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A Trustworthy Steward

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1 Corinthians 4:1, 2

A Trustworthy Steward

This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.  Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.[1]

Each month, I preach a stewardship message.  This has been my practise for a number of years.  This practise grows out of a conviction that the people of God can only benefit from instruction detailing the will of God for us, and especially instructing us in the way we are to handle what God has entrusted to us.

When I speak of stewardship, I suppose the uninitiated think that I am pleading for money.  They imagine that the church needs money, and therefore the preacher must plead for their money.  I want to disabuse any who hear this message of such thinking.  Though stewardship does extend to our moneys, the concept is far broader than that.  In fact, the concept of stewardship has its genesis in the salvation Christ freely gives.

You cannot give what you do not have, and we believe that all that we have we received from a gracious and loving God.  Though we confess that the advance of the Kingdom of God does require finances, we do not believe that we should request donations from the unsaved.  We do not finance the work of God through appeals to the community for funds; neither do we hold bake sales or yard sales to underwrite the ministry of Christ.  We carefully stress that those who have never believed the Risen Son of God should not give during the time of worship as we receive gifts from God’s people.  Similarly, we believe that all giving must be voluntary without any coercion.  Those who are deeply wounded by life and who cannot rejoice in the act of giving, as well as those fellow believers who do not share our desire to extend the Kingdom of God through the ministry of this congregation, should not give as we worship through giving.

These practises grow out of a conviction that stewardship lies at the heart of the Christian life.  We receive life from the Master, and therefore, we are responsible to offer the life we have received to Christ’s glory.  The things that mark this life—the material goods that we possess—are certainly under His reign, but for us, even more foundational to our life is the thought that as Christians, stewardship begins with the mysteries of God.

Perhaps the use of the phrase mysteries of God creates a problem.  That phrase tends to make some people positively theological; they imagine that we are speaking of some esoteric or ethereal concept that is capable of being understood but vaguely at best.  However, the concept of a mystery is easily understood through even a cursory review of its use in the New Testament.  Except for four occurrences in the Book of Revelation, the presentation of mystery in the New Testament is confined to Paul’s writings.

According to the revelation of God, we are appointed to be stewards of life.  Christians bear responsibility before God to administer wisely all that He entrusts to us.  Your earthly holdings—the houses you live in, the vehicles you drive, the conveniences that fill your houses, your bank accounts—have all been entrusted to you so they can be used to the glory of God. 

In the same way, the talents you have received were given by the Lord.  The abilities—the voice that sings so sweetly and the mind that works so quickly—and the strength of your hands have been lent to you for a very brief time so that you may serve the Lord.  Unquestionably, however, the greatest treasure you have received is the knowledge that Christ Jesus is Lord.  You are responsible to employ with wisdom the knowledge of His mercy and of His grace to the praise of His glory.

Stewardship is the Essence of Christian Faith — A Methodist minister once informed me that he entered the ministry because he considered the ministry to be an easy job.  However, it is not easy to be a servant of Jesus Christ—not if you are a true minister.  The world did not love the Master, and those identified as belonging to the world are not likely to love His servants.

As one entrusted with the mysteries of God, the servant of Christ must be faithful to the Master, regardless of what others may say or do.  The servant of God will many times be treated as rubbish and refuse by those belonging to the world; his own spiritual children may break his heart and resist discipline.  The servant of God must not, however, cease to be a steward of the mysteries of God.  The steward of God recognises that he is responsible to guard the treasure that is the message of hope, even as he makes every effort to give away that precious treasure.

What is true for the minister of Christ holds equally true for each child of God.  As you mature in the Faith, you will assume greater responsibility to tell others of Christ the Lord and to instruct them in the mysteries of Christ.  It is possible to summarise the Christian life by the singular concept of stewardship.  The child of God recognises that all that he or she has received is from God, and especially does the believer rejoice in the knowledge of life in the Son of God.  Therefore, the Christian sees that God is ruler of life, and that all that is held is held as one appointed to be an administrator of God. 

