“WHO THEN IS THAT FAITHFUL AND WISE STEWARD?” asked our Savior (Luke 12:42). He answered His own question by three parables. These involved a householder and his servants, a bridegroom and waiting virgins, and three servants who were given a sum of money to invest (Matthew 24:45—25:30). Three things are common to the parables. First, there is an absent Lord, plainly representing the Lord Jesus. Second, there are those left behind with responsibilities. Obviously, these are believers with duties and opportunities. Third, there is the necessity of awaiting the master’s return and being suitably prepared, just as believers are to be alert for the Second Coming of Christ. The challenge and warning for us as stewards is to be prepared for a reckoning with our Master, who will come and assess how we have managed what He has given us in trust.
What is a steward? He is one who manages the household or property that belongs to another. In the Old Testament it meant “one over a house.” The believer’s status is that of a manager because God is the owner of all things. “All that is in the heaven and in the earth is Thine” (1 Chronicles 29:11). “All things come of Thee, and of Thine own have we given Thee” (1 Chronicles 29:14). “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7 NIV). The evident answer is, “Nothing!” Moreover, the Lord has purchased us by means of His precious blood (1 Peter 1:18-19). We are not our own, because we are bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Therefore, all we are and have belongs to our Owner. Thus we simply manage for Him all that is in our trust and render to Him a return on His investment. Our management is a test of (1) our faithfulness in diligently handling our responsibilities (1 Corinthians 4:2); (2) our honesty in not wasting or otherwise misusing His goods (Luke 16:11); (3) our productivity in bringing a large return on the investment (Matthew 25:20-21); and (4) our loyalty to Him as our absent King (Luke 19:13-14). We need also to understand the principle that good managers are rewarded and bad ones are penalized or removed.
What Do We Manage?
Life itself is a sacred stewardship. The Lord gave us life or we would not have it. All souls are His (Ezekiel 18:4). He is “the God of all flesh” (Jeremiah 32:27). As a vapor we appear upon earth and vanish at His pleasure (James 4:14-15). Therefore, we live according to His pleasure, not our discretion. This simple realization should impress upon us our responsibilities to God. The wise believer, therefore, will present his body to the Lord (Romans 12:1). He will yield every member to God’s service (Romans 6:13). Stewardship may be considered under several headings.
1. Time. “My times are in Thy hand,” cried a godly man (Psalm 31:15). The Lord may prescribe a normal lifespan (Psalm 90:10). He may shorten it (Psalm 102:23-24). He may lengthen it (Proverbs 10:27; Isaiah 38:5). God advises us to number our days and apply our hearts to wisdom (Psalm 90:12). We should “redeem the time” (Ephesians 5:16), using each moment wisely. The Scriptures greatly emphasize the brevity of life, likening it to grass, or flowers that fade or a tale that is told. The moral is: use time for God—do not waste it!
2. Talents. The word “talents” in Scripture refers to a sum of money, but it represents varying abilities (Matthew 25:14-30). Intelligence, special knowledge or skills, physical aptitudes and appearance flow from the provision of God, although men often take credit for them. Spiritual gifts are given believers as enablements to build up others in the church (1 Corinthians 12:4-7). We are to use these for the common good (1 Peter 4:10). Self-development for selfish interests is contrary to God’s purpose.
3. Truth. We are “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1). All spiritual knowledge, especially that of God and the Gospel, is a sacred trust in a world of ignorance and darkness. When we know the Word of God we are like the owner of a house with a storeroom of treasure (Matthew 13:52 NIV). We must share the treasure with others, not stockpile it for our own enjoyment.
4. Treasure. There is a peculiar temptation, even for believers, to live with our highest value upon material possessions rather than upon the things of God. Either riches or God will tend to rule us. The Lord Jesus said we cannot serve both (Luke 16:13). Money gains us friends when we invest it for eternity (Luke 16:9). However, it can become our enemy through misuse and be used as evidence against us (James 5:1-3). The rich man who wound up in hell forgot that possessions were only in his care for a time (Luke 16:19-26). Gold and silver all belong to God, not to the monetary kings of the earth (Haggai 2:8). The cattle of a thousand hills belong to God, not to wealthy ranchers (Psalm 50:10).
Specific attention must be given to the subject of material offerings to the Lord (Exodus 35:5,22). Please note that an offering is not a donation. It is a presentation of a representative portion of what God has graciously placed in our hands. God carefully notes our stewardship here as is seen in Mark 12:41-44, where Jesus is observing the people as they cast money into the treasury. He said that a poor widow, with two coins, gave more than all the rest combined because she gave her all out of poverty, while they gave out of abundance. There are several principles that ought to govern our offerings.
a. Principle of Firstfruits (Proverbs 3:9-10). Just as the first harvest grain was given to God, so also the first part of our income should be set aside for Him. Obviously, by this method, we do not run out of money before we get around to God.
b. Principle of Sacrifice (2 Samuel 24:24). If it does not cost you something, then do not give it to God. Leftovers or inferior offerings insult God (Malachi 1:8). Note the example of the Lord Jesus as a sacrificial giver (2 Corinthians 8:2-15).
c. Principle of Worship (Matthew 26:7-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 7:37-38). In two separate instances, women came to the Lord Jesus and anointed Him with costly perfume as an act of devotion. This was considered more valuable than a gift to the poor. All giving should be an act of spiritual worship, the privilege of God’s saints. People are sometimes given the impression that God is always needy or low on funds. Jesus is never recorded as taking a public offering at any of His meetings or asking for funds. Disciples “ministered unto Him of their substance” (Luke 8:3). The earliest Christian workers “went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles” (3 John 7). Regrettably, later generations took a great deal from them.
