According to Webster’s Dictionary, there are three definitions given to the English word steward:
- A person who looks after the passengers on a ship, aircraft, or train and brings them meals.
- An official appointed to supervise arrangements or keep order at a large public event, for example, a sporting event.
- A person employed to manage another’s property, especially a large house or estate.
While the third definition is most in line with the term as the Bible uses it, we shouldn’t ignore the first two. An essential aspect of biblical stewardship is looking after people and providing order over Creation. Let’s examine these two concepts briefly before we get to the definition that we typically think applies.
The Bible and especially the New Testament are replete with examples of how we should treat one another. Paul’s “one another” passages, instructions to Timothy, and his letters, while primarily pointing to Christ, also instruct us how we are to shepherd and steward those who are “in Christ.”
From the very beginning of Creation, God instructed humans to have dominion (charge of) over Creation. Adam was to name the animals. This naming was an act of providing order, as was his role to care and preside over Eden and its inhabitants.
God’s command to be fruitful and multiply is an extension of this stewardship order. This new Creation needed people to fill it and to subdue its potentially wild state. The original intent appears to be for man to extend Eden’s order into Eden’s outer regions.
As we seek to understand what stewardship is, it would be wise for us not to forget these definitions, less our view of stewardship becomes materially focused only. Nevertheless, the Bible does point to us as God’s steward of material resources.
In the New Testament, the Greek word for steward, οἰκονόμος oikonomos, is given a similar definition to Webster’s third definition. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon definition for steward is, “a steward, manager, superintendent (whether free-born or as was usually the case, a freed-man or a slave) to whom the head of the house or proprietor has entrusted the management of his affairs, the care of receipts and expenditures, and the duty of dealing out the proper portion to every servant and even to the children not yet of age.”
As we try to understand what it means to steward, we should note that the Greek word for economy is oikonomia, which is similar to oikonomos. Theologian R.C. Sproul puts it this way:
“Broadly understood, economics has to do not only with money or taxes or business but with the management of resources. That includes all of our resources, such as the resource of our unborn children, educational materials, and policies.”
The lesson? Our call to be Biblical stewards is much broader than we typically think it is.
Our Authority – An Old Testament Picture
As followers of Jesus, we have an inherited and granted authority and responsibility to lovingly rule over Creation’s affairs, much like the overseer of a household.
A clear biblical example of practical stewardship is Joseph. Born into a large family, Joseph alienated his brothers with his brash expressions and dreams of ruling over them. Their growing hatred led them to sell Joseph into slavery. In the book of Genesis, we read:
Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there. The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the Lord was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. So Potiphar left everything he had in Joseph’s care; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate. (Gen. 39:1–6a).
Like Joseph, we have responsibilities to manage well, but our responsibility is much broader than our family or our home. Our responsibility extends to the household of faith, the Church, and to Creation itself. Whatever domains God has granted us in which we have influence, we are to lead and serve in them as if we were managing it for God, until Christ’s return. We are not to waste resources, but to make wise decisions. And equally important, our authority is not to be lorded over others as Joseph initially sought to do over his brothers.
How The Fall and Sin Distorted A Proper Understanding of Stewardship
Stewardship is established and granted in the very opening chapters of Genesis. God calls humankind to take dominion over the earth, but it was not a self-serving or tyrannical dominion. Because the original couple was in a close relationship with God, they executed God’s will on his behalf towards Creation. Furthermore, because man was created in God’s image, he became the image-bearer of God in Creation. He was to work it and keep it, to reflect God’s character in their care of Creation.
However, soon, sin entered the Garden through Adam and Eve’s willful abandonment of God’s commandment and trusting in their own wisdom. These actions had disastrous consequences not only for them but for all of Creation.
Not only did the Fall affect man’s relationship with God, but it also affected man’s relationship with Creation. Instead of reflecting God’s character, humans started reflecting their own warped desires upon Creation. They began to see the created realm as a subservient tool for man to get his way and accomplish his own selfish agendas.
Fortunately, God foresaw this and began unfolding his plan to restore Creation. This unfolding culminates in Jesus Christ, who came as the perfect reflection of God’s character. Through His death, burial and resurrection, Jesus dealt a deathblow to the powers of darkness that have warped our view of stewardship. In Christ, we can once again have our desires and wills transformed into their proper frame of reference – stewarding God’s Creation on His behalf.
What does the Bible say about money and possessions?
Finally, we end up where many people think stewardship starts: dealing with money, possessions, and giving. These fall under the umbrella of our biblical calling to be stewards.
More than 2000 Bible verses deal with money. From being generous and sharing our resources to tithing and our treatment of the poor, God has a lot to say about how we are to use money. We must see God as the provider and source of all our resources, and we must use money and possessions to further his Kingdom, not our own. When we realize we are managers of these resources and not their owners, it will change how we use them.
Fundamentally, stewardship is about exercising our God-given dominion over His Creation. Through our stewardship, we reflect God’s image and care toward all of Creation and fulfill our roles as caretakers and stewards.
*Christian Stewardship Network; posted October 21,2020.