Stewardship

[This commentary may be completed sometime. In the meantime, we hope you find helpful the commentary that is included here.]

Introduction

Biblical Roots of Stewardship

Financial Stewardship

Environmental Stewardship

Stewardship of the Church

Epilogue


Stewardship: Introduction

[under construction]

Biblical Roots of Stewardship

What is Stewardship?

Although the term "steward" appears at least half a dozen times in the King James Version (KJV) of the Old Testament (O.T.), modern translations of the Bible often use other English synonyms of the original Hebrew, such as "official in charge", "man in charge of the palace", "heir", "chamberlain", "bailiff", or "guard" in place of "steward". As we shall see later on, the O.T. contains some important insights to our understanding of stewardship, but it is really in the N.T., beginning with the teachings of Jesus, that the concept of stewardship becomes an important metaphor of Christian faith.

Our discussion of stewardship begins with one of John Wesley's sermons called "the Good Steward". Since Wesley's time, the focus of stewardship has changed considerably in Methodist practice (as well as most other church denominations). Stewardship is often mentioned together with tithing (to the church); so some time will be spent looking critically at the Biblical basis for stewardship and tithing. It turns out that "tithing", while very important in the O.T., is rarely mentioned in the New Testament (N.T). Stewardship on the other hand is very prominent in the N.T.

A simple definition of steward, as it was understood in Biblical times, is the "overseer of a large household". With that quick introduction, let's now look at John Wesley's sermon, entitled "The Good Steward". John Wesley: "The Good Steward" (Luke 16:2) [from Luke 16:1-12] When one reads John Wesley's sermons, it seems remarkable that he commanded such an audience with his preaching. His sermons are dry, serious, and academic; yet the central message is clearly presented. He sometimes throws in a few Greek or Latin words to express fine shades of meaning. This sermon is noticeably more formal than his typical style, because it was addressed to nobility. The complete sermon is worth reading, but here are presented some substantial excerpts--in Wesley's original words. (May 14, 1768)
The sermon is based on a parable recorded by Luke, about a dishonest, but astute steward:
"There was a rich man and he had a steward who was denounced to him for being wasteful with his property. He called for the man and said, "What is this I hear about you? Draw me up an account of your stewardship because you are not to be my steward any longer." Then the steward said to himself, "Now that my master is taking the stewardship from me, what am I to do? Dig? I am not strong enough. Go begging? I should be too ashamed. Ah, I know what I will do to make sure that when I am dismissed from office there will be some to welcome me into their homes."

'Then he called his master's debtors one by one. To the first he said, "How much do you owe my master?" "One hundred measures of oil" was the reply. The steward said, "Here, take your bond; sit down straight away and write fifty." To another he said, "And you, sir, how much do you owe?" "One hundred measures of wheat" was the reply. The steward said, "Here, take your bond and write eighty".

'The master praised the dishonest steward for his astuteness. For the children of this world are more astute in dealing with their own kind that are the children of light.' Here's a brief outline of the sermon that follows:

Introduction: Man's Relationship to God
a) debtor b) servant c) steward
1) In what respects are we now God's "stewards"?
2) When God requires our souls of us, "we can be no longer stewards".
3) Then it remains to "give an account of our stewardship".
Summary.


"The Good Steward" by John Wesley[1]

1. The relation which man bears to God, the creature to his Creator, is exhibited to us in the oracles of God under various representations. Considered as a sinner, a fallen creature, he is there represented as a debtor to his Creator. He is frequently represented as a servant, which indeed is essential to him as a creature, insomuch that this appellation is given to the Son of God when in his state of humiliation: he 'took upon him the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men'.

2. But no character more exactly agrees with the present state of man than that of a steward. Our blessed Lord frequently represents him as such; and there is a peculiar propriety in the representation. It is only in one particular respect, namely, as he is a sinner, that he is styled a 'debtor'; and when he is styled a 'servant' the appellation is general and indeterminate. But a 'steward' is a servant of a particular kind; such a one as man is in all respects. This appellation is exactly expressive of his situation in the present world , specifying what kind of servant he is to God, and what kind of service his divine master expects from him.

It may be of use, then to consider this point throughly, and to make our full improvement of it. In order to [do] this let us, first inquire in what respects we are now God's 'stewards'. Let us secondly, observe that when he requires our souls of us we 'can be no longer stewards.' It will then only remain, as we may in the third observe, to 'give an account of our stewardship'.

I. 1. And first, we are to inquire in what respects we are now God's stewards. We are indebted to him for all we have; but although a debtor is obliged to return what he has received, yet until the time of payment comes he is at liberty to use what is lodged in his hands as he pleases. It is not so with a steward; he is not at liberty to use what is lodged in his hands as he pleases, but as his master pleases. He has no right to dispose of anything which is in his hands but according to the will of his lord. For he is not the proprietor of any of these things, but barely entrusted with them by another; and entrusted on the express condition, that he shall dispose of all as his master orders. Now this is exactly the case of every man with relation to God. We are not at liberty to use what he has lodged in our hands as we please, but as he pleases, who alone is the Possessor of heaven and earth, and the Lord of every creature. We have no right to dispose of anything we have but according to his will, seeing we are not proprietors of any of these things. They are all, as our Lord speaks, "allotria", "belonging to another person"; nor is anything properly "our own" in the land of our pilgrimage. We shall not receive 'ta idia', 'our own things', till we come to our own country. Eternal things only are our own: with all these temporal things we are barely entrusted by another--the Disposer and Lord of all. And he entrusts us with them on this express condition, that we use them only as our Master's goods, and according to the particular directions which he has given us in his Word.

2. On this condition he hath entrusted us with our souls, our bodies, our goods, and whatever other talents we have received: ... not that we may employ them according to our own will, but according to the express orders which he has given us, although it is true that in doing his will we most effectually secure our own happiness...

4. God has, secondly, entrusted us with our bodies ... with all the powers and members thereof; with the organs of sense, of sight, hearing, and ... of speech. ... To him we are equally accountable for the use of our hands and feet, and all the members of the body.

7. God has entrusted us, thirdly, with a portion of worldly goods, with food to eat, raiment to put on, and a place where to lay our head, with not only the necessaries but the conveniences of life. Above all, he has committed to our charge that precious talent which contains all the rest, money. ...

8. God has entrusted us, fourthly, with several talents which do not properly come under any of these heads: such is bodily strength; such are health, a pleasing person, an agreeable address; such are learning and knowledge in their various degrees, with all the other advantages of education. Such is the influence which we have over others, whether by their love and esteem of us, or by power--power to do them good or hurt, to help or hinder them in the circumstances of life. Add to these that invaluable talent of time, with which God entrusts us from moment to moment. Add lastly, that on which all the rest depend, and without which they would all be curses, not blessings: namely, the grace of God, the power of his Holy Spirit, which alone worketh in us all that is acceptable in his sight.

II. 1. In so many respects are the children of men stewards of the Lord, 'the possessor of heaven and earth'. So large a portion of his goods of various kinds hath he committed to their charge. But it is not for ever, nor indeed for any considerable time. We have this trust reposed in us only during the short, uncertain space that we sojourn here below; only so long as we remain on earth, as this fleeting breath is in our nostrils. The hour is swiftly approaching, it is just at hand, when we 'can be no longer stewards.' The moment the body 'returns to the dust as it was, and the spirit to God that gave it', we bear that character no more; the time of our stewardship is at an end. Part of those goods wherewith we were before entrusted are now come to an end; at least they are so with regard to us; nor are we longer entrusted with them--and that part which remains can no longer be employed or improved as it was before.

