Imagine being the caretaker of a sprawling estate. Your duties include maintaining the grounds, the mansion, the pool, and the owner’s collection of luxury cars. One day, the owner tells you he is leaving to travel the world and has no idea when he will return. You’re told to keep doing your job so that everything will be ready when he returns.
Eventually days turn into weeks, then months, and eventually years. You start to wonder if he’s ever coming back. Would you continue faithfully doing your job or would you eventually be tempted to start cutting corners and maybe even enjoy some of the owner’s things for yourself? After all, he’s nowhere around and who will ever know anyway?
It’s hard to know what we would do and what temptations we would submit to until we’re in that situation, but perhaps we already are. As Christians, we have been entrusted with possessions of great wealth and are in charge of managing them while our master is away too. It’s a job the Bible commonly describes as stewardship.
Stewardship in Genesis
The idea of stewardship goes well beyond the common discussion on how we handle our money. It’s a role that was first introduced to us in creation. What we see in Genesis 1 is that God created the whole world and everything in it. Adam and Eve weren’t given ownership of creation, but were instead given responsibilities to manage it for God’s glory. This role is what we know as stewardship – the management of another’s property.
Psalm 24:1 – “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”
As we move through the Book of Genesis, we get to Joseph in Genesis 39, where we see him serving as a steward in Potiphar’s household.
Genesis 39:6 – “So he [Potiphar] left all that he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate.”
As the steward of Potiphar’s household, Joseph was granted authority to manage everything for the benefit of the master, but never to presume ownership or use it for his own self-interest.
What we see in these two examples from Genesis will be evident in the rest of scripture. A steward is simply the manager placed in charge of what someone else owns. In order to do this job well, it will be important to know the master intimately, have absolute loyalty and be dedicated to fulfilling the master’s wishes. The ultimate gauge of a steward is their faithfulness to the master.
1 Corinthians 4:2 – “…it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.”
Stewardship Lessons from the Parables
Some of the best lessons on Christian stewardship and how it applies to our lives can be taken from the parables found in Matthew 24 and 25. In this section, there are three parables that Jesus told back to back in order to make a single point.
Jesus used economic illustrations so his audience could understand the lessons. However, the spiritual lesson was about His eminent return and in the process of making that point, He shows us what it means to be faithful stewards.
Tale of the Two Servants – Matthew 24:45-51
The lesson of this first parable is that our master, Jesus, will return and it could be at any moment, potentially sooner than we expect. The faithful servant will live as if that day is going to be today while the unfaithful one will live life on their own terms without any anticipation of the master’s return. When the master does return, every servant will be revealed for who they truly are and either rewarded or punished.
Revelation 22:12 – “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.”
Parable of the Ten Virgins – Matthew 25:1-13
In this parable, Jesus continued to teach about His ultimate return, but this time with the lesson that we need to be prepared for our master’s coming, even if it’s later than we expect. The faithful servant will anticipate this possible delay and plan for it as they patiently watch, wait and continue working.
Parable of the Talents – Matthew 25:14-30
In the final parable in this series, we again see Jesus as the master and talents are used as an illustration of something of enormous value being entrusted to the servants. What Jesus left us with was more valuable than money, He entrusted us with the gospel message.
Matthew 28:19-20 – “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
In this parable, we see the faithful servants quickly going to work while the unfaithful one buried his talent and went on with life.
When the master returns (after a long time, by the way), the two faithful servants gladly come to show him what they’ve done and start by acknowledging that it was all a gift from the master.
The master praises them not for their results, but for their faithfulness by saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” This is consistent with what we read about sharing the gospel and being rewarded for the labor, not the results.
1 Corinthians 3:7-8 – “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.”
As their reward, the faithful stewards are put in charge of more and told to “enter into the joy of your master.” We don’t envision the typical servant entering into the joy of His perfect and loving master, but that’s what God is offering, entrance into His joy.
In stark contrast, the unfaithful servant assaults his master’s character and tries to use that as his excuse. The master uses the servant’s own words against him and hands down the punishment for unbelievers, which is to be cast where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. This servant clearly didn’t really know the master, Jesus. He was disobedient, unfaithful and ultimately showed that he didn’t even know Him.
Not only is this servant punished, but his one talent is also taken away and given to the servant with ten. Whoever faithfully uses their opportunities to serve will be given more, but whoever neglects their opportunities will have everything taken away. There is parallel language used in Luke 8:18 – “to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.” Some unfaithful servants may even think they know Christ, but in reality, they never did.
