Stewardship is one of those ‘Christianese’ words, isn’t it? We use it in church, and it comes with all kinds of loaded meaning, everyone nods knowingly at everything you have conveyed by its use. But does it mean what we think it means? Sometimes, I don’t think so.
I will admit upfront, I used to use the word ‘stewardship’ all the time when talking about money. “You have to be a good steward of what God has given you” I would say. “You can’t make yourself poor for the sake of the poor, or else you will need others to support you financially” I would counsel. But all this rhetoric misses entirely what it means to be a steward. Let me explain
The meaning of stewardship
The Macquarie Dictionary defines a steward as “one who manages another’s property or financial affairs”, the key phrase being another’s. You see, we are not stewards of the money God has given us, we are stewards of God’s money.
Psalm 24 verse 1 says “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to Him.”
Haggai chapter 2 verse 8 says “the silver and the gold are mine” (being God’s). All money is God’s money. It might seem like I’m arguing semantics, but it makes a major difference to the way we understand stewardship.
Our money or God’s money?
If we are stewarding money God has given us, then the money, although gifted from God, is essentially our money (and actually we are not ‘stewarding’ it at all). We would be free to use this money according to our vision and values, because it’s ours.
However, if we are stewarding God’s money then we have a responsibility to use it according to His vision and values, which are quite a bit scarier than ours at times!
Jesus’ vision for His money
If you are unsure what Jesus’ vision is for how His money should be used, read through Luke chapter 12 verses 13 to 34. Herein he makes all kinds of wild remarks like “do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear” and “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” These are not the words of someone who would say “make sure you don’t make yourself poor as you seek to help the poor.”
Don’t hurt me!
Now, before you start throwing stones, and accuse me of being an extremist, let me say that I’m not necessarily saying everyone should sell all they have and give the money to the poor. What I am saying, though, is that we need to stop using stewardship as an excuse.
God does richly provide for our enjoyment (1 Timothy chapter 6 verses 17 to 19), and, at times, he might even be calling us to have a good amount of wealth (In Genesis chapter 13 verse 2 we read that Abram was blessed with stacks of wealth).
What He is not calling us to is selfish miserliness disguised as ‘good stewardship.’ We need to be good stewards of God’s money, I just don’t think that means using 98% of it on ourselves.
The parable of the talents
It’s not a perfect example, but the parable of the talents in Matthew chapter 25 verses 14 to 30, I think, speaks to this issue of stewardship. The master entrusts his money to the servants, two of whom put the money to work and double it, one of whom buries what was entrusted to him, so returning the money with no increase.
The master says to the third servant, “you terrible steward, why did you take it upon yourself to decide what to do with my money?” Ok, so he doesn’t say that, but he could have. The servant knew that the master would have wanted the money spent such that it made more money, but didn’t appreciate the master’s ethics, so took it upon himself to store the money in a hole thereby not duplicating it at all.
So we have to ask: as we steward God’s money, what sort of duplication does he expect from it, and what could we do that would be akin to burying it? I think there is a case to be made for God wanting his money to duplicate in terms of kingdom fruit, and so in order to bury it, we would have to spend it on things that don’t offer any ‘kingdom fruit,’ like the expensive cabinet I own just to store glasses and plates in (oh no he didn’t!)
What have you buried?
From all this we need to ask, how much of God’s money are we burying, and how much of it are we using to multiply His kingdom, as He would want? Can we justify giving 2% of our income to missions, whilst spending 98% of it on personal niceties? Maybe we can, if such niceties really have a kingdom value to them. But when I think of a lot of the niceties I buy and own, they look suspiciously like a hole in the ground in terms of kingdom fruit to me.
Brent is the Queensland State Representative for Baptist World Aid Australia and is a registered pastor with the Baptist union of Queensland. He completed a Bachelor of Theology with honours in New Testament through Malyon College in Brisbane, where he now lives with his wife, Jane. Although he writes with zeal about good kingdom stewardship, he has a long journey ahead himself in putting this into practice.
Brent Van Mourik’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/brent-van-mourik.html