God's will is that we be fruitful trustees of God's gifts and graces. Stewardship … provides a context for believers in Jesus Christ and members of his Church to establish a link between what they believe and how they live.
Stewardship is nothing less than a complete lifestyle, a total accountability and responsibility before God. [1. John H. Westerhoff, III, Building God's People in a Materialistic Society. (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983), 15.]
—John H. Westerhoff III
We often equate stewardship only with a congregation's annual financial campaign or with the appropriate use of an individual's money. While these concerns certainly matter to stewardship, they are not where we begin. A person can give significantly to useful causes and still not model biblical stewardship. Our understanding of God's story is frequently partial. Yet God's ongoing story is context for a truthful account of stewardship and what it means to be a steward.
Therefore we will give attention in this chapter to the story of faith in order to bring clarity to our understanding of stewardship.
Journal: What is my present understanding of stewardship? What are personal examples of how I have exercised stewardship?
1. In Genesis 1:1, who created the heavens and the earth?
2. According to Genesis 1:3–26, what different things did God create?
3. According to Genesis 1:28, God instructed humans to do the following:
4. In teaching his disciples how to pray, what did Jesus reveal about the nature of our relationship with God and with others (Matt 6:9–13)?
5. Read Genesis 2:7–9. Identify God's actions by listing the “verbs” or action words associated with God as the one acting:
6. According to Genesis 2:15, what responsibility did God give to man?
7. Read Psalm 24:1, Job 41:11, and Isaiah 66:1. What do these scriptures say about God?
What is Stewardship?
While the words “stewardship” or “steward” are infrequent in the biblical text, the theme of stewardship is prominent in the Christian scriptures, and connected to the notion of human identity and vocation. Stewardship is fundamentally bound up with God and all the rest of God's creation.
Stewardship, therefore, at its core is a relational concept. Yet how this is known comes by way of giving attention to the scriptures. Stewardship as a word is related in its beginning to the Greek word for economics, oikonomia, that is, “management of the household.” A household consists of persons-in-relationship who are mutually accountable to each other. In addition, household assumes the presence of certain goods distributed in some expected manner, and to the performance of duties for the good of the whole household.
A household in a broad sense can be an individual home, a small village, a state, a nation, or even a union of nations. So the original meaning of the term is helpful. Yet it still does not provide us with all the details of one particular household—God's household.
“I'm a Good Steward … aren't I?”: The Challenge of Materialism
Wouldn't it be wonderful if everyone could say without hesitation, “I am a good steward.” Yet life brings its own set of challenges to every human being. The Christian is not exempt from the tug and pull of real threats to the stewardship lifestyle. It is the tug and pull of materialism. Materialism is not an easy notion to define or describe. For our purposes here, a formal definition might look like this:
The cumulative effect of economic, cultural, and spiritual factors in shaping the understanding of and the justification for the acquisition and use of all types of material and nonmaterial goods. Such goods range from money to everything that money buys to a variety of other uses.
When was the last time you debated with yourself whether to purchase a new car or a home entertainment center, even though the car you now drive works really well and your television set you now watch gives you no trouble at all? How often in your life have you entertained random thoughts of a simpler lifestyle? Have you sometimes felt gullible or undisciplined when you gave in to that sudden impulse to buy, and later justified the purchase by saying you deserved it for all the hard work you have put in?
Out of Control: Can we Apply the Brakes?
Robert Wuthnow, the renowned Princeton University social scientist, indicates that “about 84 percent of Americans believe that materialism has become a serious social problem.” [2. Robert Wuthnow, “A Good Life and a Good Society: The Debate Over Materialism” in Rethinking Materialism: Perspectives on the Spiritual Dimension of Economic Behavior. ed. Robert Wuthnow (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1995),1.] It is a serious problem because it threatens our “deepest values.” What seems particularly disturbing to many persons is the sense that we are simply caught up in something we cannot control. Wuthnow further indicates that our best efforts to be cost-conscious appear destined to failure in the face of what seems to be a “social” conspiracy to strangle our capacity to make good choices. It may be that unexplainable feeling that our leisurely comfort and our significant institutions all come together to shape us in ways we may be embarrassed to admit. This materialistic pressure is applied, according to Wuthnow, by advertisers, large corporations, school systems, the medical establishment, neighborhoods, employers, international trade agreements, economic cycles, tax policies, and governments. [3. Ibid., 3.] Persons who feel this materialistic pressure might shout: “People just care about themselves!” or “Stop trying to keep up with the Joneses [there are too many of them now]!” Materialism threatens the quality of our collective life by the easy substitution of “having” for “being.” Who we are is being defined by what we have.
We do feel a gnawing sense of ambivalence about materialism. While we are often repulsed by it, we seem simultaneously attracted to its pursuit. This is similar to the idea that we condemn in others what we most detest in ourselves. A materialistic culture is a challenging context for faithful stewardship.
Focusing in on a Materialistic Culture
 What Ross Perot described during the 1992 presidential campaign as a giant sucking sound from the South … is more likely to be experienced as a powerful gravitational force from the Far East (especially Japan), targeted directly at the magnetically coded plastic cards in our wallets and purses. It is likely to be heightened by advertisements for the latest wide-screen, flat-screen, image-enhanced, superdigitalized home entertainment center. Or by the newest fuzzy-logic, autofocusing, self-stabilizing, telezoom, palm-sized, wireless-remote video recorder. What was once known as a mere television set, or as a mere camera, is clearly no longer suitable. [4. Ibid., 1–2.]
