A lecture given by Peter Cordle of Coventry at Forest Fold, Crowborough, on September 17,1996.
1. General Principles
The dictionary gives at least three different uses of the word steward. A steward can be an official at a big public occasion. He can be the person who cares for the needs of a person on a plane or a boat. He can also be a person who is entrusted with the management of somebody else’s property, especially a paid manager of a large house or estate. That third meaning is very close to the way the Bible uses the word steward.
Use of the word ‘steward’ in the Bible
In the Old Testament it means somebody who is “over the house”. The outstanding example of that is Joseph. He rises to become the steward, the person in charge of Potiphar’s house, his home and his fields. All belongs to Potiphar; he lives there, but he has much important business elsewhere. He has a wife who tries to seduce Joseph to go against his master’s interest but Joseph resists. Joseph actively manages all of Potiphar’s house and estate, and it prospers under his management; he honourably uses his position of trust and responsibility.
In due course, Joseph has his own steward who helps him as he deals with his brothers when they come seeking corn, and that steward does some very odd things, putting first money and then the sup in the sack. However, he is obedient to his master.
In the New Testament, there are two Greek words which are translated as ‘steward’ in our Bibles; the first has that very same meaning – one who is ruling or managing a house or an estate. The second has the sense of a person to whom something is committed on trust, and is a very similar meaning to the first.
In the teaching of Jesus there are three particular occasions when he refers to a steward. We read of one in Luke chapter 12. “Who is a
faithful and wise steward?” This shows us the quality of a steward -faithful and wise. He also has to give an account; the master comes to see what the steward has been doing with his property.
Then there is the parable of the unjust steward. He too is called to give an account and is found wanting, having not done what he ought to have done with his master’s property.
Thirdly, there is the parable of the labourers in the vineyard. Here is an example of an obedient steward doing his master’s requirements, despite that rather unexpected result – the same amount for everybody despite their different lengths of service that day.
Who are stewards now?
In the Epistles, there are three references to a steward which explain for us, as Christians, the three different ways in which there are stewards now in the gospel age.
First, in 1 Corinthians chapter 4, where ministers of Christ are described as the “stewards of the mysteries of God”. The estate that they are ruling or managing is the great and glorious body of Christian doctrine, practice, and experience, which they are to explore, understand, proclaim and defend.
Second, in Titus chapter 1, “A bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God.” An elder, pastor, or deacon is a steward. His household estate is the Church of God which is the house of the living God. The people in a local Church are the household to be overseen by a pastor, elder or deacon as a steward of God.
Third, every single believer is called to be a steward of God. 1 Peter chapter 4 and verse 10 says “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God”. My focus is on that third aspect, each of us as a believer being a steward.
Each believer as a steward
Each believer’s person and life is like a household or estate which belongs to God, which is indwelt by God, and which the believer must manage as a steward, on God’s behalf. We belong to God, we are bought with a price. God dwells in us. He says, “I will dwell in them, and walk in them”. We are to be stewards on God’s behalf, ‘as good stewards of the manifold grace of God”. We have nothing but that which has been given to us by God, and which we have received from God.
You and I are two things. We are the estate or the household, to be managed, and we are also the stewards, so you must think of yourself as having those two aspects. Part of the dignity of our humanity is that we are self-reflective. For example, we are called to
self-examination. I am to examine myself. David says, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? Hope thou in God”. David, the believer reaching out in faith, speaks to David the believer, despondent and discouraged. You, the steward, must manage yourself as the household or estate that belongs to God.
What is the household or the estate to be managed? Putting it simply – all that you have and all that you are. Your money, your time, your possessions, your abilities – that is the estate. It belongs to God and you as the steward have to manage it on God’s behalf. It is not a question of saying. Where I live is my house, which I want to use to the glory of God. No, it is God’s house. It is not my money which I will use in various ways, even giving to God’s cause generously. No, it is all God’s money. It is not a question of part of my time belonging to my employer, my family, my wife, or myself:
then part of my time belonging to God, on Sundays, at the prayer meeting, in Christian services, and then part of my time belonging to me, as leisure time. No! all of my time belongs to God. Let us pause there. This is a vitally important concept. I am the household or estate. My time, my money, my possessions, my abilities, absolutely everything that I am and have belongs to God but I am also the steward, managing that estate on God’s behalf.
