Stewardship. This is perhaps one of the most misunderstood words in the English language. If you were to ask most people in the church what stewardship means, they’d probably say money or tithing or giving. However, giving is only a part of stewardship and tithing is only a part of giving.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines stewardship as “the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.” Stewardship is managing something that isn’t your own. The key word in that definition is the word “management.” The word “steward” means “manager.” Stewardship is management.
Ownership is a Myth, Stewardship is a Reality
King David understood this principle clearly, and 1 Chronicles 29 articulates how we can become faithful stewards according to God’s plan. In verses 10 through 13, David affirms God’s greatness. God, he says, is the source of past and future blessings. Psalm 24 says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” God doesn’t have to be helped, supported or subsidized. He made and owns all things, and that includes your life and mine.
A Christian steward simply acknowledges what is already true. We show both our sinfulness and our ignorance by living under the illusion that anything on this earth really belongs to us. The Bible says, “The earth is the Lord’s.” That’s not good advice—it’s a great truth. We must adjust to it. Without acknowledging that, nothing else will come out right.
I once heard of a parable about some little field mice who settled in a field of corn. Everything they needed was there. One day the farmer who owned the field came to reap his harvest. This turn of events meant tragedy for the mice. What seemed so snug and secure suddenly came crashing down around them. It never occurred to them that the field didn’t belong to them.
We are not the owners, but we have been trusted with resources and the care of everything—creation, gifts and talents, money, time, the gospel—for the sake of God’s purposes in the world. Personalize this. Think about the creation around you, your gift and talents, your money and time. Think about your family. Think about the gospel you know and love. How are we managing these for the sake of God’s purpose in the world?
A Steward Acknowledges His Accountability to God
The other side of God’s ownership is our stewardship. Throughout the Bible in passages such as Genesis 1, Psalm 8 and other places, we are told that God gives us dominion over the earth. However, we are managers, not owners. A steward is entrusted to manage what belongs to the owner. With that trust comes accountability.
In 1 Chronicles 29:15, David confesses the brevity of life. Life is not permanent. He points to a day of reckoning, saying, “We are foreigners and strangers in your sight, as were all our ancestors. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope.” Paul in Romans 14:12 echoes the same reality: “So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.” Many parables of Jesus deal with trust and accountability. The parable of the talents reminds us that however little or however much we have, we are accountable for its use—all of it. We must give a final answer to God. Our auditing day is coming, and the report must be filed.
We are accountable not just for physical and financial resources; we are accountable for life itself and the experiences that come with it. We are responsible to God for what we allow sorrow and suffering, happiness and joy, to do to us and through us. The Christian steward realizes and acts on his accountability because it matters in this life and in the life to come.
Owners Have Rights,
Stewards Have Responsibilities
While owners have rights over their possessions, stewards have responsibilities over them. We see this truth expressed in 1 Chronicles 29:16-19. David recognizes God’s priceless gifts and asks for help in managing them for his son’s benefit.
The Christian steward seeks to use his time wisely. He will ask God to teach him to number his days so he may get a heart of wisdom and make the minutes, hours and days count. One of my mentors would say to me all the time, “Elton, structure breeds freedom. You are the one who is your time manager.” My time management is under my control.
In Ephesians 5, Paul echoes the theme of time management in many of his letters. However, he says this to the church in Ephesus: “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity.” Ephesians 5:15-16. Paul is essentially saying, “How you live matters.” Friends, how you choose to orient your time, your schedule and your life—it matters. And you have two choices. You can be wise or unwise. Paul understood that every moment was brimming with redemptive potential. It was an opportunity for God to use him, for Paul to use the spiritual gifts that God had given him, and he did not want to miss a moment. Have you ever missed a moment in which God wanted to use you? You see, our lives are built on moments. The wise see moment after moment, opportunity after opportunity; they want to do whatever they can to orient their lives to be ready for when God wants to use them.
The Christian steward will also use his body wisely and care for it. In a world of excess and overindulgence, we quite often ignore God’s commands about how we are to treat our bodies. They are the temple of the Holy Spirit and we are charged to take care of them and keep them in good shape. Paul writes, “Therefore I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.” Romans 12:1.
The Christian steward will use his spiritual gifts for the sake of others. He will believe this truth, along with Peter, who wrote: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:10. Each of us has differing gifts, but as stewards, we will seek to use those to God’s glory and humanity's service.
The Christian steward will also share the gospel, remembering that Jesus said, “You shall be my witnesses.” Acts 1:8. By their words and their actions, the Christian steward will say to others, “Jesus Christ is the most important priority in my life, and I want you to know Him and love Him as I do.”
Equally as important, the Christian steward will give his financial resources with compassion. He will give, invest and spend to the glory of God and out of gratitude.
Faithful stewardship challenges us to think about how we are using what God entrusts to us, with the intent to help grow His kingdom here on earth. Is it possible we might choose comfort and safety over risk? We can either end life with great remorse for lack of trying or we can hear Him say “good and faithful servant,” our Creator’s words of affirmation for trusting Him in every aspect of our lives.
By Elton DeMoraes, D.Min. DeMoraes is the Southwestern Union Vice President for Church Ministries, Ministerial Director and Stewardship Director. He lives in Burleson with his wife, Alessandra, and their daughter, Isabella.