What Is Stewardship? | What The Apostle Paul Says About Stewardship

Wheat Field by Maxdrobot. Public Domain

Wheat was a common product of Roman estates. Stewards in the Roman Empire ran estates in the owner’s absence. These stewards were often trustworthy slaves and were responsible for managing the property in a way that benefited the owner. Wheat Field by Maxdrobot. Public Domain

Talking about stewardship can be a tricky proposition. Almost all of the conversations that I have about stewardship start with money, and the funny thing about money is that it seems that everyone has a different opinion about it. Consequently, the word “stewardship” has come to mean many things. I usually try to steer out of the money aspect of stewardship as quickly as possible. The reason I do this is because what the Apostle Paul says about stewardship teaches us something far more important and fundamental than money management.

What The Apostle Paul Says About Stewardship

If we could ask the Apostle Paul how he defined stewardship, I think we would get a much different answer than “be sure to tithe” or “be a good money manager.” In Paul’s time, stewards were entrusted with the care of households and estates in the Roman world. They were responsible for managing those estates in such a way that the owner received a profit. Stewards had to always be ready to open the books and give an accounting for their work. In those days, good money principles were not the same thing as stewardship (though it was part of it).

Paul only wrote four times about stewardship and mentioned stewards only four times, and it gives an interesting insight into how he viewed stewards and stewardship. Here’s what he wrote:

For if I preach the gospel,
I have nothing to boast of,
for I am under compulsion;
for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.
For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward;
but if against my will,
I have a stewardship entrusted to me.
-1 Corinthians 9:16-17 NASB

In Him we have redemption through His blood,
the forgiveness of our trespasses,
according to the riches of His grace
which He lavished on us.
In all wisdom and insight,
He made known to us the mystery of His will,
according to His kind intention
which He purposed in Him
with a view to an administration
suitable to the fullness of the times,
that is, the summing up of all things in Christ,
things in the heavens and things on the earth.
– Ephesians 1:7-10 NASB

For this reason I, Paul,
the prisoner of Christ Jesus
for the sake of you Gentiles
— if indeed you have heard of the stewardship
of God’s grace which was given to me for you;
– Ephesians 3:1-2 NASB

Of this church I was made a minister
according to the stewardship from God
bestowed on me for your benefit,
so that I might fully carry out
the preaching of the word of God
– Colossians 1:25

And of stewards, he wrote:

Gaius, host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer greets you, and Quartus, the brother.
– Romans 16:23

Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.
– 1 Corinthians 4:1-2

Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father. So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world.
– Gal 4:1-3

For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. 
– Titus 1:7-9

Responsibility and Accountability

Each time Paul used the word oikonomia (stewardship), he spoke of an entrusted responsibility from an owner to a servant. Each time he used the word oikonomos (steward), he is speaking of a trustworthy servant or slave who is accountable to another for their management of specific resources. Here’s the insight: when Paul mentions stewardship, personal responsibility and accountability are the focus.

I realize that stewardship isn’t the only way to frame the Christian life, but it’s a good one to start with. It’s how Paul thought of his ministry, and perhaps we should too.

Thinking like a steward is a way to focus our minds, humble our hearts, and orient our attitudes. A steward’s mind is focused on the responsibility at hand. A steward’s heart knows its place in the kingdom — it is honest, not prideful. A steward’s attitude is one of meekness and industry. Stewardship is about stepping up and embracing our Kingdom responsibility head on, which is far more exciting than “good money management!”

You’ve seen my take on stewardship. If you’ve got a minute, I’d love to see yours.

 

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