When one becomes a Christian, that one is called to identify immediately with the Saviour in baptism.  Paul recounted his conversion to Christ, concluding with the statement that when Ananias had given instruction in the will of God, he then commanded the new believer, now, why do you wait?  Rise and be baptised [Acts 22:16].  Having received baptism, believers are joined to the Body administering the ordinance [see Acts 2:41].  Whether the Body to which they are joined has a written covenant or not, they enter into covenant with their fellow members of the church.

It is anticipated that each believer will assume responsibility within the congregation to which he or she is appointed by the Spirit of God.  Above all else, each believer is responsible to build up the fellow members of the church.  Paul makes this quite clear when he instructs the Corinthian Christians, Let all things be done for building up [1 Corinthians 14:26].

Believers in the Risen Son of God fulfil their responsibility to strengthen the church through ministering to one another, through exercising the gifts God has given each one, and through supporting the ministry of the congregation with prayer and with their possessions over which they have oversight.  I repeat—stewardship is the essence of the Christian Faith.  Salvation is the gift of God, but we are saved to serve.  The Christian Faith is not an issue of “either/or,” but rather it is an instance of “both/and.”  We are to determine to minister to one another and we are to administer what God has entrusted to us.  All this is to be done so that He will be glorified and honoured through our service.

I have often cited the great verses Paul penned in the Ephesian encyclical.  Almost all believers have heard Ephesians 2:8, 9, if they have not memorised the verses.  By grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  However, I fail to understand why we fail to memorise the tenth verse: We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them [Ephesians 2:10].

Paul’s constant prayer for the Colossian Christians, and I do not doubt his prayer for each believer in each city where he had ministered the Word of God, was a prayer for godly service.  The Apostle testified, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God [Colossians 1:9, 10].

The expectation of willing servanthood permeates the New Testament.  Paul commands the Galatians to master the freedom in Christ they have received when he writes; you were called to freedom, brothers.  Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another [Galatians 5:13].  Freedom in Christ, the heritage of each Christian, is to be revealed through willing service to others.

Peter commands Christians: as each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace [1 Peter 4:10].  His words are not restricted to those who are set apart to formal ecclesiastical service, but rather Peter is addressing each Christian.  The context demands this understanding since in light of the imminence of the return of the Lord all are to keep loving one another earnestly [1 Peter 4:8], and since each one is to show hospitality to one another without grumbling [1 Peter 4:9].  In other words, if we accept that each Christian is responsible to love others earnestly, and if we accept that each Christian is to show hospitality to one another without grumbling, then we must accept that each Christian is responsible to serve one another, understanding that the gift received is not for his or her benefit solely, but rather for the benefit of the whole Body.

To be sure, an overseer is God’s steward [Titus 1:7], but it should be obvious by this point in the message that a life of service—a life of stewardship—is expected of each individual who is called a Christian.  The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve [Matthew 20:28].  When He had washed the disciples’ feet, a task that none of them had assumed, the Lord Jesus instructed them.  That passage is instructive.  Please turn in your Bible to John 13:12-16 and follow as I read the passage.

When He had washed their feet and put on His outer garments and resumed His place, [Jesus] said to [His disciples], “Do you understand what I have done to you?  You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.  Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.

These words are but an iteration of Jesus’ instructions at the Last Supper.  [Jesus] said to the [disciples], “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors.  But not so with you.  Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.  For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves?  Is it not the one who reclines at table?  But I am among you as the one who serves” [Luke 22:25-27].

If you will be a Christian in deed and not in name only, you will cultivate a life reflecting a servant’s heart.  You will become a steward of the gifts you have received, investing them in others for the glory of the Father.  You will accept the responsibility to build others, you will embrace the responsibility to wisely distribute the financial gifts over which you have oversight in order to ensure God’s glory, and you will employ the Gospel of Christ as a precious gift to turn many others to faith in the Son of God.

Stewardship Begins with the Way we Handle the Mysteries of God — Stewardship is the essence of the Christian walk.  I trust I have established this truth firmly in your mind.  Since this is true, it should not be surprising that the manner in which we handle the mysteries of God determines the manner in which we conduct our administrative responsibilities as citizens of the Kingdom.  Each Christian should ask himself or herself, “Am I building the Kingdom of God; or am I just present in the Kingdom?  Am I building a church; or am I merely attending services?”

