By Mike Willis
The apostle Peter wrote, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet. 4:10). Similarly, Paul said, “For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward” (Tit. 1:7). Thus, in our consideration of descriptive terms of Christians, we must consider the term steward.
What Is A Steward?
The word “steward” is rarely used in English because the practice of employing stewards is obsolete; indeed, whenever one is put in the position of a steward, we give him another title, such as manager. The word oikonomos is defined by Thayer as “the manager of a household or of household affairs; esp. a steward, manager, superintendent . . . to whom the head of a house or proprietor has intrusted the management of his affairs, the care of receipts and expenditures, and the duty of dealing out the proper portion to every servant and even to the children not yet of age” (pp. 440-441). We have some passages in the Scriptures which reveal to us a little of the nature of a stewardship. For example, Luke 16:1-2 uses stewardship as a basis for a parable by saying, “There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and this steward was reported to him as squandering his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.'” The parable goes on to describe the steward as altering the accounts entrusted to him. However, from this we learn that a steward is entrusted with another’s possessions and is responsible for how he uses them.
When we consider that we are stewards, we see some concepts which must be accepted before we can properly be called stewards. (1) God owns everything which He has created. We must learn to look upon everything which we have as that which belongs to God; “for the earth is the Lord’s, and everything that is in it” (1 Cor. 10:26). (2) We are only using that which belongs to God. Actually, we do not own anything; we are only using it. The land which we “own” will be here long after we are dead and gone; our money will be left for our heirs. (3) We are responsible for how we use the ihings which God has given to us. The very fact that we are stewards implies that we oversee the usage of His possessions. Either, we can use them properly, i.e. in accordance with the will of the owner, or we can squander them on our foolish pleasure. We have freedom of choice. However, we must never forget that we are responsible for how we use them; we must give account of our stewardship.
Areas of Responsibility
(1) Our Abilities. God has endowed me with certain natural abilities for which I will be held responsible. This was the idea which prompted Paul to write, “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me” (1 Cor. 9:16-17). When the going gets rough while preaching, a person needs to contemplate the fact that he has a stewardship entrusted to him. F. W. Grosheide said, “It does not matter in what frame of mind the apostle preaches, provided he preaches” (Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 210).
Many brethren exercise a double standard with reference to the idea of stewardship of abilities. For example, not a few who would be critical of me should I quit preaching feel no responsibilty to develop their abilities. The same principle which says that I should preach if I have the ability says that every other person who has the ability should preach. Furthermore, it says that if you have the ability to teach a class, clean the church building, prepare the Lord’s Supper, mow the yard, etc., you have a responsibility to do it. The practice of putting all of the work of any congregation on a few members is not scriptural.
(2) Our Time. Even as we are responsible for the proper usage of our abilities, so also are we responsible for the usage of our time. Paul wrote, “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16). Again, he said, “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity” (Col. 4:6). Frequently, we are asked to do something and excuse ourselves by saying that we do not have the time. Some “do not have the time” to attend worship, study the Bible, check on the sick, or do any other of the responsibilities which God has placed upon them. Nevertheless, they have time to watch TV, go to ball games, watch TV, go out to eat, watch TV, go on week-end camping trips, watch TV and watch TV. The problem is not that the man does not have the time to do anything for the Lord; the problem is that God is not one of his top priorities! He has squandered the time which God has entrusted to him on himself!
(3) Our Wealth. Both the wealth which we have and the ability to make it come from the Lord (Hag. 2:8; Deut. 8:18). God has simply entrusted the usage of our money to us. For a brother who makes over $250 per week. to give a paltry $10 per week to the Lord is not uncommon. On one occasion, I witnessed a man who made nearly $20,000 a year excuse himself from giving a single dime to a needy family because he could not afford it. And this happened in spite of Paul’s command for him to “labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need” (Eph. 4:28). Until we develop the attitude that our money is a stewardship which has been entrusted to us, we are apt to go on squandering God’s possessions on our own selfish, luxurious living.
(4) The Gospel. One of the Lord’s richest treasures, the Gospel, has been entrusted to us. Paul said, “Let a inan regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy” (1 Cor. 4:1-2). The only thing which can be used to save sinful man has been entrusted to us for its distribution. Yet, many among us feel no obligation to try to evangelize our neighbors, relatives, and friends. 1 have even known of some preachers who had the we have-the-public-worship-services-and-if-they-do-not-come-that-is-too-bad attitude. We simply must eradicate such attitudes from among us. God has entrusted us with the Gospel, giving us the responsibility to evangelize the world (Mt. 28:18-20). Have we been faithful to that trust? If so, why are so many of us content while the church with which we labor fails to grow? Why are we not upset over our failure to reach those who live around us? Our attitude of indifference reflects a failure to discharge one’s stewardship.
The parable of the unjust steward shows the fear of the unfaithful servant who had not used the things entrusted to him as the master desired on the day when he had to give an account of his stewardship. There is coming a day when we shall answer for how well we have used our stewardship. How well have you been using the things which God has entrusted to you?
Truth Magazine XX: 48, pp. 762-763
December 2, 1976