Or lets look at the pressure “middle-class” American families feel:
 High mortgage payments and property taxes may strap the family budget but seem inescapable, not because the amenities of suburban living are so marvelous, but because the public schools anywhere else are in disarray (if not downright dangerous). A new car that costs fifteen times what a new car cost a-generation ago is likely to seem equally essential, not so much for the luxurious pleasure of cruising along exotic coastal highways, but because an older, inexpensive car turns out to be an even worse bargain …. By the same token, frozen dinners, a microwave oven, a dishwasher, and an illegal immigrant hired to clean the house and take one's cat to the vet would have seemed like the epitome of materialism in another time, but now provide the only means available for two-career couples to work hard enough at their jobs to earn the salaries they need to pay for these labor-saving amenities. [5. Ibid., 2.]
The picture gets even more complicated when children are involved:
 Paying as much as ten times the minimum wage for a ten-minute visit to the pediatrician (required by the school system in order to obtain an excused absence for a routine sore throat) can easily evoke the thought that some class of people somehow is managing to lead an exorbitantly materialistic lifestyle at one's expense. So can the prospect of having to pay four or five times one's entire annual (gross) family income to send one's son or daughter to college. At the same time, children themselves have become a major new voice in the chorus of hurrahs for materialism. Certainly their voices are likely to be heard in the debates concerning home entertainment centers and camcorders. They are also likely to weigh in on such matters as which brand of frozen dinner is acceptable, what the advantages are of owning a more luxurious car, and which of the latest compact discs must be purchased in order to be minimally literate in things cultural. They are primed to serve as experts in the war for consumer dollars by the commercials they see on television and by the advertisements they read on every billboard, in every magazine, and on nearly every T-shirt.
[6. Ibid., 2–3.]
Journal: As I read the descriptions in the quotes above, do I agree with them? Do I see myself in them? In what ways?
Journal: In what ways do my experiences not agree with those indicated above?
Competing Visions of the Good Life
It appears we are captured by competing visions of the good life. On the one hand, we hear and sometimes heed the voices of those residing on the cultural fringe warning us in their strange clothing and even stranger habits of the deceptiveness of riches. They keep probing at us about the downward moral drag of unbridled desire for more and better things. These “fringe” voices come from such places as churches, artists, intellectuals, youth culture, or just regular “John the Baptist” types.
On the other hand, we seem sedated by the slick, subtle, but mostly effective messages of materialism “telling us that the good life … is one in which material pursuits play an important role.” [7. Ibid., 6.] “Yes!” we are told. “The good life, with all its trappings, becomes you.” The good life becomes the reward for responsible behavior. Often there is no public accountability to anyone in the market for why we desire the things we do. What seems to matter most is the efficient satisfaction of our desires. So our quest for the good life, according to the rules of the marketplace, makes perfectly good sense (or cents). In the process this often frees us from having to concentrate too much on our own guilt in materialism, while standing ready to deplore the materialistic impulses we detect in others.
What do you See? The Really Good Life
As Christians in our modern societies, especially within the highly productive West, we are challenged to see more clearly the Good Life God intends for us. We can only see truthfully to the extent vision becomes God's gift to us. The remaining part of this chapter and the chapters that follow hopefully will focus our sight on God's story. Only as we begin to live out this story can we envision the really good life. I will return to the challenge of materialism in the last chapter as we attempt to rehear or revision some of the New Testament's teaching on money and wealth. For now, lets concentrate on getting the story straight.
Getting the Story Straight: Biblical Vision of Stewardship
Stewardship enjoys much press today under the heading of “environmental issues.” This, however, is only part of the richness of stewardship. Yet even this heightened sensitivity to such stewardship concerns will continue, given the ability of mass media and technology to keep them ever before us. What often is missed in these discussions is the biblical/ theological dimension. Biblically and theologically, four dimensions come to mind as we faithfully pursue the meaning of stewardship. The four dimensions include God as owner, humans as responsible tenants, the earth as context, and the problem of human sin.
God as True Owner
“In the beginning, God …” (Gen 1:1). The first book in the Christian Bible talks about beginnings. Genesis assumes God. Before plants, trees, stars, animals, birds, and humans—God is! Before the human creations of towns and villages, arts and music, laws and regulations—God is! Genesis makes no claim to prove that there is a God. God is. The God who exists prior to any creation chooses to be God with others. (The God of the whole story is best known as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit … the trinitarian God.) This God seeks to produce or create that which is of God though not equal with God. In Genesis 1 the Hebrew word for create is used only of God, never of human activity.
The Genesis 1 story indicates God's affirmations: (1) “Let there be …. And there was;” and (2) “And God saw that it was good.” Certainly Genesis 1 pictures a God who is the architect and cosmic designer. The central thought to be remembered, however, is that God is the author of life and of all creation. [8. Many persons throughout history have debated the nature of the creation account in Genesis 1. One of the key issues in such debates is the relationship of faith and science. Are they necessarily enemies or can they somehow be reconciled? Hence, questions such as these arise? “Did God create the entire universe in six literal days?” Or “does each creation day represent a much longer period of time?” [an attempt to reconcile faith and science]. Or do more scientific [evolutionary] theories provide us a more truthful account of the creation? The debate is more complex than described above. Yet, for Christians called to be stewards, the crucial truth is that God authors all life and covenants with all creation.]
“Let there be …” indicates creation as the product of God's intentions, of God's mind. The Genesis 1 account of the creation affirms that God's word possesses the power to create space for things and people other than God. What God intends emerges as that which is consistent with God's will and purposes. In its divine createdness, all that God creates can be viewed as “good.” To be good in this sense means that the thing or object created fulfills the purpose for which it was intended.