The four principles of biblical stewardship
1 The assets – time, money, abilities, possessions belong to God. Everything that I am and have.
2 I must manage those assets as directed by God, especially according to the principles, teaching, and precepts of the Bible.
3 I must actively manage those assets on God’s behalf to further my Master’s interests: not mine, but His.
4 I must one day give an account.
Comparison between the steward and the servant
I want to help you see which of those four principles are the two which are particularly characteristic of the steward, by comparing a steward with a servant or slave. The Bible has different metaphors, or pictures to help us understand what it means to be a believer. For example we are described as soldiers, we are sheep, and branches in the vine. There is also a cluster of domestic pictures. The believer is His bride, ravished by love and an intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus. The believer is a child, secure in his or her Father’s love, care, and discipline. The believer is also a servant, a slave. The Greek word “doulos,” often translated ‘servant’, appears 120 times in the New Testament – and means ‘slave’. The Roman slave was possessed by his master. As he possessed his tools, so he possessed
his slave. The Roman slaves had to accept that they were entirely at the disposal of the master. He could do with the slave whatever he wanted. The slave gave his master unquestioning obedience. The slave was entirely and completely in the service of his master.
On holiday this summer, we went down a Welsh mine, and we were told how, in those mines, it used to be very hard work, twelve hours a day, six days a week, and only three days’ holiday each year, on Good Friday, Christmas Day, and Thanksgiving Day. I was told this as I began my long summer holiday! It was a hard life being a Welsh miner. It was even harder for the Roman slave, with no fixed hours, and no holidays at all; but entirely and constantly in the service of his master. The Roman slave is a picture of how we are possessed by God, and at the disposal of God. He can decide what He chooses for us to do; it is entirely His decision. We must give to Him, our Lord and Master, unquestioning obedience, and we are called into His service. That is the situation of the slave.
From that you can see that there are similarities between the slave and the steward. The first two of the four stewardship principles also apply to the slave. All that I am and have belong to God. I must act as directed by God. The distinctive stewardship principles are the third and the fourth. I must actively manage on God’s behalf the assets, my time, money, abilities and possessions; and I must one day give an account.
We will now turn to look at those third and fourth principles.
We must actively manage the assets which belong to God, and which are entrusted to us on His behalf. We are called to be labourers together with God. This is a position of tremendous privilege. God does not tell us precisely what to do with our money. We have principles and precepts in the Word, but we are not told precisely how much to spend and what to give, and what to give it to. That is true of all of our assets. There is tremendous freedom as to how we spend our time within the principles of the Word of God. We need to seek to develop that attitude of mind and action which wants actively to manage these assets. I think the parable of the talents helps here. There were three servants with ten, five, and one talent respectively. Of the three, two of them actively used those talents to gain more. There is active management, energy and effort. The third buries it. He is subsequently accused of being wicked and slothful. It takes effort, thought and energy actively to manage our assets on God’s behalf and to avoid the charge of being slothful.
Think of our homes; we are to be given to hospitality. Think
about our abilities; we should not wait to be asked to help; we should be actively looking. Is there a need for a Sunday School teacher, or someone in the visitation team? If you are not sure where the needs are you can speak to the Pastor and ask him how you can help. He may talk to you and then he might say, ‘Well I must think and pray about it and you pray about it too’. Do not be surprised if God calls you into doing something which will stretch your abilities, and which you may well feel is beyond you. That is active management. We are to share our possessions. There may be an opportunity to get promotion at work which will not jeopardize family or chapel activities. If that means you can earn more money, then there will be more to give away. Seize the opportunities. Actively manage the assets.
We need to recognise that this can involve spiritual difficulty and real struggle, because of our natural possessiveness. The spirit of the world teaches that happiness comes from such things as money, possessions and leisure. There is a real conflict here. Each of us has, as it were, Potiphar’s wife within us, trying to seduce us to use the assets which belong to God, and which He has entrusted to us, to satisfy our own desires, and longings, as opposed to them being devoted to God.
