Are You a Trustee?
John Heading, Aberystwyth
The Task of a Trustee is a very important work, and is supported by a legal document known, for example, as a Trust Deed. The trustees may be responsible for money, for a building such as a Gospel Hall, for carrying out the provisions of a will of a deceased person, or for the work of a charity. In every case, the money or property is not the personal money or property of the trustees; they hold the money on trust according to the expressed purpose of the one or those who provided the money or property in the first place. Where money is concerned, the Trust Deed will specify how the money is to be used or invested, and how accounts are to be kept. If things go wrong, then the trustees are responsible. For example, when executors-trustees prove and administer the estate of a deceased person in keeping with the will, then a detailed financial statement of their work down to the last penny must be prepared, since it may be challenged by a dissatisfied beneficiary. 'Leave it to a solicitor' may be an easy way out, but ultimately the named trustees are responsible.
No doubt many readers will observe that they have never been concerned about the work of executors or trustees. But there are far weightier considerations that apply to believers, not only concerning exact honesty in financial matters, but also in spiritual matters. For we are all spiritual trustees, made such by the Lord, holding His gifts and property, and fully responsible to Him for the carrying out of our trusteeship. The judgment seat of Christ will be occupied with the declaration of, and examination of, the results of our work as trustees. Our material possessions are strictly not our own, but granted to us by the Lord for His own use in His service. Our own bodies are not our own, but given to us so as to be living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, Rom. 12. 1-2. In the parables, the talents and the pounds were given to men as trustees to use for the Lord. Most used them wisely, as was the divine purpose 'Occupy till I come', Luke 19. 13. Faithful trusteeship received the commendation 'because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities', v. 17.
In the Old Testament, much had to be given to the Lord for His service, though really this was given to men to use for God Himself, so in that sense the recipients were trustees for God. We think of all the material brought for the building of the tabernacle, the willing offerings brought by those who were willing-hearted, Exod. 35. 5-9. Once the people had brought their gifts, they no longer possessed them; these gifts had been placed in the trust. Those two great workers Bezaleel and Aholiab were trustees with wisdom and understanding; they used everything according to the divinely given pattern (the Trust Deed was given to Moses on Mount Sinai in Exodus 25-30). These two men kept nothing of the vast riches for themselves; all was used in the construction of God's dwelling place amongst men in keeping with the pattern; 'according to all that the Lord commanded Moses, so did they', 39. 32.
In particular, we wish to examine the nature of the trusteeship that has been granted by grace to all believers. Those who believe in the New Testament pattern for the local assembly will easily recognize that all are involved, but those who have never seen this New Testament pattern, with eyes blinded by centuries of religious tradition, may fail to see how they are in any way concerned. Paul wrote, 'God has dealt to every man the measure of faith', and he then gave a list of 'gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us', Rom. 12. 3-6. Each respective gift had to be used and worked out. The trustees of gifts were not in conflict amongst themselves, but there was a harmony amongst the many members, since it was the Spirit who divided 'to every man severally as he will', 1 Cor. 12. 11. These two quotations show that Paul was greatly concerned with this subject during his third missionary journey.
When in prison afterwards, he wrote to the Ephesians about the grace that is given to every one 'according to the measure of the gift of Christ', Eph. 4. 7. He gave a list of those who were trustees of this grace: apostles and prophets in those early days, and evangelists, pastors and teachers throughout the church era. These men were responsible for the edifying of the body of Christ. They were what they were, not because of any natural education, but as trustees holding their gifts for the Lord and for His use.
During his release from his first Roman imprisonment, Paul wrote the epistle 1 Timothy, and was very much concerned about the subject of trusteeship. He would not be amongst the Lord's people much longer, though he realized that this was needful, Phil. 1. 24. So he spelt out in greater detail the responsibilities of trusteeship when he wrote to Timothy who would continue in the testimony after his departure.
First of all, we must appreciate that the Lord Jesus was the divine Trustee when He was here below. 'Behold my servant' we read, and this shows us the Lord's work. '1 come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God', Heb. 10. 7. However this 'book' may be interpreted, it represents the Trust Deed according to which the Lord would accomplish His divine work. Many times in John's Gospel He taught that He had been sent from the Father to do His works and to teach His doctrine; here is the Trustee clearly stating that He recognized His responsibilities as the divine Trustee of all that He had received from the Father. In John 17, He stated in prayer that what had been given to Him He had kept, and not one was lost.
