The Truth About Biblical Stewardship (Part 1)
Stewardship is a popular word today. Go to almost any church on any given Sunday, and you will most likely hear stewardship used to set up the offering or introduce a building program or a capital campaign.
Unfortunately, today’s prominent usage of the word stewardship no longer represents the biblical definition and requires us to look deeper into its true meaning.
Biblical Stewardship Explained
Biblical stewardship is the act of living as a steward. What is a steward? In modern society, a steward is often seen as a low-level position as in a cabin steward on a cruise ship. But in biblical times a steward was a very highly regarded person who had proven himself to be exceptionally trustworthy. As a result, a wealthy master would have complete confidence entrusting his significant possessions to the steward. The steward would be expected to manage the wealth of his master in the same way the master would manage it himself. No one got to serve as a steward if they were not proven trustworthy.
In short, a steward is one who has been entrusted with the possessions of another to use in the best interest of the owner. A steward is never under the false impression that he owns any of what he is managing. If the steward began to act like an owner, he would no longer be qualified to be a steward. Both master and steward were crystal clear as to who the true owner was.
I think it was Larry Burkett who used the analogy of a modern-day steward as a bank president. The president of a bank has a significant stewardship responsibility to every single “owner” of the funds in his bank. He knows he does not own the money in the bank although he is held accountable for the wise management of the funds. The reason people deposit their money in the bank is that they trust their money will be stewarded well knowing the bank president has no claim of ownership over the money.
But what if the bank president started to act like an owner and not a steward? How would the true owners respond if the bank president started moving the money into his personal account? Very quickly the owners would demand their money back, and the president would be facing some jail time. Ownership versus stewardship matters in the banking world and it matters in our personal and spiritual lives as well.
The Bible makes it clear that God created everything and even though He has entrusted much to each of us, His name is still on the title. God is the owner, and we are His stewards. If we become confused about that and begin to act like owners, we lose the right to be considered a steward.
The Parable Of The Talents
Perhaps the single clearest example of the relationship between the owner and the steward is seen in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-29, which says,
“… a man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 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. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. “After a long time, the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 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.’
“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!’
“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.’ “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!’ “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. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ “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? 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. “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 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.”
Here we see the master entrusting different amounts of his wealth to his “stewards” to manage just before leaving on a long journey. This passage points out some important characteristics of the role of a steward and his relationship with the master.
The master determined the amount each steward was to manage. The steward did not control the amount to be managed only the decisions regarding its usage.
The master expected each steward to be faithful with his wealth. A steward who is unwise in managing the master’s money loses the right be called a steward.
Even though it may take a while, there will eventually be a time when each steward is called to account by the master for his stewardship. A steward will be asked the question, “What did you do with what I gave you?”
The amount gained was not the issue, but the faithfulness displayed. The master gave the same hearty, “Well done, my good a faithful servant (steward)” to the one who doubled his five bags of gold as the one who gained only two.
Observing faithfulness in his stewards brought happiness to the master. The master’s reaction shows not only his joy but a desire to share an even closer relationship with his stewards.
The unfaithful steward failed in his role as steward driven by fear. “I was afraid and went and hid your gold in the ground.” His fear was so great it clouded his logical thinking. He did not even consider leaving it with the bankers to at least gain some interest.
There are negative ramifications to unfaithfulness by a steward. Not only is the trust relationship with the master damaged but his unfaithfulness disqualified him from being a steward in the future. The gold he failed to steward wisely was given to another who had proven himself to be trustworthy.
In the greater context, each of us has been called to be God’s steward of His resources. May we take that role seriously as we seek to hear someday from the Father—“Well done my good a faithful steward!”