In the creation account of Genesis 1, God creates humans last. In verse 26, God says, in the plural, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness” (NRSV). Verse 27 declares that “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (NRSV). Humans receive their being and existence as a gift from God. Then God blessed them (v 28a). Since every human being is made in God's image and likeness, human life is to be honored and respected. The form of our humanity is from the beginning social—“male and female he created them” (1:27). They both share in God's image and likeness. Both male and female are included in the term “man” (or humankind):
When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them “man.”
(Genesis 5:1–2, NIV)
In the description of the creation in Genesis 2:7, God is pictured as “[forming] the man from the dust of the ground and [breathing] into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Again God is the giver of life. God provides for man what God provides for each living creature. God provides a “suitable helper” for him that leads the man—under divine covenant and obligation—to exclaim: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, for she was taken out of man” (Gen 2:23). God and humans are in relationship. The notion of covenant is evident in creation.
The Covenant-making/Covenant-keeping God
Even when humans sin (see Genesis 3), God still reaches to reclaim them in their rebellion. In Genesis 12 the ancient narratives begin with recounting God's covenant with creation through a particular man, Abram (later called Abraham). God promises to make a great nation, whose descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the heavens (see Genesis 15). From there the story of God with his people continues to affirm God as the One who cuts a covenant with his people. It is a covenant of steadfast love from God to humans. The covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob tells of God's mighty acts and deeds.
With Israel's tendency to follow other gods, the God of Israel continues to remind them of his special love for them. Yet this special relationship is not only one of privilege but also responsibility. They were called to be God's people. The Old Testament contains numerous and varied accounts of God's ongoing dealings with his people. The prophetic speeches of Hosea, Amos, Isaiah, Micah, and Jeremiah contain the divine passion for covenant loyalty. Even in Psalm 24, David declares: “The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it … for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters” (Ps 24:1–2), for “he … the Lord Almighty—he is the King of glory” (Ps 24:7–10).
In the New Testament, God's story continues. Humans and other parts of creation are still in view. Finally and ultimately God speaks to us through his Son, Jesus Christ (Heb 1:2). The New Testament speaks in diverse ways about God's encounter with the world. Jesus Christ's life, death, and resurrection begins a new covenant. The content of the new covenant still makes the worship of God the chief end of human life. God's encounter with humans demonstrates that one's relationship to Jesus determines one's relationship to and status before God.
This brief overview of God's status as creator and owner leaves out much important detail. Yet it provides a biblical case for God as the benevolent owner of all creation.
Journal: In your own words, describe what it means to say that God is “Owner”.
Humans as Responsible Stewards (Tenants)
Since we tend to talk about our money, our abilities, our lives, our possessions, it is easy to forget that ultimate ownership rests with God and all are gifts to be used for God's purposes.
We are accountable to God for all of life and nothing less than a total commitment to God will suffice. [9. Westerhoff, 17.]
—John H. Westerhoff, III
Since God indeed is the creator and sovereign owner, then it should be equally clear that our status as humans depends on and derives from God's character. As humans living in a complex modern society, we tend to forget the divine claim on our lives. Hence, we forget our status as God's creation. In the previous section, we talked about a God who is always in-relation. A dimension of that relatedness is God's covenantal relationship with all creation. In the Genesis account of God's creation of the heavens and the earth humankind appears to occupy a significant place in God's purpose. After God creates everything else, God creates man as male and female. God assigns them the responsibility of “[ruling] over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (Gen 1:26, 28).
Journal: What do I believe it means to“rule over” all the earth?
Journal: How would I describe the present relationship of humans to all the earth and its creatures?
The charge often arises that humans, especially those of us in Western capitalist societies, read into the creation account the divine permission to view the rest of the creation as a means to our own selfish ends. The rest of creation is here mainly for the use and enjoyment of the individual and the collective desires of modern people and their institutions. While scholars have argued the truthfulness of this charge, the question remains, what could this text possibly mean in view of God's status as loving creator and giver of all life?
It might be helpful to review the context of Genesis 1:28 again. God is a covenant God whose love makes space for others. The relationship described here is not oppressive or demeaning. Creation is stamped with God's divine approval—“It [is] good.” When God had created humans, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Gen 1:31, emphasis mine). Remember that the revealed character of God becomes part of man—male and female—as being made in God's image and likeness. God's purpose, mind, and character forms (and informs) the purpose, mind, and character of humans.
Journal: How would I describe God's assigning humankind rulership or dominion over all the creation?
Given the revealed character of God, “to rule over” keeps intact the nature of God's relationship to all of God's creation. Humankind is not given absolute independence from God or autonomy in relationship to one another and to the rest of creation. Rather, humans serve as God's appointed representatives on earth. Humans' relationship with creation, as God's relationship, is covenantal. The way humans relate to other parts of creation should maintain God's care and God's stamp of good within the created order. Quite simply, humans function as stewards of God's creation. Hence, humans have been given a responsibility by the one who calls us to faithfulness. God created us in his image and likeness with the capacity to rightly relate to other persons and other dimensions of God's creation. We do not own the universe. God does!