2. [ Part of what we were entrusted with before is at an end, at least with regard to us.] What have we to do after this life with food, raiment, and houses, and earthly possessions? The food of the dead is the dust of the earth: they are clothed only with worms and rottenness. ... All their worldly goods are delivered into other hands, and they have 'no more portion under the sun.' 11. But ... As the soul will retain its understanding and memory, notwithstanding the dissolution of the body, so undoubtedly the will, including all the affections, will remain in its full vigor. ...

12. But although all these ... remain after the body is dropped off, yet in this respect they are as though they were not; we are no longer stewards of them. The things continue, but our stewardship does not; we no more act in that capacity. Even the grace which was formerly entrusted with us, in order to enable us to be faithful and wise stewards, is now no longer entrusted for that purpose. The days of our stewardship are ended.

III. 1. It now remains that, being 'no longer stewards', we 'give an account of our stewardship.' ... The Judge of all will then inquire: ' How didst thou employ thy soul, ... thy body, ... and thy worldly goods?

5. ... Didst thou use thy food, not so as to seek or place thy happiness therein, but so as to preserve thy body in health, in strength and vigor, a fit instrument for the soul? Didst thou use apparel, not to nourish pride or vanity, much less to tempt others to sin, but conveniently and decently to defend thyself from the injuries of weather? Didst thou prepare and use thy house and all other conveniences with a single eye to my glory? In every point seeking not thy own honour, but mine; studying to please, not thyself, but me? Once more: in what manner didst thou employ that comprehensive talent, money? Not in gratifying the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eye, the pride of life? Not squandering it away in vain expenses, the same as throwing it into the sea? Not hoarding it up to leave behind thee, the same as burying it in the earth? But first supplying thy own reasonable wants, together with those of thy family; then restoring the remainder to me, through the poor, whom I had appointed to receive it; looking upon thyself as only one of that number of poor whose wants were to be supplied out of that part of my substance which I had placed in thy hands for this purpose; leaving thee the right of being supplied first, and the blessedness of giving rather than receiving? Wast thou accordingly a general benefactor to mankind? Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, comforting the sick, assisting the stranger, relieving the afflicted according to their various necessities? Wast thou eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame? A father to the fatherless, and an husband to the widow? And didst thou labour to improve all outward works of mercy, as means of saving souls from death? ...

IV. 2. We learn from hence ... that there is no employment of our time, no action or conversation that is purely indifferent. All is good or bad, because all our time, as everything we have, is not our own. All these are as our Lords speaks, 'ta allotria', the property of another--of God, our creator. Now these either are or are not employed according to his will. If they are so employed, all is good; if they are not, all is evil. Again: it is his will that we should continually grow in grace and in the living knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Consequently, every thought, word, and work whereby this knowledge is not increased is truly and properly evil. 3. We learn from hence, ... that there are no works of supererogation, that we can never do more than our duty; seeing that all we have is not our own, but God's, all we can do is due to him. We have not received this or that, or many things only, but everything from him: therefore everything is his due. He that gives us all must needs have a right to all. So that if we pay him anything less than all we cannot be 'faithful stewards'. And considering 'every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labour,' we cannot be 'wise stewards' unless we labour to the uttermost of our power; not leaving anything undone which we possibly can do, but putting forth all our strength. ...


Questions for Discussion:
  1. Is Wesley's interpretation of stewardship different from what you've heard before? In what ways?
  2. Wesley took this interpretation of stewardship very seriously, and made every effort to follow it himself. Is Wesley's theology of stewardship self-consistent? If it is sound, what hinders us from heeding it?

[1]The complete text of many of Wesley's sermons, including those excerpted here, is available at http://wesley.nnc.edu/ or http://ccel.wheaton.edu/.

An excellent commentary on Wesley and Stewardship is: Good News to the Poor: John Wesley's Evangelical Economics by Theodore W. Jennings, Jr. (Abingdon Press: 1990).


Stewardship versus Tithing (a Biblical study)

It hardly needs to be said that in the fall at church budget time, one often hears stewardship sermons which focus on tithing or "proportional giving" to the church, among other things. Giving usually means giving money, although it may include "tithing" of time and talents as well.

Because the church today puts so much emphasis on tithing and derivative variations, like 'proportional giving', it's probably appropriate for us to look at the history and Biblical context of tithing. Tithing is really an Old Testament (O.T.) concept, although a few incidental references to tithing appear in the New Testament (N.T.)

So far as I know, historians can't tell us when or where the idea arose of making the tithe (one part in ten) the rate for paying tribute to rulers and of offering gifts as a religious duty. It existed in Babylon in ancient times, also in Persia and Egypt, and even in China. When Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of the Most High God pronounced a blessing on Abraham, Abraham responded by giving Melchizedek a tithe of everything. Tithing was recog nized even then as a holy deed. Dividing the spoils of war with rulers and religious leaders was widespread (I Macc. 10:31). When the Israelites clamored for God to give them a king, like other nations, Samuel warned them that a king would demand tithes of grain and flocks (I Sam. 8:10-18). When Jacob made his covenant with God at Bethel it included payment of tithes (Gen. 28:16-22).

It was a long time before definite legal requirements were set upon tithing; hence customs in paying it varied. At first the tither was entitled to share his tithe with the Levites:
Every year you must take a tithe of all that your sowing yields on the land and in the presence of Yahweh your God, in the place he chooses to give his name a home, you are to eat the tithe of your corn, your wine and your oil and the first-born of your herd and flock; so shall you learn to fear Yahweh your God always
If the road is too long for you, if you cannot bring your tithe because the place in which Yahweh chooses to make a home for his name is too far, when Yahweh your God has blessed you, you must turn your tithe into money, and with the money clasped in your hand you must go to the place chosen by Yahweh; there you may spend the money on whatever you like, oxen, sheep, wine, strong drink, anything your heart desires. You are to eat there in the presence of Yahweh your God and rejoice, you and your household. Do not neglect the Levite who lives in your towns, since he has no share or inheritance. (Deut. 14:22-27)
At the end of every three years you must take all the tithes of your harvests for that year and deposit them at your doors. The Levite (since he has no share or inheritance with you), the stranger, the orphan, and the widow who live in your towns may come and eat and have all they want. So shall Yahweh your God bless you in all the work your hands undertake. (Deut. 14:28-29)

The Levites, of course, were people of the tribe of Levi who were responsible for assisting the priests in taking care of the Tabernacle at the time of Moses, and later on, the Temple.
After the Levitical code had been completed, tithes belonged exclusively to the Levites (Num. 18:21). We read in Numbers:
Yahweh said to Aaron:
"You shall have no inheritance in their land, no portion of it among them shall be yours. It is I who will be your portion and your inheritance among the sons of Israel. See, to the sons of Levi I give as their inheritance all the tithes collected in Israel, in return for their services, for the ministry they render in the Tent of Meeting.
The Tithe that the sons of Israel set aside for Yahweh, I give the Levites for their inheritance. For this reason I have told them that they are to have no inheritance among the sons of Israel.
" (Numbers 18:20-21,24).

So the Levites were entitled to the tithe in lieu of farmlands given to the other tribes of Israel, so that they would be able to devote their work to religious duties. The Levites, in turn, were required to set aside a tenth of all they received for the priests. (Num. 18:25-29).

To make sure that no deceit would be practiced regarding tithing, each Hebrew was compelled to make a declaration of honesty before the Lord (Deut. 26:13-15). In taking the tithe of the flocks every tenth animal that passed under the rod, regardless of its kind, was taken; no substitution was allowed (Lev. 27:32,33). An increase in temple expenses, due to the number of priests and Levites and expansion of the temple service made it necessary, it seems, to impose extra tithes. Thus the third-year tithe may have been in addition to the regular annual tithe.