The mysteries of God appear to revolve in particular around the unveiling of the Christ and the creation of His church.  The term mystery occurs twenty-four times in the New Testament, and, as already mentioned, except for four of those occurrences, all occur in the writings of the Apostle Paul.  In New Testament theology, a mystery is an event that could not have been anticipated with the limited knowledge available under the Old Covenant, but which God has fully revealed under the New Covenant.

The hardening of Israel in order to permit the salvation of the Gentiles is a mystery [Romans 11:25].  The Gospel of Christ Jesus is a mystery [Romans 16:25].  The rapture of the redeemed is a mystery [1 Corinthians 15:51].  That the Gentiles are fellow heirs with the Jews is a mystery [Ephesians 3:6, 9].  The love of Jesus for the church is a mystery [Ephesians 5:32].  That God should become man is a mystery [1 Timothy 3:16].  These mysteries are entrusted to us as Christians.

Let me be precise so that none of us misses the impact of the responsibility for integrity in handling the mysteries of God we have received of God.  Since the mysteries of God revolve around Christ and His church, we are accountable to tell others of Christ—revealing the mystery of Christ, and we are responsible to build the Body—demonstrating integrity in our interaction with the church that Jesus loved.

Stewardship imposes responsibility to tell lost family members, friends and neighbours about the love of Christ, pleading with them to believe the Good News.  Stewardship implies responsibility to treat the church where Christ has placed me with respect appropriate for His holy bride.  This means that I must wisely invest my gifts in those people who share the Faith with me, seeking their benefit in all things.  This means that I accept the leaders God appoints, receiving them as overseers who must give an accounting to God.  Administering the mysteries of God demands doctrinal integrity.

A person that lacks doctrinal integrity can never honour God through wise administration of possessions.  It is doubtful that one lacking doctrinal integrity is capable of godly administration of material goods since they are unwilling to administer wisely the spiritual gift(s) God has entrusted to them.  Perhaps you recall the words of Jesus.  One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.  If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?  And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own [Luke 16:10-12]?

You will doubtless recall that in the parable of the administration of talents entrusted to a man’s servants, Jesus has the master of the servants commending them, Well done, good and faithful servant.  You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much [Matthew 25:21, 23].  Those who are faithful with what God entrusts to them receive yet greater responsibility.  Jesus concluded the recitation of this parable with a statement presenting a Kingdom principle that is counterintuitive to anything we could anticipate.  To everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance.  But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away [Matthew 25:29].  The identical Kingdom truth is restated in a slightly different form in Luke’s Gospel.  There, Jesus is quoted as saying, everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more [Luke 12:48].

Stewardship requires faithfulness in little matters as well as in great matters.  Christians are to be conscientious to support the cause of Christ, showing generosity in distribution of earthly wealth, and also in the investment of time and talents.  We serve Christ because we love Him.  It must become the ambition for each Christian to serve God’s people in order to make them strong because we love Him who has redeemed us.

The things of this life are transient.  Gold, silver, stocks and bonds, houses and lands are all destined for dust.  They are merely tools to be employed for time; however, we must not neglect to employ with wisdom these tools to Christ’s glory.  Relationships, integrity, righteousness and the witness of the Word have an eternal impact.  Therefore, the truly valuable aspects of life are people with whom we interact day-by-day.  Winning the lost to faith in Christ is permanent.  The Psalmist wrote

[No man] can by any means redeem his brother,

Nor give to God a ransom for him—

For the redemption of their souls is costly,

And it shall cease forever—

That he should continue to live eternally,

And not see the Pit.

[Psalm 49:7-9] [2]

The Master asked, what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul [Mark 8:36][3]?  Life is precious; the soul of an individual is infinitely valuable.  No material goods can buy back the life of one who stands condemned before the Lord God.  Whether attempting to exchange earthly possessions for the life of another, or whether attempting to exchange worldly goods for one’s own life, a man’s offering must prove insufficient.  All that suffices for the soul of man is the sacrifice presented by the infinite Son of God.  There is no other redemption sufficiently valuable to redeem a lost soul.

