Viewed as managership instead of ownership, the Bible plan takes on a whole new flavour.
When Bertha Adams died of malnutrition, everyone except a court-appointed lawyer assumed she was just another victim of poverty. She had wasted away to a mere 22-kilogram skeleton by the time social workers took her to a hospital. But two days before she died, the lawyer discovered two safe-deposit keys in the hovel where she'd lived for 25 years. The boxes contained $US799,581.50 in cash, plus hundreds of valuable share certificates.
As it turned out, Bertha was a victim of greed her own-not poverty. All her clothing had come from the Salvation Army. And all her money had gone into the safe-deposit boxes. She had focused so intently on getting that she had no time for giving. She wouldn't part with a cent, even to keep herself alive.
She was a classic example of stewardship gone awry.
Stewardship? It has to do with managing your affairs and money. Some spell it "Stewardship." But the term should conjure up a picture of properly managing every resource of life to accomplish the greatest good.
In Bible times a steward was a person of high office a chairman of the board. He was the man who, when the master of the house left on a trip, oversaw all the master's business.
Unfortunately, the word stewardship has been misused, mainly in churches, to mean "giving" instead of "managing".
But there's something else, something that lay as the root cause of Bertha Adams's death. It's our own inability or unwillingness to see our personal resources as transient, passing things that we have only on loan. It's the thing that causes us to shun the subject of death and its ultimate lesson expressed in the adage, "You can't take it with you."
In short, we hate to admit that everything we have really belongs to Someone else and that we have it all on a call-loan basis to use for His glory. We prefer to focus on what we have─the gift─and forget the Giver.
John Margulies borrowed $1300 from his sister, Marilyn, and flew from California to London. In London he went to his parents' home and stole two paintings worth $100,000. When he arrived back in California with the paintings, Marilyn phoned her parents to say that an unknown thief had contacted her and demanded $20,000 ransom for the pictures.
The Margulieses gave the money to Marilyn. She quickly passed it on to John. John used it to make a down payment to the man he had hired to kill his parents and hasten his inheritance of their $25 million estate.
Shocking, you say? That a young man could be so in love with his parents' money that he would want them killed? It's disgusting!
Jesus told a story very much like it in Matthew 21. And the reason He told it was to help people see their own shallowness in relation to God. He pointed the story right at the self-righteous, hateful Pharisees who were plotting to kill Him, but the story is equally applicable to our day, when men cannot reach out and crucify God, but must remain content simply to proclaim Him dead.
Jesus' story is about a householder who planted a vineyard, then moved away, leaving it in the care of tenants. When the owner sent servants to collect the profits, the tenants beat, stoned and killed them.
Finally the owner sent his son, but the tenants had even less respect for him. "This is the heir," they said. "Let us kill him and have his inheritance" (verse 38).
The story clearly caught the wealthy, landed Pharisees off their guard. They proclaimed their own sentence when Jesus asked what the owner would do with his tenants. "He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons," they said (verse 41).
Jesus wanted the Pharisees and us to see ourselves in this story. He wanted us to see that when we lay personal claim to the things we've produced or gotten through the use of resources and BBI strength lent to us by God, we are stealing just as much as the evil tenants in the story. And we're in just as much danger of falling into the trap that says, "Love the gift, but hate the Giver."
But it isn't popular today to think of God as the owner of everything.
The Bible teaches that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills that the world is His and the fullness thereof. It teaches that even we ourselves are not our own because we are bought with the price of the Redeemer's blood (Psalm 50:10, 12; 1 Corinthians 6:19, 20).
We must see ourselves as managers of the infinite resources of an eternal God and quit fighting with God about who owns our things. Then we can begin to work with God and, with His counsel, learn to manage wisely the resources He puts at our disposal and accomplish far more good than we ever could on our own.
Bertha Adams was too concerned with getting and keeping to manage well. She didn't realize that one must have some outgo, as well as income, if life is to be really profitable. How much happier her life would have been if she had enjoyed three good meals every day, or if she could have seen a smile brought to a child's face by some small gift, or if she could have seen ruined lives changed for the better through her gifts.
Viewed as managership instead of just ownership, the plan of stewardship takes on a whole new flavour. We can see Abraham, the wealthy old patriarch, as a good steward of God not only because he presented a tithe to Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-20), but also because he made sure that God got the glory for all his wealth.
When the king of Sodom offered to let Abraham keep the spoil the patriarch had rescued from Sodom's conquerors, Abraham refused. Not because he couldn't use the goods, but because he wanted everyone around him to know that it was God's blessing, not man's spoil. That made him wealthy. And the message got across.
Years later when Abimelech, the king of Gerar, realized that Abraham was a powerful force that must be reckoned with, he sought a mutual nonaggression pact. He began the negotiations by acknowledging the source of Abraham's prosperity. "God is with you in all that you do," he said (21:22).
Abraham had reached the aim of true stewardship that Jesus spoke about in the Sermon on the Mount nearly 2000 years later. "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).
The real goal in all stewardship is in the furtherance of the Master's kingdom. Wepray, "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven" (6:10, NJV), and in doing the Master's will we can hasten the coming of His kingdom (2 Peter 3:11, 12).
And that's where giving comes back into the picture. God's goodness is revealed in His givingness. "For God so loved the world that He gave ..." (John 3:16).
Proper stewardship is a high goal, and it sometimes seems out of reach to our naturally selfish natures; but it's a goal worth achieving. Jesus made it clear in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) that the person who wisely uses small amounts of the Master's resources will soon be blessed with larger resources and wider opportunities to bring success to himself and his Master.
Stewardship, then, is to be cherished. I'm a steward of the God who owns everything I see! I'm vice-president for management in the biggest corporation in the universe!
Adapted, with permission, from These Times
Texts in this article are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright© 1946, 1952, 1971, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.
Ken Wade writes from Boise, Idaho, where he works as Associate Book Editor at Pacific Press Publishing Association.