I think a verse in James chapter 1, verse 14, is very significant here, “But every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” Lust there means any strong desire. I am more and more persuaded at a very practical and simple level that we need to be ever so careful of any situation where we start to develop a strong desire for something for ourselves, because at that very point, we are in danger of being enticed away from stewardship on God’s behalf to something for myself.
Let me give you two examples just to illustrate. Take an older couple. They are perhaps retired, with a pension from work and the State. The children have grown up, married and left home. They have got some savings to provide for the future. Then an endowment policy matures, and a large sum of money goes into their bank account. Maybe a day or two later, a particular urgent financial need from a Christian organisation comes to their attention. There can be a real struggle then. There can be a natural desire for a bit more security; it would be just a little bit more comfortable to have that endowment policy money to provide for their future needs. On the other hand, here is a desperate need from this Christian organisation for some money to help in a crisis. The money belongs to God and we are the stewards. How do we respond?
Take another, much more humdrum example. The husband comes home. He has a young family. He is tired, and it is his custom
to relax, pick up the paper and sit down and read. It is just a lovely way of unwinding. He has just got into the paper, and his wife is busy cooking the evening meal, when he hears a desperate row break out
between two of the children. Then the struggle begins. On the one hand there is a lust, a strong desire to carry on reading the newspaper. On the other hand he knows in his heart he ought to get up and deal with the children, and teach them how to live together and be friendly. The asset is time. It does not belong to him, he is not here to please himself, he is to be directed by God. I am not saying there is no place for rest and relaxation; the Bible says there is.
However, it is in the context of all of my time belonging to God. We need to take stock from time to time. The steward part of me must take stock of the assets. What am I doing? How am I getting on in that active management of the money, the possessions, the time, the gifts God has given me? How am I doing? Are the ten talents
becoming another ten? What is buried? What is for me? What is being used actively to further my Master’s interests?
Called to give an account
I will one day be called to give an account.
As you know, I work for the Coventry Council, and we take what I
think are modest sums of money from the taxpayers. (Some of them think it is exorbitant!). Because it is a tax and extracted without any choice, I am required to give an account of my stewardship, and each year I must, by law, produce some accounts which are published for all to see. That tells those hard-pressed council taxpayers what we have done with their money, and I am accounting back to them in a very public and open way.
All believers will one day be called to give an account of their stewardship. I want to ask three questions about that.
1 Who to?
It is to God, not to those who know us, not to men generally, not to myself. We should only be aiming to please Him. Do not take ‘our standards of holiness from other people. Follow a good example by all means, but always look to the Lord Jesus, and seek to follow His example.
2 When do we give an account?
That of course is done at the great, awesome judgment day. Two books will then be opened. There is the Book of Life, and there are ‘the books” Rev. 20:12 – “I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God, and the books were opened, and another book was opened, which is the Book of Life, and the dead were judged out of
those things which were written in the books according to their works.” “Whosoever was found not written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” (vl5).
Our subject is primarily one for believers. It is possible that there may be someone here who is not a believer, in which case, the great question for you is the need for your name to be in the Book of Life. I cannot begin to explain, or convey to you the anguish, bitterness, misery, and unspeakable horror at that judgment day, of your name not being in the Book of Life. So, if you are not a believer, the top priority for you is to seek to have your name in the Book of Life. You might say to me, How can I get my name in the Book of Life? The Bible says, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved. Even now Jesus says, Come unto Me. That is how we are to know that our names are written in the Book of Life.
Then there are the books: “the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books according to their works.” Four times in the Gospels, Jesus said there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed, nor hid that shall not be known. The teaching of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 25 about the judgment day, describes the basis of the distinction between the sheep and the goats. It is wholly consistent with our giving an account of our stewardship. Our money and possessions, were they used to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to take in the stranger? Was our time used to visit the sick and those in prison? Did we use our assets like the sheep or like the goats? 1 Cor. 3 verse 13 makes it very clear that this is applicable to believers. “Every man’s work shall be made manifest, for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire, and the fire shall try every man’s work, of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide, which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.”