At the time of Jesus Israel was subject to rule of Roman tetrarchs, but the Temple at Jersusalem was sill the focus of Jewish religious rituals, including tithes and offerings. This Temple, which is mentioned frequently in the Gospels, was built by Herod the Great, beginning in 20 B.C. Although rebuilding of the inner court was completed in a year or two, construction continued for more than 80 years, almost until the Temple was finally destroyed by the Roman invasion of 70 A.D. In the Women's Court of the Temple (where both men and women were permitted), there were located 13 chests like inverted trumpets, into which offerings for the expenses of the temple services were placed. This is the place where the poor widow was commended by Jesus when she gave her two copper coins.

Rome expected Jews to pay for their own Temple maintenance; so a didrachma or half-shekel was exacted of every Hebrew male, as his share annually for the expenses of Temple administration (Ex. 30:11-16). The money-changers in the outer court of the Temple, were denounced by Jesus because of the excess rates they charged for exchanging currency. Jews arriving from "every nation under heaven" brought in many kinds of currency which the money-changers exchanged for the Phonecian-Hebrew half-shekel required for paying the Temple tax.

Note well that tithes at the Temple consisted of grains and animals, not money.

Let's look now at the N.T. passage which is usually cited as the basis for asking church members to tithe. [Matt. 23:23-24 ( || in Luke 11:42); but read 23:13-32].
'Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You who shut up the kingdom of heaven in men's faces, neither going in yourselves nor allowing others to go in who want to.
'Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You who travel over sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when you have him you make him twice as fit for hell as you are.
...
'Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You pay your tithe of mint and dill and cummin and have neglected the weightier matters of the Law--justice, mercy, good faith! These you should have practised, without neglecting the others. You blind guides! Straining out gnats and swallowing camels!
(Matt. 23:13-15, 23-24).

The detailed interpretation of the Laws on tithing explicitly included dill and cummin as well as vegetables, fruits, and nuts. Jesus, while affirming the Jewish laws on tithing, seems to be questioning the wisdom of laboriously measuring out a tithe of each herb when there are other matters which demand more attention: justice, mercy, and good faith.

Although there are many passages in the N.T. which reflect concern and care for the poor and those in need, I am not aware of anything analogous to tithing suggested or practiced in the early church. It appears that the concept of stewardship, as expressed by Wesley's sermon, has superseded the O.T. practice of tithing. After the Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70, tithes and sacrificial offerings of grains and animals, as prescribed in the Law, were no longer possible, even in the Jewish community.

Let's take a quick look at an example of economics in the N.T. church. When Peter preached in Jerusalem at Pentecost, there were many new converts. Luke tells us:
These remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers. The many miracles and signs worked through the apostles made a deep impression on everyone.
The faithful all lived together and owned everything in common; they sold their goods and possessions and shared out the proceeds among themselves according to what each one needed.
They went as a body to the Temple every day, but met in their houses for the breaking of bread; they shared their food gladly and generously; they praised God and were looked up to by everyone. Day by day the Lord added to their community those destined to be saved. (Acts 2:42-47).

The bottom line is this: Give to the church what belongs to the church; but render unto God what belongs to God. (The following sections of this study are intended to help each of us define for ourselves what really does belong to the church or anyone else.)


Question for Discussion:
  1. Why does the church today put so much emphasis on tithing or proportional giving?

Financial Stewardship

[Under Construction.]

Introduction

Financial stewardship seems to be one of the most sacred topics in church polity. For example, Mennonites are known for their frugality (they are not stingy, of course!), and it has often been said that whenever two or more Methodists are gathered together there shall be an offering. Our pastors and church finance committees are well-disciplined in the art of fundrais- ing, but somehow we've obscured the distinction between charity and tithing on the one hand and Biblical stewardship on the other hand. We have contrived all kinds of tactics to persuade members of our flock to fork over generous contributions to the church--preferably a healthy tithe (but 2 or 3% is better than nothing). On the other hand we are paranoid about meddling with how folks use all the remainder of their financial resources. And yet, as we will see in John Wesley's sermon "On the Use of Money", Biblical stewardship takes a radical view of income and property ownership. God owns it all and it is to be used entirely and exclusively for God's purposes. God holds the deed and title; you and I are the caretakers: the gardener, the maid, the butler, the custodian.

John Wesley: "On the Use of Money" [1]

Wesley's sermon "On the Use of Money" is one of his best known sermons--or at least its major theses are often quoted. It was written in 1744, about 20 year before "the Good Steward" which is excerpted above. Both sermons reference the same passage of scripture and include similar themes. This one, however, focuses on the stewardship of money, while "the Good Steward" is much more general.
Because the original sermon is long, only some brief excerpts are presented here, but still using Wesley's original language. Here's a brief outline of the sermon that follows:

Introduction
1) Gain all you can.
2) Save all you can.
3) Give all you can.
Summary

Luke 16:9. " I say unto you, "Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into the everlasting habitations."


"On the Use of Money" by John Wesley

1. Our Lord, having finished the beautiful parable of the Prodigal Son, which he had particularly addressed to those who murmured at his receiving publicans and sinners, adds another relation of a different kind, addressed rather to the children of God. "He said unto his disciples"--not so much to the scribes and Pharisees to whom he had been speaking before---"There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and he was accused to him of wasting his goods. And calling him, he said, 'Give me an account of thy stewardship, for thou canst be no longer steward.'" After reciting the method which the bad steward used to provide against the day of necessity, our Saviour adds, "His lord commended the unjust steward"--namely in this respect, that he used timely precaution--and subjoins this weighty reflection, "The children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light" [Lk. 16:8]. Those who seek no other portion than "this world are wiser" (not absolutely, for they are, one and all, the veriest fools, the most egregious madmen under heaven, but) "in their generation," in their own way, they are more consistent with themselves, they are truer to their acknowledged principles, they more steadily pursue their end "than the children of light," than they who see "the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" [cf. 2 Cor. 4:6]. Then follow the words above recited: "And I"--the only-begotten Son of God, the Creator, lord, and possessor of heaven and earth, and all that is therein, the judge of all, to whom ye are to "give an account of your stewardship" when ye "can be no longer stewards"--"I say unto you," learn in this respect even of the unjust steward, "make yourselves friends," by wise and timely precaution, "of the mammon of unrighteousness." "Mammon" means riches or money. It is termed "the mammon of unrighteousness" because of the unrighteous manner wherein it is frequently procured and wherein even that which was honestly procured is generally employed. "Make yourselves friends" of this by doing all possible good, particularly to the children of God, "that, when ye fail" (when ye return to dust, when ye have no more place under the sun), those of them who are gone before "may receive you," (may welcome you) into "the everlasting habitations."

3. It is... of the highest concern that all who fear God know how to employ this valuable talent [which is money]. ... And, perhaps, all the instructions which are necessary for this may be reduced to three plain rules, by the exact observance whereof we may approve ourselves faithful stewards of "the mammon of unrighteousness."

I. 1.The first of these is--he that heareth, let him understand!--Gain all you can. Here we may speak like the children of the world. We meet them on their own ground. And it is our bounden duty to do this. We ought to gain all we can gain without buying gold too dear, without paying more for it than it is worth. But this it is certain, we ought not to do: we ought not to gain money at the expense of life nor--which is in effect the same thing--at the expense of our health. Therefore, no gain whatsoever should induce us to enter into, or to continue in, any employ which is of such a kind or is attended with so hard or so long labour, as to impair our constitution. Neither should we begin or continue in any business which necessarily deprives us of proper seasons for food and sleep, in such a proportion as our nature requires. Indeed, there is a great difference here. Some employments are absolutely and totally unhealthy--as those which imply the dealing much with arsenic or other equally hurtful minerals, or the breathing an air tainted with streams of melting lead, which must at length destroy the firmer constitution. ...

