to say that every good gift is from him: Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17)
When we start thinking about what we have, we must remember that it is not ultimately our own. We are stewards of what God has given us.
2) Sin corrupts God's good gifts by making them about us.
Instead of seeing God's good gifts as from God and for his glory we often make them about us and for our glory. Romans 1:18-25 says that a big part of what’s wrong with the world is that instead of honoring God and giving him thanks, we worship and serve the creation. This is the ultimate perversion of a gift. It is to take a gift that we are to be stewards over and make ourselves the owner of it instead. Who get's slighted in this scenario? God. It’s his glory that is robbed when we make much of ourselves instead of him.
I remember a conversation with one of our little children. She was eating some chips and I asked for one. She turned her back and said, "No. These are mine." In what sense were they hers? She could not even open the bag herself, much less create them out of nothing. She is dependent on countless people to provide those chips for her. They are not "hers." That’s exactly how we act with the gifts of God. Our favorite word is the favorite word of the toddler: “mine.” This is my body, my money, my time, my life, my house, my clothes, my job, my family, my, my, my, my. This is what happens when we take what we are supposed to be stewards of and make ourselves the owner of them. These are gifts from God that we are accountable for. Sin, however, corrupts these good gifts by making them about us.
When we think about stewardship we have to think about what sin has done to corrupt our own hearts and minds. Sin turns God’s gifts on their head and makes them about us rather than God.
3) The Gospel liberates us to glorify God through faithful stewardship.
The good news is that the gospel liberates us from this bondage. The gospel rescues us from squandering God's good gifts by making us stewards of them. The gospel causes us to be grateful and giving. Gratitude and generosity are the characteristics of gospel stewardship.
A great example of this in the Bible is Levi, also known as Matthew. In Luke 5:27-32 we read that this tax collector was converted and followed Jesus. He made restitution for his robbery and threw a party for Jesus and his friends. The one who was all about himself (greedy) became about others (generous). That’s exactly what the gospel does; it frees us from squandering God’s gifts by making us stewards of them.
The gospel simultaneously loosens our grip on this world by giving us eyes to see the world to come. The result is a gospel stewardship that reflects grace and gratitude.
That’s not super Christianity. That’s mere Christianity.