You may have heard in church that it’s important to “be a good steward.” Don’t worry if you are unsure what that means. Steward is a word rarely used in modern English. We are going to dig into scripture to get a good definition of biblical stewardship.
We will also describe the qualities of a good steward. And we’ll look at examples as well as how to work towards becoming a good steward. At the end are some great Bible verses to encourage you in your journey of godly stewardship.
The Definition of A Good Steward
First let’s examine this word, steward. It’s word that has been on a decline in usage in the English language since the 1800s. Its most common usage describes the position of a person who works on a ship or airplane, serving the passengers. Side note: On airlines, it’s more proper these days to use the term flight attendant. For boats, steward is still acceptable.
However in the Bible, when we are told be a good steward, it’s not telling us to sign up as housekeeping staff on a boat. The word, steward, translates in Greek as οἰκονόμον (pronounced “oikonomon”). This word most closely correlates in modern English to manager.
In fact, many Bible translations now use the term “manager.” The managers mentioned in scripture were often like managers in today’s world – overseeing accounts, households, and businesses. So, whenever we see the word “steward” we can replace with the biblical synonym, manager.
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A manager is someone who is given responsibility to take care of something on behalf of someone else. This role is that of a middle man. A manager has authority, but is not the owner. Stewards work for an owner, so a steward is also a servant. According to Helps Word Studies, a steward was usually a free servant worker, not a slave.
What It Means To Be A Good Steward
If you’ve worked under or over a manger you may have some specific ideas about what makes a good manager. But what makes someone a “good steward” according to the Bible? What is biblical stewardship?
Jesus himself asks, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns” (Luke 12:42-43, NIV).
In other words, a good steward is a servant who is mindful that Jesus will return anytime. It’s the person who behaves like he is a servant who will be held accountable for his care of others.
The Qualities of A Good Steward
In what is referred to as “the parable of the talents” (Matthew 24:14-30), Jesus identifies the qualities of good stewards. In the story, three stewards each receive an allotment of money to manage on behalf of the owner.
The first two stewards invest their talents and double what they are given. They each give the owner back double what they were given. And to each the owner replies, “Well done good and faithful servant.”
Side note: a talent is a transliteration of the Greek, which would be said “talanton.” Its actual meaning is a certain weight (probably a lot) of money.
In contrast the third servant, or money manager, fearfully digs a hole and goes about his own life. He disregards his job to properly caring the owner’s money. When the owner returns, this servant digs it up and gives back only the amount given to him.
To this one the owner said, “You wicked and slothful servant,” and a few other things. Then the bad steward had what was given to him taken away and given to the good steward. And the bad steward was thrown out.
So, we learn from the good steward parable that a good steward is diligent, hardworking, and willing to take reasonable risks. God wants us to build up and increase what God has given to us.
The story of the good steward predicts Jesus’ return to judge and usher in the Kingdom of Heaven. What we are called to invest in, build up, and increase God’s kingdom for his return. We have been entrusted with the treasures of the gospel, faith, and authority in the spiritual realm. Do we use these kingdom treasures or bury them?
A Good Steward Works For God
What is a good steward of God? A good biblical steward is always mindful that he or she works for God. God is the owner. “The earth and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants, belong to the LORD” (Psalm 24:1, HCSB).
Good stewards take care of the gifts God has given them to manage. So, what will we be held accountable for? We have been made stewards of the things of earth – such as money, tangible things, and even people. But the most precious thing we are managers of as God’s servants is His kingdom.
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Stewardship of God’s Kingdom
Biblical stewardship means being a care taker of God’s kingdom. As Peter said, in 1 Peter 4:10-11,
“As each has received a gift, employ it in serving one another, as good managers of the grace of God in its various forms. If anyone speaks, let it be as it were the very words of God. If anyone serves, let it be as of the strength which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
We are called to be “good managers of the grace of God.” As believers, our actions reap eternal consequences. The way we live and what we say should honor God’s image. Being a steward of grace means using whatever gift God has given you to perform acts of kindness towards others.
A Good Steward Is Wise
Jesus tells his disciples in Matthew 10:16 “be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” In the parable of the talents, the good stewards invested their resources wisely.
God doesn’t want you to write a check and check your mind at the door. A faithful steward engages the wisdom God has given them and employs that talent for thinking to serve God’s kingdom.
A Good Steward Is Kind
There is no greater kindness we can do than to share the “very words of God” with those who do not yet know Jesus. “Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his life from death and cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:20).