2. We are, secondly, to gain all we can without hurting our mind any more than our body. ... We must preserve, at all events, the spirit of an healthful mind....

3. We are, thirdly, to gain all we can without hurting our neighbour. But this we may not, cannot do, if we love our neighbour as ourselves. We cannot, if we love every one as ourselves, hurt any one in his substance. ...

4. Neither may we gain by hurting our neighbor in his body. Therefore we may not sell anything which tends to impair health. Such is, eminently, all that liquid fire commonly called drams, or spirituous liquors. It is true, these may have a place in medicine. ... 7. These cautions and restrictions being observed, it is the bounden duty of all who are engaged in worldly business to observe that first and great rule of Christian wisdom with respect to money: Gain all you can. Gain all you can by honest industry. Use all possible diligence in your calling. Lose no time. If you understand yourself and your relation to God and man, you know you have none to spare. If you understand your particular calling, as you ought, you will have no time that hangs upon your hands. Every business will afford some employment sufficient for every day and every hour. That wherein you are placed, if you follow it in earnest, will leave you no leisure for silly, unprofitable diversions. You have always something better to do, something that will profit you, more or less. And "whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might" [Eccles. 9:10]. Do it as soon as possible: no delay! No putting off from day to day, or from hour to hour! Never leave anything till tomorrow which you can do today. And do it as well as possible. Do not sleep or yawn over it. Put your whole strength to the work. Spare no pains. Let nothing in your business be left undone if it can be done by labour or patience.

II.1. Having gained all you can by honest wisdom and unwearied diligence, the second rule of Christian prudence is: Save all you can. Do not throw precious talent into the sea. Leave that folly to heathen philosophers. Do not throw it away in idle expenses, which is just the same as throwing it into the sea. Expend no part of it merely to gratify the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eye, or the pride of life.

2. Do not waste any part of so precious a talent merely in gratifying the desires of the flesh, in procuring the pleasures of sense of whatever kind, particularly in enlarging the pleasure of tasting. I do not mean, avoid gluttony and drunkenness only. An honest heathen would condemn these. But there is a regular, reputable kind of sensuality, an elegant epicurism which does not immediately disorder the stomach nor (sensibly, at least) impair the understanding. And yet (to mention no other effects of it now) it cannot be maintained without considerable expense. Cut off all this expense! Despise delicacy and variety and be content with what plain nature requires.

3. Do not waste any part of so precious a talent, merely in gratifying the desire of the eye by superfluous or expensive apparel, or by needless ornaments. Waste no part of it in curiously adorning your houses, in superfluous or expensive furniture, in costly pictures, painting, gilding, books, in elegant (rather than useful) gardens. Let your neighbours who know nothing better do this. "Let the dead bury their dead." [Mt. 8:22; Lk. 9:60]. But "what is that to thee?" says our Lord: "Follow thou me" [cf. John 21:22]. Are you willing? Then you are able so to do!

III. 1. But let not any man imagine that he has done anything barely by going thus far (by gaining and saving all he can) if he were to stop here. All this is nothing if a man go not forward, if he does not point all this at a farther end. Nor, indeed, can a man properly be said to save anything if he only lays it up. You may as well throw your money into the sea as bury it in the earth. And you may as well bury it in the earth as in your chest or in the Bank of England. Not to use is effectually to throw it away. If, therefore, you would indeed "make yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness," add the third rule to the two preceding. Having first gained all you can and, secondly, saved all you can, then give all you can.

2. In order to see the ground and reason of this, consider: when the possessor of heaven and earth brought you into being and placed you in this world, he placed you here not as a proprietor but a steward. As such he entrusted you for a season with goods of various kinds, but the sole property of these still rests in him, nor can ever be alienated from him. As you yourself are not your own, but his, such is likewise all that you enjoy. Such is your soul and body, not your own but God's. And so is your substance in particular. And he has told you, in the most clear and express terms, how you are to employ it for him in such a manner that it may be all an holy sacrifice, acceptable through Christ Jesus. And this light, easy service he hath promised to reward with an eternal weight of glory. [cf. 2 Cor. 4:17].

3. The directions which God has give us touching the use of our worldly substance may be comprised in the following particulars. If you desire to be a faithful and wise steward, out of that portion of your Lord's goods which he has for the present lodged in your hands (but with the right of resuming whenever it pleases him), first provide things needful for yourself: food to eat, raiment to put on, whatever nature moderately requires for preserving the body in health and strength. Secondly, provide these for your wife, your children, your servants, or any others who pertain to your household. If, when this is done, there be an overplus left, then "do good to them that are of the household of faith." If there be an overplus still, "as you have opportunity, do good unto all men." [cf. Gal. 6:10]. In so doing, you give all you can; nay, in a sound sense, all you have. For all that is laid out in this manner is really given to God. You "render unto God the things that are God's" [Matt. 22:21], not by what you give to the poor, but also by that which you expend in providing things needful for yourself and your household.

6. [in summary] ...gain all you can, without hurting either yourself or your neighbour, in soul or body, by applying hereto with unintermitted diligence and with all the understanding which God has given you. Save all you can, by cutting off every expense which serves only to indulge foolish desire, to gratify either the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eye, or the pride of life [cf. John 2:16]. Waste nothing, living or dying on sin or folly, whether for yourself or your children. And then give all you can; or in other words, give all you have to God. Do not stint yourself, like a Jew rather than a Christian, to this or that proportion. Render unto God not a tenth, not a third, not half, but all that is God's (be it more or less) by employing all on yourself, your household, the household of faith and all mankind, in such a manner that you may give a good account of your stewardship when ye can be no longer stewards; in such a manner as the oracles of God direct, both by general and particular precepts; in such a manner, that whatever ye do may be "a sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savour to God" [cf. Lev. 8:21], and that every act may be rewarded in that day when the Lord cometh with all his saints.

7. Brethern, can we be either wise or faithful stewards unless we thus manage our Lord's goods? We cannot, as not only the oracles of God but our own conscience beareth witness. Then why should we delay? Why should we confer any longer with flesh and blood, or men of the world? Our kingdom, our wisdom, "is not of this world" [cf. John 18:36, I Cor. 2:6]. Heathen custom is nothing to us. We follow no men any farther than they are followers of Christ. Hear ye him! Yea, today, while it is called today, hear and obey his voice [cf. Heb. 3:13]! At this hour and from this hour, do his will! Fulfill his word, in this and in all things! I entreat you, in the name of the Lord Jesus, act up to the dignity of your calling! No more sloth! Whatsoever your hand findeth to do, do it with your might! No more waste! Cut off every expense which fashion, caprice, or flesh and blood demand! No more covetousness! But employ whatever God has entrusted you with in doing good, all possible good, in every possible kind and degree, to the household of faith, to all men! This is no small part of "the wisdom of the just" [cf. Luke 1:17]. Give all ye have, as well as all ye are, a spiritual sacrifice to him who withheld not from you his Son, his only Son--so, "laying up in store for yourselves a good foundation against the time to come, that ye may attain eternal life" [cf. I Tim. 6:19]!


Practical Economics:[under construction]

Environmental Stewardship

The Creation Story revisited

excerpted from "Social Dimensions to Stewardship"
by Joseph Bush, Jr.

Creation

The first chapter of Genesis is a story of God's having created the world and its inhabitants. Already something profound has come to our attention -- God creates! Furthermore, only God creates. The Hebrew word meaning "create", barah, occurs in the Bible only with God as its subject. No one but God creates. Humans are not "co-creators"; that is not our job.

