Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms (1 Pet. 4:10).
Living a life of purpose and significance begins with understanding the foundational principles of biblical stewardship. Unfortunately, many Christians have been taught a narrow definition of stewardship that only involves tithing and managing personal finances. This limited view of stewardship has led many to believe that everything outside of those arenas belongs to them and can be used however they want—especially their work.
We need to recover a biblical view of stewardship—Stewardship with a capital “S,” if you will—that encompasses our whole lives, all of which belong to God. Here are six principles that help to flesh out this larger definition of stewardship:
1. God Owns Everything
Paul writes in Col. 1:16:
For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.
2. Everything We Have Is a Gift From God
Everything you have, eat, drink, breathe, wear, or use is because of God’s grace. We must echo Job’s declaration from Job 1:21:
Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.
3. God Has Given Us Authority Over His Earthly Creation
The biblical term for this idea is “stewardship.” God the creator, owner of everything, gives human beings provisional rule and ownership in this earthly realm. We see this first in the opening chapters of the Bible in what is called the Cultural Mandate (Gen. 1:28).
4. Man’s Private Property Rights Are Established by God
The biblical idea of Christian stewardship firmly establishes the right to private property as we clearly read in both the Old and New Testaments. At first, this might seem like a contradiction. If God owns the cattle of a thousand hills, how can I put my brand on one of those cows?
But consider this: if God gives you stewardship over a house and other property, that property, although a gift from God, becomes yours in a concrete, definite way. Only you have the responsibility to watch over and care for it. Those rights and responsibilities over your house and other things do not belong to the government, to the community, or to your neighbor.
5. The Work of Our Hands Matters
This provisional stewardship provides us with incentives to be productive and strive toward the flourishing—the peace and prosperity of our cities—to which God desires for us. Property rights are one tool that can help us live out biblical stewardship.
In economics, we think about property rights as crucial aspects in a market and opportunity-based society. Property rights put parameters around that for which are accountable and responsible. They are not just windfall gains that we get to use however we wish; rather, God has gifted us with skills and talents to actually create more out of what we are given.
This is what happens in the Parable of the Talents—the master gives resources to his servants with the expectation that they will increase his investment.
6. We Will Be Held Accountable
Only you have the call to steward the gifts that God has given you. It is only in this concept of biblical stewardship that we find the beautiful balance between God’s gifts and man’s obligations. It is by requiring stewardship of us that God sets up a wall of protection around what we possess. And at some point we will have to give an account to God for the way in which we exercise that stewardship.
As Christians, our faith requires us to live out an understanding that ownership of property is a God-given right, and the stewardship of that same property is a God-given responsibility.
Economists often talk about the “tragedy of the commons,” an illustration that demonstrates how we can lose accountability when we don’t own the property we are using. No one assumes responsibility for the commons, for its maintenance or its growth. As a result, its common resources are depleted.
But if resources are held privately, that is, if someone owns the resource, they will have an incentive to tend to it, nurture it, and make it more productive. Without property rights, we cannot get the flourishing that God so dearly wants for us.
“Stewardship with a capital ‘S'” requires rethinking stewardship as accountability over all of our choices, decisions, and resources. This type of stewardship is all-inclusive, touching every area of life, including our time and talent as well as our treasure. It is faithfully using whatever God gives us (opportunities, interests, skills, employment, family, talents, spiritual gifts, land, money, etc.) for his glory, to serve the common good and to further his kingdom.
This is not only biblical. It helps us not just to want to do good, but to actually do the good we hope to carry out.