Of the three things a person is not to talk about in polite company – religion, politics, and money – the church is called, in one way or another, to talk about all three. Perhaps this is the reason why teaching about stewardship often seems to be an afterthought. It’s something that happens only out of necessity when financial constraints are already nipping at the heels.
There is a more excellent way. Stewardship shouldn’t be the kind of teaching that comes up only when there is a financial crunch. It should be part and parcel of the ongoing instruction of Christians as they live out their faith in their vocations – members of their family, their society, and their church. This teaching touches upon every facet of our lives; it stakes a claim upon our time, our presence, our prayers, and our possessions.
Stewardship begins with the acknowledgment that we are stewards. A steward is a manager of someone else’s possessions. In Christian stewardship, we recognize, according to the Apostles’ Creed, that God is the owner of all things as the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. And in His fatherly divine goodness and mercy, He gives us what is His to manage here below.
principal virtue for stewards is faithfulness. As St. Paul wrote to the
Christians in Corinth:
“Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.” (1 Cor. 4:2)
Stewards must manage that which belongs to the owner according to the owner’s wishes. That is what it means to be faithful in stewardship.
raises a question: How are Christian stewards to be faithful in their managing
of what God has entrusted to them to manage? In other words, what are the
specific duties of a Christian steward?
depends upon what God has revealed in His Word for each of our vocations in
life as those in a family (fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, children),
society (governors or citizens), and the church (pastors or laity). The Table
of Duties from Luther’s Small Catechism
lays this out in helpful and orderly way.
Let’s look just at what the laity (hearers as it is labeled in the catechism) owe their pastors:
“In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.” (1 Cor. 9:14)
“Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” (Gal. 6:6–7)
“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’ ” (1 Tim. 5:17–18)
“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.” (1 Thess. 5:12–13)
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Heb. 13:17)
We can see that the Lord commands hearers to support the work of the ministry with the gifts God endowed them – their time, their presence, their prayers, and their possessions. This is the means by which God blesses His people with His gifts: the ministry with the support of those whom they serve, and the hearers with the work of the ministry.
St. Paul expounds upon this further in his letters to the church at Corinth. He instructs them to give regularly (1 Cor. 16:1–2), proportionally (1 Cor. 16:1–2; 2 Cor. 8:12), and generously (2 Cor. 8:20) of our first-fruits (1 Cor. 16:2) with a spirit of eagerness (2 Cor. 9:2), earnestness (2 Cor. 8:7), cheerfulness (2 Cor. 9:7), and love (2 Cor. 8:23).
All of this teaching is set forth squarely within the context of stations to which God calls us. This is always appropriate for the church to speak because it instructs God’s people in how they are to live out their faith as His stewards under those who are created, redeemed, and sanctified by Him.