Even when Paul is admonishing the Corinthians he buffers his criticism. He points out that his authority is for building them up, even when they are wrong. “This is why I am writing these things while absent, that when I am there I will not use severity, in keeping with the authority the Lord gave me for building up and not for tearing down” (2 Corinthians 13:10).
Examples of Stewardship In The Bible
As we examine scriptures we can see examples of good and bad stewardship throughout. Noah was given stewardship of building a boat and rescuing animals & people from the coming flood. Moses was given stewardship of Israel, to lead them out of Egypt and through the desert.
In modern times, we might think of contractors as stewards. For instance, a tax accountant is given the responsibility to prepare your taxes properly. A financial manager is given the authority to invest and manage investments on behalf of others.
The most important stewardship is always over the gospel and people.
Stewardship As Parents
Word Helps Study says the literal translation of the Greek word for steward is “household-manager.” You may have heard this term used elsewhere to describe another role – mom! We not only run households but care for little people precious to God.
It is the calling of every parent to serve. “But if anyone doesn’t provide for his own, and especially his own household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever” (I Timothy 5:8).
All parents (dads too!) are managers as God’s servants in caring for the children given to us. Our children belong to God, but He has tasked us with protecting and building them up into his kingdom. We are called to manage our children under submission to Christ in accordance with the principles he has established. We are to keep watch over their souls “as those who will give an account” (Hebrews 13:17).
However, proper care also requires taking reasonable risks, like the good stewards did in the parable of the talents. If we are overprotective and fearful in our parenting (like the bad steward), our children won’t grow and mature as God intends them to do.
Examples of Good and Bad Stewardship
As Jesus talks about a good steward in Luke 12, giving an example of a bad steward in verses 45-46.
“But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.”
The bad servant used his resources for self indulgence and abuse. He mistreated those entrusted to his care, and his consequences were harsh because God cares deeply about his people.
An Example of Good Stewardship
Paul was, who given the stewardship from God to preach the gospel to gentiles (Acts 22:21) is a great example of good stewardship. In Colossians 1:24 Paul says, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake.” In contrast to the bad servant, he suffers for the sake of others. He says, “of which I was made a servant according to the stewardship of God which was given me toward you to fulfill the word of God” Colossians 1:24-26.
And in I Corinthians 9:17, points out that he is working God and not for his own personal gain. “For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward. But if not of my own will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me.” A good steward puts aside their own wants and ambitions in order to show kindness and care for the well-being of those God has put under their authority.
As parents its important for us to teach our children how to discern good and bad stewardship in their leaders. It will help protect them as they grow, and help them develop as good leaders themselves.
More Scriptures on Stewardship
Whatever you have stewardship over, there’s probably a good Bible verse to help encourage you in the way of righteousness in that responsibility. Here’s just a few of my favorite scriptures on stewardship.
Stewardship Over People
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they watch on behalf of your souls, as those who will give account, that they may do this with joy, and not with groaning, for that would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17).
“Again, do you think that we are excusing ourselves to you? In the sight of God we speak in Christ. But all things, beloved, are for your edifying” (2 Corinthians 12:19).
“For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined” (Titus 1:7-8).
Stewardship Over the Gospel
“So let a man think of us as Christ’s servants, and stewards of God’s mysteries. Here, moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful” (I Corinthians 4:1-2, WEB).
Stewardship Of Spiritual Gifts
“So also you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, seek that you may abound to the building up of the assembly” (I Corinthians 14:12).
Stewardship Over Your Words
“Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth, but such as is good for building up as the need may be, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).
Stewardship Of Your Faith
“But you, beloved, keep building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 1:20).
What The Bible Says About Being Good Stewards Of Money
You’re probably wondering at this point why I haven’t talked more about money. Most people start talking about money right way when biblical stewardship comes up. The parable of the talents is talking about money after all, or is it? In the parable, Jesus says the coming of the kingdom of heaven “will be like…” when someone is held accountable for the things God has given them to manage.
As the verses above show us, the most important things are his people and his word. A good steward values people over personal financial gain. When we invest in others and share God’s word, we grow his kingdom. Your money is just another resource that can be used to help further the greater calling in loving others and sharing the gospel.
There’s a lot more that can be said about biblical stewardship or management. I talk about the responsibility of authority in Parenting in Christ: Treasure for Parenting from Jesus. But if I could some it up in one thought, it’s that biblical stewardship means taking your middle management position seriously. You have a duty serve others with justice and kindness and will be held accountable for that service by God.
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