Telling others of Christ, praying for them to believe the message of life, and refusing to succumb to the temptation to be silent, is the initial and essential stewardship of each Christian.  The words of the Master give us no permission for silence.  Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels [Mark 8:38].

Likewise, investing our lives in one another within the Body of Christ yields eternal results.  One cannot read the 14th chapter of 1 Corinthians without being convinced that building up others is at the heart of acceptable service in the church.  Paul is clear about the necessity to always endeavour to make one another strong in the Faith.  This ongoing effort to strengthen refers not to a great, unseen, universal, amorphous entity, but rather it speaks of the people of God gathered in one place to which we are accountable for the administration of the gifts God has entrusted to each of us.

The emphasis upon building the Church of the Lord is not difficult to understand.  We have each heard at some time, “if you want a job done, give it to a busy person.”  Industrious people are people that can be entrusted with yet greater responsibility.  We do not entrust responsibility to lazy people.  Likewise, we do not eagerly entrust responsibility to people that are unwilling to demonstrate themselves to be trustworthy.

At issue is the question of whether Jesus can be Lord over a part of one’s life.  That is certainly a disquieting challenge to those claiming to follow Him and to obey Him that the Master issues.  Why do you call me “Lord, Lord,” and not do what I tell you [Luke 6:46].  His words echo the words of the prophets.

God, speaking through Malachi, spoke pointedly to the issue of commitment to the Lord God.  A son honours his father, and a servant his master.  If then I am a father, where is my honour?  And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name.  But you say, “How have we despised your name?”  By offering polluted food upon my altar.  But you say, “How have we polluted you?”  By saying that the Lord’s table may be despised.  When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil?  And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil?  Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favour? says the Lord of hosts.  And now entreat the favour of God, that he may be gracious to us.  With such a gift from your hand, will he show favour to any of you? says the Lord of hosts.  Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain!  I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand.  For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering.  For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.  But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised.  But you say, “What a weariness this is,” and you snort at it, says the Lord of hosts.  You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering!  Shall I accept that from your hand? says the Lord.  Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished.  For I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations [Malachi 1:6-14].

Either Jesus is Lord of all, or He is not Lord at all.  Either we use the whole of our lives, our possessions and our spiritual gifts for His glory, or we do not glorify Him at all.  Stewardship is the recognition of His mastery over life and offering all that we possess to Him for His glory.  Stewardship is seeking God’s glory for the welfare of the Body of Christ.  Stewardship is accepting the responsibility to serve without demurring.  Stewardship is accepting the burden of urging others to believe the message of life in Christ, and honouring the church for which He died.  Stewardship means that we will make the effort to know the Lord—to know His will and to know what honours Him, and to understand the role of His bride in the unfolding Plan of the Ages.

Stewardship Anticipates that we will be Found Trustworthy — The word trustworthy in the second verse may also be translated faithful, and it is so translated in a number of translations.[4]  While the two words are synonyms, they may hold a slightly different connotation in the mind of some listening to the message.  Paul’s use of the word pistós [trustworthy or faithful] embraces two convergent concepts.

The idea is that a steward will be reliable, and also that a steward will be faithful.  The two concepts sound quite similar, but we tend to divide and subdivide concepts until they lose their original intent.  In the day in which Paul wrote, a steward was entrusted with the master’s moneys, and therefore a steward would need to be reliable.  This embraces the idea of being trustworthy.  However, the steward must also fulfil the master’s wishes, and this embraces the concept of being faithful.

This raises two questions that should be answered if we will be good stewards of the mysteries of God.  First, what has the Master entrusted to us?  According to the text, our Lord has entrusted to us the mysteries of God.  We have already seen that these mysteries present the truths concerning Christ and the churches for which He died.

Christians are accountable to know and to communicate that Jesus Christ is Lord.  This announcement of the Gospel is accomplished through what we say, but it is also communicated through how we live.  Many people ascribe to Francis of Assisi the quote, “Preach the Gospel at all times.  Use words if necessary.”  Though it is questionable whether Francis ever spoke these words,[5] they nevertheless capture an essential truth.  Life communicates belief.  What you believe is revealed through how you live; and your life will either lend power to the words you do speak, or will enervate what you say.

