Monday 9 December 2013

Stewards of the Gospel

An edited version of this article first appeared in the November edition of EG, published by LICC. The material had its origins in a series of seminars on stewardship at the Keswick Convention 2013, facilitated in partnership with Stewardship. See their website for further information and helpful resources and ideas on exercising generosity in different areas of life.

Stewardship, like discipleship, embraces the whole of life. More than just what we do with our money or our careful use of natural resources, stewardship encompasses every aspect of our existence, for all that we are and all that we have belong to God. Living generously and giving generously – whether of time, talents, treasure, or truth – is a way of acknowledging and living out God’s own generosity towards us.

Lavish Generosity

Ask a group of Christians for the best-known verse in the Bible about giving, and you’re likely to get several responses. A few might quote Acts 20:35, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’, words attributed to Jesus. Others may think of Jesus’ teaching on giving secretly rather than ostentatiously (Matthew 6:2-4), or the account of the poor widow’s offering (Mark 12:41-44). Still others will recall Paul’s treatment in 2 Corinthians 8-9 of his collection for the poor.

As it happens, the best-known verse in the Bible about giving is the best-known verse in the Bible – John 3:16 – ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son...’ And this is where we begin as stewards – with the God who freely gives us all things, not least his Son for our salvation. God is a giver – the supreme giver – of the supreme gift, which flows out of supreme love. His nature as one-in-three, three-in-one reinforces that, unspoilt love existing and expressed between Father, Son, and Spirit.

So it is that everything belongs to the Father, the creator and redeemer, whose abundant generosity flows out of his love, and who entrusts us to serve him and others with all he gives us as an act of worship and an expression of faith. Generous stewardship thus gets to the heart of our identity as disciples of the Son – seeking to live as those who follow the self-giving pattern of the one who became poor so that we, through his poverty, might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). Then, empowered and enabled by the Spirit, stewardship embraces every dimension of life, as we offer ourselves to God and experience the liberation that comes with keeping in step with the Spirit, bearing his fruit in our everyday lives (Galatians 5:13-26).

Our generosity in how we steward flows from the abounding generosity we have first been shown by God himself. How great the love the Father has lavished on us. How amazing the grace of Christ in becoming flesh and dying and rising again for us. How precious the work of the Spirit in our lives, renewing us in the image of God.

Faithful Stewards

Our identity as stewards is woven through Scripture. It’s there, notably, at the start of the story. Created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-30), men and women are together called to be stewards in God’s house of creation on behalf of God – delegated to govern as God would, who created it to flourish and valued it as good, and placed our first parents in the garden of Eden to till and keep it (Genesis 2:15).

However, the stewards chose to ignore that the house belonged to God, and claimed it for themselves. They continued to work in it, but did so mostly to satisfy their own desires, not as stewards in the service of God. That’s where human beings now find themselves – caught in the tension between being made as stewards but where the exercise of that stewardship is distorted and frustrated through sin. But God wouldn’t leave things like this. Out of the overflow of love, he gave his Son to redeem the world, to reconcile rebellious men and women to himself, to restore relationships between alienated human beings, and ultimately to renew creation itself – and he recommissions his people as redeemed stewards to work in the world in his name.

As such, we are called to be faithful servants. This theme emerges in several of Jesus’ parables, where a master entrusts money to his servants to trade with while he is on a trip (e.g., Matthew 25:14-30), where the issue at stake is the loyalty of his servants while he is away. They are to represent him during his absence in the full confidence that he will return. As in Genesis, the steward is entrusted with resources that belong to another, and faithful stewards invest the resources as he intends them to be used – in his service and for the flourishing of others. ‘Each of you’, writes Peter, ‘should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms’ (1 Peter 4:10).

Graceful Mission

What might this look like in our relationships within the church and in our calling to take part in God’s mission to the world?

We get a flavour in 2 Corinthians 8-9, where the presenting issue is the giving of money to those in need, but where the principles are more widely applicable. Here, the model of generosity is Jesus (8:9) and the motive for generosity is the gospel: ‘Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, people will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else’ (9:13). That provides a means of self-diagnosis. Do we find that generosity makes sense – of who Jesus is, of what the gospel is? Our desire to be generous stewards is one of the ways we know we’ve experienced the grace of God for ourselves.

Generosity with time, for instance, speaks volumes about where our trust lies. It’s also profoundly countercultural in a society pervaded by a sense of time poverty – the feeling of being constantly stressed, rushed, overworked and behind, with no time for oneself let alone others. And yet, we’re all too aware of the significance of investing time into people and relationships in order for them to flourish – helping a child with their homework, preparing healthier meals, visiting someone in need, making that phone call we’ve kept putting off – being generous stewards of time. Power and authority, likewise, are gifts to be stewarded, to nurture the best environment in which others can thrive – in the home or at work. If I steward the authority entrusted to me as a manager or a leader or a parent well, I paint in a positive light God who is the source of all authority.

Crucially, though, stewardship is not just about treasure, time and talents, but about the way we view our life on earth in Christ as his missionary people in this time before the end. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:1, ‘This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.’ For Paul, this is bound up with the revelation of God’s plan of salvation centred on Jesus. We are stewards of that mystery, that story of salvation, and it is our task as his created-and-fallen-but-redeemed stewards to express his redemption in the different areas of our lives, to gesture towards what will one day be the case when we dwell in a new heavens and a new earth. Being stewards locates us in the grand scheme that God is bringing about – not as masters of the universe, but nor as mere puppets either. God has entrusted us with the gospel of the kingdom, and it is through us – as stewards of his grace – that God chooses to continue his act of reconciling the world to himself.

Further Reading

Gerard Berghoef and Lester DeKoster, Faithful in All God’s House: Stewardship and the Christian Life (Grand Rapids: Christian’s Library Press, 2013).

Craig L. Blomberg, Christians in an Age of Wealth: A Biblical Theology of Stewardship (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013).

Kelly M. Kapic with Justin Borger, God So Loved, He Gave: Entering the Movement of Divine Generosity (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010).

NIV Stewardship Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009).

R. Scott Rodin, Stewards in the Kingdom: A Theology of Life in All Its Fullness (Downers Grove: IVP, 2000).

Seasons of Giving (London: Stewardship, 2013), available from Stewardship.

Amy L. Sherman, Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good (Downers Grove: IVP, 2011).

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