Stewardship Topical Study

Preaching and Worship Resources about Stewardship

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Stewardship is the management of valuable resources or the management of affairs in some domain. The resources may include money, time, energy, animals, plants, water, employees, access to power, God's grace, and "the mysteries of God." Domains may include an estate, a household, a ship, a shop, or one's own character and life. Responsible dominion over the earth is a significant part of the image of God within human beings.

In Scripture

"God said, `Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.' So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, `Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth'" (Gen. 1:26 - 28).

"Joseph found favor in [Potiphar's] sight and attended him; [Potiphar] made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the Lord blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field. So he left all that he had in Joseph's charge; and, with him there, he had no concern for anything but the food that he ate" (Gen. 39:4 - 6).

"When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, `Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first'" (Matt. 20:8).

"`For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money'" (Matt. 25:14 - 18).

"And he said to them, `Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away'" (Mark 4:24 - 25).

"From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded" (Luke 12:48).

"Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God's mysteries" (1 Cor. 4:1).

"Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received" (1 Pet. 4:10).

Points to Ponder

Many of us think of stewardship as money management—and it is. We earn money, we budget it, we spend only within our means, we save for a rainy day, we charitably give away some of our money, and we provide for those who are dependent on us. We splurge, but rarely. Money stewardship is a solid part of our human responsibility, and good stewards work at their responsibility with alertness and reliability. After all, everything good that we have, including money, ultimately comes from God. Where our money management is concerned, we would therefore like to be in range when God says, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

But stewardship includes so much more than money. Good stewards manage their time too. They think of their time as a valuable resource to be spent wisely. They wouldn't want to waste it. They would never dream of killing it. They fill their time with responsible thinking, acting, and speaking. They make plenty of room within it for their loved ones. They make space within their time for the worship of God, their top priority.

Responsible dominion: Early in Genesis, God assigns human beings authority in the created world — what we might call "responsible dominion." This is a central part of the image of God in us. God the king assigns subkingdoms in which, under God, we human beings have our say. "Let them have dominion," says God. "Let them take responsibility for keeping the earth, for respecting the integrity of kinds, and times, and seasons. Let human beings discover the character of other creatures and do what they can to assist these creatures to act in character."

Dominion as exploitation? A controversy has brewed over this feature of the image of God. Critics charge Jews and Christians with turning Genesis dominion into a license for trashing the earth instead of keeping it; for exploiting animals instead of husbanding them. And, sorry to say, some of this criticism is on the mark. Christians and others have sometimes taken dominion as justification for the "conquest" of nature — language that once appeared routinely in social science textbooks (Daniel Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology, Eerdmans, 1991, pp. 81 - 84). The language of conquest suggested that we humans were at war with God's non-human creation, that roaming herds and burgeoning forests are somehow our enemy. Such language showed that we had lost the Biblical portrait of shalom, and that we needed to repent and recover it.

Not conquest, but stewardship: Nonetheless, the Bible is not the problem here. The Bible speaks of dominion not in the sense of conquest, but in the sense of stewardship. After all, how does God himself exercise dominion? How does God demonstrate hospitality in creation and providence?

Lording under: In the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed, dominion is never "lording over"; it's more like "lording under" by way of support. In the kingdom of God, to have dominion is to care for the well-being of others. To have dominion is to act like the mediator of creation. This means that a human steward of God's good creation will never exploit or pillage; instead, she will give creation room to be itself. She will respect it, care for it, and empower it. Her goal is to live in healthy interdependence with it. The person who practices good animal husbandry, forest management, and water conservation shows respect for God by showing respect for what God has made.

Stewards of the mysteries of God: In one striking verse, St. Paul refers to himself and his ministry associates as "stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Cor. 4:1). This is paradoxical. Stewards are businesslike people. They deal in order, rationality, and practicality. But mysteries are elusive, evasive, and beyond rationality. Yet we can get a sense of Paul's meaning. He preached Christ crucified — seemingly a terrible defeat of the Son of God and the mission of God. But in the providence of God, the crucified Christ himself defeated death, disarmed "the powers," atoned for sin, arose triumphant from the grave, and assured heavenly hope for his followers. Mysteries abound here, and Paul dispensed them gladly.

Stewardship of character: Finally, one of the most important forms of stewardship we have is over our own character. Yes, virtues are God's gift, the fruit of the Spirit. But they are also our own human calling. We are to cultivate and tend them, suppressing our vices and encouraging our virtues. Paul says we must "clothe" ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience (Col. 3:12). This suggests strongly that acquiring virtue is within our power. The key is to long for it. The serious Christian longs all the time — for God and the beauty of God, for Christ and Christlikeness, for the dynamite of the Holy Spirit and spiritual maturity. She longs to be patient, to be able to absorb nuisances and injuries without passing them back. She wants to love and to be loved, to pour out value on others and to receive value from them with gratitude. She knows that gratitude is a powerful engine of joy, and she feels gratitude and joy even on small occasions and from simple things. She lets herself go in service of others because she knows she will get herself back. She keeps her promises. She weeps with those who weep and rejoices with those who rejoice. She does all these things in faith. And when her faith slips, she retains enough faith to believe that the Spirit of God will one day secure her faith again.

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Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.