Like the things that swim and the things that fly and the things that crawl, humans are creatures. The story of God creating and blessing human beings is as follows:

Then God said, "Let us make man (adam) in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." So God created man (adam) in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
And God blessed them, and God said to them, "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 air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth."
And God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food." And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good.
(Gen. 1:26-30 RSV)

If we are different from the other creatures it is because we are created in God's Image. What does this mean? What is God's Image?

The Image

Without knowing exactly what the image of God is, we immediately notice two things. Only humans are created in the image of God, and all humans are created in the image of God. God does not create one sex alone in God's image; God creates humans. The word, adam, means "human being." This passage makes explicit that both women and men are created in the image of God.

So what is this Image? Some would say that it is a spark of the divine nature or that it is a specific attribute, such as rationality or moral capability, that sets humans apart from and above other creatures. The text itself, however, mentions no particular virtue, like reason or love, with which humans are uniquely endowed. It certainly does not suggest that because of some virtue, humans are more like gods than creatures. The Image has to do with dominion, but it is nowhere suggested that this dominion is a function of human virtue. Indeed, the story itself does not seem to support a hierarchical interpretation. Each aspect of creation is deemed "good" by God. The whole of creation God deems "very good." It is not we humans who are the "very good" apex of creation. It is the totality of creation, of which we are but a part, that is "very good." Yet, as God's Image, we have dominion. Does not the fact of dominion imply a hierarchy of creatures?

It is interesting to note that although humans were given dominion over other animals, permission to eat them was not granted until the time of Noah. In the first chapter of Genesis, humans and other animals are together given only plants for food. It is difficult in light of this to see our dominion as carte blanch to do with creation as we like. Creation's purpose is not simply to meet human needs. Human dominion which insists that this is the case distorts the image of God.

When Jesus was asked about paying taxes, he inquired as to whose image was on the coin. The reply that Caesar's image was on the coin prompted Jesus' response, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's." The image was a sign of sovereignty and a mark of ownership. For this reason kings in the ancient world placed their image on coins and buildings. The image of the king functioned in much the same way that the flag does for us. Their image declared their sovereignty.

To be created in the image of God, therefore, is to be God's flag on creation. We are signs of God's sovereignty. As God's Image, we mark creation as God's. We exercise dominion on behalf of the Creator who remains Sovereign and whom we represent. The world is not ours; it is God's. Our dominion is one of stewardship.

"Dominion" is a political term. To be created in the Image of God therefore implies a political responsibility. Stewardship in the sense of dominion is more than the wise use of an individual's own resources. It involves additionally matters of social organization. To be stewards is to work with political and economic structures so that God's dominion is reflected.

It may be objected at this point that politics is not the domain of the church. The point being made, however, is not about the domain of the church but about our responsibility as stewards of God's Image. Who is created in the Image of God? Is the church? Are only Christians made in God's Image? Of course not. All humans are created in the image of God and share in the political responsibility which this entails. Politics is not the exclusive domain of the church, but neither can we speak of stewardship as if it did not include politics. Stewardship is not simply a matter of individuals privately deciding about finances. It is not simply a matter for Christians or for the Church. To reflect God's image in the world suggests that Christians work with other humans in society so that together we may be stewards of creation and of creation's resources.

To be created in the image of God involves a responsibility for creation. This is not a privilege, but a duty. It is tempting to think that being in God's image somehow puts us beyond the mundane and above other creatures. What we have so far discussed, however, makes no claim for rights or privilege or superiority over that in our charge. The Image does not describe our nature as different from creature. Image is a functional term. It points to our responsibility to care for what God cares for. Surely, to be God's image is to experience dignity. Because this dignity is commonly held, it should be equally shared. The point being offered here, however, is that as God's dignitaries we must be mindful of the responsibilities entailed when we assume this office.

The Blessing

In the same passage, Genesis 1:28 and following, we do find ourselves blessed. The blessing is twofold. We are told to be fruitful and multiply and we are given food to eat. The blessing is for fertility and sustenance. This blessing is universally given. The blessing is universal in two ways. First, it is given to all human beings. Second, it is given not exclusively to human beings. We have already noted that all beasts are similarly blessed by God with food. We also find the blessing of fertility given to the swimming creatures in verse 22. The phrasing of these blessings to the beasts and to the swimming creatures is very similar to the phrasing of the blessing to humans.

Furthermore, all humanity is present at this blessing. The blessing is given to all. It is not the case that some are blessed more than others. All have received from God. We are accustomed to dividing the abundance of the world in ways that recognized difference. Some families have more than others. Some nations have more than others. Some races have more than others. We are inclined to give thanks to God for what we perceive as having been given particularly to us. At meal time we give thanks for what God has given our own family. On Thanksgiving Day we give thanks for God's rich blessing on this particular nation. The blessing of Genesis, however, is not given to particular families, nations or races. It is universally given. We divide it how we choose and how we can. God has blessed us all equally.

The distribution of the earth's abundance is decided by humans. We act individually and in concert with others in organizations like the Church and nation. We act within political and economic systems which themselves are human inventions. We do so because in the image of God we have dominion; we have a political and economic responsibility. In terms of the universal blessing of food, this responsibility might be further delineated. To be stewards of the earth's abundance means that we work through political and economic systems to ensure that all creatures have access to God's blessing. Is this not God's intent in blessing us? Our dominion is legitimate in that we reflect God's sovereignty. When we instead use dominion to Justify our own exclusive purposes, we distort God's image.

Similarly, the blessing of fertility is universally given. This means that each child is a gift to the world. All children are our children. There are no orphans and there are no childless couples. We have each other; the species is a family. Often we read this passage (vs. 28) as if it were a command rather than a blessing. Such is not the case. We are not commanded to have children; we are blessed with children. The blessing is given not to individual families but to the human family. Children who hunger in parts of the world are not a drain on the world's resources; they are not a curse. They are a blessing whose very existence is a legitimate claim on the food God provides.

Summary

We see in the first chapter of Genesis, therefore, that the blessing of fertility and sustenance is given to the whole human family, and indeed to the whole of animate creation. That is, the abundance of the earth is universally given -- not bestowed on particular individuals, families, tribes, races or nations. The task of dividing and distributing this abundance is legitimately a human task. It is a matter of political and economic stewardship for all those created in God's Image. This stewardship might be defined as the uniquely human responsibility to organize political and economic life in such a way that all God's creatures have access to God's blessing.

Particular versus Universal Blessing

As we move through other Biblical material we find a tension between the particularity and the universality of God's blessing. It is often the case, however, that particular blessings are given so that, rather than excluding others, others are ensured of continued access to the universality of God's providence.

Noah and his family, for instance, are singled out to be saved. At the same time, they provide the vehicle for the salvation of animate creation. With the landing of the ark, God established a covenant not only with Noah but with "every living creature of all flesh" to never again destroy the earth. This was a convenant of life between God and every species of animal at the time of Noah. Noah and his family, in God's image, are also admonished to respect the life of other animals. While permission is given to humans to eat meat, the blood which contains the "life" must first be reverently poured out. (Gen. 9)

Abram was summoned by God to receive a seven-fold blessing which included the promise of land and the making of a great nation. It also included the promise that through Abram "all the families of the earth shall bless themselves." (Gen. 12:3)

When Isaac was selected as the one through whom Abraham's descendants would be named, Abraham's other son, Ishmael, was sent off with his mother, Hagar. This preference of Isaac is often interpreted as a curse on Ishmael. On the contrary, Ishmael is given the same blessing as Isaac and Abraham, "I will make him a great nation." (Gen. 21:18) God did not promote one son at the other's expense; both sons are blessed.

Private Property

With the settling of the promised land, the institution of private property was established. Land was divided according to the eleven tribes. However, God retains rightful ownership of the land. "The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine." we read in Leviticus 25:23. God is Landlord. This means that while land might be parceled out to individual families it should not be done so in a manner that would exclude those whom God would also bless.

