Christian stewardship: Is it a bigger deal than we think?

Commentary on Genesis 2/p>

Stewardship. It's not about money. Well, . . it partially is. So, maybe we should say that stewardship is not just about giving money.

After long-time Southern Nazarene University professor Fred Floyd retired in 1970, he started going to the SNU campus to pick up wind-blown trash using a broom handle that had a nail sticking out of one end. That broom handle, said Dr. Floyd, was his "ecology stick." That retired professor felt a personal responsibility to care for that campus' 39 acres. Picking up trash was for him an act of stewardship.

The idea that God's plan was that we humans are as administrators or custodians rather than outright owners appears first in Genesis 2. That chapter make it quite clear that human beings are to "take care of" the earth. Indeed, Eugene Patterson's The Message renders the Psalm 8 reminder of the Genesis 2 exhortation this way:

You put us in charge of your handcrafted world,
   repeated to us your Genesis-charge.

Sadly, for many people, stewardship only means answering the question: "How much of my hard-earned money do I have to part with?"

It's not just about money

That approach is way off the mark. Genesis 2 clearly labels us as managers or keepers not only of money but also of all of Creation. There's no way getting around the fact that God intends for our stewardship to encompass more than how we handle money. . . . although what we do with money is clearly important given that Jesus talked a lot about it.

The phrase "time, talents and treasure" has been frequently used to illustrate how much our stewardship as God's people should cover. Because each word in "time, talents and treasure" begins with "t," it is an easy-to-remember phrase. However, even talking about time, talents and treasure may fail to communicate that we are not truly the "owners" of anything. Sadly, don't we frequently add a "my" and speak of my time, my talents, and my treasure? Why is that "my" in there? Stewards are not owners. Stewards take care of something for someone else.

In addition, does everything on our stewardship list fit neatly into time, talents and treasure? As wonderful as the alliterative trio sounds, it just doesn't seem to cover the two important things of Genesis 2:

  1. Caring for the environment
  2. Looking after all of the earth's other creatures

Planet care

That we should speak of being stewards of everything, including this planet, should not surprise those who have has carefully read the Bible. Doesn't the Bible seem to be saying God intended for His creation to be care for when it says He "clothes the lilies of the field" (Matthew 6:28) and that not even a sparrow falls without Him noticing it (Matthew 10:29)?

1 Peter 4 speaks to an all-encompassing understanding of Christian stewardship. The Message renders verses 7-11 of that chapter this way:

Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God's words; if help, let it be God's hearty help. . . . He'll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything.

Those who think stewardship only applies to people with lots of money need to listen to 1 Peter 4. Scholars say that passage was originally written to immigrants and/or refugees. Then, as now, immigrants and refugees were rarely well-to-do. Therefore, the words of 1 Peter 4 have special significance for anyone whose limited financial resources might lead them to think "stewardship" has little relevance to them. Indeed, in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25), Jesus had some strong words for the servant who failed at being a good steward even though he was the one who had been entrusted with the least.

This planet belongs to God and He told us to take care of it. Clearly, stewardship as understood by Psalm 8 and 1 Peter 4 clearly means that taking care of the earth is not just something for people who get ridiculed as "tree huggers."

What about evangelism?

Some fear that an emphasis on believers caring for the physical world will distract us from sharing the Good News of salvation. That concern raises a question worth pondering: Will promoting Creation care indeed weaken our commitment to doing the ends-of-the-weath evangelism called for by the Great Commission? Certainly not. It actually strengthens it because it means we truly believe that the God of the Bible is the Creator of everything and therefore worthy of being honored as Lord of all, including the planet as well as the lives of its human inhabitants.

Some of those most involved in world evangelism see no conflict between calling people to be reconciled to God while also being good stewards of the planet. A little over a decade ago, more than 4,000 evangelical leaders from 198 countries gathered in South Africa. Many of them are recognized leaders in carrying out Christ's Great Commission.

The official document emanating from that conference proclaimed creation care to be a "gospel issue" which cannot be separated from God's call to evangelize the world. While affirming the "call to make known to all nations . . . the gospel of God's saving grace," that group declared that being good stewards of earth is "an integral part of our mission and an expression of our worship to God."

Thus, while money is an important issue in discussions about stewardship, it's only one of the things of which we are to be stewards. piece of our stewardship. Let's be sure that everything God has put in our care (including all of Creation ) is handled in ways that bring glory to Him. May it not be said of us that we were poor stewards of anything which rightfully belongs to our Creator.

Thinkg about it . . .

  1. What are some things we can do to move believers (including ourselves) beyond thinking of "my stuff" to seeing ourselves as caretakers or stewards of the things we have in our possession as well as the rest of God's world?
  2. If the world is going to be burned up in the end, what reason do we have to "take care of it"?
  3. Are there ways believers might misinterpret the meaning of the phrase "rule over" in Genesis 1:26? What's the difference between "ruling over" and "taking care of" something?

    -- Howard Culbertson

Published in Illustrated Bible Life, a curriculum piece produced by The Foundry for leaders of adult Sunday School classes.


Other Illustrated Bible Lilfe articles:    The Gentile Pentecost   Did Paul believe in the Great Commission?     Contextualization    Religious responses to suffering

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