Journal: Create a short prayer or poem that will remind you of this great responsibility given you by God:
In the New Testament, the God who creates is also the God of Jesus Christ. Sin has separated humans from God, from one another, from their individual selves, and from the rest of creation. The consequences of sin will be addressed in relationship to stewardship later. According to Genesis 2:4ff, God formed man from the dust of the ground. The Hebrew word for “man,” Adam, and for “dust of the ground,” adamah, come from the same root. The similarity of these words reminds us that humans are connected covenantally to both the ground and to other living creatures. God put the man in the garden, in Eden (Gen 2:8). Note particularly in verse 15 that created man is responsible man: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Man as steward is the caretaker of God's creation.
In the New Testament the scriptures reveal God's plan of reclaiming and restoring humans to their rightful relationship to God. Jesus comes into the world that God created, not to make us God but to empower and transform us to be disciples of Christ. As disciples we are cast in God's ongoing story of faith, a story that reminds us of our calling as faithful stewards in all of life. This is a story that calls us to whole life discipleship in the world. Let's look now at the context in which responsible stewardship is to take place.
The Earth: The context or Place of Stewardship
The creation story in Genesis does not radically separate spirit and matter. In church history there are examples of those who believed that only the spirit is good and matter is evil. Marcion, a mid-second century Gnostic heretic, distinguished the God of the Old Testament from the God of the New Testament on the premise that a holy God cannot participate in matter or flesh. This describes the general movement of gnosticism from a word meaning “knowledge”—which breeded a dualistic understanding of the world.
As one views, however, the whole sweep of the historical biblical record, there is only one God—the Triune God. According to the creation account in Genesis God created all that is. God deemed it “good.” So the physical world in itself is not evil to the core. Aspects of our cultures today do embody sin. A blanket denial or condemnation of creation blinds us to the “goodness” of God's ongoing work as the Triune God. To make this claim is not to soften the grip of sin in the world today, but rather to affirm God as creator and owner who can and still does operate without human permission and despite human sanctions. The New Testament notion of the “incarnation” challenges any understanding that God who is Spirit cannot participate directly in earthly matters. This God speaks finally and ultimately in his Son, Jesus of Nazareth. Mathew's gospel indicates the extent to which God participates in human affairs when he records that “ ‘they will call him Immanuel,’—which means, ‘God with us’ ” (1:23). Further, as John's gospel indicates, Jesus came to his own and his own rejected him (1:11). The truth remains that he did come to his own. God does participate with creation on the earth in the most intimate way Stewardship as “whole life discipleship” must occur within the varied contexts of earthly life experiences. Bodies, plants, animals, waters, air, heavenly objects, money, and cultural productions of all kinds, to name several, are the contexts for exercising stewardship. In all its dimensions the earth becomes the stage on which we act out our role as God's stewards.
Stewardship and the Human Problem of Sin
The Genesis 3 account of “The Fall” provides a window through which we can name the nature of sin. The fellowship with God, instituted first by God, occurs within the context of God's garden. Humans function as stewards and managers, with God as the owner. In this kind of relationship we discover the kind of sin that undermines it. Essentially, the lust of the eyes (“pleasing to the eye”), the lust of the flesh (“good for food”), and the pride of life (“desirable for gaining wisdom”) characterize the engine fueling the fires of rebellion. When Eve and Adam do the forbidden, thereby breaking covenant with God, they sin. Their sin is rebelliousness. They desire to be like God—to be God. For that moment they reject their status as God's creation or responsible stewards for the prospect of being like God the Creator. This is idolatry. It is putting self and self's desires at the center of human existence.
The remainder of the biblical story demonstrates further God's desire to restore human flourishing through offering salvation to all. While Adam and Eve, the serpent, and the ground were all judged in different degrees—due to sin—God's grace and mercy confronts the world with new possibilities.
Journal: Do I believe that humans can function as faithful stewards while living in rebellion toward God?
Is there any hope for the world in the face of evil and oppression?
Christians As Stewards: Beings-in-Relations
Examples abound of people and organizations that carry the banner of stewardship with utter seriousness. Some admit to no specific religious affiliation. Others enjoy membership in non-Christian religions. Some operate from a sense of personal commitments and values. Others function within certain groups known for their sensitivity to various dimensions of environmental concerns. What concerns us here is the “community of stewards” made possible by the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a community of stewards whose stewardship takes on a variety of expressions within life.
Journal: Who are examples of some of the persons or groups I know who appear concerned about various environmental concerns? Have I ever thought about whether such concerns are well-intentioned or misguided?
Am I involved in any such groups? Why? Why not?
1. What does Hebrews 1:1 reveal about Jesus?
2. According to Luke 4:18–19, what did Jesus reveal about his divine purpose?
3. In 1 Corinthians 4:1, Paul saw himself as entrusted with what?
4. Ephesians 1:9–10 indicates the ultimate purpose of the spiritual blessings we have in Christ. What is it?
5. According to Ephesians 3:2–3, 6, what is the “mystery” of Christ?
6. Read 2 Corinthians 5:17–21. Answer the following:
a. Anyone in Christ is a __________ creation. The _____ has gone, the ______ has come! (v 17)
b. What is the “ministry of reconciliation”? (vv 18–19)
c. How do we embody the righteousness that God gives? (v 21)
The Gospel and the Restoration of Stewardship
The focus on the biblical story requires us to understand stewardship as first the recognition of God's status as creator and owner of all creation. When humans as stewards or householders deny this covenantal obligation, they act as if they are absolute owners and creators. This switch goes by the name of sin. In a world characterized by such self-centeredness or idolatry, does God have a plan to re-create faithful stewards? Yes, of course.
