A Good Steward
A. E. Long, Nutley
"As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God", 1 Pet. 4.10.
A steward is defined as "one who manages another's affairs". In Bible usage, it means "a house manager". In this sense an overseer is "the steward of God", Tit. 1. 7, in that he manages the affairs of "the house of God", that is, the local church, 1 Tim. 3. 15. His authority derives from God, but his work lies in the service of his fellow-Christians, "as every man hath received the gift, even so minister (Greek, diakoneo) the same one to another". The exercise of the gift which "each" (r.v.) has received is therefore of the nature of a stewardship, or trust from God. Every Christian should be a "good steward" of the gift entrusted to him by the Lord. A bad steward would be a contradiction in terms, for such would imply mismanagement of another's affairs. The "unjust steward" of the Lord's parable was plainly not a "good steward". He was an astute rascal who, having squandered his master's goods and being called upon to "give an account of (his) stewardship", added to his sins by falsifying his accounts, in writing down the debts of his master's debtors, to ensure against his own unemployment and need. His master was no better than his steward, since he "commended" the man's astuteness. The parable was certainly not meant to commend rascality, or shady dealing; its whole thrust is to inculcate the prudent use of money and possessions in making friends so that, should one be deprived of personal resources, those same friends would come to one's help, "Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye (r.v., it) fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations", Luke 16. 1-12. Paul wrote, "it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful", 1 Cor. 4. 2. Faithfulness, that is, complete honesty, is the primary qualification to be expected of a steward, since he does not manage his own, but another's affairs. There must be no accusation of unfaithfulness in him. He must not waste, misappropriate or speculate with what is not his own, since it is the Lord's. It was so with Paul, "Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God", v. 1. Paul was ever aware that he managed God's affairs and therefore acted with scrupulous care in discharging that trust; we "have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God", 2 Cor. 4.2. To the Thessalonians he wrote, "as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God", 1 Thess. 2. 4. And not only were they careful in what they said, but also in how they behaved, "Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe", v. 10. Paul writes to Gentile believers of a stewardship he had received in communicating the revelation of the truth concerning the Church, Eph. 3. 2-9; Col. 1. 24-26.
To faithfulness in a steward, the Lord added the quality of wisdom, "Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season?", Luke 12. 42. Wisdom here means prudence. The "unjust steward" of Luke 16 acted prudently enough in his own interests, but was unfaithful in another's affairs. Both qualities are necessary.
Peter wrote, "As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God". "Gift" and "grace" are related; the words used are charisma and charis, respectively, in Peter's verse. The gifts are not natural aptitudes, although these may subserve gift, but spiritual gifts, divine endowments. God's "grace" is here described as "manifold", that is, varied. His gifts are as varied as His grace, as Paul's verse makes clear, "Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us", Rom. 12. 6. To the Ephesians he wrote, "unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ", 4. 7. Gift is therefore according to grace and grace according to gift.
Christian stewardship is, therefore, as varied as God's grace. The Christian is a steward of time and opportunity - "Redeeming the time (or, buying up the opportunity), because the days are evil", Eph. 5. 16. The Christian is not here to "spend" time, but to buy it, to put it to the fullest use, for the Lord. He is also a steward in the management of his money. Our faithfulness in the unrighteous mammon will be a touchstone of our dependability in greater matters, Luke 16. 10. Paul wrote, "Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God ... That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate", 1 Tim. 6. 17, 18. Christians also have a stewardship in the gospel. Paul wrote of having "a dispensation (i.e. stewardship) of the gospel... committed unto me", 1 Cor. 9. 17. Doubtless, all who preach it have, in their measure, such a stewardship. In the parable of the "pounds", the ten servants were each given a pound apiece to trade with, in the absence of their lord, Luke 19. 13. In a sense, all Christians have been "put in trust with the gospel", 1 Thess. 2. 4, and will be held responsible for their use of that trust.
But Peter is concerned with gift-"As every man hath received the gift". Whatever the gift, it is given to use; otherwise it were ineffectual. We must "minister the same one to another". To fail in this is to fail in its stewardship and to cause the gift to atrophy for want of use. Paul was at pains to impress this necessity upon his colleagues. To Timothy he wrote, "Neglect not the gift that is in thee", with which gift Paul had associated himself, and "stir up (as into flame) the gift of God, which is in thee", 1 Tim. 4. 14; 2 Tim. 1. 6. He exhorted Archippus, "Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it", Col. 4. 17.
The proper sphere of the use of gifts is "one to another", R.v. "among yourselves", for gift is primarily for use in the local churches, that Christians may be edified. 1 Peter 4. 10 "minister the same", r.v. "ministering it", can perhaps be taken to suggest that the gifted person should concentrate upon, and develop, his particular gift. Some aspire to gifts which, seemingly to all save themselves, they clearly have not "received". For this reason there are many "square pegs in round holes" in the local churches. In his use of the analogy of the human body, Paul suggests that the foot may be envious of the hand, or the ear of the eye, 1 Cor. 12. 15, 16. To envy the gift of another is to impugn God's wisdom in setting "the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him", v. 18. "Let the cobbler stick to his last", is the golden rule in the use of spiritual gifts, which lesson Paul underlines in "Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy... Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering; or he that teacheth, on teaching; or he that exhorteth, on exhortation", Rom, 12. 6-8. Let not the prophet aspire to exhortation, or the teacher to prophesying, but each rather specialize in that gift for which God has fitted him.
The use of all gift must conform to Scripture, "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God", i Pet. 4. n. Furthermore, the end of all gift is for God's greater glory, "that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ". An overseer (Greek, episkopos) is said to be "the steward of God", Tit. 1. 7, since he is appointed to manage the affairs of "the house of God". He must first be seen to be able to manage his own house, "For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?", 1 Tim. 3. 5. In his letter to Titus, Paul added a third qualification necessary in an overseer, "If any be blameless... a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God". He must not be "accused" of any misdemeanour, as was the unjust steward of wasting his master's goods. Nor must he lack control in his own household, "having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly", Tit. 1.6.