In modern times we think of a steward as one who has charge of an eating establishment, and especially one who is the supervisor of the cooking and serving of food. In ancient Bible times the term was applied to a person who had the oversight of all things pertaining to a household or an estate, who was employed to relieve the owner of the details of the business, and who received a specified allowance for his services. This practice applied to the Jews in the time of Christ and later. Such persons were responsible to the owner for all that was done about the premises or business over which they were stewards.
At this time, however, many seem to limit the term "steward" to the person in charge of that which the Lord has placed in his hands. Without question it has such meaning, for God is owner of all. He is the Creator of all, and in a sense we are personally responsible to God for what he gives us. Some seem to make the payment of tithes and offerings the sum and substance of this stewardship. But are we not responsible for the remainder of what He gives us? Can we recklessly squander the rest of this substance? Will God not hold us responsible for the nine-tenths as well as the one-tenth? Are we not stewards over that as well as the other?
Honesty in stewardship
Stewardship does not end when the person places his tithe and offerings in the hands of the church treasurer. The church treasurer becomes the steward of that which is placed in his hands, and he is just as responsible for it as is the person who pays it. The tithe is for a certain purpose, and the various offerings are given for specific purposes also. The treasurer must give an account of the funds that are turned in to him, and he is not allowed to use any sum thus placed in his hands for any other purposes than designated by the donor. When a member of the church gives a dollar to the church for the help of the poor, neither the treasurer nor any board or committee can make use of it for any other purpose. In the eyes of the law a misapplication of funds is called a breach of trust, or a misappropriation of funds. Any variation from the observance of the donor's wishes is not strictly honest.
When the treasurers of the higher organizations receive the various funds, they become the stewards and they are responsible for them. They have no right to divert any of these funds to any other channel, and the rules that apply to the local church treasurer are equally applicable to them; and the boards they serve may not make use of these funds as they please either.
Stewardship of truth
There is another and more comprehensive meaning to this subject of stewardship, and it is expressed in the words of the Saviour in Luke 12:42, 43: "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? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing." This is in harmony with the admonition of Christ to Peter as they walked by the sea after His resurrection. Jesus was eager to know whether Peter was as sure of himself at that time as he was before the crucifixion, when Peter assured him that though all men forsook Him, he would not do so. We know how he failed the Lord when He was arrested. Now Peter assured Jesus that he loved Him. Jesus then said, "Feed my lambs" and "Feed my sheep." In the future Peter was to demonstrate his love when he preached that wonderful sermon 50 days later on Pentecost and from that time onward until the day of his death as a martyr.
Paul expresses the same thought of stewardship: "Let a man so account for us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful" (1 Cor. 4:1,2). The minister is a steward of the word of God and for this reason he should be very careful to teach the truth as it is found in the Bible. The apostle advised Timothy to "preach the Word." The minister who preaches that which is not clearly taught in the Scriptures should not be allowed to continue in that line of work, for he will be held accountable in the day of judgment for the things he says.
Some may ask whether a preacher may state his or her opinion about a subject. We find some things in the Bible that are not too clear to us, and when we discuss them we should not be dogmatic in what we say. We should tell the congregation plainly that we are giving only our personal opinion, and that is should be taken for what it is worth. Among those topics that are not stated too clearly so far as the wording of the Bible is concerned, we might mention the subject of the 144,000, and the identity of the king of the north in the prophecy of Daniel. We can give our personal opinions without being dogmatic about them.
Stewardship in daily living
Not only should the minister consider his public teaching but he also should remember that his daily life and influence are likewise a part of his stewardship. His family and their influence should be included, for they all combine into a power for good or ill in the church and the community in which they live. Even the most humble member of the church has an influence on some, and he will have to account for this in the judgment. A wayward child of a minister has a detrimental influence on the minister's work, even when the latter has done everything possible to direct that child into paths of rectitude. No one has yet come forward with the solution of the problem of the one black sheep in a family. Regrettable though it be, such a stray in the minister's family is a depressing influence on the father and mother, making it hard for them to do their work effectively. If the child of a gambler goes wrong no one thinks it strange, but when the child of a preacher goes that way, it gets into the newspapers or becomes in other ways the subject of widespread news. It would seem that Satan works harder for the downfall of the family of the minister than others.
The use we make of our time is ours to direct. Life at best is short, and every moment is valuable to us and our children. Someone has said that the average person wastes enough time during the first twenty-five years of life to secure a liberal education if that time were properly utilized. It is not well to be so busy that we never have a moment to relax, but we are the stewards of our time, and the minister who succeeds will budget time to accomplish necessary tasks with the least effort. Successful ministers study and prepare the sermons they preach. If they don't, the congregation will be aware of the lack of preparation. Ministers must have a vast supply of information to make it possible for them to give discourse after discourse without repetition. However, the pastor's health demands that he or she must also have some physical exercise. To do both, time must be budgeted.
Then each of us has physical and mental abilities over which each person is the steward. Those who have made a study of mentality assure us that the average human brain has ability beyond our calculation. They have said that we have on the average somewhere between five and ten billion of neurons, or nerve cells, by which we can store knowledge. We are told that no one has ever yet used even one-hundredth part of brain power. It is wonderful to contemplate that if faithful we will have an eternity in which to store the mind with the things God would have us know. But that is no reason for our neglect of this faculty today. We are responsible as stewards for the way we use our mental powers. Much is expected of the minister today, and so, as a faithful steward, a minister should not only acquire Bible knowledge but also develop other talents.
The minister should know his Bible thoroughly, but of necessity, he or she must understand many things of a practical nature. These are all parts of our stewardship. May God grant us the wisdom we need to administer this responsibility.
W. L. Adams was a pastor in Arlington, California, when he wrote this article for Ministry.