What About the Tithe?
It has been seen that Jesus thought the widow had given more proportionately than all the other contributors. For hundreds of years, however, many believers have used a tithe (or tenth) as a minimum yardstick. What about this today? Let us review the history of the tithe:
1. Tithes were given before the Law of Moses (Genesis 14:20; 28:22).
2. Tithes were given under the Law of Moses (Leviticus 27:30; Numbers 18:21-28; Deuteronomy 12:6,11,17). At the end of the Old Testament period, lapse of tithing was condemned by God as robbery (Malachi 3:8-10; Haggai 1:4-6). At the time of the Gospels, tithing was practiced, although with self-righteousness (Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42; 18:12).
3. Giving after Pentecost (the beginning of the church of Christ) is evidently on a different principle because there is no mention of the tithe in the Acts or the epistles. In 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, the believers were commanded to give regularly (“the first day of the week”), inclusively (“every one of you”), systematically (“lay by him in store”), and proportionately (“as God hath prospered him”).
Love and appreciation for Christ should be the Christian’s motivation for giving, not the Mosaic Law or the example of Old Testament saints. Christ’s sacrificial self-giving on the cross is our example. Our motivation should be the inner prompting of the Spirit, not the outward compulsion of a prescribed yardstick. This is a differing, but not a lesser, motivation. Should a Christian under grace do less than a Jew under the Law? The call of discipleship demands for believers to “forsake all” (Luke 14:33; Matthew 19:29). No such demand was imposed by the Law. Sacrificial giving under the new standard should exceed, not fall below, the old standard. Giving is to be unto Christ, not to projects, persons or organizations, although it may be channeled through the local church or directed to godly individuals.
Here are some guidelines in stewardship of money. Pray about your gifts, instead of deciding impulsively. Confer with knowledgeable, mature believers. Read carefully good missionary magazines or reports. Be responsible to the work of your local church. Disregard the flood of mail or radio solicitations as necessarily being God’s voice for you to give. Support those who genuinely look to God for their support and who do not beg for funds. Avoid giving to those who have a high overhead in promotional expenses, lavish publications or expensive building enterprises. Particularly avoid those who use manipulative techniques, such as trying to extract money by using pictures of starving orphans or by promising you a financial return for giving.
How Must We Manage?
One is impressed with the great emphasis in the New Testament upon being faithful. It is the faithful steward who is praised (Matthew 25:21-23). It is the faithful servant who is noted (Colossians 1:7; 4:7,9). Jesus said, “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much” (Luke 16:10). God often uses small things to test our readiness to manage larger things. Material things test us for responsibility in spiritual things (Luke 16:11). Earthly responsibilities determine our fitness for eternal responsibilities (Luke 19:17,19). Furthermore, the more we are given to manage, the more we will be accountable to God (Luke 12:48).
What hinders us as stewards? Selfishness overcomes our call to share our lives with others. We covet instead of being satisfied with what God has given. We are proud instead of humbly realizing that all we have is a gift of God. We are ungrateful, crowding out a spirit of thanksgiving and praise. We are fearful and anxious instead of trusting our Father who knows our needs and promises to sustain us. We are short-sighted, looking much at the things of time and little at the things of God’s eternal kingdom.
Every manager must expect to be evaluated by his superiors. So it is with the believer before God. “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10 NASB). This judgment is to evaluate our life and service as stewards. It is not a judgment upon our sins. Managing our lives and God’s resources is likened unto building a house upon a foundation. That foundation is Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross (1 Corinthians 3:11). Our work is to build wisely upon that foundation. If we do well, we receive a reward. If not, we suffer loss (1 Corinthians 3:14-15). How are you managing what God has entrusted to you?
Managing God’s Resources
l. A steward is one who takes care of or manages another’s property or possessions. From the following passages make a list of things that God owns but over which He has made us stewards:
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Haggai 2:8
Matthew 25:14 1 Peter 4:10
Ephesians 5:16 1 Corinthians 4:7
2. What two areas of stewardship does God consider to be a part of our worship to Him?
Romans 12:1 Philippians 4:18
3. What character traits does God look for in a steward?
Matthew 24:45-51 Matthew 25:14-30
Matthew 25:1-13 Luke 19:11-27
4. As shown above, giving of our material possessions is an important area of stewardship. Read 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 and answer the following questions:
When is the Christian instructed to give?
Who should give?
What expression emphasizes planning in advance to give?
How much should one give?
5. How much did the Old Testament patriarchs Abraham and Jacob voluntarily give (Genesis 28:22; Hebrews 7:1-2)?
How much were the Jews commanded to give under the Law (Hebrews 7:5)?
What should be our pattern for giving today (2 Corinthians 8:9)? How is it different from the Old Testament pattern?
6. What should be our attitude in giving (2 Corinthians 9:7; 1 Corinthians 13:3; Matthew 6:1-4)?
What was lacking in the Corinthians’ giving (2 Corinthians 8:8-11) in contrast to the way the Macedonians gave (vv. 1-5)?
7. Does God need our gifts (Psalm 50:10-12)?__________Who really benefits from our giving (Philippians 4:17)?
8. From the following verses list the positive results of giving to God versus the negative results of withholding material goods:
Verse Giving Withholding
2 Corinthians 9:6,8________________________________________________________
1 Timothy 6:9-11_________________________________________________________
Who should we consider in our giving (Proverbs 19:17; 1 Corinthians 9:14; Galatians 6:6; James 2:15-16)?
What principles would you consider in giving to a Christian organization other than the local church?
10. Are you satisfied with your current giving to the Lord? What will you do differently as a result of this lesson?