If I love Christ, I will also love the Bride of Christ, His church.  If I have do not love His Body, it becomes evident that I do not truly love Him [1 John 2:10; 3:10; 4:20, 21].  While many people claim to love an ideal, the love anticipated is love for the visible Body of Christ, the assembly to which He has joined each of us.  None of us can minister effectively with the gifts entrusted to us if we try to minister to all churches.  We can, however, make all churches stronger through investing our gifts in the lives of those who share our worship as fellow members of the Body of Christ.  If the church to which I belong is strong, it will strengthen other churches through revealing the presence of the Lord Christ and through enabling this congregation to encourage sister congregations.

The Master has entrusted to us as Christians the mystery of God in human flesh, presenting Himself as a sacrifice for sinful man.  That mystery declares that all who believe the message of life in the Risen, Living Son of God are forever freed from sin.  The Master has also entrusted to us as members of His Body the mystery of the church, that God is uniting in Christ all peoples who receive the life He promises.

Another question raised is, has the Master given any commands concerning the mysteries He has entrusted to us?  Of course, we have been commanded by the Lord to go … 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 [Matthew 28:19, 20].  Christ Jesus anticipates that His people will make disciples.

We are each responsible, individually and collectively, to disciple others.  This glorious task is accomplished through telling others of the mystery of Christ, and through inviting them to receive the grace of God.  Your church exists to provide a place for those you bring to faith to grow in this most Holy Faith and to encourage you in the work you do.  However, you must never forget that each of us who is a Christian bears responsibility to be always going, always discipling, and always teaching.

We are to be willingly accountable to one another to honour the church to which we belong and to express the mystery of the church.  We do this through treating with respect the Body to which the Spirit has joined us.  Your church does not exist for your benefit alone, though the presence of your church does benefit you as a member.  The Body to which you belong gives you a place to exercise your gifts and to receive ministry from other believers who share your love for Christ. 

Paul teaches us to let all things be done for building up [1 Corinthians 14:26].  Moreover, this mutual building up is to be conducted when you come together in assembly.  It must be the ambition of each Christian to build up the Body to which he or she belongs.  Paul teaches the Christians of Corinth, do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him.  For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple [1 Corinthians 3:16, 17].

When I treat the church with contempt, refusing her disciplines and asserting my “rights” at the expense of my responsibilities, I am treating the church with disrespect.  Paul warns that if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love.  By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died [Romans 14:15].  The Apostle also cautions, do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God [Romans 14:20].

When I refuse to demonstrate a submissive spirit within the church to which I belong, I am dishonouring that church.  To dishonour my church is to threaten that church with destruction, and to threaten the church with destruction is to invite divine examination that must eventually lead to destruction.

The grace of God is revealed through His goodness to all mankind.  God’s goodness is showered on all people.  We who are Christians believe and know that God makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust [Matthew 5:45].  Everyone—whether acknowledging God or denying Him—enjoys His merciful provision; this is the common grace that provides strength and sustenance for each of us.  We are responsible to be stewards of all that God entrusts to us.  However, stewardship begins with wise handling of the mysteries of God.

Of course, you cannot wisely handle the mysteries of God if you have never understood those mysteries.  You cannot understand those mysteries until you personally experience the first, great mystery of the Person of Christ the Lord.  He died because of your sin, and rose from the grave for your justification.  The call of God is for you to believe this message so that your sin will be forgiven and you will be saved.

God’s Word calls you to faith in Christ.  These are the words Scripture presents.  If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.  That passage concludes with the divine promise that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved [Romans 10:9, 10, 13].  Believe this message and be saved, even today.  May God bless you as you receive Christ as Lord over your life.  Amen.


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[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

[2] The Holy Bible, New King James Version (Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, TN 1982)

[3] New American Standard Bible (Lockman Foundation, La Habra, CA 1995)

[4] e.g. Holman Christian Standard Bible and NET Bible

[5] Friar Jack’s E-spirations (http://www.americancatholic.org/e-News/FriarJack/fj092302.asp) accessed 25 October 2006

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