You might say to me, I am puzzled by this. The Bible makes it very clear that our sins are blotted out; they are removed as far as the east is from the west. I am clean, I am forgiven! How can that be reconciled to this truth, that when the books are opened, we are judged according to our works, according to our stewardship? The Bible contains some truths which we cannot logically reconcile, e.g. the truth of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, but they are both true. That is the case here. We need to feel not only the joy of sin forgiven but also the weight of that solemn day when we shall be called to give an account.
3 On what basis shall we be judged?
What are the criteria that will be used at that solemn giving of an account. Three flow from those earlier passages.
Have we been faithful, have we been single-minded in making .sure that we have followed our Master’s interests, not our own? Were we seduced into following our own interests? Have we listened to our Master’s guidance? There are lovely accounts in Christian biography of people in great providential need, whose need is met in a remarkable way. They are provided for, and we often think of how that shows us God’s faithfulness to His people, and also their trust in the Lord. There is however a third person involved – the person who was the means used by God to send the good, or whatever was required to meet the need. They had to be sensitive to the leading of God in accordance with the teaching of the Scriptures, and the prompting of the Holy Spirit; hearing Him say: You give that money, you send that food to that person today, tomorrow. That is good stewardship. That is sensitivity to doing the master’s direction. We are faithful when we are diligent in little. There can be a temptation to say. Well, I have got so little, I am finding it hard to make ends meet. It is a very small house we have got, and I am overwhelmed with my job, I have to do overtime to survive. The children are very demanding, and I am struggling to cope. What can I do? My assets are nothing. God says. Whatever you have got, it belongs to Him, and it is to be actively managed. Seek His direction, seek His guidance, and be faithful in little. Wherever we are, whatever we have got, seek to be faithful, even in little.
b) We are called to be wise
Have we been wise? Wisdom is applied knowledge. The fact is, your time, your money is finite, it is limited. The potential calls on your time and your money far exceed what you can possibly respond to. We cannot avoid saying, ‘No’. There are some good people it seems to me, and they feel they must say ‘yes’ to anything and everybody. That is their notion of Christian service. However, it is impossible to avoid saying ‘No’ in some instances. The great question is, How do I know what to say ‘No’ to? That can only come as we read the Scriptures, and in particular, as we seek the leading of the Holy Spirit, guiding us, prompting us, and showing us what to do. It is not so much a question of doing right things, but being led to discern what is the right thing for me in a given situation. Think of me example. There is a retired couple reaching the end of their life;
they have got some children. What do they decide to leave to their children, and what do they decide to give to the Lord’s work before they die? There is no right answer to that question, but it has to be addressed. I could multiply countless examples like that. We shall be examined on whether we have been wise in our stewardship.
Have we sought to discern the Lord’s will in a very specific way and on specific choices – what to say ‘yes’ to, and what to say ‘no’ to?
c) Being blameless
We are to discharge our stewardship in a way that is appropriate to those who are stewards on God’s behalf. What is the vital thing that makes us blameless? Why, it is love! 1 Corinthians 13 teaches us that no matter what I do, nor however spectacular it may be, even giving all my goods to feed the poor, if it is without charity then it profits me nothing. No love, and on that solemn judgment day, there is nothing. To be blameless, there must be love. The description in that chapter of the fifteen characteristics of true love are some of the verses which every Christian should know by heart and constantly go over in their minds. Without true love we are nothing. When we give an account, have we been faithful, have we been wise, have we been blameless?
In concluding part one there are three points:
1 We have seen our privilege and responsibility. God entrusts us with this position of stewardship. He has given us all these different things, our money, our time, our abilities, our possessions, and we have the privilege of them being managed by us as stewards on God’s behalf.
