Thoughts on the Wider Meaning of Stewardship

The concept in its scriptural context.

W.L. Adams, Pastor, Arlington, California

In modern times we think of a steward as one who has charge of an eating establishment, and espe­cially one who is the supervisor of the cooking and serving of food. In ancient Bible times the term was applied to a person who had the oversight of all things pertain­ing to a household or an estate, who was employed to relieve the owner of the details of the busi­ness, and who received a specified allowance for his services. This practice applied to the Jews in the time of Christ and later. Such persons were respon­sible to the owner for all that was done about the premises or business over which they were stewards.

At this time, however, many seem to limit the term "steward" to the person who is in charge of that which the Lord has placed in his hands. Without question it has such meaning, for God is owner of all. He is the Creator of all, and in a sense we are personally responsible to God for what he gives us. Some seem to make the pay­ment of tithes and offerings the sum and substance of this stewardship. But are we not responsible for the remainder of that which He gives us? Can we recklessly squander the rest of this substance? Will God not hold us responsible for the nine tenths as well as the one tenth? Are we not stewards over that as well as the other?

Honesty in Stewardship

Stewardship does not end when the per­son places his tithe and offerings in the hands of the church treasurer. The church treasurer in his turn becomes the steward of that which is placed in his hands, and he is just as responsible for it as is the per­son who pays it to him. The tithe is for a certain purpose, and the various offerings are given for specific purposes also. The treasurer must give an account of the funds that are turned in to him, and he is not allowed to use any sum thus placed in his hands for other purposes than designated by the donor. When a member of the church gives a dollar to the church for the help of the poor, neither the treasurer nor any board or committee can make use of that for any other purpose. In the eyes of the law a misapplica­tion of funds is called a breach of trust, or a misappropriation of funds. Any variation from the ob­servance of the donor's wishes is not strictly honest.

When the treasurers of the higher organ­izations receive the various funds, they be­come the stewards and they are responsi­ble for them. They in turn have no right to divert any of these to other channels, and the rules that apply to the local church treasurer are equally applicable to them; and the boards they serve may not make use of these funds as they please.

Stewardship of Truth

There is another and more comprehen­sive meaning to this subject of stewardship, and it is expressed in the words of the Sav­iour in Luke 12:42, 43: "Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing." This is in harmony with the admonition of Christ to Peter as they walked by the sea after His resurrection. Jesus was eager to know whether Peter was as sure of him­self at that time as he was before the crucifixion, when Peter assured him that though all men forsook Him, he would not do so. We know how he failed the Lord when He was arrested. Now Peter assured Jesus that he loved Him. Jesus then said,

"Feed my lambs" and "Feed my sheep." In the future Peter was to demonstrate his love when he preached that wonderful ser­mon fifty days later on Pentecost, and from that time onward until the day of his death as a martyr.

The same thought of stewardship is ex­pressed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:1, 2: "Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faith­ful." The minister is a steward of the word of God and for this reason he should be very careful to teach the truth as it is found in the Bible. The apostle advised Timothy to "preach the Word." The minis­ter who preaches that which is not clearly taught in the Scriptures should not be al­lowed to continue in that line of work, for he will be held accountable in the day of judgment for the things he says.

Some may ask whether a preacher may state his opinion about what he offers. We find some things in the Bible that are not too clear to us, and when we discuss them we should not be dogmatic in what we say. We should tell the congregation plainly that we are giving only our personal opin­ion and that it should be taken for what it is worth. Among those topics that are not stated too clearly so far as the wording of the Bible is concerned, we might men­tion the subject of the 144,000, and the iden­tity of the king of the north in the prophecy of Daniel. We can give our personal opin­ions without being dogmatic about them.

Stewardship in Daily Living

Not only should the minister consider his public teaching but he also should remember that his daily life and influence are likewise a part of his stewardship. His family and their influence should be in­cluded, for they all combine into a power for good or ill in the church and the com­munity in which they live. Even the most humble member of the church has an in­fluence on some, and he will have to ac­count for this in the judgment. A wayward son of a minister has a detrimental in­fluence on his father's work, even when the latter has done everything possible to direct that son into paths of rectitude. No one has )et come forward with the solu­tion of the problem of the one black sheep in a family. Regrettable though it be, such a stray in the family of the minister is a depressing influence on the father and mother, making it hard for them to do their work effectively. If the son of a gambler goes wrong, no one thinks it strange, but when the son of a preacher goes that way, it gets into the newspapers or becomes in other ways the subject of widespread news. It would seem that Satan works harder for the downfall of the family of the minister than for that of others.

The use we make of our time is ours to direct. Life at best is short, and every mo­ment is valuable to us and our children. Someone has said that the average person wastes enough time during the first twenty-five years of life to secure a liberal educa­tion if that time were properly utilized. It is not well to be so busy that we never have a moment to relax, but we are the stewards of our time, and the minister who succeeds will budget his time in order to accomplish necessary tasks with the least effort. The successful minister studies and prepares the sermon he is to preach. If he doesn't, the congregation will be aware of his lack of preparation. A minister must have a vast fund of information to make it possible for him to give discourse after discourse without repetition. However, his health demands that he must also have some physical exercise. In order to do both he must carefully budget his time.

Then each of us has his physical and mental abilities over which he is the stew­ard. Those who have made a study of men­tality assure us that the average human brain has ability beyond our calculation. They have said that we have on the average somewhere between five and ten billion of neurons, or nerve cells, by which we can store knowledge. We are told that no one has ever yet used even one-hundredth part of his brain power. It is wonderful to con­template that if faithful we will have an eternity in which to store the mind with the things God would have us know. But that is no reason for our neglect of this faculty today. We are responsible as stew­ards for the way we use our mental powers. Much is expected of the minister today, and so, as a faithful steward, he should not only acquire Bible knowledge but also de­velop his other talents.

The minister should know his Bible thoroughly, but of necessity, he must understand many things of a practical nature. These are all parts of our steward­ship. May God grant us the wisdom we need to administer this responsibility.

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W.L. Adams, Pastor, Arlington, California

June 1964

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