ESSENTIALS OF CHRISTIAN STEWARDSHIP
Then God said “Let us make people in our image, to be like ourselves. They will be masters over all life…… so God created people in His own image. God patterned them after Himself, male and female He created them. God blessed them and told them. Multiply and fill the earth and subdue it. Be masters over the fish and birds and all animals” Gen. 1:26-28 (NLT).
Stewardship is a popular term in the household of faith associated often with the words like ‘tithe’, ‘generosity’ and ‘money’. While these associations are not wrong, stewardship means much more than simply glowing time, talent and treasure. Christian stewardship is the administration of the grace of God bestowed on individual Christian. It is a way of living in which we recognize that everything belongs to God and that all resources must be used for God`s glory and the common good of mankind. Stewardship demands a way of life that encourages virtue and bears the fruit of relationship among people.
WHO IS A STEWARD?
A steward handles affairs for someone else. In ancient kingdoms, stewards ran the country in the absence of the king. Upon the king`s return, the steward gave a full account of his actions. Even in the presence of the king, stewards sometimes often handled the daily affairs of the kingdom. However, a steward is not the owner of the kingdom. It is the king that gives conditions of when and how long a steward would serve him.
BIBLICAL EXAMPLES OF STEWARDSHIP
In the scripture, there are many examples that explain the concept of stewardship. Abraham had a steward. He was Eliezer of Damascus, a slave born in the house of Abraham. Were Abraham not to have offspring, Eliezer would have received his freedom and inherit his possessions (Gen. 15:2-3).
In Genesis 41, we find the story of Joseph and how Pharaoh made him steward over the land of Egypt. Joseph was not a part of the royal family and he could not inherit the throne, yet because of his administration of his talent of interpretation of dream and wisdom given by God, Pharaoh entrusted the entire kingdom to his care. He said “you shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command, only as regards the throne will I be greater than you” (Gen. 41:40).
The concept of stewardship begins at the Garden of Eden when God entrusted the earth to Adam and Eve and their offspring (Gen. 1:26-28). In a new way, all Christians are stewards of the earth and of all spiritual graces given through Christ`s death and resurrection. By the grace of new life bestowed through Christ`s atonement, Christian received not only the earth, but also many spiritual riches to be used to advance the kingdom of God (Luke 19:11-27). It is the expectation of the Lord that we use the spiritual and material graces for His glory and salvation of souls.
Gen. 1:26-28 provides the essential foundation for understanding what Christian stewardship means. It is the desire of God that the world will be violence-free, with no sin but complete tranquility among all people. The catastrophe that manifest in the world today is as a result of failure of stewardship on the part of Adam and Eve. While some may consider the term dominion in the passage to be the only direct reference to ‘stewardship’, the whole text reveals expectation of God from Adam and Eve and their offspring.
The essential characteristics of stewardship include; collective agreement, respect for His purpose and the dignity of human life.
God did not expect only one person to be the steward of all creation; rather He blessed Adam and Eve and made them fruitful. Filling the earth is the means by which the earth becomes subdued by man. This truth teaches the right to life. Every human being is expected to contribute to the well-being of the society. This is done through work, prayer and discovery. Each person should allow others to grow in knowledge and holiness. Thus, one single individual does not rule the earth, rather we rule by collective agreement or bargaining.
God endows each person with opportunities and resources that others do not have. You may own a property to which no one else has. However, understanding of stewardship as collective bargaining requires us to find ways in which we can collaborate with others to make the resources in our possession work for the good of all as intended by God. In other words, the resources at our disposal should help us to fill the earth and subdue it (Luke 14:14).
RESPECT FOR THE PURPOSE
In proverb 16:4, the scripture states that “the Lord made everything for His own purpose”. One of the essentials of stewardship is to respect the purpose for which things were made. When God commanded Adam and Eve to subdue all creation, he was not implying that creation and man were adversaries or enemies, rather it was expected that Adam and Eve would subdue the earth by using its resources for the advancement of humanity. As they “filled the earth”, they would need its resources to provide for their generation. In their act of disobedience, Adam and Eve used the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil for a contrary purpose contrary to what God intended. They did not respect its purpose. Thus, the creature given by God to help Adam sustain his life and subdued the earth became opposed to him leading to struggle and labour for Adam and his generation. Adam and his offspring would have to struggle for survival because of their failure to understand the purpose of creation, which is twofold: to give glory to God and to serve man`s needs in preparation for eternity.
The dignity of the human person is rooted in His creation as the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26). Because of this, the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) were summed up by Jesus to two greatest commandments which are: to love God and love your neighbour (Mark 12:29-31). These two commandments are inseparable. You can`t fulfill one without the other. As John admonishes, “if anyone says I love God and hates his brother, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (I Jn. 4:20). Christian stewardship is the only way we fulfill these commands of God. The essential of stewardship given by the Lord teaches us to consider the dignity and freedom of each person. We must not think of other person as “problems” or as “expendable resources”; rather we must recognize the fundamental rights of every human being. This must include right to life, freedom of expression, adequate housing, clothing, food and moral respect. Respecting these fundamental rights means we consider that all resources were created for all and to serve all and that we are stewards of the resources at our disposal.
The basic essentials of stewardship, which include collective agreement, respect for the purpose for which things were made and human dignity teach us to be good stewards on earth. This is what God expects if we are to be faithful in our stewardship. We have been entrusted with earthly goods, yet we own nothing. How can we give what we do not own? We must make those resources we do not need available to others. We also have an obligation to provide for ourselves and our families. May God help us to be good stewards of His manifold grace.