The High Biblical Theme of Stewardship

ssb.jpgBook Review

I’ll have to admit I’m not a great fan of topical study Bibles. Few themes are big enough to warrant a whole Bible’s focus. Most Christians would consider stewardship a topic that could never be sustained through an entire Bible. “Stewardship Sunday” at one church I attended was the week we pledged our giving to the church for the coming year. Some churches with a larger vision of stewardship teach on “giving our time, talents, and treasure” in serving the church.That view of stewardship is way too small.

Here’s a definition that does it justice:

Webster defines a steward as ‘someone who manages property or affairs of someone else.” The reality is that stewardship doesn’t make much sense apart from that ‘someone else’ for whom we steward.

Stewardship is a recurring theme throughout Scripture. An individual’s recognition of God’s role as creator and designer of every aspect of life radically changes how one relates and responds to the Creator. In essence, God has entrusted His people with a profound responsibility; to manage all that He created. This creation goes well beyond giving, sharing, spending, saving, raising money, and care of the environment.

In fact, God has entrusted us with (to name a but a few) gifts, abilities, freedom, relationships, roles, in addition to finances and material resources that we rightly associate with stewardship. Further, Scripture tells us that our very life and breath do not belong to us…but rather to Him (Isaiah 42:5). The Bible reflects on fourteen arenas of life that have been entrusted to our care.

The Stewardship Council believes that our continual striving to know God through His role as the author, creator, and owner of all things makes a significant impact on how we faithfully serve Him as stewards of the mysteries of God (I Corinthians 4:1).

Brett Elder is the Executive Director of the Stewardship Council, the source of that definition; and he also serves as Director of Collaborative Initiatives at Acton Institute, a leading center for Christian thinking on religion, liberty, and economics; and by God’s grace to me, he’s also a friend of mine. As Executive Editor, Brett led the development of the Stewardship Study Bible. I’ve seen his passion for stewardship in conversations we’ve had about how it applies at work in particular. We’ve dreamed of how great it would be if someday conversations at Rotary or Kiwanis Clubs would go like this:

Business Owner A: “You are going to be so envious: I just had a Christian apply for my latest job opening, and I am so looking forward to hiring this person. You can count on Christians: they work hard, they put in a day’s work for a day’s pay, they encourage the others on the job, they’re honest, they really care about our customers—”

Business Owner B (interrupting): “Wow. You’re right, I am envious. I’d hire more Christians in a minute! You know, they even lift me up. They help me realize that what we do in our business really makes a difference.”

As I said, we were dreaming of that day. I don’t think that conversation happened at your local Rotary this morning. One reason is because our churches are teaching a low view of stewardship. We’re missing the essential goodness of work in particular, even “non-spiritual” work. “Non-spiritual” work, in case you’re wondering, is any work in which God is not interested, which is just to say there is no such thing. The curse following the Fall made work harder and more painful, but it didn’t make it bad, it didn’t make it wrong, and it certainly didn’t boot it out of the realm of God’s good plan for all of us. Work is “co-creation,” “cooperation with the creativity of the Creator,” as the Stewardship Study Bible explains in its article adjacent to Colossians 1:15-23.

I’m in Christian work, which often gets elevated to a high plateau of respect among believers. It belongs there. So does any other honest work. I’m deeply grateful for those who make chairs and carpets, who sell breakfast cereals and coffee, who deliver gasoline to service stations and hamburger patties to restaurants. Without such a community of co-creators, I’d be one cold and hungry blogger right now. There is something essentially good about the business of building a world with and for each other. It can go wrong, obviously, and when it does (unless it’s due to factors beyond anyone’s control), it’s a failure of stewardship: the effective and godly management of all that God has entrusted to us.

But it’s not only about work. It’s about creation care, serving the poor, creating beauty through art, guarding the truths entrusted to us, managing our finances, giving, receiving, and so much more. Stewardship extends into every aspect of life; it is the way we live our lives with the resources we have at hand. That’s why it’s a theme worthy of a study Bible.

I’ve read the books of Isaiah and 1 and 2 Thessalonians in the Stewardship Study Bible so far. To me it hits a sweet spot: its articles on stewardship are consistently relevant to the adjacent text, without commanding how that text must be interpreted. Dozens, maybe hundreds of authors are quoted in these articles, providing a wide range of of insight, all of it faithful to the intent and meaning of Scripture.

I prefer a more word-for-word (formal equivalence) translation like the ESV or NKJV over the NIV’s moderate dynamic equivalence approach (see chart), but still the NIV is a faithful translation and a favorite for many. The other thing I don’t like about study Bibles is their bulk. At least it’s possible to obtain this one in a more compact form via Kindle, Nook, or iBooks.

There’s much to be gained in grasping the full scope and depth of stewardship, and seeing it so tightly integrated with God’s word, as it is in this study Bible. I know I still have a lot left to discover about how God wants me to manage and to invest what he has entrusted to me. The Stewardship Study Bible is helping me learn.

NIV Stewardship Study Bible: Discover God’s Design for Life, the Environment, Finances, Generosity, and Eternity, from the Stewardship Council (Zondervan, 2009). Amazon Price US$29.19 for hardcover as of publication date.

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