A steward is one who manages or administers the estate, affairs, or goods of another. Inherent in this definition is the fact that a steward is not the owner of what he manages and is therefore accountable to the actual owner. Biblical stewardship is based on the concept that God is the owner of all things and that the human race has been created to manage what He has created. This is seen in the creation accounts in Genesis. God creates the earth and all things therein. Man is created by God in His image and is commanded to have dominion over all that God has created. Genesis 2:5 captures the essence of man’s role as steward over God’s creation in succinct terms: “When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up — for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land and there was no man to work the ground.” The command in Genesis 1:28: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over…every living thing that moves on the earth,” further amplifies the fact that God is the Creator-owner and man is the creature-servant. Psalm 24:1 is even more emphatic in making this point: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.”
God’s ownership is all inclusive — He owns everything and everyone. The fall is about (among other things) man’s failure to exercise dominion over the serpent (one of those living things), rebelling against the commands of the Creator-owner concerning the tree in the midst of the garden, and taking upon himself the prerogatives of ownership (“and you will be like God,” Gen. 3:5). The fall is a rebellion against God’s ownership of and authority over all things. Seen from this perspective, stewardship is not just the responsibility of Christians but of all humanity. The difference is that Christians by virtue of our regeneration have been given the capacity to comprehend God’s ownership of all things, and as a consequence we also have been given the capacity to recognize our accountability in our use and management of what God has given over to our care.
I say we have the “capacity” because our Christian faith does not mean that we will automatically recognize properly and fully the extent and implications of our stewardship. As regenerated sinners, we are still prone to the sort of self-centeredness that cries out “me, me” and “mine, mine.” In fact, we live in a world that promotes, nurtures, and celebrates the autonomous self, as if the individual were free to do whatever he chooses to do as long as no one is hurt. The 70s R & B group The Isley Brothers provided the theme song “It’s Your Thing” for that mindset. The song’s hook lyric line included the words “do what you want to do.” The rationale for pro-abortion and pro-choice advocates is that a woman has a right to do with her body whatever she desires. The point is this: like a biblically accurate understanding of the gospel, our responsibility as stewards in all of life is a concept that is foreign to our fallen nature. We therefore need to be reminded over and over again that God is the owner of all things and we are just managers or overseers of what He has entrusted to our care. It is critical that we do not “be conformed to this world” on this matter but rather that we are transformed by the renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:2).
In 1 Corinthians 6:18 and following, the apostle Paul warns against sexual immorality, but notice his rationale: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (vv. 19–20). This is contrary to what the world, the flesh, and the Devil would have us think about our bodies and sexual urges. Paul’s point is that we are to govern our bodies and urges by the standard of the Creator-owner and not by standards we set personally or standards set by the world in which we live. We glorify God in our bodies by first recognizing His ownership in creation and in redemption. Secondly, we glorify God by presenting our bodies as living sacrifices in His service. Paul calls this our reasonable service or worship in Romans 12:1. Whether we are laboring in our vocation (notice Paul’s admonitions in Eph. 6:5–9 and Col. 3:22–24; 4:1) or our sexual conduct, we are stewards of the bodies we have been given, and it is our duty to use them for the service of the Creator-owner and subject them to His law.
It should be noted that this duty is one of delight and not of dread. The Westminster Shorter Catechism expresses it this way: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever” (Q. 1). Glorifying God and enjoying Him are inextricably linked — glorifying Him is our joy and we enjoy glorifying Him. Delighting in and glorifying our Creator-owner is translated into zeal and diligence in the service we render.
As Christians we must realize that slothfulness in our vocation or our other duties, failure to utilize our gifts in the service of the church, and selfishness with our financial resources or our time are but some of the blatant remnants of our fallen nature. It is that fallen remnant in our nature that exalts itself and continues to rebel against the will and rule of the God who created us and then saved us from His judgment. We need to remember that we are new creations who are progressively being conformed to the likeness of Christ our Savior.
Our union with Christ has eschatological dimensions that greatly impact our stewardship. By this I mean that although we are waiting for the triumphant consummation of the kingdom at the second coming of Christ, His life, death, burial, and resurrection has secured for us present benefits of eternal worth. In 1 Corinthians 10:11, Paul describes Christians as those “on whom the end of the ages has come.” Colossians 1:12–14 mentions particular benefits we enjoy right now. First, we are qualified to share in the inheritance of the saints. Second, we have been delivered from the domain of darkness. Third, we have been transferred to the kingdom of Christ. Fourth, we are redeemed and have the forgiveness of sins.
I mention all of this because the eschatological reality of what we presently possess in Jesus Christ undergirds the New Testament teaching on stewardship. In 1 Peter 4:2, the apostle Peter reminds his readers “to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” It is because of what we presently possess in Christ that our mind-set about our time, talent, and treasure should be different from those whose understanding is still darkened. This mind-set or worldview (which must be nurtured) includes how we view our purpose in this world (to glorify God), our priorities (to do the will of God), and our earthly possessions (provided by God for enjoyment as we do His will). When our attitude toward what God has entrusted to us is characterized by “mine, mine, mine” or “me, me, me,” it is indicative of our fallen nature and the darkened understanding of this present age. That self-centered worldview is contrary to what we are in Christ.
Stewardship in all of life rests on the knowledge that all we are and all we have has been given to us by God through Christ and belongs to God. We are therefore under His lordship. Laziness and selfishness are acts of ingratitude and betrayal toward God, and they portray a lack of trust in the very God who has given us all things pertaining to life and godliness.
I urge all who name the name of Christ to view all that we have (both right now and in the age to come) through the cross of Christ and His present reign at the right hand of our Father, so that whether we eat or drink or whatever we do, we do to the glory of God. He is Lord of all and we are His stewards. Our joy is to do His will with what He has given.
Soli deo gloria.