Application in Our Lives
As servants of Christ, we should prioritize everything in our lives according to what He values most. After all, it’s all His and we’re just in charge of managing it for Him. As we do, stewarding the gospel will become our most important task and everything else will be seen simply as tools to help us proclaim the gospel message.
Let’s look at three common examples of stewardship tools – children, money and our physical bodies. We’ll consider how we can steward these areas well during life and what to do with them once we’re gone and can no longer manage them ourselves.
Ephesians 6:4 – “…bring them [children] up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
When God told Adam and Eve to multiply, He gave them the role of raising children that would be additional image bearers who would know God and glorify Him. We still have that same job of multiplying and raising up children to be the next generation to take the gospel to the nations and continue the process.
We also need to provide instructions for their care and development if the Lord calls us home. This is typically done through our estate plan.
Guardianship – Who will care for our children in our absence? Will these new caregivers continue to raise them up “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord”? We need to place a high value on the spiritual care of our children, not just their material or physical care. If we don’t dictate who will provide this care, the court will and they won’t value the same things we do.
Financial Care – If we leave behind young children, we need to take into account, Proverbs 20:21 – “An inheritance obtained too early in life is not a blessing in the end.”
We don’t want to ruin our kids by heaping too much wealth on them at an early age and we also don’t want to steal their desire to work. However, leaving them enough for a college education and a financial blessing to get them started in life could be a wise decision.
During our lives, our financial resources are used for three primary purposes:
- Spending – providing for our family
- Saving – caring for our family in the future, and
- Giving – investing in the gospel financially.
As faithful stewards, we shouldn’t presume ownership of God’s resources and seek to use them for our own glory, but instead always acknowledge His ownership and look for how we can glorify Him and spread the gospel message.
Our estate plan will determine what happens to our money when we’re gone. It should reflect our faith and acknowledge that everything is God’s. Caring for our family is still a primary concern, whether that be for a spouse, young children, or other dependents like a special needs child.
After considering the needs of our family, we have two basic choices for what to do with the rest. We can leave it in the hands of another faithful steward who will also seek to glorify God or we can give it directly to ministry.
1 Corinthians 6:20 – “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
Our physical bodies are a key instrument in our service to God and in stewarding the gospel message.
Young people have a greater capacity to use their physical bodies in labor for God. Older individuals can compensate for the loss of strength with wisdom gained from their years of service. However, eventually both the body and the mind will fade. In our effort to make the most of ourselves in service to our Master, caring for our bodies and our minds is a fundamental stewardship responsibility.
Healthcare – There may come a day when someone else needs to make healthcare decisions on our behalf. Out of the desire to have our bodies cared for well and out of love for those left in the position to make decisions on our behalf, we should take the time to plan ahead.
Funeral Planning – The time after a loved one’s death can be a very emotional time for those left behind and also a time of vulnerability. Again, out of love and respect for those who will be left behind, take the time to make your wishes known. You don’t want to leave loved ones with a burden or possibly guilt as they try to make decisions while grieving your loss.
Following is a list of 5 ways we can be good stewards of all that God has entrusted to us.
- Recognize God as the owner of everything.
We have been entrusted with authority over many things, but there is nothing that we possess that wasn’t first given to us.
1 Corinthians 4:7 – “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?”
If we fail to recognize His ownership of everything we’ll quickly start to assume ownership for ourselves and seek our own glory instead of His.
- Be obedient and faithful to Christ. A faithful steward will not live like the rest of the world that doesn’t know or acknowledge Him as master. True believers will be found faithful.
- Be ready for Christ’s return today, but also prepare in case He comes later than you expect. If He comes during our lifetime, we want to be found faithful. However, we don’t know the number of our days or the timing of His return, so we need to have a succession plan in place that will transfer our management responsibilities to others who also know God and will do the job well.
- Prioritize the gospel above all other stewardship responsibilities. The gospel is our most valuable gift and every other resource should be viewed as a tool to use in our stewardship of the gospel. That could be in the way that we raise our children, take care of our bodies or manage our finances.
- Strive to hear the words “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” There is no better prize in all the world than being adopted into God’s family. We are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” Let that serve as your assurance and the motivation for living faithfully for the Lord.
If you are interested in reading more of our research on this topic, you can downoad the full Stewardship article here.
Brad Graber, CFP® has been working with clients on personal financial planning and investment issues since 1996. He invests his time mentoring and educating individuals on ways to be better stewards of the resources God has entrusted to them.