Stewardship (concluded)

C. E. Hocking, Cardiff

Part 2 of 2 of the series Stewardship

The Spiritual Application of the Word. We have seen that the compound word translated steward means "manager of a house'* (pikonomos). The New Testament vitally links our stewardship with church life. The local assembly is "the house (pikos) of God", 1 Tim. 3. 15. Our God, and the Lord Jesus, are both referred to as the "master of the house, the house holder" (oikodespotees), Matt. 10. 25; 13. 27; 21. 33; Luke 13. 25; 14. 21. They are the absolute owners of the house; theirs is the last word in all its affairs; they have the right and power to appoint stewards to administer their business in the house. We are not surprised, therefore, to find the people of God referred to as those "who are of the household {oikeios) of faith", Gal. 6. 10. Of Gentile believers Paul could say, "ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household (oikeios) of God", Eph. 2. 19. Believers, then, are "in" or "of" the household of God, and are thus responsible to the One who is the "master of the house". The term "house" in the Scriptures is laden with governmental ideas, stressing order, behaviour and responsi­bility. It is in the assembly as "the house of God", for instance, that men are to know how to behave themselves, 1 Tim. 3. 15. This provides the backcloth against which our stewardship is presented in the New Testament.

The Contexts of Stewardship. In a unique way the apostles were the stewards of God. A special knowledge of God's mind and plans was committed to them. Hence Paul could say, "Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God", 1 Cor. 4. 1. Matters were committed to them which had hitherto been hidden in God, secrets which, having been revealed to them, they were now responsible to make known to others. Paul refers to that message which he proclaimed to men generally as "the gospel of the glory of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust", 1 Tim. 1. 11 R.v. He recognized that he was duty bound to preach the Gospel, for "I have a stewardship in­trusted to me", 1 Cor. 9. 17 r.v. To the believers he could write of "the stewardship of that grace of God which was given me to you-ward; how that by revelation was made known unto me the mystery, as I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye can perceive my understanding in the mystery of Christ; which in other generations was not made known unto the sons of men, as it hath now been revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to wit, that the Gentiles are fellow-heirs and fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel", Eph. 3. 2-6 r.v. marg; cf. Col. 1. 24-29. In the strength of their divine equipping, through the grace given to them, and realizing both the high honour bestowed upon them and their responsibilities in the light of this, the apostles laboured in the gospel, and in the teaching and feeding of God's people, as faithful stewards.

But it is not only apostles that were responsible as stewards before God. The bishop, or assembly overseer^ with the privilege of a "good work" committed to him, is also specially responsible to the One who has equipped him. "For the bishop must be blameless, as God's steward; not self-willed, not soon angry, no brawler, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but given to hospitality, a lover of good, soberminded, just, holy, temperate; holding to the faithful word which is according to the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in the sound doctrine, and to convict the gainsayers", Titus 1. 7-9 r.v. Note that, in addition to having an exemplary character and giving a godly lead, the overseer must be apt to teach, he must feed the lambs, tend and feed the sheep. In a word, he must set before the household its spiritual supplies, dispensing his Master's provisions in a manner aimed at safeguarding and furthering His interests. It is in this very connection of teaching the saints that we read of bad stewardship. Timothy was exhorted to tarry at Ephesus in order that he might "charge certain men not to teach a different doctrine, neither to give heed to fables and endless genealogies, the which minister questionings, rather than a dispensation (stewardship, marg.) of God which is in faith", i Tim. 1.3-4 r.v. There were some then, and there are not a few in our own times, who are not dispensing that healthproducing ministry so essential to the spiritual well-being of the assembly. There is also an urgent need for men of God who can cast the health-producing meal in the pot, that the Lord's people may eat and find "no harm in the pot", 2 Kings 4.38-41. The overseer must recognize his responsibility, as one set "over you in the Lord", 1 Thess. 5. 12, to exhort, admonish and instruct the household of God. Such work cannot be undertaken lightly, for as teachers theirs is the greater judgment, James 3. 1, and they have yet to give account to the One who has appointed their sphere of labour among the saints, Heb. 13. 17. The privilege of having a ministry committed to us must never obscure the added weight of respons­ibility for which we should be totally inadequate apart from the grace of God. Let those who addict themselves to the serving of God's people also be constantly on the lookout for younger ones evidencing a faithful regard for God's work and the assembly. To such "faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also", extra time and effort should be given, 2 Tim. 2. 2.

The Word of God, however, does not restrict the idea of stewardship and responsibility to the apostles and overseers only. Every Christian has a stewardship, which he or she must faithfully discharge or reap the consequences in a coming day. In the assembly "according as each hath received a gift" there should be a "ministering it among yourselves, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God", 1 Pet. 4. 10 r.v. Often among the greater number of God's people who do not feel themselves to be highly talented in spiritual things, there is a great temptation to dismiss as of no consequence their own work for God. Let us beware! To despise one's God-given gift, is at least to challenge God's wisdom, and His sovereign right to dispense as He will. An even more serious thing is that, in despising our gift, we are in effect despising the Giver of it.

