Although “stewardship” sounds like a bible word, it isn’t. But it is a bible concept. The concept is twofold: (1) there’s stewardship of what’s been given particularly to you and (2) there’s stewardship of everything else. Stewardship is the way we look after things – not the way we own things. We are stewards, or trustees, or custodians – of something that belongs to someone else but which has been put into our charge. Stewards are not owners, they are guardians.
This is recognised in the ethical investment world where they talk about, “safeguarding the future” – in other words, we don’t own the future, we are looking after it for others. It’s a different way of thinking about how you invest.
Biblical stewardship recognises that God owns it all (“The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” Psalm 24:1): including (but not restricted to) our bank balances and mortgages, houses and cars, earnings, pensions and pets, the birds, the beasts and even black holes. But what gives rise to the concept of stewardship is that God places many of these things into our care. Right at the beginning He says to mankind, “take charge” (Genesis 1:28). Biblical stewardship means to look after the world in which we are placed (“A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal”. Proverbs 12:10). The goal is to develop and sustain the world.
Then there is the particular sense in which we are called to be stewards of what has been entrusted to us, personally. We are given resources for a noble cause. Biblical stewardship does not decry money and possessions but it does recognise that they have a purpose. This means that before we can work out how to be good stewards we have to discover our purpose, our God-given goals in life.
You may have several God-given goals, some overlapping, some which last a lifetime and some which last only for a few years. Goals such as: significant generosity; raising a family; working part-time or earning less so that you can give time elsewhere; building a business to provide employment or launch a great product; to write a book; compose an opera; paint a portrait; play for England; clear your mortgage; support the vision of your church; have fun.
God gives us resources appropriate to the goals He ordains. So biblical stewardship means looking after those resources well: spending less than you earn; avoiding the use of debt; saving for the future; giving generously. Good stewards think about and use money (and resources such as time, gifts, energy, skills, possessions) in an intentional way – which means they reach toward their life purposes with greater efficiency and fewer stumbles along the way.
So you could define successful biblical stewardship as, “the continued achievement of God-given goals, using God-given resources, in the most efficient way”. (Ron Blue)
Paul provides an example of this sort of biblical stewardship in 1 Corinthians 16:2, “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.”
There is the resource given by God – money. Then there is the purpose, also given by God – in this case to send emergency relief to the church in Jerusalem. Then there is the care – in regular thoughtful saving.
Biblical stewardship is: recognising that we have been made custodians; discovering our God-given purposes; and then taking charge, taking care, so that those purposes may be fulfilled.
This article was first published by Stewardship in July 2018.