These two words have helped me understand the meaning of stewardship more than any other:
- Possession and Use
You are a good steward when you learn how to possess and use, appropriately.
The opposite of possession with use is also a part of good stewardship:
- Stewarding what you cannot use.
What does it all mean?
Stewardship is complicated—like your life.
Seeing these stewardship examples from the Bible and disciples of the past will hopefully help you connect some dots in the good steward life you are currently involved in… because it’s beautiful.
Let’s dive in.
God’s first checklist?
- Create the world with words.
- Form man with my hands and breathe life into him.
- Give him something to do with his mind, words, and hands—life.
Biblical stewardship begins with Adam in Genesis 2:15: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”
Through Adam and Eve, the first stewards, man is also given a specific pursuit in the Bible—stewardship of the earth.
“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1:28.
With a creative mind, powerful words, and able hands, Adam and Eve’s (mans) initial job—“Work” and “Keep” the Garden—and their ongoing vocation is to:
- Fill the earth and subdue, possess and use, it.
- Have dominion
This is “reigning” language that reveals—you have been given an earthly kingdom to steward because you are human.
There a few examples of stewardship we can grab onto from King David, and 1 Samuel 17:20 shows us two of them—the message translates this verse this way:
“David was up at the crack of dawn and, having arranged for someone to tend his flock, took the food and was on his way just as Jesse had directed him.”
What are the lessons in stewardship from David?
- “Up at the crack of dawn”—being a steward of his time.
- “Arranging for someone to tend his flock,” ownership of the mundane—“whatsoever you do.”
“Whatsoever ye do, work heartily, as unto the Lord, and not unto men” Colossians 3:23.
Another ownership example of David appears in 1 Samuel 18:5:
“So David went out wherever Saul sent him, and behaved wisely. And Saul set him over the men of war, and he was accepted in the sight of all the people and also in the sight of Saul’s servants.”
The NLT translation may show the “whatsoever ye do, do it heartily” ownership spirit a little more clearly:
“Whatever Saul asked David to do, David did it successfully. So Saul made him a commander over the men of war, an appointment that was welcomed by the people and Saul’s officers alike.”
Before most of the Psalms, before killing Goliath, before becoming King— from being responsible for sheep to delivering cheese, David embodied an ownership spirit.
A key element of “Whatsoever ye do, work heartily, as unto the Lord, and not unto men.”
Joseph and Mary
When raising Jesus, Joseph was a carpenter. This reveals Mary and Joseph were one of the best examples of a steward.
When Jesus was around 3-years old, he received gold, frankincense, and myrrh from wise men.
Joseph and Mary possessed, but likely did not use, these gifts for themselves; they stewarded them.
Some say the gifts were “used up” to fund their journey to Egypt. Since these gifts were potentially worth millions of dollars, I find their complete use unlikely.
Mary and Joseph show the possession but not using stewardship principle in two straightforward ways:
- Stewarding the Life of Jesus
- Possession of these valuable gifts
A convicting question arose for me after seeing this.
If I received gifts when one of my kids were three, gifts that would make it possible to not work ever again in my life:
- Would I have been a carpenter to take care of my family?
- Instead of living off of just some of this cash?
The 3 & 5 Talent Stewards
It’s tough to connect the dots from biblical steward examples like Mary & Joseph in daily life.
Pretty unique situations.
The three and five talent stewards are quite different, though.
While there are many lessons in stewardship from this parable, here are two of the most impactful:
In this parable, everyday 8-5ers were handed large sums of money and received no direction on what they should do.
- How they should live
- The best way to increase the investment
- Or any other specific instructions.
You see, I can not count how many times I have asked God, “What specifically I should do with my life?” or “How can I be a steward and serve?”
Since no direction was ever given—I basically buried my talents and went on with life instead of doing this:
“Although it is God’s power and presence that will bring health and peace to the earth, that does not mean that we are mere spectators… There is a human instrumentality involved, which is why God waits for a fullness of time determined by our capacities to receive what he would give…
The key to understanding our part is the realization that God only moves forward with his redemptive plan through people who are prepared to receive freely and cooperate with him in the next step.
This is as true today as it was for Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah, and John the Baptist.” Dallas Willard.
Like David, the successful stewards worked “heartily as unto the master” in appearingly mundane duties.
- Delivering Cheese
Tasks likely instrumental in preparing for “a fulness of time determined by our capacities to receive”—their” for such a time as this.”
In Matthew 25:15, we read: “To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.”
According to your abilities, another way of saying “capacities to receive” which will determine if you are a
- “People who are prepared to receive freely and cooperate with him in the next step.”
It wasn’t a random selection, lottery thing that handed out the “talents.” It was “according to his abilities.”
Stewardship lessons from this parable?
- It’s necessary to steward the “sheep” you have been given, and,
- Until you steward the “sheep” currently in your possession—you’re not going to be prepared to be given any more important “flocks” to steward.
Again from what I now call the hope book, Dallas Willard affirms this takeaway for stewardship:
“The key to understanding our part is the realization that God only moves forward with his redemptive plan through people who are prepared to receive freely and cooperate with him in the next step.”
Here’s a more recent, inspiring example.
Katharina Bovey lived from 1669–1726 and became the mistress of Flaxley Abbey in 1691, at the age of twenty-two.
Her legacy is a philanthropist, though—and these words are on her memorial in Westminster Abbey.
“It pleased God to bless her with a considerable estate, which with a liberal hand guided by wisdom and piety, she employed to His glory & the good of her neighbours. Her domestic expenses were managed with a decency & dignity suitable to her fortune; but with a frugality that made her income abound to all proper objects of charity; to the relief of the necessitous, the encouragement of the industrious & instruction of the ignorant. She distributed not only with cheerfulness but with joy, which upon some occasions of raising & refreshing the spirit of the afflicted, she could not refrain from breaking forth into tears flowing from a heart thoroughly affected with compassion & benevolence.”
Often, the stewardship conversation focuses heavily on money, specifically tithing.
Katharina Bovey shows us that being a wealthy steward may be one of the best ways to impact the world.
How do You Become a Good Steward?
To not bury your talents and instead be a “good steward”—you only need to take the first step of faith and do anything.
The first step of all stewardship endeavors is to act on a thought you already possess. Because you care about understanding stewardship, you already have ample creative good steward ideas.
When you take these small steps of faith that currently feel large, you can then steward more considerable talents that you don’t even see as possible yet.
Incrementally, you will begin “to understand our part is the realization that God only moves forward with his redemptive plan through people who are prepared to receive freely and cooperate with him in the next step.”
Stewarding one step at a time is the only way.
- One foot planted where you are right now,
- And the other foot one step ahead.
Should you steward money and teams and make more money?
Should you devote tons of time and energy to rescuing wildlife, cleaning water, or leading an army to accomplish these ends?
Or, steward your kids, instead of possess and use them, to be some of the most epic adults ever to walk this earth?
Or create and inspire by writing, woodworking, inventing a board game, or other “arts”?
Only you know the talents you currently possess that, when stewarded, gain the “well done good and faithful” at the end.
Though, at the core of every good steward endeavor is this:
“The disciple will become a disciple when he determines to direct his time, regardless of how un-spiritual that thing he does in the time directed, this discipline will over time permeate all areas of his life.” William Law from A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life.