There are many scriptures that talk about God's gift of salvation in Christ. For our purposes, an examination of selected scriptures will remind us that stewardship can not be viewed apart from God's salvation in Jesus Christ. God's salvation offered in Jesus Christ is more than a salvation of the individual. Salvation is also social. It is social in that the restoration of God's economy requires a reordering into a community—the church, God's household.
In Luke's gospel Jesus picks up the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue, and identifies himself with the deliverer found in Isaiah 61:1–2. Jesus claims for himself the anointing of God to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor (Luke 4:18–19). Jesus comes to restore, heal, deliver, and transform. Some scholars hold that Jesus perhaps alluded to a new “Jubilee.” A vision of radical social transformation is in view. We will say more about this in the last chapter.
Paul employs the Greek word generally translated “steward” in referring to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians 4:1–2 (NRSV), Paul says:
Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God's mysteries. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.
Paul confesses that as an apostle he is among the servants of Christ. He is a steward of something of great value—the mysteries of God. The mysteries of God are not the product of human wisdom, but are revealed by God to the people of God. The stewards are judged not by worldly standards of success but by their faithfulness to the ministry entrusted to them. The Greek word, oikonomia, used in 1 Corinthians 4:1–2 is also similarly used in Ephesians 1:10 and 3:2, 9. [10. Colin Brown, ed. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1976), vol.
2. “Steward,”, 255, J. Goetzmann.] In Ephesians 1:10, the mystery of God's will is “to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” Everything will be brought into harmony in Jesus Christ. Ephesians 3 indicates the significant responsibility God has given Paul in the execution of God's plan through Jesus Christ. In verses 2–3, Paul says, “surely you have already heard of the commission of God's grace that was given me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation” (NRSV). Paul acknowledges God's grace imparted to him to preach “to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things” (vv 8–9, NRSV).
These scriptures refer to God's arrangement or management of the world and its affairs. Trusted servants or stewards are again viewed as representatives, not owners or absolute administrators. The world ultimately comes under God's administration and plan. The mystery, that is the gospel of Jesus Christ, is fundamentally of divine origin. The gospel Paul speaks about flows from the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth. By virtue of Jesus' life and death on the cross, we participate in the brokenness of humanity that Jesus came to heal. The resurrection of the crucified Jesus ushers in the reality of new beginnings. It validates God's hope set loose in God's world—new beginnings in the middle of the old!
In 2 Corinthians 5:17–21, Paul unites what God has achieved in Jesus Christ with the privilege given to the faithful to be his ministers. Everyone united by faith to Jesus Christ is a new creation. The “old” has passed away and the “new” has come. God reconciles humans back to God through Jesus Christ. God gives to believers the ministry of reconciliation—“God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them.” Paul makes clear that we are ambassadors for Christ. It is God making the appeal through reconciled believers within a reconciled community to a divided world.
The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ not only brings reconciliation but also again restores God's status as creator, as sovereign owner of the world. In doing so humans and all creation are rightly viewed as God's creation. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ guarantees the preeminence of God over creation, but also demonstrates God's willingness to be in vital relationship with humans and all creation. With the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the creation of a new community called “Church”, the truth about the restoring and reconciling of relationships becomes clearer. Stewardship within the administration of the new covenant can be described as being “in-relation.” Christian stewardship highlights relationships within varied dimensions of life.
Journal: What is stewardship as I understand it?
Dimensions of Christian Stewardship: Self-in-Relations
God's status as sovereign owner and creator should now be without doubt. Our status as creation and as stewards derives from this fact. Sin, however, disrupts the harmony of God's cosmic household. Those called to be stewards instead desire to dislodge God as owner of the world. God's love and mercy ever seek to restore and birth a new creation. How should God's new creation live in every dimension of life? The life of stewardship is indeed an adventure that is multidimensional, an adventure where every aspect of life requires faithfulness of all members of God's household. The varied dimensions of stewardship in the world will be discussed separately, but that is only for the purposes of this book. They must not be viewed as mutually exclusive of each other or completely separate from each other.
1. Read Psalm 150: Praise the LORD!
Where? (v 1)
Why? (v 2)
How? (vv 3–5)
Who? (v 6)
2. When the time had fully come, what did God do within it? (Gal 4:4–5)
3. How does Ephesians 5:15–17 distinguish between a “wise” and “unwise” use of time?
4. In 1 Corinthians 6:12–20, Paul warns Christians about sexual immorality. Especially in verses 19–20, what does Paul say about the “body”?
5. In your own words, what does Jesus teach in Mark 12:30–31 about the most important commandment?
6. According to Colossians 4:5–6, is it important how Christians treat non-Christians? What advice does this passage offer?
7. According to Isaiah 11:1–10 and Romans 8:18–24, what can we say about God's future plan for all the creation?
Self in-relation to God
My soul finds no rest until it rests in thee.
The chief function or duty of Christians is the worship and praise of the Triune God. The worship of the Lord reminds us again that a proper understanding of stewardship begins with God and God's actions. In the creation account in Genesis 1, God blesses humans with the command, “Be fruitful and increase in number …” (v 28). This command viewed together with God's creating humankind in his image and likeness indicates God's great desire for humans to produce others of similar kind for the praise and glory of God.
The Old Testament scriptures reveal a God worthy of devotion and praise. Whenever we fail to be a worshipping people, we risk again the sin of idolatry. Israel's life illustrates what happens when they worshiped the wrong god. Their rebellion broke covenant with Yahweh, causing a rupture in relationship with both God and one another.