2 Our shortcomings. As one thinks about this, one is painfully aware of one’s shortcomings. I can think of a situation where I gave a foolish commitment, where I am now hindered from wise stewardship. I have learned a lesson, I have repented, and I hope I will not repeat the mistake. No matter how far we have fallen short there is forgiveness. The wonder of the Gospel! ‘O grace, thou bottomless abyss, my sins are swallowed up in thee!’
3 The incentive to go forward. God’s wonderful grace to us. This is of course the great incentive, that from tonight onwards, we should seek to be good stewards with renewed determination and vigour. He has taken us from the dunghill, the misery of sin, into the glorious grace of being sons and daughters of God, and heirs of heaven. With those privileges, what a joy it is to serve Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength with all that we have devoted to Him. In that way, with God’s grace, we will seek to be good stewards.
2. Stewardship of Money
This is one aspect of the household which we are managing as stewards on God’s behalf. It is clear from what we have said before that all our money belongs to God.
Take care how we get money
Some things are obvious from the Bible. The normal way of getting money is through good, honest labour, toil and hard work. The fact that some who want work are unemployed is ultimately because sin has entered the world. Equally clearly, we can see that getting money through things like the lottery is absolutely wrong. Perhaps what is more doubtful for some is whether a Christian should take advantage of state benefits if he becomes unemployed, or on low income? I think the answer there is definitely ‘yes’, and with no sense of guilt at all. That is a position entirely consistent with Christian principles, of care for the vulnerable, the poor and the needy. It might help to think ‘when I receive my job-seekers allowance, family credit, or income support, it has come from taxes paid by Christians’. State benefits are a helpful way of distributing from those who have to those who are in need.
I think a much bigger danger for us is a fourth possible way of getting money which is by credit, i.e. by borrowing. I want to spend a little time on that aspect.
The dangers of credit
The term credit is a rather dangerous euphemism, because credit is actually going into debt. The Bible makes it clear that going into debt is a position of weakness. I am addressing my remarks here to believers as individuals. I am aware that believers in business have to borrow sometimes as part of business life, but as an individual, we must be very careful. In the Old Testament, God says to His people, the Jews, that a sign of His blessing upon them will be that they are the lender. His curse will mean that they will become a borrower. The lender is the head, the borrower, the tail. Proverbs 22.7 says that the borrower is servant to the lender. Borrowing is a position of weakness.
Very few can avoid borrowing when it comes to buying a house. However, we do need to take care about the amount of the mortgage. We must not over-stretch ourselves, and do remember at a time like this, with low interest rates, that the economic cycle will change, and rates will rise. You need to allow in your budget-planning for that fact, and so do not over-commit yourself on the size of the mortgage that you take out.
For any other borrowing, do ask really searching questions. Is it a real necessity? Is it absolutely essential that I have this thing, and if so must I have it now, and therefore, must I borrow for it? Why not wait and save and then pay for it with cash? There is a lot in the Bible about patience. Consider Bunyan’s picture of Passion and Patience in Pilgrim’s Progress. Passion says: I must have it NOW. The world offers to take the waiting out of wanting. On the other hand Bunyan
portrays Patience as being willing to wait for eternity before she receives her blessings. That is a real Christian perspective: to be prepared to wait for eternity to get my real blessings. If that is our perspective, it is a very small thing surely, to wait a few years, while one saves up for something which one needs. If you think you need something, and it really is a necessity, and you cannot wait and save for it, then a third golden rule is wait. Wait and pray about it for a week or two. One of Satan’s devices is to try and rush us into things, and to sweep us along without proper consideration. It is a powerful device of the evil one, and the Christian resists that by waiting and praying. If it is God’s will, then it will work out. God never dishonours somebody who waits and prays. God protects and provides for that sort of person. It is the very outworking of faith and trust in Him. We need to manage our expectations. One of my colleagues at work, when he first set up home had no carpets anywhere in the house. They had no easy chairs, but had two deck chairs in the living room, and then they built up from there. Maybe some of you older ones had that sort of experience. We must avoid the danger of thinking we should have everything straight away. That is not Christian.
What about credit cards and store cards?
Credit cards are potentially very dangerous for two reasons:
a they can encourage us to spend more than we really need to or ought to.
b they do have very high interest rates.
