The concept of biblical stewardship is constantly brought up in a Christian setting. But do we ever really stop to think about what being a good steward actually means?
Seriously, have you ever slowed down and considered how being a steward impacts your life outside of the offering plate and giving to church fundraisers?
The truth is, stewardship has very little to do with cold hard cash. Sure, we apply inherent value to those paper-ish bills in our wallets, but if you obliterated the financial system today, stewardship would still exist tomorrow.
Here are a few thoughts on stewardship, what it is, how it specifically applies to the Bible, and what examples we can see of this enormously important activity both in the scriptures and in our own lives.
Prepare to be lovingly challenged...
I want to start with a very basic explanation of stewardship as a concept. At its root, stewardship tends to boil down to the act of watching, overseeing, or managing something on the behalf of another.
Merriam Webster explains it as “the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care.”
Dictionary.com's stewardship definition uses the phrase “a person who acts as the surrogate of another” adding that they are responsible for “overseeing and protection of something considered worth caring for and preserving.”
Even Wikipedia sheds some useful light on the subject by explaining that stewardship involves the “planning and management of resources.”
I wanted to dig into these “shallow” secular definitions first because even in the eyes of the world the act of being a steward is really important. It involves responsibility and accountability. It takes work and attention.
The term surrogate particularly stands out to me here. In many ways, as Christians, we are God’s surrogates in, to, and for his creation. In other words, we are acting on behalf of someone else when we interact with the world around us.
This is important to realize, as it establishes the fact that we are clearly in a position of authority that is, in and of itself, subject to a higher authority.
Okay, so we have a good idea of what it means to be a steward. But what does it look like to practice stewardship from a Biblical perspective?
Interestingly, the New Testament word for stewardship comes from the Greek word oikonomos, which basically means the manager of the affairs of a household or in other words, work. This guarduanship position is clearly shown throughout the Bible from beginning to end (more on those examples in a minute.)
When it comes to being good stewards through the lens of a Biblical mindset, in particular, it turns out that one of the primary factors that make us good Stewards is a life intimately spent with Christ. No, that’s not a cop-out answer. It is the answer. A life spent with the master naturally makes the servant a better manager of their affairs.
In a sense Biblical stewardship is a responsibility, a duty, dare I saw an obligation of Christians. We’re required to impact, care for, utilize, and manage the affairs of creation in whatever way God brings us into contact with it.
This isn’t a silent partnership with God, either. Biblical stewardship involves going “all in” with our time, effort, sacrifice, talents, and resources — and when I say “our,” the truth is, they’re all His anyway. That’s why being good stewards is such a crucial part of the Christian lifestyle.
There are countless fruits that come with good stewardship. In fact, it was Matthew Henry who said, “God’s good stewards have something to show for their diligence.”
While many of the results of being good stewards are tangible, human beings — i.e. helping the helpless, tithing, caring for the Earth, etc. — there are also instances where the act of christian stewardship creates results on the inside. For instance:
Here are a few questions we can ask ourselves to better gauge how well we’re operating as stewards:
Is being a good steward making you a more responsible individual? Is it increasing your sense of accountability? Do you find yourself more willing or even eager to serve others?
John Wesley answered this one best when he said, “Do you not know that God entrusted you with that money (all above what buys necessities for your families) to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to help the stranger, the widow, the fatherless; and, indeed, as far as it will go, to relieve the wants of all mankind? How can you, how dare you, defraud the Lord, by applying it to any other purpose?”
Is your stewardship disconnecting you from your possessions and making it easier to help those in need?
Being a steward doesn’t have to look like Denethor leading Gondor without a king in The Lord of the Rings. Biblical stewardship is an intimate activity that should push us closer to a God that is very present and active in his Creation.
Again, I’ll turn to the theologians on this one. R.C. Sproul hit this on the head when he said, “Fundamentally, 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.”
Are you reflecting the image of your Creator as a steward of his creation?
Alright, while we’ve discussed meanings, benefits, and concepts so far, I always like to drive these home with examples. Let’s take a minute to consider just a handful of times that we see stewardship in the Bible.
The first few chapters of Genesis revolve around stewardship — and not just the fact that humanity is called to be stewards of Creation, either. They also establish the absolute truth that God created everything.