Psalm 150 is a hymn of praise where the psalmist exhorts everything that has breath to praise the Lord. This includes all God's creation. In addition, Psalm 100 says that “[T]he Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations” (v 5). Hence the psalmist passionately exhorts all to “enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name” (v 4).
Journal: How would I describe my present level of worship?
Journal: What commitments do I wish to make for my future actions in this regard [individually and most of all with others]?
Self in-relation to Time
All human beings share the same relationship to “time”—we seem to have too little of it. Yet let's look at this more closely. One's life takes place within time. Time itself is neither moral nor immoral. There are two significant aspects of time: (1) its passage and (2) what happens in it. In the arena of human experience, we learn that time moves much faster than most of us like. At other moments time appears to move at a snail's pace. Yet time moves without anyone's permission. From the perspective of eternity, we humbly confess that our complex lives occur between the “tick” of birth and the “tock” of death.
In the history of human civilizations, several methods of measuring time and its passage have come and gone. The length of shadows, the placement of the moon relative to the sun, sundials, hour glasses, watches of every conceivable variety, calendars, the internal “biological clock,” and even little children tugging at our pants and skirts reminding us of promises made: “It's time to go to McDonald's. You promised!”
Journal: Identify a specific device that measures time. What challenges does it remind people in general and me in particular of concerning the importance of time?
Stewards of time see time as a gift. We can do nothing to create time and we do nothing to destroy it. We can live in time and embrace it as both gift and responsibility. Contemporary life brings to us many challenges that require the responsible use of God's time. With alternative agendas competing for limited time, it is no surprise that people, young and old, experience the frustration of managing time wisely.
The challenges time presents have to do with what we do in time and what we are willing to leave undone. Sheer busyness does not translate into faithful stewardship. Doing things, anything, seems for many persons to be how time is best used. When fatigue sets in or boredom overcomes us, we often want to shout out: “There is only so much time in a day!” or “I am only one person—do it yourself!” Have you ever uttered these words or similar phrases of frustration? Then join a great crowd of people who know time can be used better, but are clueless as to how.
Journal: There are 168 hours in a week. In a “typical” week, indicate below how much time you spend in doing the following:
_________ Watching TV
_________ Reading scripture
_________ Worshiping corporately
_________ Working/in school
_________ Spending time with family
_________ Working around the house
The second understanding of time is full of theological meaning. The Greek word kairos refers specifically to what God does within time. While it is not totally separate from the passage of time, kairos focuses our attention more on what happens within the passage of time. Specifically, in contrast to chronos, a line or period of time, kairos draws attention to the content of time with respect to crisis and opportunity. The New Testament understands time as kairos, for it qualifies all other time in its unique focus on the crisis of encounter with and the opportunity of salvation in Jesus Christ. [11. Colin Brown, ed. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1978), vol. 3. “Time,” 826, 837, H. C. Hahn.] This understanding is important for stewards in that the notion of accountability emerges. Ultimate accountability is to the Lord, and through the Lord to others. What you and I do in time, with time, takes on added significance as we acknowledge God's desire that we be faithful stewards.
In Matthew's gospel, 20:1–16, Jesus' parable depicts the kingdom as embodying God's lavish generosity, sovereignly given. Time was passing and people were doing nothing except standing around and idly wasting God's gift of time. Yet God summons all people at all times to a life of service in the kingdom. In this kingdom the Lord pays whatever is right. The parable helps people see another world than the one in which they presently live and for which they are willing to die. Time takes on special significance when viewed from the perspective of God's kingdom which Jesus ushers in.
Likewise, Paul in writing to the Christians in Galatia reminds them that the Good News came in God's appointed time within history. Time “filled up” with the purpose and will of God. Galatians 4:4–5 says, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.”
Further, Ephesians 5 exhorts those who experience new life in Christ to live as children of light and not as those who live in darkness. Do not participate in or find pleasure in the shameful acts of sin. According, therefore, to Ephesians 5:15–17 (NRSV):
Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
Our lives should be lived in a sober or serious manner. The text above does not say life is free of laughter and good clean fun. It does say, however, to be careful how you live. Living in this sense is a lifestyle characterized by the kind of spiritual wisdom that understands that knowing and doing God's will is the best life. Only as we face life seriously and wisely can we discern or discover the kind of “opportunities” that maximize the doing of God's will in the world.
We cannot stop time from moving, but we can make good choices in how time is best used. Values must be acknowledged; priorities should be set; plans need to be established and implemented. All this must occur within a full realization that we live within God's time as God's stewards of time.
Journal: What do I think my purpose is in life?
Journal: What priorities do I have that guide how I use time?
Self in-relation to Self
Anthropologists confirm that the individual self is always a self-in-relationship. The kind of self one is is in part a function of the community or communities with which one identifies or is a part. What kind of self are you becoming? What makes you uniquely you as opposed to someone else? These questions are time consuming. It is convenient for us on occasion to distance “self” from the “deeds” the self does. We must exercise caution with any attempt to separate ourselves from our actions for we are intended to be whole selves—body, mind, and spirit. We are physical flesh, yet more than just physical flesh. We are emotional, feeling, thinking, relating beings. Remember that from the creation account we (male and female) have been created in the image and likeness of God. Even though the divine image has been marred by sin, the salvation Jesus makes possible reconciles us with God and restores the image of God in our being. Paul declares that “for those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom 8:29). Jesus Christ, the Son of God, says in John's gospel: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’ ” (14:9).
In addition you might understand more clearly that stewardship in relation to one's individual self is not separate from the worship of God, from relationship to others, or from any other dimension of life in which the individual acts. It is not frequently recognized that “stewardship” has anything substantially to say regarding the individual self, but it does.