The institutions of "redemption" and "jubilee" prevented the centralization of land ownership by the wealthy and ensured the survival of the Hebrew family farm. (Lev. 25) When individuals became indebted to the point of insolvency, they were able to sell their property or sell themselves into servitude. The laws of redemption, however, made provision for an individual or one's family to be able to buy back the individual's freedom or that person's property. If the family had not the financial means to exercise the right of redemption, the laws of the jubilee mandated that every fifty years all debt be forgiven. Title to the property in question would automatically revert to its previous owner. Freedom would be granted to Hebrew slaves regardless of their ability to pay. Furthermore, proximity to the year of jubilee was not to be used as an excuse to deny loans; the poor were not to be refused credit (Deut. 7-11).

Not only were the interests of poor Hebrews protected, but the alien, and even animals, had a rightful claim to the abundance of the land. Every seven years there was a "land sabbath;" the land lay fallow and provided food for the poor and for animals dependent on the land. Gleaning laws allowed aliens and the poor to harvest some of the produce of the land owned by others. (Lev. 19:9-10; 23:22; Deut. 24:19-22) The tithe was also a mechanism through which the poor and aliens as well as priests gained access to the land's produce. (Deut. 15:28- 29). All of these provisions in Leviticus and Deuteronomy are linked with the blessing of land given to the Hebrew people. The blessing is to be shared. Such sharing is a matter of social justice and is necessary for the continuance of the blessing. The institution of economic and political life is to guarantee this sharing even if allowing for some disparity. This is stewardship --to administer God's property in such a way that God's creatures are blessed.

It is interesting, from a contemporary viewpoint, to note that mechanisms mentioned above deal both with capital and with income. They deal both with the means of production and with what is produced. Land was the primary form of capital. Agricultural produce was the primary form of income. Both were regulated to ensure justice.

If stewardship is understood in terms of dominion, our responsibility as creatures in God's image is to use political and economic power so that all creatures have access to the blessing God provides. In human civilization, we must additionally recognize that the least empowered by society are nonetheless equally created in God's image. These not only have a right of access to the blessing; they, too, share the God-given responsibility of dominion.

New Testament

The universality of God's grace receives emphatic significance in the New Testament. A central theme of the New Testament and one of the earliest confessions of the Church is that Jesus is "Lord." Such a title ascribes to Jesus that sovereignty described above and reserved for God.

Paul tells us that "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation." (II Cor. 5:17) An alternative translation might read, "for anyone in Christ, there is a new creation." In Christ, God's grace is offered to all. Paul continues, "that is, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself...." (II Cor. 5:19) In Christ, God's grace encompasses all. The reconciling work of Christ, while perhaps most needed by sinful humanity, should not be interpreted as exclusive to humans. Christ reconciles "the world."

Abn ancient Christological hynm in Colossians illustrates this point even more clearly. In this hymn, Christ is pictured as having been active in creation from the beginning, as continuing to exercise sovereignty over all government and power, and as reconciling "all things, whether on earth or in heaven." (Colossians 1:15-20) Here we find our reality in Christ interpreted in terms of the very themes elaborated above. Conversely, these themes of creation, dominion, and universal blessing are presented in a Christological context. Christ shares in that creativity and sovereignty exclusively ascribed to God. Human dominion is pictured as being accountable to this Christ who is Lord. The reconciling work of Christ the Lord is aimed at the whole universe and includes "all things."

Accustomed as we are to think of salvation in heavenly terms, it is instructive to our sense of earthly stewardship to find in the pages of the New Testament examples of God's continuing care for earthly being. The long version of the Lord's Prayer in Matthew elucidates the phrase, "Thy Kingdom come," with the explanation, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." (Matthew 6:9-13) Even in the Apocalypse of John, the Kingdom is not pictured as earthly destruction and heavenly beatitude. Rather, there is a new heaven and a new earth; the New Jerusalem comes "down out of heaven," and the dwelling of God is with us -- not the other way around. The one who sits upon the throne makes "all things new," and even the nations receive healing. (Rev. 21:1-5; 22:2)

Noah and Abraham

The inclusion of people from all nations in the saving work of Christ is a central theme in the New Testament. It is interesting for our discussion to note that as the Biblical authors explicate this universal salvation in Christ, they draw on the examples of Noah and Abraham. Noah and Abraham, one will recall, received particular blessings from God in order to promote blessing more generally.

In The First Letter of Peter, water symbolically links the covenant through baptism with the covenant after the flood. In drawing this connection First Peter emphasizes the sovereignty of Christ and the universality of Christ's salvation. Christ died for sins "once for all" and Christ rose and ascended in order to have "angles, authorities and powers subject to him." (I Peter 3:18-22)

Acts records the decision of the apostolic council in Jerusalem regarding the inclusion of people of the nations in the church. At issue had been the question of whether or not these gentile Christians should have to abide by the law of Moses as it was being interpreted. The solution was an appeal to the current interpretation of the law of Noah, the more universal covenant. The reader will recall that Noah and his family were required to respectfully pour out the life- containing blood of animals. Converts from the nations needed only to "abstain from the polution of idols and from unchastity and from what is strangled and from blood." (Acts 15:20,29) This solution reflected the contemporary interpretation of the Noahic covenant. In this solution one finds affirmed the exclusive sovereignty of God, the inclusion of all people in God's blessing, and respect for all life for which the Creator cares.

Paul reminds us in Galatians 3:6-9 that Abraham was particularly blessed in order that "all the nations be blessed." He then proceeds to proclaim that in Christ and through faith people of any nation might be considered Abraham's heirs and therefore receive what God had promised to Abraham. This is so, Paul tells us, universally without regard for nationality, economic status, or gender. (Gal. 3:26-29)

Stewards of the Mysteries of God

The exposition above is the "good news" that Jesus Christ is Lord of heaven and of earth, and that through the saving activity of Christ people of all races find access to the throne of grace. This good news for all people, indeed for all creation, has been entrusted particularly to the church. It is our task as Christians, our mission, to proclaim the good news to all for whom it is intended. We are, with Paul, "stewards of the mysteries of God." (I Corinthians 4:1-2; see also II Tim. 1:11-14).

It is in this sense that we should understand the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 and its parallel in Luke 19:11-27. Joachim Jeremias has suggested that the talents in the parable originally represented the Word of God. [1] Far from threatening his hearers with judgment for not getting a good return on financial investments, Jesus was reminding those who had received God's Word of their responsibility for its proclamation.

Jubilee

Some of Jesus' parables, however, actually seem to address the use of wealth. Such is probably the case, for instance, with the parable of the "rich fool" (Luke 12:13-21), the parable of the "rich man and Lazarus" (Luke 16:19-31), and the parable of "the sheep and the goats" (Matthew 25:31- 46). John Howard Yoder, in The Politics of Jesus interprets the parable of the "merciless servant" (Matt. 18:23-35) and the parable of the "unfaithful steward" in terms of the prescripiton of the jubilee for the remission of debts. He contends persuasively that Jesus was proclaiming a Jubilee and calling for the forgiveness of debt.[2] The "merciless servant", whose debt had been forgiven by his master, is condemned for not likewise forgiving debts others owed him. Conversely, the "unfaithful steward" is praised for greatly reducing the usurious debt owed to his master -- even against his master's wishes. Here, the steward is praised who takes a financial loss, for by doing so he achieves reconciliation with his neighbors.

