Christians use the word stewardship so often that we tend to assume everyone knows what it means, and we rarely stop to explain it.
Despite the fact that our culture no longer uses the word, the church remains committed to it because of what it uniquely represents. There is simply no other word that communicates this critical Christian perspective. It informs our entire mindset about the world and our place in it.
What Is Stewardship?
Humanity’s role as stewards is embedded in the story of creation. The writer of Genesis explained why Adam was placed in the garden:
The psalmist further expounded on the relationship between God’s creation and humanity’s management:
you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas (Psalm 8:6-8).
God put people in charge of what He created, but they were to understand that creation ultimately belonged to Him. In Psalm 50, God explained this to the Israelites:
I will not accept a bull from your house
or goats from your folds.
For every beast of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know all the birds of the hills,
and all that moves in the field is mine.
If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
for the world and its fullness are mine (Psalm 50:9-12).
God’s ownership of everything
Scripture constantly reminds us that nothing falls beyond God’s ownership.
Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it (Deuteronomy 10:14).The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me (Leviticus 25:23).
Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all (1 Chronicles 29:11-12).
Who has first given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine (Job 41:11).
And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts (Haggai 2:7-8)
There is not a moment when followers of Christ should wonder what belongs to whom. Everything on earth is God’s.
Our role as stewards
God has entrusted the managing of His resources to us.
You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day (Deuteronomy 8:18).
The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts (1 Samuel 2:7)
Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all (1 Chronicles 29:12).
We all work hard to convert our time and skills into a salary that will sustain us. But that should not make us feel entitled. God gives us the ability to work and make a living. So not only do we have the honor of managing His assets, we are supported by those resources as well. And there lies the tension of stewardship.
Ultimately, stewardship is about recognizing that the world is God’s and we are simply managers of His resources. This includes everything we tend to think of as our own. It comprises our money and possessions, but it also includes resources like our time, energy, and skills. Our goal as steward/manager is to faithfully use these resources for the Lord.
Jesus’ Parables About Stewardship
During Jesus’ ministry, He taught on the subject of stewardship multiple times. To fully understand stewardship, we need to wrap our heads around these parables.
The parable of the shrewd manager: Luke 16:1-13
There are a few parables that always seem to leave people scratching their heads, and the parable of the shrewd manager is one of them. We are used to parables where the listener is expected to imitate one of the main characters. That is not the case here. None of the individuals seem to be very praiseworthy. So what is Jesus getting at?
The rich man discovers that his steward is mismanaging his affairs and fires him. The steward has become accustomed to a particular lifestyle and is not too excited about having to beg. So he decides to use his position to build a relationship with the people who owe the rich man money. That way, he will hopefully have somewhere to work in the future.
Jesus’ point is that the unbelieving people in the world tend to be more shrewd with worldly resources than the “sons of light.” He is telling His followers to use money (which typically has a corrupting influence) in a future-oriented way. We are not to copy the shrewd manager’s behavior; we are to notice his ingenuity in preparing for the future.
It is a reminder to lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, “where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20). Obviously we cannot literally store treasure in heaven; we do it by investing in things that God cares about.
The parable of the talents: Matthew 25:14-30
In the parable of the shrewd manager, Jesus encourages His followers to use God’s resources in a way that considers their future. In this parable, Jesus encourages stewards to ensure that they are using God’s resources in a way that will bring in a return on His investment.
The master in Jesus’ parable has expectations for his resources, and this places a responsibility on the stewards to manage them in a way that meets or exceeds those expectations. In this case, any improvement upon what they have been given is acceptable. It is important to realize the steward that incited the master’s wrath did not lose any money—he simply did not offer any return on the master’s investment.
For the Christian, this means that every asset and resource in our lives should be managed with an eye on growing the Kingdom. Everything from the way we use our time to the way we spend money should be done with the understanding that the master could return at any time and demand an account.
What Does That Mean for Us?
So what does the idea of stewardship mean for us in the 21st century? Here are five ideas we need to remember if we want to succeed as good stewards:
1. Stewards are responsible for what they have
The key to reliable stewardship is growing an awareness that everything belongs to God. Therefore, we are called to be thoughtful and intentional about how we use our resources. This includes the things we tend to think of as “mine.”
When you pull out our wallet to swipe your debit card, you are not just spending money you earned. You are managing a resource that God has entrusted to you. That does not mean that you can never splurge or buy something extravagant. But you want to be careful to avoid indulgence. In the end, stewardship requires some intentionality. We need a strategy for monitoring the use of God’s property and for investing it.
2. Stewardship is about investing
You could take every cent you have ever earned and put it under your mattress. When Jesus returns, you write Him a check for the millions of dollars you have saved. He is not going to congratulate you on your superb management. Because stewardship is not about protecting—it is about investing.
When Jesus tells us to “store up treasure in heaven,” He is telling us to find ways to send it ahead. We do that by investing in Kingdom-centered things that God cares about. These include:
- Giving to your church
- Investing in ministries
- Supporting charities
- Serving in Christ-centered ways
3. Stewards need to be wise about debt
There is a lot of Christian advice out there about debt, and some of it is pretty alarmist. When you consider the fact that the average American household carries about $17,000 in credit card debt, it is easy to see that there is a problem.
The problem with consumer debt is that it cuts into your ability to use God’s resources wisely. How many people neglect to invest in God’s Kingdom because they struggle to simply make the minimum payments on credit cards? That is why it is critical to borrow wisely and infrequently.
4. God cares for others through His stewards
Every once in a while, someone might pull the money they need out of the mouth of a fish (Matthew 17:24-27). But for the most part, that is not how God takes care of people. God filters His vast resources to people in need through the faithfulness of His stewards. That is why Jesus would say something as outlandish as “give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you” (Matthew 5:42).
5. Stewards are to invest in the future
When push comes to shove, stewardship is about faith. A good steward believes that:
- God owns everything
- We are responsible for managing His resources
- He is coming back and we will give an account
- There are rewards or consequences for our management
If we do not believe these tenets, stewardship becomes nearly impossible. A steward needs to be able to give up what they have with the faith that it will have a long-term effect on the Kingdom—and that God will reward their
The Life of the Faithful Steward
God has blessed each one of us a little differently. The challenge is to use whatever we have—be it money, time, energy, or skills—to serve God and grow His Kingdom. This means that we look at what we have and ask God, “How can I use this to glorify You and reconcile people to You?” When we consistently ask ourselves that question, we are well on our way to becoming good stewards.