Paul wrote to Timothy of 'the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust', 1 Tim 1. 11. To Paul, the 'gospel' went far beyond what we normally expect to be preached at our gospel meetings; to him, all the truth was good news which he preached. But even in natural trusts, the person setting up the trust does not chose just anybody to be a trustee; the trustees must be people who can be trusted implicitly. This must particularly be the case when a will is drawn up, for it is only after a man is dead that the will can be proved and acted upon. Trust is needed in the trustees before death. So Paul recognized why God had chosen him to be a trustee of the gospel of the Lord Jesus. It was because God 'counted me faithful, putting me into (the) ministry', v. 12. (Note, it is not 'the' ministry, as if some ecclesiastical career is in question, but just 'ministry', that is 'service'.) Paul had not always been a man of trust. Prior to his conversion, as Saul of Tarsus, he admits he had been a blasphemer, a persecutor, certainly not worthy of trust. But after his conversion, all was changed. He was 'faithful', and God recognized this. The property in the trust was 'the glorious gospel', which Paul owned had not been obtained from men, or from the apostles who were before him, but from God directly by revelation, Gal. 1. 16-17. He had received the many aspects of the truth from the Lord, 1 Cor. 11. 23. And he did not deviate from the trust that God placed in him, so he will receive a crown of righteousness in that day.
Writing of the one Mediator, the man Christ Jesus, Paul continued, 'Whereunto 1 am ordained (appointed) a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity', 1 Tim. 2. 7. Here the apostle recognized his appointment as an apostolic trustee, though the Corinthians were at one stage disputing his apostleship. The work of the trust consisted of teaching the Gentiles, and the method was to be 'in faith and verity'. Do God's trustees today know what they are supposed to be doing, and how they should perform their service? Or are they thrashing about in all directions, doing nothing well, not waiting upon the Lord to know what is written in the book or Trust Deed concerning service?
The character of trust is spelt out in detail in chapter 3. Writing of bishops (overseers) and deacons (servants), Paul goes into detail regarding their character. These details show what God expects when believers become overseers and servants in a local assembly. The details show whom God can trust. He has written this Trust Deed for all believers to read, and He expects such believers to be faithful in their duties.
Timothy also was a trustee, as we learn from 1 Timothy 6. 20-21, 'O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: which some professing have erred concerning the faith'. Clearly false knowledge had been appropriated by some, and faith had been damaged. But in Timothy's case, he had been with Paul since the beginning of the second journey, 'well reported of by the brethren', Acts 16. 2. God trusted him - He knew his heart; Paul trusted him - he knew his outward expression of faith and service. It is good to be able to trust other believers, to know that they continue in faith and service when older and more mature believers are absent. Yet Paul exhorted Timothy to continue according to the Trust Deed; he had to be 'an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity', giving 'attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine', 1 Tim. 4. 12-13. Such an exhortation was necessary, not just for Timothy himself, but for all subsequent believers, since Paul could see the dangers that would beset the trustees of the post-apostolic age. False knowledge, acquired from unbelievers, can be a very great danger, particularly when with subtlety it may be written into the Trust Deed by cunning craftiness as mere winds of doctrine, Eph. 4. 14.
During his last Roman imprisonment, Paul again dealt with this subject. He wrote of believers generally, of himself in particular, and of Timothy specially.
Generally, our holy calling to trusteeship has not been according to our works, but 'according to his own purpose and grace', 2 Tim. 1. 9. Referring to himself, with his service nearly at an end, he again recognized that he had been appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles, v. 11. In other words, he recognized his responsibility unto the end, and he had kept the trust. It was not in any spirit of boasting that he wrote that he had kept the faith, 4. 7.
Not all readers will have come across the better alternative rendering of verse 12 of chapter 1. The chorus of a well-known hymn has riveted the usual rendering upon our hearts, but we believe that Paul had the opposite in mind: 'I ... am persuaded that he is able to keep that which he has committed unto me against that day'. In other words, he is referring to the trust that the Lord had placed in him, and that it was only by the power of God that the divine keeping had kept Paul in his ministry throughout so many years. It would make us more careful in service and testimony as God's trustees if we realized that what we possess spiritually has been committed unto us: it is not what we commit unto Him (which is an entirely different matter).
From the general, Paul finally brought the matter down to the special case of Timothy. 'Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Spirit which dwelleth in us', 2 Tim. 1. 13-14. Here was Timothy's responsibility, yet not in his own strength. Admittedly 'that good thing' had been committed to Timothy by the Lord. But Paul also had been involved. The 'sound words' had been received from Paul.
It is the same today. Indeed younger believers receive much from God, their salvation and their calling. But they also receive much from those older in the faith. Older trustees have a duty to pass on the Trust Deed to younger believer-trustees, so that they too many continue the line of unbroken testimony, from apostolic times to the day of the coming of the Lord which draws nigh. Has there ever been such a trust as this, which has spanned nearly two thousand years, and yet remains intact to the present day? So may the Lord still find faithful trustees today whom He can trust implicitly with the gospel and with the Scriptures of truth. May we keep accurate accounts for the Lord, knowing that He knows these accounts already!