Yoder finds the jubilee expressed in such texts as the Lord's Prayer, "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors," (Matt. 6:12)[3] and Jesus' proclamation at the beginning of his ministry:[4]

"... he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." (Luke 4:18-19)

It is impossible here to summarize Yoder's excellent and most suggestive book. It might be noted, however, that the thesis that Jesus was proclaiming a Jubilee helps to explain the concern expressed in the gospels for the sabbath and for the outcast. What are the implications of the Jubilee for our contemporary understanding of stewardship? Given our contemporary economic and political systems, can we simply declare a jubilee in Christ's name? If not, how can we live as forgiven debtors in a system dependent on credit?

Church as Household

So far, in this discussion, we have continued to affirm the goodness of creation and the universality of God's blessing to God's creatures. We have suggested that our economic stewardship be evaluated in light of this universal blessing and of our accountability to creation's Lord. Our discussion of the New Testament has supported this theme and attempted to show some continuity between creation and new creation. Nonetheless, it has focused more on the blessing of reconciliation in Christ than on that original blessing of food and fertility. What of food and fertility?

In discussing the blessing of fertility and food in light of the Old Testament, it was noted that the blessing is given to the species rather than to the family or the individual. This might provide a clue for understanding the harsh statements of Jesus concerning the family. (Matt. 10:34-39, 12:46-50, 23:9-12; Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21, 12:49-53, 14:25-26; John 19:26-27) For us as for Jesus' contemporaries, the family is a major economic unit. When Jesus tells us to call no man on earth father, was he condemning all forms of patriarchy? When he tells us that those who love their own blood-relatives more than him are not worthy of him, was he criticizing the nuclear family? When, viewing his mother and disciple from the cross, he said respectively, "behold, your son" and "Behold, your mother," was he instituting a new family?

It is interesting that when the first Christians organized themselves after Christ's ascension, they held all things in common. Those with property sold it so that the apostles could distribute the proceeds to those who had need. (Acts 4:32-37) Notice that this is not a producers' communism such as a Marxist would advocate The means of production were not held in common. Rather, it was more of a household, the members of which shared resources and took care of one another. According to Acts, this seems to be the first act of organization of the church. The next act of organization was related to it.

The institution of the diaconate was established to ensure fairness in the "daily distribution." Apparently, as the church grew in numbers, there was an increase in the number of Greek- speaking Jews in the church. These complained that their widows were not receiving as much support as the Aramaic-speaking Jews. Deacons were therefore appointed to administer the program and guarantee equality of support to Greek and Aramaic speaking alike.

After the church had continued to grow and spread into Asia, due largely to Paul's missionary activity, shortages were suffered by the church in Jerusalem. Paul responded to this need by taking up a collection in the churches in Asia and delivering it to Jerusalem. (Acts 24:17; Romans 25-27; I Cor. 16:1-4; II Cor. 8-9; Gal. 2:10) This task involved a considerable amount of organization. The particular congregations had to accumulate their particular contributions over a period of weeks; these contributions had to be collected by Paul and transported to Jerusalem. Paul attributes the blessing of abundance to God's grace. (II Cor. 9:8) He appeals to the principle of equality to justify the voluntary redistribution of this abundance to benefit the impoverished.

"I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of equality your abundance at the present time should supply their want, so that their abundance may supply your want, that there may be equality." (II Cor. 8:13-14)

We see, therefore that the early church functioned as a household, sharing freely the blessing of food. When the increasing size of the church made difficult sharing withing the household, new institutions were established to facilitate sharing and ensure access to the blessing of food. Paul justifies this sharing in the blessing of God on the basis of equality.

Creation's Purpose

We have seen that creation itself has integrity: it has been declared good by God. To ask beyond this of creation's purpose, is therefore problematic. Perhaps creation's "purpose" is to simply be. Non-human creation legitimately serves the needs of human creatures, but it would be gross overstatement to say that creation's purpose is exclusively the promotion of human welfare. The notion of "purpose" has utilitarian ring to modern ears. Perhaps the more appropriate question for us to ask is: "What is creation's vocation?"

It would seem that God calls human and non-human creation alike to the same general vocation: to love, serve, praise and glorify God. Hence we read in Psalm 19:

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nore are there words; their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
(Psalm 19:1-4. See also Psalm 98:4-9; 148)

Creation, itself, even participates in the birthing of new life in Christ. Paul writes:

"For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. (Romans 8:19-21)

One might wish to affirm, therefore, in addition to and perhaps prior to creation's usefulness for humans, two caveats: (1) creation has its own goodness, its own integrity, its own purpose; and (2) creation's vocation, as with human creatures, is to love, serve, praise and glorify God.

Stewardship

Besides what is said above about creation's purpose and vocation, humans have an additional purpose or vocation related to our role as creatures. As created in the Image of God, we are responsible to God for exercising "dominion" in such a way that all creatures have access to God's blessing. That is, we are called to be stewards of God for creation.

Stewardship, understood as dominion, is necessarily political and economic. It is the use of power to promote God's purposes. That which is within our power is human society. We make individual decisions; we form social policies, and we establish institutions. Our responsibility as stewards is to organize our own social life so that God's blessing is not frustrated. Our responsibility is not to control creation, but to control ourselves for human benefit and creation's good.

Creation includes human society as well as non-human. All humans are created in the Image of God and have been blessed by God with fertility and food, that is with life and what makes for life. Disparity in access of humans to this universal blessing is a tragedy for which we stewards are responsible. Disparity in power to rectify human inpoverishment is a travesty of our dominion in God's Image. To be stewards requires us to work for the empowerment of all and to use power for the benefit of all.

Future generations of humans will inherit the blessing in creation and the office of steward in God's image. Our decisions today should be such that their options are not severly limited nor their life-sustaining environment greatly reduced. To limit their options by our actions today would be to constrain their power as stewards in God's Image. To diminish their life-sustaining environment would constrain their access to God's blessing.

The reader will notice that the blessing of fertility and food has been interpreted as the blessing of life and what sustains life. In addition to food proper, included in our appreciation of the blessing should be such "environmental services" as clean air, clean water, habitable land, and genetic diversity. All these have been provided by God for all of us. As is the case with food, a healthy environment is necessary for continued fertility and for life itself. This is not to diminish the importance of food and the rightful claim of all to nourishment; this alone may seem a radical notion to some.

Humans, however, are not the only creatures blessed with food and fertility. All creatures make a claim on human society to assure their continued access to this same blessing for the sake of the continued health of their own species.

Wealth

Wealth can be interpreted both as part of the blessing and as part of the steward's power. These are separate but related notions. Wealth is a human invention having as a source the abundance of the earth. As such, it is derived from the blessing which is universally given and to which all creatures have claim. Since wealth is a particularly human way of organizing the earth's abundance, and since wealth is the medium of exchange for many of the earth's resources needed by humans, and since wealth is necessary in most societies for human flourishing, humans in particular make claims on one another for a fair distribution of wealth. To be fair, such distribution should take into account the original equality we have as recipients of God's blessing.

Nevertheless, for good or ill, there is inequality in the distribution of wealth as there is inequality in political clout. It can be argued, in fact, that some inequality of wealth is not only necessary but good in that it provides incentive for productive work, thereby making a productive society, creating more wealth, enriching all -- but not equally. Nevertheless, it is argued, even the poorest benefit from such a system. This is one justification for the free market as an institution for the distribution of wealth.

This view is criticized by two voices. One criticism points to unhealthy poverty in free societies and challenges the conclusion that all are enriched. It may even be argued that wealth is created at the expense of the poor; this may lead to a Marxist critique of capitalism. Another criticism points to environmental degradation resulting from economic practices, and concludes that unhindered industrial creation of wealth has impoverished all. This latter criticism may be made by environmentalists against both communist and capitalist economies. Resolution of this three- way ideological dispute is beyond the scope of this paper.

