So what do you think about when you hear the word “steward”?
Do you think about your finances?
Do you have visions of your church running a giving campaign?
Does taking care of the environment come to mind?
All of these ideas and much more are parts of what it means to be a steward. But they don’t paint a complete picture of the biblical meaning of stewardship.
The concept of biblical stewardship is constantly brought up in a Christian setting. But do we ever really stop to think about what being a good steward actually means?
Seriously, have you ever slowed down and considered how being a steward impacts your life outside of the offering plate and giving to church fundraisers?
The truth is, stewardship has very little to do with cold hard cash. Sure, we apply inherent value to those paper-ish bills in our wallets, but if you obliterated the financial system today, stewardship would still exist tomorrow.
Let’s dive in to see more on stewardship, what it is, how it specifically applies to the Bible, and what examples we can see of this enormously important activity both in the scriptures and in our own lives.
What is stewardship?
In basic terms, stewardship tends to boil down to the act of watching, overseeing, or managing something on the behalf of another.
Merriam Webster explains it as “the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.”
Dictionary.com’s stewardship definition uses the phrase “a person who acts as the surrogate of another” adding that they are responsible for “overseeing and protection of something considered worth caring for and preserving.”
Even Wikipedia sheds some useful light on the subject by explaining that stewardship involves the “planning and management of resources.”
I wanted to dig into these “shallow” secular definitions first because even in the eyes of the world the act of being a steward is really important. It involves responsibility and accountability. It takes work and attention.
The term surrogate particularly stands out to me here. In many ways, as Christians, we are God’s surrogates in, to, and for his creation. In other words, we are acting on behalf of someone else when we interact with the world around us.
This is important to realize, as it establishes the fact that we are clearly in a position of authority that is, in and of itself, subject to a higher authority.
What about Biblical stewardship?
Okay, now that we have an idea of what it means to be a steward. What does it look like to practice stewardship from a Biblical perspective?
Interestingly, the New Testament word for stewardship comes from the Greek word OIKONOMOS, which basically means the manager of the affairs of a household or in other words, work. This guarduanship position is clearly shown throughout the Bible from beginning to end.
When it comes to being good stewards through the lens of a Biblical mindset, in particular, it turns out that one of the primary factors that make us good Stewards is a life intimately spent with Christ. No, that’s not a cop-out answer. It is the answer. A life spent with the master naturally makes the servant a better manager of their affairs.
In a sense Biblical stewardship is a responsibility, an obligation of Christians. We’re required to impact, care for, utilize, and manage the affairs of creation in whatever way God brings us into contact with it.
This isn’t a silent partnership with God, either. Biblical stewardship involves going “all in” with our time, effort, sacrifice, talents, and resources — and when I say “our,” the truth is, they’re all His anyway. That’s why being good stewards is such a crucial part of the Christian lifestyle.
Four principles of stewardship
It’s been said that the greatest antidote to materialism is generosity. We combat greed, anxious toil, and our obsessive desire for more by giving to those in need and investing our lives and resources in that which will last forever. In order to be more confident about how God desires us to use our resources specifically, we will first examine four foundational stewardship principles taught throughout God’s Word.
- The Principle of Ownership
Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”
In the beginning of Genesis, God creates everything and puts Adam in the Garden of Eden to work it and to take care of it. It is clear that man was created to work and that work is the stewardship of all of the creation that God has given him. This is the fundamental principle of biblical stewardship. God owns everything, and we are simply managers or administrators acting on His behalf.
Therefore, stewardship expresses our obedience regarding the administration of everything God has placed under our control, which is all encompassing. Stewardship is the commitment of one’s self and possessions to God’s service, recognizing that we do not have the right of control over our property or ourselves. Echoing Deuteronomy 8:17, we might say: “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But Deuteronomy 8:18 counsels us to think otherwise: “Remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth.”
The fact that we are managers doesn’t mean we merely preserve creation, like a park ranger. Instead, we are gardeners, cultivating the areas of creation placed under our responsibility. Your work is the area of creation God has given you to manage on His behalf. He’s given you the ability to steward it well.
“Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things” 1 Chronicles 29:11-12
Perhaps you need to go to the Lord and simply acknowledge His ownership over each of area of your life. It’s wonderfully freeing to be anchored in the truth that you are not your own, but were bought with the blood of your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
- The Principle of Responsibility
Have you ever been shown generosity from someone? Imagine a friend invites you to stay several weeks in his/her spacious, perfectly decorated, and immaculately clean bungalow. You are blown away by your friend’s love and generosity. When it’s time to check out, will you seek to leave the place as you found it? Because of his amazing grace, might you even leave it better than you found it?
Nothing really belongs to us. God owns everything; we’re responsible for how we treat it and what we do with it. While we complain about our rights here on earth, the Bible constantly asks, ‘What about your responsibilities?’ Owners have rights; stewards have responsibilities.”
We are called as God’s stewards to manage that which belongs to God. While God has graciously entrusted us with the care, development, and enjoyment of everything He owns as His stewards, we are responsible to manage His holdings well and according to His desires and purposes.
“Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God.” Romans 14:12
- The Principle of Accountability
Jesus said, “…When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.” Luke 12:48b
A steward is one who manages the possessions of another. We are all stewards of the resources, abilities, and opportunities that God has entrusted to our care, and one day each one of us will be called to give an account for how we have managed what the Master has given us.
This is the maxim taught by the parable of the talents. God has entrusted authority over the creation to us and we are not allowed to rule over it as we see fit. We are called to exercise our dominion under the watchful eye of the Creator, managing His creation in accord with the principles He has established.
In Matthew 12:36, Jesus says “but I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgement for every empty word they have spoken.”
We will be called to give an account of how we have administered everything we have been given, including our time, money, abilities, information, wisdom, relationships, and authority. We will all give account to the rightful owner as to how well we managed the things he has entrusted to us.
- The Principle of Reward
You can do nothing to earn God’s favor, so when the Bible speaks of “rewards” it has nothing to do with meriting his acceptance or favor. It does, however, have much to do with how we handle the many trials, tests, and assignments God gives us throughout the course of our lives. Consider the Apostle Paul’s words,
“Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ.” Colossians 3:23-24. Another version says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
The Bible shows us in the parables of the kingdom that faithful stewards who do the Master’s will with the Master’s resources can expect to be rewarded incompletely in this life, but fully in the next. We all should long to hear the Master say what He exclaims in Matthew 25:21: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”
As Christians in the 21st century, we need to embrace this larger biblical view of stewardship, which goes beyond church budgets or building projects, though important; it connects everything we do with what God is doing in the world.
We need to be faithful stewards of all God has given us within the opportunities presented through His providence to glorify Him, serve the common good, and further His kingdom.
Some few questions we can ask ourselves to better gauge how well we’re operating as stewards:
- How does being good stewards make us better people?
Is being a good steward making you a more responsible individual? Is it increasing your sense of accountability? Do you find yourself more willing or even eager to serve others? Look inward and see if there is any eagerness to do the things of the Lord.
- Does our stewardship let us help others in need?
John Wesley answered this one best when he said, “Do you not know that God entrusted you with that money to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to help the stranger, the widow, the fatherless; and, indeed, as far as it will go, to relieve the wants of all mankind? How can you, how dare you, defraud the Lord, by applying it to any other purpose?”
- Does our stewardship constantly points us to Jesus Christ?
Biblical stewardship is an intimate activity that should push us closer to a God that is very present and active in his Creation. If this is not happening then you need to check it.
- Is our behavior as stewards making us more Christ-like?
Stewardship is fundamentally about exercising our God-given dominion over His creation, reflecting the image of our creator God in His care, responsibility, maintenance, protection, and beautification of His creation.”
- Are you reflecting the image of your Creator as a steward of his creation?
And many more.
Examples of stewardship in the bible
Alright, while we’ve discussed meanings, principles, and concepts so far, let’s see some examples. Let’s take a minute to consider just a handful of times that we see stewardship in the Bible.
Stewardship started with Adam and Eve
The first few chapters of Genesis revolve around stewardship and not just the fact that humanity is called to be stewards of Creation, either. They also establish the absolute truth that God created everything.
Why does that matter in this context? Because it makes it crystal clear that any righteous authority within creation is rooted in the Creator. In other words, everything in creation is under God, and therefore any authority you have comes to you via the position of a steward.
