Biblical stewardship is a phrase we don’t use too often in our daily vernacular, yet; Jesus talks about being a steward over an over, as do the authors of the Bible. Part of Christian Stewardship Network’s mission is to unpack the concept and understand how the Bible addresses us as being stewards.
What is a Steward?
According to Webster’s Dictionary, there are three definitions given to the English word steward:
- a person who looks after the passengers on a ship, aircraft, or train and brings them meals.
- an official appointed to supervise arrangements or keep order at a large public event, for example, a sporting event.
- a person employed to manage another’s property, especially a large house or estate
While definition three is the most in line with the term as the Bible uses it, we shouldn’t ignore definitions one and two.
An important aspect of biblical stewardship is looking after people and providing order over creation. Let’s examine those two concepts briefly before we get to the definition that we typically think of as applying.
The Bible and especially the New Testament is replete with examples of how we are to steward our brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul’s “one another” passages, instructions to Timothy, and letters themselves while primarily pointing to Christ, are also instruction manuals for how we are to shepherd and steward those who are “in Christ.”
From the very beginning of the Bible, we see humans’ calling to provide order and management over creation. Adam was to name the animals. This naming was an act of providing order.
God’s command to be fruitful and multiply is an extension of this order stewardship. For this new creation needed people to fill it to subdue its potentially wild state. The original intent appears to be for man to extend the order of Eden and into the outer regions surrounding it.
It would be wise for us not to forget these definitions, less our view of stewardship become only materially focused. Nevertheless, the Bible does point to us as God’s steward of material resources, or “stuff” if you would.
In the New Testament, the Greek Word for steward, οἰκονόμος oikonomos, is given a similar definition to Webster’s third definition in Thayer’s Greek Lexicon stating:
“a steward, manager, superintendent (whether free-born or as was usually the case, a freed-man or a slave) to whom the head of the house or proprietor has entrusted 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.”
When we are attempting to wrap our heads around what it means to steward, it should be noted that Greek word for economy is Oikonomia.
Notice how similar these Greek words, oikonomos, and oikonomia, are?
And lest we are tempted to believe that we are only speaking of money when we use the word economics, theologian R.C. Sproul writes:
“Broadly understood, economics has to do not only with money or taxes or business but with the management of resources. That includes all of our resources, such as the resource of our unborn children and educational materials and policies.”
The lesson? Our call to be Biblical stewards is much broader than we typically think of it.
Our Authority – An Old Testament Picture
As followers of Jesus, we have an inherited and granted authority and responsibility to lovingly rule over the affairs of creation, much like the overseer of a household.
A clear biblical example of practical stewardship is Joseph. Born into a large family, Joseph alienated his brothers with his brash expressions and dreams of ruling over them. Like us, his brothers didn’t take kindly to his continually pointing out that he would rule over them. Unlike most of us, his brother’s grew so tired and angered that they sold Joseph into slavery. Soon, Joseph arose from his slave status. Potiphar appointed and authorized Joseph to manage the entire household.
1 Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there. 2 The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. 3 When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, 4 Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. 5 From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the Lord was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. 6 So Potiphar left everything he had in Joseph’s care; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate. (Gen. 39:1–6a).
We, like Joseph, have responsibilities to manage the household well. But our responsibility is much broader than our home, though our household surely falls under our stewardship authority. Our responsibility extends to the household of faith, the Church, and to the larger creation itself. Whatever domains God has granted us in which have influence, we are to lead those domains and serve in them as if we are managing it for God, until Christ’s return. We are not to waste the resources, but to make wise decisions. Our authority is not to be lorded over others like Joseph initially sought to do over his brothers.
How The Fall and Sin Distorted A Proper Understanding of Stewardship
Stewardship is established and granted in the very opening chapters of Genesis. God calls humankind to take dominion over the earth. This was not to be a self-serving or tyrannical dominion. Because the original couple was in close relationship with God, they executed God’s will on his behalf towards the Creation. They were to work it and keep it, Eden and of its plant and animal inhabitants. They were to reflect God’s character to the Creation.
Soon, however, sin entered the Garden through Adam and Eve’s willful abandonment of God’s commandment and trusting in their own wisdom. This had disastrous consequences not only for them but, also, for all of Creation.
Not only did the Fall affect man’s relationship with God, but it direly affected man’s relationship with creation. Instead of reflecting God’s character, humans started reflecting their own warped desires upon the Creation. We began to see the created realm as a subservient tool to be used for us to get our way and to accomplish our own selfish agendas.
Fortunately, God foresaw this and began unfolding his plan to restore creation. This unfolding culminates in Jesus Christ, who came as the perfect reflection of God’s character. Through His death, burial and resurrection, Jesus dealt a deathblow to the powers of darkness that have warped our view of stewardship. In Christ, we can once again have our desires and wills transformed to their proper frame of reference-handling our “economy” as on God’s behalf.
But What About Money and Possessions?
Finally, we end up where many people think stewardship starts-dealing with money, possessions, and giving. These clearly fall under the umbrella of our biblical calling to be stewards.
More than 2000 Bible verses deal with money. From being generous and sharing our resources to tithing and our treatment of the poor, God has a lot to say about money. We are to see God as the provider and source of all our resources. We are to use our money and possessions to further his Kingdom, not our own. When we realize we are managers of these resources and not their owner, it changes everything in how we use them.
The Bible has so much to say about stewardship, that we’ve created an ongoing series of articles surrounding that topic.
“Fundamentally, stewardship is about exercising our God-given dominion over His creation, reflecting the image of our creator God in His care, responsibility, maintenance, protection, and beautification.
See these additional articles on Biblical Stewardship:
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