This series of three articles examines the principles and challenges of stewardship and accountability, for those seeking to devote themselves to the service of God. While accountability is principally – and ultimately – to God, where a particular work is undertaken on behalf of a church, or a special work is done with a local church’s commendation, secondary accounta-bilities also exist to the local church, to those who support the ministry and to those with whom the work is undertaken.
The call of Christ to salvation also includes His call to discipleship and service1. As Christians we have been delivered from the tyranny of Satan and now enjoy the glorious freedom of living out the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. This freedom is not license to do as we like, but a responsibility to live as we ought to live, under the authority of the risen Lord.
Possessions, ambitions, reputation and service must be yielded to Christ. Paul grasped this new authority on the Damascus road at the moment he was saved, when he asked ‘Lord what do You want me to do?’2 The call to service therefore makes its impact on every area of life and should be seen in our submission to:
THE LORD JESUS
He has absolute authority over our lives, and every thought, word and action should be subject to His will, as He reveals this through His word. How we use our time, abilities and possessions are important factors in this life of obedience, and to use them joyfully now for God is the only true response to His love and grace.
THE LOCAL CHURCH
Here we are privileged to serve and demonstrate the unity of the body of Christ. Independence in service, with each ‘doing that which is right in his own eyes’ is never encouraged or commended by Scripture. It leads only to disunity, self-promotion and conflict.
OTHER LOCAL CHURCHES AND FELLOW-WORKERS IN THE GOSPEL
Pride and self-promotion are not qualities that further the work of the gospel. We should work harmoniously with other believers, showing consideration and love, esteeming others better than ourselves and endeavouring with all our strength to be an example to the believers ‘in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.'3
Recognizing the authority of Christ in our lives and serving Him in fellowship with others in the local church and, if appropriate, in the wider field of missionary activity, will demonstrate the double principle of stewardship and accountability. No real sense of stewardship in the service of Christ can exist that does not include a mature understanding of accountability to the Lord Jesus, the local church and fellow believers.
The character and quality of this stewardship, reflected in our submission to the word of God and harmonious relations with other believers, will one day be reviewed, and individually rewarded, by God.4
A SPIRITUALLY PRINCIPLED LIFE
It was Heraclitus, circa. 500 BC, who said ‘nothing endures like change’. This one thing we can be sure of, is that change will continue, and proceed at an ever increasing rate.
To live life as a Christian in a day of rapid change, quick fixes and demands for instant success, requires that we hold spiritual principles at the centre of our thinking and behaviour. To focus our energies on self-centred ambitions and hastily determined programmes, will result in spiritual ineffectiveness and wasted activity.
Spiritual principles must provide the foundation for all our activities, relationships and decisions. They will give a sense of stewardship about everything in our lives, including time, talents, money, possessions, relationships, our families and our bodies. These principles will provide security so that we are not threatened by change, comparisons or criticisms, and will give guidance to determine and direct our service, wisdom and grace to learn from our mistakes, and the humility to accept the support and counsel of those around us.
A spiritually principled life is centred on:–
THE GLORY OF GOD
Deo Gloria – the glory of God – must be the overruling principle for all Christian living. The supreme example is that of the Lord Jesus who said, ‘I have glorified You on the earth’.5 Motives, relationships, agendas and service must all be measured against this spiritual barometer. That ‘God be all and in all'6, must be the governing framework for individual steward-ship, the motivating force that spurs activity and the desired outcome of all relationships.
SELF DENIAL AND SACRIFICE
This generation’s values are all based around self: personal fulfilment, personal enjoyment, personal security and personal belief. It is important then that the Christian understands the propensity of human nature to pursue these things, and recognizes that self-denial and sacrifice are not options for those who willingly acknowledge Jesus as Lord. Selfish ambition, pride and reliance on our own strength and wisdom, are not qualities that will enhance the work of God, either in us or through us.
The Lord Jesus spoke in terms of ‘taking up one’s cross'7 and ‘taking His yoke'8, symbols of discipleship that attack the very core of hedonism – living to please oneself. Self-denial and the taking up of one’s cross are mutually inclusive, one being a negative action and the other a positive activity. To take His yoke means going Christ’s way and not ours, learning from Him, submitting to Him and displaying true meekness and obedience to His will and purpose.
This second spiritual principle results in ‘I’ being dethroned and Christ being enthroned in the place of authority over our will and self-determination.
VALUING AND RESPECTING OTHERS
So often the work of God is hindered by our attitudes and behaviour towards other people. ‘Esteeming others better than ourselves'9 is the third principle that should govern our relationships with other believers. Where this is practised, our relationships will be characterized by love, gentleness, patience and forgiveness, resulting in unity and peace.10
Pride in our own ability and understanding of God’s will, particularly when others may counsel differently, personal agendas pursued at the expense of others and a failure to appreciate the frailty and fallibility of our own nature, will bring dishonour on the name of Christ, division in the work of God, disunity among believers, hindrance to the work of the gospel, and personal spiritual atrophy.
(To be continued)