Why does that matter in this context? Because it makes it crystal clear that any righteous authority within creation is rooted in the Creator. In other words, everything in creation is under God, and therefore any authority you have comes to you via the position of a steward.
Then, of course, there’s the most iconic form of stewardship in all of Christianity. God makes man in His own image and then He “let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” (Gen 1:26b King James Version — used throughout).
The most practical version of God given guardianship that we see in the Bible comes from Joseph. The man serves as a steward both in Potiphar’s house and as the Pharaoh’s right hand over the entire nation of Egypt.
Throughout his life, this man consistently shows what it takes to care for a master’s possessions. He helps Potiphar’s household thrive and even protects his master’s wife from himself. When he’s promoted to second in command in the whole nation, he does his best to protect the Pharaoh’s threatened resources, literally saving countless lives while doing so.
King David, the man, was an awesome king, and most of his time in leadership provides us with examples of good stewards that looks to God for guidance. However, I’m going to pick on him a little bit here.
In 1 Chronicles chapter 21, David insists on taking a census of the nation of Israel even though he knows God doesn’t want him to. Eventually, God punishes him for his lack of faith and nearly destroys Jerusalem.
While David repents, the episode shows us that even the best stewards can act out of their own fear of failure. David was afraid that Israel wasn’t strong enough to protect itself, and ultimately he let that fear drive his actions — even when they didn’t line up with the Lord’s.
Jesus Christ’s parable of the talents
In Matthew 25 Jesus gives us one of the most classic examples of being a good stewards in the form of the parable of the talents. The lesson shows three servants that are entrusted with the wealth of their master.
In this case, the failure doesn’t come from failing to protect and preserve, but rather a lack of motivation to build on what was given.
In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus Christ tells his disciples that “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations.” He also instructs them to baptize and teach these new disciples.
While Genesis feels like a big deal, in truth, this spiritual transference of authority is one of the biggest moments of Christian stewardship in the entire Bible. It literally assigns the entire Church the task of continuing the work of Jesus Christ himself.
Of course, the Holy Spirit is sent to help us with the work (God really doesn’t leave any loose ends, God doesn't make mistakes, does he?). This concept of God-given stewardship comes up multiple times after this, too. One example that comes to mind is when Paul refers to himself and Apollos as God’s workers in 1 Cor 3:9.
Needless to say, there are countless examples of being a Christian and good stewards throughout the Bible. Some are positive. Others are negative. All of them are worthy of our attention.
Now, before you stop reading and sign off, I want to address one more thing. Sure, there are great examples of being good stewards in the Bible, but how can we apply it to our own lives? Here are some thoughts I have on areas where stewardship can be expressed in the modern Christian life:
Any number of CCM lyrics have stated it, and I’ll do it again. Your life isn’t your own — it’s on loan from God. This naturally fills your entire life with the purpose of stewardship. Everything you do is an action rooted in your role as stewards in your life.
The church is a huge area where the call of stewardship endures — even two thousand years after Christ gave us the Great Commission. Much like our personal lives, expressing stewardship here is a multi-faceted affair that includes caring for congregants, the local community, and even the church building, sign, website, giving managment and so on.
Stewardship is very present in family life, whether you’re talking about caring for a marriage, raising children, or even organizing and overseeing a house.
In addition, it can be seen in the workplace. It doesn’t matter if you’re a manager, a team leader, or you’re just caring for company property. Stewardship is an integral part of professional life.
Regardless of your views on climate change and the environment, being a good steward is part and parcel of the Christian lifestyle. It’s literally one of the first things that God entrusts mankind to care for.
If you aren’t making smart choices that keep God’s entire creation in mind, you may need to reconsider your motives.
Now, before you take stewardship as a call to be rich, let me say that the goal here isn’t to amass wealth.
Good stewardship requires making wise choices that don’t tie your own emotions into each decision — i.e. you’re managing God’s resources, not your own. Do this faithfully and without attaching your own hopes and dreams to the success or failure of those resources.
At the end of the day, taking on stewardship responsibilities isn’t just important. It’s an essential part of our walk as Christians.
So take some time to reevaluate your own actions. Seriously, do it right now if you can. Are you being a good steward? What can you do to improve? Pray, consider, and reorient yourself if necessary. The fruits of your stewardship will follow in time.