I don’t know about you but there’s only one place I’ve ever heard someone use the word “stewardship” and that’s in church. It’s not an exclusively Christian word, but if Oxford ever published a Lexicon of Christianese, “stewardship” would most certainly have an entry. Sadly, if this theoretical dictionary did exist, the definition for Christian stewardship would probably just say, “See tithe.”
I say that would be sad, not because stewardship has nothing to do with finances, but because such a narrow definition of Christian stewardship robs us of a full-fledged understanding of the matter of Christian stewardship. If you’re trying to become a productive Christian, you need to first understand that everything, not just your money, belongs entirely to God. Your time, energy, resources—absolutely everything—belongs to God.
Such a holistic view of stewardship is precisely what the Scriptures teach. If we take this responsibility seriously, it will dramatically affect how productive we are with our lives. So, let’s look at one of the key New Testament texts on stewardship. Here are four observations about Christian stewardship from the Parable of the Talents.
The Heart of Christian Stewardship
In Matthew’s account of the Parable of the Talents Jesus, speaking of the Kingdom of Heaven, says, “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away” (Matthew 25:14–15).
Those people who were charged to look after the man’s things while he was away are stewards. A steward is someone who is charged with looking after something on behalf of someone else. In this story, the master charges his servants to look after various amounts of money for a period of time while he is away.
Now, this may seem obvious, but it is key: Whatever it is a steward has been charged to look after it does not belong to him.
So, in the story, the master doles out money to three servants “each according to his ability,” then he leaves (15). The first two servants invest that which was entrusted to them and make a handy return. “He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more” (16–17).
Nice work, stewards!
But what’s wild is the servant who had been entrusted with one talent hoarded it like a crazy lady on a TLC special. “But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money” (18). The servant who buried the talent had no business doing so. It wasn’t his money. He was supposed to invest those things which his master had entrusted to him.
It was not his treasure to bury.
Here, then, is the heart of Christian stewardship: It doesn’t belong to you, but you are responsible to make good use of it for the Master.
That means whatever God has given you stewardship over, it is not yours to waste. If it belonged to you, then, of course, no one would have any right to tell you what to do with your own resources. But it doesn’t belong to you.
You can’t bury your time in video games, bury your cash in frivolous purchases, or bury your energy in unworthy pursuits. Because it’s not your time, it’s not your money, and it’s not your energy—they all belong to the Lord. And He has entrusted them to you so that you might invest them and make a good return for Him until He returns.
But what exactly has God given us to watch
The Domain of Christian Stewardship
The next important question is this: What does Christian stewardship encompass? What do the “talents” represent? For what precisely am I responsible to look after?
One way to answer these questions is to first answer another question: What of mine actually belongs to God? The short answer is everything.
- Your money belongs to God (Haggai 2:8)
- Your soul belongs to God (Ezekiel 18:4)
- Your life belongs to God (Romans 8:9)
- Indeed, everything on earth belongs to God (Deuteronomy 10:14; 1 Chronicles 29:11; Psalms 24:1; 50:10, 12)
Stewardship is more than just dollars and cents. Money, time, resources, talents, energy—it all belongs to God and has been loaned to you with an expectation of dividends.
Money, therefore, is to be used to sustain yourself and your family, but it is also to be used to care for suffering saints, promote the cause of gospel advancement, and provide support to your local church. These are eternal investments that if we want to be faithful stewards, we need to get serious about.
Similarly, the specific allotment of time you have been given on this earth is not a mistake, a random number generated on some heavenly computer. Psalm 139:16 says, “in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
Yet, so many
The same is true for energy. In this age of laziness, some of us are far too careful about managing our energy levels. Don’t want to overdo it! Gotta be careful not to burn ourselves out! And while there are those who are prone to unhealthy levels of activity and refuse to rest, I think the majority of us use the specter of “burn-out” as an excuse to be slothful. We stay home from church Sunday morning because we had a big Saturday. We don’t volunteer to help brothers and sisters in need because we had a big week.
Always in need of a mental break, we squander the allocation of energy that the Lord has entrusted to our stewardship on temporal pursuits. Not necessarily bad things, but energy is a limited resource, and a steward often needs to say no to otherwise good things so that he can say yes to energy investments that will yield higher returns for his Master.
And the same is true for every other resource you have at your disposal. It’s all God’s. As the parable indicates, not all have been given the same number of talents, some have been given more, some less. But all have some resources loaned to them by God. Perhaps it is your connections, your living situation, your job, or your abilities. These too should be invested for the glory of the King of Kings. Christian stewardship demands it. Our resources are not our treasure to bury.
So the domain of Christian stewardship extends beyond finances to all of life.
The last few paragraphs may have felt like a guilt trip; like I’m telling you that you have to make some massive sacrifice of joy to be a good steward. But Christian stewardship is really an immense privilege.
The Privilege of Christian Stewardship
We might be tempted to think of Christian stewardship as a burden. Sure it’s God’s stuff, but there are so many things I could do with it for myself! Think of how you could use that money you are giving to church or missions. Or think about how you could spend that time you committed to raking leaves for shut-ins.
Sometimes Christian stewardship can feel like a real drag.
But far from being a burden, Christian stewardship is an opportunity to glorify God. And what’s even more amazing, there is a great promise of reward for being a good steward.
Back in Matthew
“Now after a long(Matthew 25:19–21)
timethe master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’His master said to him, ‘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.’”
When the Master returns to settle accounts, none of us will feel that any bit of the resources we invested for eternity was not worth it. In this parable, those who were faithful with a little are given much more. Jesus makes this principle explicit—faithfulness in this life will be rewarded in the next.
In the eternal run no one will ever complain that they got the short end of the deal for serving the Lord.
“For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance.” (Matthew 25:29)
And the other immense privilege of Christian stewardship is simply the opportunity, through what looks to the world like a sacrifice, to show off our God as trustworthy.
The Trust of Christian Stewardship
They say actions speak louder than words. It is one thing to say, “I trust the Lord.” But when we have to put our money, time, or energy, where our mouths are, that is when the truth really comes out. The difference between the first two servants, who invested their master’s money, and the third who buried it, was their view of the master. The third servant says he hid the money because he did not trust the character of the master (Matthew 25:24–25).
Our willingness to invest and give back to God what is rightfully His, even when it hurts—even when we would really, really, really like to hold onto it!—is the true test of our trust in Him.
If I give up a couple of hours of sleep, to wake up early for the men’s prayer breakfast, will He really sustain me through the day? If I give financially til it hurts, will He come through and help me make ends meet? If I reject that sinful inclination to hoard my resources, time, energy, and money, and instead with an open hand present my whole life to the Lord for His use, recognizing that it was not mine
That’s a serious leap of faith. That is an act of trust.
When we invest these entrusted resources for eternity, we are acting like faithful Christian stewards. And then we are honoring Him by showing Him off as a God worth trusting; a God who is not slack in keeping His promises. By our being faithful Christian stewards, we proclaim to the world that God is a worthy object of our complete trust.
It’s not our treasure to bury. Our whole lives and all our resources are on loan from the Maker. And it is our privilege as Christian stewards to invest it all for His glory. That is Christian stewardship.