Public Square & Theology 101

What Stewardship Teaches Us about Faithful Work

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What does it mean to steward blessings for the benefit not only of God and myself but also my neighbor?

While there are a handful of ways stewardship could be explained, one way is through the Old Testament concept of gleaning—where the poor gather grain in a field, from a portion that is intentionally left by the crop owners.

While some consider the book of Leviticus to be a continuation of Exodus filled with a handful of outdated rituals, commands, and laws, there is more to be understood as we peel back a few layers.

What’s striking in Leviticus 19:9-10 as we read it in our modern context is the responsibility given to landowners for the care of their neighbor in the principle and purpose of God’s law for Israel.

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.

In this passage, we see Israel instructed in a few key areas regarding the way to harvest their crops: they were to leave the edges of their grain fields unharvested and leave the fallen grapes and other produce for the poor and the sojourner.

What needs to stand out for us as modern readers of the text are the significant vocational implications of Yahweh’s instructions to his people regarding the way in which they are to conduct their livelihood.

These are not merely Old Testament laws that we can write off. Rather, looking through the eyes of an Israelite, these words would call to mind the direct impact on their day-to-day work. They offer us a glimpse into the priorities and values of our creator.

‘This Business Is the Lord’s’

God is calling the Israelites to leave a small portion of their crops for strangers. This would fundamentally rub against “good business” in a modern capitalistic reading.

A call to care for the sojourner implies sacrifice that helps both the giver and the receiver live as they were intended as image bearers of God.

What’s so countercultural about this text is the way God goes before his people in providing these crops. In God’s good provisional law, he’s made a way for his children not only to meet the physical need of their neighbor, in a dignified manner, but also to hedge their own hearts against covetousness and materialism.

Made to Flourish, a network of pastors who aim to encourage and resource one another to integrate faith, work, and economic wisdom for the flourishing of our communities, published a story a few years ago on an auto mechanic named Alfonso who has taken hold of the mission of Christ in his business.

After spending time in prison Alfonso needed a second chance and felt called to serve the Lord through his own acumen as a mechanic—but he needed his first month’s rent on the building that would be his shop.

His church quickly jumped in and provided to meet his need, and now, more than 10 years later, the business continues to thrive. Alfonso has not only used his gifts to restore countless vehicles, but he’s also restored a handful of co-workers who have joined him on staff at his shop.

“I feel like this business is the Lord’s,” Alfonso said. “I believe he’s entrusted me with everything that I have. He has opened all kinds of opportunities, and if it consists of working an automotive field to help people, that’s what I’ll do.”

In God’s economy, his people are always blessed to then turn around and be a blessing to the world. This is fundamental to the mission of God, and it’s seen brightly in this passage in Leviticus and the lives of those like Alfonso.

“[This passage] shows how God’s law was not a matter only of ritual purity,” wrote Tim Keller in a 2009 blog on the passage, “but was to transform every corner of one’s practical life.”

While it would make sense to say gleaning is an expression of compassion or justice, Leviticus tells us this is an act of holiness in obedient response to God’s grace.

May we all strive to see God’s kindness as an opportunity to transform “every corner” of our own lives.

Editor’s note: Read more about how our work is part of God’s big-picture plan of redemption and restoration in All Things New: Rediscovering the Four-Chapter Gospel.

Help empower Christians with the biblical and economic principles that lead to human flourishing! Support IFWE today.

Photo: Public Domain

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