I confess that many years ago, I got into a mess myself with credit cards; I just had not realised the danger and how easily the bill mounts up. When I realised what was happening, I tore them up, and for many years, I did not have a credit card. If you are finding it hard to manage a credit card, tear it up and do not use it. They are not essential. If it suits you to have a credit card for convenience, there are two golden rules. First, always pay off the month’s bill each month. Do not let it build up. Second, be very careful before having more than one card. Store cards are designed to make you spend more than you need or intend. Just be very careful with them, they are best not used.
We should give away as much as possible. If we catch a glimpse of the need and the opportunity, we should want to give away as much as possible to help extend God’s kingdom, furthering our Master’s interests. I think a tithe is the minimum. I stress that this is not as a legal duty, but as the very minimum response of glad thanksgiving
to the God who has given me everything – salvation, eternal life, and His presence and protection in this life. My personal view is that it is good to encourage children to tithe from their very earliest days. Encourage them to tithe their pocket money, and their newspaper delivery money. It is a good habit to cultivate, simply as an expression of thankfulness to God as Creator. How much more we who are redeemed. However, we should really aim to give more. Given that all my money belongs to God, we should try to move to a situation where we only keep what we need to live a Christian life of simplicity and contentment. The rest should be given away. We need to pray that God will help us to have wisdom to understand what it means to us personally when it says, ‘having food and raiment let us therewith be content.’ All the rest we give away to further God’s kingdom. There is need for saving for rainy days, obviously. The key is an attitude in which we seek to give away as much as we possibly can. We must accept of course that circumstances change. A young single person may hope to get married and so they may be saving for a deposit on a house and for the things they will need to set up home, and so the tithe is the minimum. As a married couple with children they will have huge pressures on the family budget; and it may take great effort to keep the tithe going as the minimum. Then as time goes on, and the children grow up, and leave home, the financial position can become ever so much easier. That is where there is the temptation just to carry on with the tithe as a minimum. At that point it is vital to remember that all our money belongs to God and I will keep only what I need for simple and contented living, and all the rest I can be laying up as treasure in heaven, as I give it away to further God’s cause and kingdom.
Briefly on money management. We must have a budget to keep our income and our expenditure balanced. Remember Micawber’s Dictum. Income Â£1, expenditure 19/6d – result happiness! Income Â£1, expenditure Â£1.0.6d – result misery! It is as simple as that. We must be willing to make the effort to draw up a plan that shows income against a detailed list of expenditure. Items include something for a reserve for uncertainty and try to keep some savings for a rainy day. Crucify the flesh on impulse buys, keeping up with the Joneses, and any hint of self-indulgence. We need to be disciplined with ourselves. There is joy in making money go further. There are countless opportunities for this: e.g. buying second hand, making do and mending. Make it a happy thing, so that there is more to give away.
When financial problems strike
Financial problems are not unusual. They can be caused by such things as redundancy, loss of overtime, sickness and unplanned major expenditure. When that happens, the vital thing is to face up to reality. A sense of shame and a sense of fear means that it is very easy not to want to recognise what has happened. It is a well known fact that people in this situation often do not open their post because they are so afraid of what it will bring. If you are married share the situation with your husband or your wife. Face reality, and negotiate solutions. Talk to your creditors. Tell them what is your income, and your commitments and hence what you can afford to pay. It may only be a very small amount, but demonstrate that you are doing your best. Explain that when you have got some more, you will pay more. Talk to them, and get solutions. I know from the experience of people in financial difficulties who owe us Council Tax that I would much rather somebody offer to pay a small amount each week with the expectation that in due course it may be a bit more, and a bit more. I now know their situation better than if they just avoid talking to us, and I know that at least they are trying. Talk, explain, find solutions and try to move things forward. Do not hesitate to take up your benefits. Do not be afraid to seek help from the family and from deacons; (deacons were given to the Church in the context of the Grecian widows finding it hard to make ends meet). Organisations like the Citizens Advice Bureau are there to help. There is a national Christian group call