Then, of course, there’s the most iconic form of stewardship in all of Christianity. God makes man in His own image and then He let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the bird of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” (Gen 1:26b King James Version).
Joseph was a steward more than once
The most practical version of God given guardianship that we see in the Bible comes from Joseph. The man serves as a steward both in Potiphar’s house and as the Pharaoh’s right hand over the entire nation of Egypt.
Throughout his life, this man consistently shows what it takes to care for a master’s possessions. He helps Potiphar’s household thrive and even protects his master’s wife from himself. When he’s promoted to second in command in the whole nation, he does his best to protect the Pharaoh’s threatened resources, literally saving countless lives while doing so. (Gen. 39, 41:41-43)
King David has a faith relapse as a steward
King David, was an awesome king, and most of his time in leadership provides us with examples of good stewards that looks to God for guidance. However, I’m going to pick on him a little bit here.
In 1 Chronicles chapter 21, David insists on taking a census of the nation of Israel even though he knows God doesn’t want him to. Eventually, God punishes him for his lack of faith and nearly destroys Jerusalem.
While David repents, the episode shows us that even the best stewards can act out of their own fear of failure. David was afraid that Israel wasn’t strong enough to protect itself, and ultimately he let that fear drive his actions — even when they didn’t line up with the Lord’s.
Jesus Christ’s parable of the talents
In Matthew 25 Jesus gives us one of the most classic examples of being a good stewards in the form of the parable of the talents. The lesson shows three servants that are entrusted with the wealth of their master.
In this case, the failure doesn’t come from failing to protect and preserve, but rather a lack of motivation to build on what was given.
In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus Christ tells his disciples that “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations.” He also instructs them to baptize and teach these new disciples.
While Genesis feels like a big deal, in truth, this spiritual transference of authority is one of the biggest moments of Christian stewardship in the entire Bible. It literally assigns the entire Church the task of continuing the work of Jesus Christ himself.
Of course, the Holy Spirit is sent to help us with the work (God really doesn’t leave any loose ends, God doesn’t make mistakes, does he?). This concept of God-given stewardship comes up multiple times after this, too. One example that comes to mind is when Paul refers to himself and Apollos as God’s workers in 1 Cor 3:9.
Needless to say, there are countless examples of being a Christian and good stewards throughout the Bible. Some are positive. Others are negative. All of them are worthy of our attention.
God calls us to be stewards and there are great examples of being good stewards in the Bible, but how can we apply it to our own lives? Here are some areas where stewardship can be expressed in the modern Christian life:
- It can be expressed in every breath that we breathe
Your life isn’t your own, it’s on loan from God. This naturally fills your entire life with the purpose of stewardship. Everything you do is an action rooted in your role as stewards in your life.
- It can be expressed in how we run the Church
The church is a huge area where the call of stewardship endures even two thousand years after Christ gave us the Great Commission. Much like our personal lives, expressing stewardship here is a multi-faceted affair that includes caring for congregants, the local community, and even the church building, website, giving management and so on.
- It can be expressed in our personal and professional lives
Stewardship is very present in family life, whether you’re talking about caring for a marriage, raising children, or even organizing and overseeing a house.
In addition, it can be seen in the workplace. It doesn’t matter if you’re a manager, a team leader, or you’re just caring for company property. Stewardship is an integral part of professional life.
- It can be expressed in how we treat the Earth
Regardless of your views on climate change and the environment, being a good steward is part and parcel of the Christian lifestyle. It’s literally one of the first things that God entrusts mankind to care for.
If you aren’t making smart choices that keep God’s entire creation in mind, you may need to reconsider your motives.
- It can be expressed in our finances and other resources
Now, before you take stewardship as a call to be rich, let me say that the goal here isn’t to amass wealth.
Good stewardship requires making wise choices that don’t tie your own emotions into each decision i.e. you’re managing God’s resources, not your own. Do this faithfully and without attaching your own hopes and dreams to the success or failure of those resources.
Finally, at the end of the day, taking on stewardship responsibilities isn’t just important. It’s an essential part of our walk as Christians.
So take some time to reevaluate your own actions. Seriously, do it right now if you can. Are you being a good steward? What can you do to improve? Pray, consider, and reorient yourself if necessary. The fruits of your stewardship will follow in time.