If you have ever done a woodworking project you know that getting it square is vitally important. You can have all the measurements right (theology), but if you do not make them square and level they will not fit together perfectly and be as functional as they should be (lifestyle). A Christian/biblical worldview is foundational to building a lifestyle that is a glory to God, and stewardship is what you build upon that foundation, whether it is gold, silver, precious stones, or wood, hay, and straw. Each one’s work will be manifest by fire in that Day (II Cor.3:10ff.).
It is interesting that some of Jesus’ last teachings before going to the cross concerned His second coming and the judgment to follow. He also taught in this context about what was expected of those who were servants and stewards in the Kingdom of God. “As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the son of Man…Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Mt.24:37,44).
There is one special story Jesus told about a servant whom the Master set over his household and asked the question as to whether the servant was wise or wicked. Here we find some lessons about stewardship that will help our lifestyle fit with our theology. First, it teaches us that stewardship is about identity, namely that we must see ourselves as stewards/servants who belong to the Master. If we get this wrong then our whole lifestyle of stewardship will not be perfectly square. The Creator/owner of all creation is the Sovereign Lord. This is seen in such familiar texts as Psalms 24:1; 50: All mankind is a servant/steward in the Kingdom of God with a creation mandate as image bearers to rule and oversee all that the Lord has put in our care (Psa.8:4-9).
Since we live in a prosperous and materialistic culture, the question Jesus poses is very pertinent for Christians today. “Who is a faithful and wise servant whom his Master made ruler over his household?” The vain philosophies of this world blur the lines of distinction between ownership and stewardship. How often do Christians fall into thinking they are owners of all they possess and manage in their lives? Are they more concerned about being image-bearers or image-makers? The more possessions one is able to gain and control, the more important that person begins to feel, and the greater he sees his self-image as being successful. Thoughts of ownership tend to creep into one’s thinking the more a person accumulates.
The danger of this misperception of identity leads to a materialistic and hedonistic lifestyle. The Lord teaches about these dangers in other parables such as the rich farmer who had such a bumper crop that he sought to build bigger and better barns, and eat, drink, and be merry. Are you more interested in building the servant-image of Christ in yourself, or making an image of worldly success? The late missionary Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose.”
A second aspect of stewardship is about character and its impact on the servant’s involvement in carrying out his duties. The traits that the Master is looking for in his servants are faithfulness and wisdom.
The Lord sees these as two essential characteristics of a servant. When a person understands and accepts his role as a servant of the Lord then he will understand how important these two traits are. Stewardship is about responsibility and accountability.
What responsibilities does a servant manage? There are several that come to mind. One is time, another is things.
The servant in the parable in Mt.24:45-51 has an assignment for that interval of time when the Master is away. As Christians today that means we are to be managing the time between the Lord’s ascension and his coming again. Time is an un-renewable resource available to us; it is important to manage it well by setting priorities for what we are called to do. The parable specified that the servant over the household of the Master was to give to the other members of the household their food at the proper time. He was to faithfully carry out this duty on a daily basis. As stewards in the Kingdom of God, Paul admonishes us to redeem the time in these evil days. Time and watchfulness are the essence of stewardship effectiveness.
The steward needed to be wise in the manner in which he carried out this task. (You will find that in Acts 6 those who were the prototype of deacons were to be men full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.) You might think a diaconal task seemed to be rather mundane, and not requiring much wisdom, but it is little things that the wise do not leave unattended, and the Lord says that if this servant is found to be faithful in even a small task that he would be rewarded with greater responsibility upon the Master’s return. A wise steward builds on the foundation of his faith, gold, silver, and precious stones.
The servant was using the resources the Master had given him for the good of those in the household, and so should it be in the household of faith. Stewardship is about managing resources, and giving to the needs of other members in the body of Christ. It is also about sharing the treasure of the gospel with those who have not yet heard the good news, as Paul says in I Cor.4:1-2,”This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.”
The problem today with so many Christians is they have cut their theological planks straight, but they have not been faithful and wise in the discharge of their duties as assigned by the Master. Some look like the wicked servant in Mt. 24:48. What are some of the common excuses Christians give? They are too busy with their own households to be able to give time to ministry in the church. Others are prone to laziness, not interested in going to the fields to reap the harvest. Procrastination grips the minds of others because there is not a sense of urgency to carry out the mission given by the Lord. It is the syndrome of the wicked servant who thinks that the Master has delayed his coming, and therefore he will quench his own desires first. Leaders particularly need to watch themselves against making such excuses, and thus failing in their stewardship.
When you look at a faithful and wise servant you will see he manages well because he knows there will come a time when he will be held accountable. He is looking and watching for that day. “Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes” (Mt. 24:46). Remember the words of Jesus, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect,” followed by “the master of the servant (wicked) will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know.” Christians today need to take heed to the warnings by the Lord to evaluate their stewardship responsibilities. The character of a steward is to be diligent, watchful, trustworthy, and responsible.
Stewardship is also about investing.This is not about the “name it, claim it” prosperity gospel that is being preached in some circles. The kind of investing that Jesus is teaching is investing in heaven, which involves giving here on earth to provide for Kingdom work and meeting the needs of others. A good example is seen in the early church in Acts 2 and 4.The generosity of the believers was a testimony of the power of the gospel. Their theology and lifestyle were in square. They preached and they gave, and the Lord added to the church those who were being saved.
James the brother of Jesus writes a warning to those whose interests are purely selfish, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions… Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” (James 4:3, 4).
Then he follows in chapter 5:1-3:”Come now, you rich weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days.”
James goes on to tell about their failure (in stewardship) to care for the needs of those who were their responsibility. What a lesson this ought to be for Christians today. Jesus’ words about laying up treasure in heaven rather than upon this earth need to be proclaimed with great urgency.
Pay attention to the following missionary’s story about a businessman traveling in Korea. The businessman saw a young man pulling a plow with an elderly man following. “May I take a picture of them?” he asks the missionary.
“Yes,” was the quiet reply, “those two men happen to be Christians. When their church was being built they wanted to give something, they had no money so they sold their one ox. This spring they are pulling the plow themselves.”
The businessman said, “That must have been a real sacrifice.”
“They did not call it that, they thought of themselves fortunate they had an ox to sell,” said the missionary.
When the businessman returned home he showed the picture to his pastor. Then he said, “I want to double my giving to the church and do some plow work.”
According to most surveys of Christians today, if they were to double their giving it still would not amount to ten percent. As a steward, are you building a lifestyle that squares with your theology?