What is your particular gift? Those equipped to speak rarely remain in ignorance of that work to which they should apply themselves. However, there are temptations in this field of labour especially. No one is divinely gifted to speak his own thoughts, nor for that matter to minister the dead letter "for the letter killeth". Rather, let the one who speaks, speak "as it were oracles of God" R.v. The hearers are waiting for the living voice of God, for a message from the Lord.

Others, not called to speak as their God-given work, have a work to do nonetheless. Why do so many desire to be speakers anyway? There is greater responsibility placed upon such, James 3.1. Maybe most of God's people are not called to speak publicly for Him, but all have a gift. If yours is not that of speaking, do you know exactly what the Lord wishes you to do for Him? Whatever sphere of service has been committed to you, make sure that you serve "as of the strength which God supplieth", 1 Pet. 4. n r.v. Too many engaged in the practicalities of furthering the Lord's work carry it through in their own strength. What greater spiritual efficiency would be developed in us all, were we to look to God, pray for, and utilize the particular grace specially granted to us. It is only as we do our own spiritual work, using spiritual means, that all become more aware of the many-sided giving grace of God, 1 Pet. 4.10.

This is the path to increasing usefulness to others, and greater glory to our God. Every member of the assembly has a sphere of stewardship committed to them. We must be acquainted with His purpose for us, for good stewards serve in the sphere appointed to them, and by using the same gift which God has given them. Neglect not the gift in you; stir up the gift which is in you, that your stewardship might be discharged in the blaze of devotion to the Master of the household who has commissioned you.

The sphere of our responsibility before God, however, is wider still. A sense of stewardship should govern the whole range of our lives. A sound mind, a healthy body, are granted to us that they might be used unstintingly in the service of God and our neighbour, Mark 12. 29-33. We are responsible for the practical care, and the spiritual upbringing, of the family given to us, 1 Tim. 5. 8; 2 Tim. 1. 5; 3.15. The home with its various facilities is not intended for selfish ends and carnal ease. Rather, "Use hospitality one to another without grudging", 1 Pet. 4. 9; "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers", Heb. 13. 2. While time seems to fly, and the pressures and demands of life contribute to increase the pace, we must pause to consider the way the time allotted us should be used. Surely "the time is short... I would have you to be free from cares", 1 Cor. 7. 29-32 A.V., R.v. It is "high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light", Rom. 13. 11-12. Even the job we hold, or the business we run, are to be discharged in the fear of God, and as knowing that we have a Master in heaven, Col. 3. 22 to 4. 1. We must seek help from God to walk worthy of our high and holy calling, so that, by both life and lip, we may bring the Gospel to others. Necessity is laid upon us for this, 1 Cor. 9.16.

In this materialistic age, it is well to recall our stewardship in connection with money. So often we consider the material resources at our disposal as our own. The Lord's parable in Luke 16. 1-13 shows that these things are held on trust; they are really the Master's goods. We are to use "the mammon of unrighteousness" to benefit others, and to extend God's work. For the Lord said, "If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man's, who shall give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon", Luke 16. 11-13. Make friends by means of that which is not your own!

Our Responsibility as Stewards. We re-emphasize that as stewards we have been appointed by the Lord within His household. Our gift and position are neither man-appointed, nor self-sought, Luke 12. 42. Consequently, there is no cause for boasting, nor for dissatisfaction. What we have, we have received, and each one has received a gift, 1 Pet. 4.10. We are not stewards of the saints; we are stewards of God. It is to Him that we are finally responsible, not to our brethren. Unkind, unenlightened, unwarranted, and fallible criticism should not daunt us therefore. It is not with "man's day" that we have to be concerned, but rather with that day when we are to give an account to the One whose stewards we are, 1 Cor. 4. 2-4 r.v. In the light of this, self-complacency and self-satisfaction, which often result from comparing ourselves with others, are ruled out.

Stewardship may be discharged unfaithfully. It is possible that one who once loved the household entrusted to him may cease to care, and even forcefully abuse his position of privilege, Luke 12. 45; cf. Ezek. 34. 1-10. Stewardship should be dis­charged faithfully', dispensing what the Master has given for the good of others and the glory of the Giver, Luke 12. 43. As stewards we are to be blameless; there should be no charge against us in our God-given responsibility, Titus 1. 7. We are to be wise stewards, prudently using our present opportunities in the light of a future review, Luke 16, 8. And those who serve faithfully, blamelessly and prudently, are surely good stewards, serving their Master, with the capacity given them, in dependence upon Him, enriching others while bringing glory to the One who called them into His service, 1 Pet. 4. io-ii. May the Lord's blessing, through us as His appointed stewards, rest upon all, both "in the house and in the field".