The Self Needs Continual Transformation
Being a Christian is not just a one time decision, but a continuous decision—a lifestyle of faithful decisions rooted in one's relationship with Jesus Christ. Paul reminded the Christians at Corinth and still reminds us today that our bodies are not our own personal possession. Rather, we are possessed—owned by God: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Cor 6:19–20). God owns our bodies. How we use our bodies and where we go with our bodies carries moral and ethical significance.
Journal: Knowing that my body is the temple of God, what might this mean for what places I go, things I do, or habits I possess?
According to some, the body is evil. It is only a container for the real self—the human spirit. The Gnostics, with their dualism of body and spirit accorded goodness to the spirit only. First Corinthians 6:19–20 and other scriptures confront us with a view of the holistic person. Moreover, Paul in writing on the resurrection speaks about a resurrection of the body. This is a changed body, certainly, but still one bearing similarity to the mortal body. The notion of a bodily resurrection is biblically supported. While the fact of the bodily use of Jesus does not answer all questions about the resurrection, it does make it scripturally suspect to minimize or demonize the human body (See 1 Cor 15:35–58.)
In Romans, the Apostle Paul understands the body as indispensable to moral action, for it is the body that gives visible witness to Jesus Christ. Paul uses baptism as the means of identifying with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Christ has died and risen to new life, we, too, who are united with Christ are called to walk in newness of life. Paul essentially says that we have died to sin as Christ has died to sin, now we are to count ourselves dead to sin (see Romans 6:1–11). Paul makes this a necessity: “do not let sin reign in your mortal body … Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness” (Rom 6:12–13, emphasis added). Notice the equation in this text of mortal and parts of your body with yourselves. Who we really are—the self—cannot be seen apart from what we do with our mortal bodies.
As Christians, we are considered as new selves in Christ. Will we offer our bodies as instruments of wickedness or as instruments of righteousness? The new self is created anew to be ordered to the will and purpose of God. Yet the flesh principle wars against the spirit (Gal 5:17). Now you, as one person among the people of God and people in the world, are called to choose habitually the ways of righteousness.
Paul clues us in about how such a habit is learned in one's life. In Romans 12:1–2 the whole self is in view. “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices …. [T]his is your spiritual act of worship.” Then verse 2 embraces verbal commands in the present tense indicating continuous action on the part of the believer: “Do not conform [stop being conformed] any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed [keep on being transformed] by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (emphasis added).
Journal: Are there ways that I am being conformed to worldly desires and behaviors? What are they?
Journal: These are some areas of my life that still need cleansing:
Journal: From all I have read above, do I believe the following concerns are proper in talking about stewardship of the body? In what ways?
The Self in-relation to the Body (of Christ)
As God's possession, each of us is placed into the body of Christ. In many of our confessions and speech, we imply that we are autonomous, independent selves in respect to God and other Christians. We must work harder to resist this notion, especially in societies that praise radical individualism.
(Radical individualism is the view of the self as independent from others and even from history and traditions, except as one chooses to associate with others for mutual benefit.) Paul's image of the church as the body of Christ, however, makes the essential social nature of our lives inescapable. God gifts each person in Christ—in the body of Christ—with one or several gifts of grace. The implications of this for the body are covered in the next section. The individual self-in-community is indispensable for the whole because he or she bears gifts from a gracious God through the Spirit (see 1 Cor 12). (Editorial note: For more teaching on gifts see: Bridges: Invitation to Discipleship—“The Holy Spirit,” volume five.)
Journal: List the gifts of the Spirit found in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12:4–8, and Ephesians 4:11–13:
Journal: What do I believe my gifts are?
How am I developing and using my gifts?
Self in-relation to Others
In response to the question by a teacher of the law, “What is the greatest commandment?” Jesus provides this answer, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30–31; see also Matt 22:37–39). Disciples of Christ love both God and others. Jesus' response to the expert in the law included in “the greatest commandment” both a vertical dimension (love for God) and a horizontal dimension (love for others). According to Jesus' response in the gospels disciples live in light of both requirements. They are not separable. One's love for God may not be separated from one's love for neighbor. Jesus teaches that a neighbor is anyone who confronts us thereby becoming an obligation. A neighbor can be someone we know very well, like family or friends. A neighbor also can be a stranger to us.
Journal: Who are some of my neighbors? (Be specific. Ask the Holy Spirit to make you sensitive at this point.)
In John's gospel, Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment, saying, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (13:34–35).
Specifically the church, a community of stewards, witnesses to Christ as Lord by the love its members have for one another. A new community exists amid the old order—an order marked by relationships of self-interest and deception. The body of Christ, on the other hand, witnesses to a unity in God's household—a household of kinship through a new birth: it is a household of virtuous people (“called to be saints” [Rom 1:7]).
Paul, the “prisoner for the Lord,” urges Christians to live a life worthy of their calling. They are to exert great effort to maintain the unity that the Spirit produces through the bond of peace (Eph 4:1, 3). The virtues Paul lists that maintain peace and unity in God's household include humility, gentleness, patience, and bearing with one another in love (4:2).
Journal: Read Ephesians 4:25–32. Identify what should characterize life in the new community.
Read 1 Corinthians 12. Answer the following:
8. Who receives spiritual gifts?
9. Who gives the spiritual gifts?
10. For whose benefit are gifts given?
11. For what purpose are the gifts given?
Christians are stewards of relationships, particularly among brothers and sisters in the body of Christ, the church. The church, however, is not an end in itself. The church exists not for its own glory but for the glory of God. If corporate worship leaves us powerless or clueless to live uprightly in a world that refuses to worship God, then are Christians being faithful stewards of God's plan and purposes? Whatever else it means, stewardship, still marks the connectedness or the embodiment of our fundamental beliefs within certain forms of life and relationships. Colossians 4:5–6 speaks moreover to the necessity of treating all humans, not just Christians, in a way that represents well the compassion of Jesus Christ. The conversation of Christians is to be “seasoned” or wholesome. “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
Journal: How do I feel God wants me to enrich relationships with non-Christians I know? (Remember: they can be members of your own household.)
Self in-relationship to Other Parts of God's Creation
The ecological teaching of the Bible is simply inescapable: God made the world because he wanted it made. He thinks the world is good, and He loves it. It is His world; He has never relinquished title to it. And He has never revoked the conditions, bearing on His gift to us of the use of it, that oblige us to take excellent care of it. If God loves the world, then how might any person of faith be excused for not loving it or justified in destroying it? [12. Wendell Berry, “God and Country” in What Are People For? (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1990), 98.]
People are God's creation, yet we are not all that God created. Genesis 1 and 2 teach that there is a specialness of humans among the rest of creation. The specialness of course does not extend to the corrupt and selfish use of other parts of creation. Understanding the nature of God's creation requires acknowledging the Triune God as creator, redeemer, and sustainer. The harmony within God's creation comes through in Genesis 1 and 2. Humans, animals, plants, the heavens above, and the waters below all existed in God's peace and were ordered to the worship and praise of God. Sin marked the disruption of God's purpose for his creation. Creation after sin is fallen. In its fallenness God's creation tends to resist its status as God's creation. Jesus Christ comes announcing God's kingdom and, through him, the deliverance from sin.
Consequently, the worship of Jesus, “God with us,” empowers us through the Spirit to participate in God's new creation. Therefore as Christians whose identities are fundamentally shaped within the body of Christ, we now see humans, animals, plants, rivers, trees, and so on as all sharing in a community of God's creation.
How humans relate to other parts of creation must not be defined from an impersonal, objective, utilitarian or self-gratifying position. It also seems that the “deep ecology” movement that makes humans only one equal part with all creation does not address adequately the uniqueness of humans being made in the image and likeness of God. [13. I am indebted to theologian Stanley Hauerwas's discussion in this area for helping me to say better what I believe the biblical witness strongly suggests. See his and John Berkman's “A Trinitarian Theology of the Chief End of All Flesh” in In Good Company: The Church As Polis (Notre Dame, Ind: The University of Notre Dame Press, 1995), 185–197.]
The Eschatological View:
Where God's Creation is Headed
Eschatology refers to the end-time. It positions us to live in God's future. God's future, however, needs Christ to open the door. Jesus Christ enables us to be reconciled to God. His resurrection begins something new—a new beginning pointed toward God's future. Have you ever seen the future in such a compelling way that you lived your present life in relation to that future view? In like manner, the eschatological hope embodied in the community of faith enables Christians to view all creation differently.
Many social and environmental movements today appear to focus on humankind's special relationship to the creation. They have raised the consciousness of the world community about air and water quality, the fate of the spotted owl and the rhino, the rights of animals and of rain forests. Christians, however, are specially gifted to provide biblical and theological perspectives on our relationship to God's creation.
Journal: In my own experiences, do I know people who are out to save the environment? What particular aspects of the environment are they really passionate about?
Journal: What do I believe about life among all God's creation? How should humans be viewed in comparison to other parts of the creation?
The Peaceable Kingdom
Isaiah speaks a messianic prophecy within an overall context of God's judgment (in chapters 1–39). In 11:1–9 the vision of shalom or peace (wholeness and unity) follows the prophecy about the coming of a new David, the gatekeeper of a kingdom, who will be known for righteousness, justice, and faithfulness. Shalom or God's holistic life of order and security embraces true righteousness and justice marked by compassion for the needy and the poor of the earth.
Beginning with verse 6, the prophet moves to a future vision rooted in a new kingdom a renewed order. As some persons often refer to it, the “kingdom of peace” or the “peaceable kingdom” is coming—a future restoration of all fallen and warring parts of nature. Natural enemies are transformed in the future vision to participate in a new order fashioned to God's ultimate purpose:
The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:6–9)
All Creation Now Groans
The Apostle Paul in Romans 8 likewise focuses Christians' attention to the future glory that God prepares. The present offers its real challenges and moral issues. The scriptures remind us that the present is not all there is. There is a future for humans and the rest of creation. “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed” (v 19). All creation, according to Paul, lives “in hope that [it] will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (v 21). Paul appears to state that those born anew of the Spirit groan along with the whole creation for the final redemption of our bodies (v 23). This hope saves us (v 24a).
Journal: Read prayerfully again Isaiah 11:1–9 and Romans 8:18–24a. Meditate on them. Then share below some insights you have on these passages.
How would I like to see relationships within creation?
Do I believe we have a problem? Explain.
Journal: How can I and my family help in relating properly to the environment?
What can our class or congregation do to live out biblical convictions about stewardship in relating to creation?
Journal: Discuss in a small group what eating meat, wearing furs, fishing and hunting, using paper, using chemicals, driving automobiles, and so forth, might have to do with the stewardship of God's creation. (Suggestion: you may select two or three of these areas to discuss.)
[ Continued...See Link Below ]
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