What is important for us is that we live in a democratic, capitalist society. We "own" wealth to varying degrees. Inasmuch as we own wealth, we have power. Inasmuch as we have power, we are stewards of that power and responsible for its use. Whether rightfully, wrongfully, by sheer accident, or by hard work, our dominion includes our bank accounts, investments and pocket change.

How shall we use the power of wealth so that all creatures have access to God's blessing> Perhaps the most remarkable stewardship of wealth is to judiciously relinquish it to those most in need. We all do this to varying degrees by supporting the Church and charitable organizations. Perhaps the most responsible stewardship of wealth is to judiciously invest in companies with good environmental records and with corporate policies promoting social justice. Consumption of products should be equally judicious; one might ask: (1) Are these products safe for humans and other living creatures? and (2) Are the companies producing these products worthy of support? Certainly, responsible financial stewardship must include providing for the welfare of those most directly dependent on this wealth--one's immediate family. It is difficult for us, however, to prevent love for family from becoming selfishness in altruistic guise. We are challenged by Biblical images of the species as a family and the church as household.

Finally, it must be emphasized that our individual decisions as stewards are both constrained and made possible by public policy and political institutions. We must act within these political structures. We also can act on them. Stewardship, understood as dominion, suggests that we do both. Indeed, some of our greatest power is the power we have as citizens in the wealthiest and most powerful nation ever. We are the soverign people of this great nation. What the nation, state, county and municipality do, we do. Social justice does not exist by accident. Environmental law does not grow on trees. As stewards created in the image of God and accountable to God, we are responsible to God for our dominion. Our dominion is not vaguely in creation; it is in the United States of America. Our power is real. As stewards, we can vote, write letters, organize and support political lobbies. Political stewardship is a democratic nation is a necessary part of both financial and environmental stewardship. We ourselves, acting corporately, define the rules by which we can act individually.

Conclusion

The central premise around which this paper has revolved has been the affirmation that God is Creator; Jesus is Lord; we are God's creatures and the recipients of grace. The major text through which we have interpreted subsequent Biblical material has been the first chapter of Genesis. From reading this passage we affirmed that creation is good and that it is good that we are creatures. Furthermore, we saw that being made in God's Image bestows on us responsibility for exercising dominion on God's behalf for the care of the world. This dominion was interpreted as the use of political and economic power to ensure that all creatures have access to the universal blessing of life and sustenence. Dominion so defined was understood as stewardship since God apparently remains Soverign and retains title to the earth. It is to God that we are accountable.

With this perspective of stewardship, we examined other Biblical material as well as our contemporary situation. By exploring the Biblical material we attempted to discover the role that particular blessings play in promoting God's universal concern for creation's well-being and human flourishing. By exploring our contemporary situation, one marked by disparity of power, we attempted to discover the relevance of the universal blessing for our attempt to be good stewards. In the process, we discovered the necessary interrelateedness of political, financial and environmental stewardship.

At this point, certain principles of stewardship can be enumerated:

  1. Creation has its own integrity, its own worth.
  2. By virtue of the universal blessing, all present and future humans lay claim to basic environmental services.
  3. By virtue of the universal blessing, other species lay claim to the same.
  4. By virtue of the Image of God, humans are responsible for organizing society so that this blessing is continually realized by all for whom it is intended. This stewardship necessarily concerns our participation in corporate life, that is in political and economic structures, as well as in matters of personal choice and lifestyle.
  5. Since all humans are created in God's Image, all should share in this dominion. Some have power, but deny it; others seek power but have been denied. All should be empowered.
  6. Our use of this power is subject to God's judgement. It is ours simply for the purpose of caring for what God cares for.

In seeking to discern God's concern in creation, this maxim is humbly offered for consideration: Use power so that all creatures have access to God's universal blessing of life and sustenance. Such is our working definition of stewardship. The real question, of course, is how does God value creation and evaluate human activity? Our task is to seek to love that which and those whom God loves. As stewards, we are responsible for acting, corporately as well as individually, in light of our tentative understanding of God's awesome love.


Bibliography

Bird, Phyllis A. "'Male and Female He Created Them': Gen. 1:27b in the Context of the Priestly Account of Creation," Harvard Theological Review, 74 (1981) 129-159.

Freudenberger, C. Dean. "Implications of a New Land Ethic," in Theology of the Land. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press.

Gray, Elizabeth Dodson. Green Paradise Lost. Wellesley, Mass.: Roundtable Press, 1981.

Hall, Douglass John. The Steward: A Biblical Symbol Come of Age. Friendship Press, 1982.

Jeremias, Joachim. The Parables of Jesus. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1963.

Ogletree, Thomas. The Use of the Bible in Christian Ethics. Augsburg Fortress, 1985.

Von Rad, Gerhard. Genesis. Westminster John Know, 1973.

Yoder, John Howard. The Politics of Jesus. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1972.


Footnotes

[1] Joachim Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1963), p. 62.
[2] John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1972), pp. 67-74.
[3] Yoder, pp. 66-67.
[4] Yoder, pp. 34-40.

Discussion Questions

What does it mean to be created in God's image, in this view? How is this different from conventional teaching? What are the practical consequences of this view?

Earth Summit 1992

During the first two weeks of June this year the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, otherwise known as the Earth Summit, was convened in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with tens of thousands of diplomats, scientists, ecologists, theorists, feminists, journalists, tourists, and even theologians gathered to address a plethora of major environmental concerns. Since the first "Earth Summit" was convened in Stockholm twenty years ago, the world has changed dramatically: the East-West cold war has thawed, and with it the imminent risk of nuclear destruction has lifted.

But animate creation now faces a variety of new hazards which have been made possible by 20th Century technology. For example:

In the past decade, levels of stratospheric ozone, which shields living things from harmful ultraviolet radiation, have declined 4% to 8% in the northern and southern hemispheres. The ozone depletion is catalyzed by chloro-fluro-carbons that have been widely used for refrigeration, air conditioning, and industrial cleaning.

Most scientists agree that all the smoke and fumes and exhaust that humans generate will eventually alter the earth's climate. Those changes could be modest; or they could trigger coastal flooding and interior droughts resulting in mass movements of people and new pockets of starvation. The most significant contributors to climatic change are CO2 and other greenhouse gases produced in industrial countries by burning fossil fuels. During the past 20 years there has been about a 10% increase in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 [327 ppm in 1972 to 354 ppm in 1989]. A secondary contributor to the build-up of atmospheric carbon dioxide is the destruction of large areas of forestlands--often by burning, as in the rain forests of Brazil, or by clear-cutting as practiced by the U.S. timber industry. It is estimated [Worldwatch Institute, Wash., D.C.] that the world has lost 200 million hectares (500 million acres) of trees since 1972, an area roughly one-third the size of the continental U.S. The world's farmers, meanwhile, have lost nearly 500 million tons of topsoil, an amount equal to the tillable soil coverage of India and France combined. Lakes, rivers, even whole seas have been turned into sewers and industrial sumps.

We've heard about or seen ocean beaches littered with plastic, tar balls, and dead fish. Some 6.5 million tons of litter finds its way into the sea each year. But the garbage dumps, the oil spills, the sewage discharges, the drift nets and factory ships are only the most visible problems. The real threats to the oceans, accounting for 70% to 80% of all maritime pollution, are the sediment and contaminants that flow into the seas from land-based sources--topsoil, fertilizers, pesticides and all manner of industrial wastes. Coral is particularly sensitive to sediment, and the reefs that fringe Asia, Australia and the Caribbean--and provide a home to many of the world's fish species--are already starting to die.

As a result the destructive environmental practices that I've just mentioned, tens of thousands of plant and animal species that shared the planet with us in 1972 have since disappeared. Biologists tell us that the world has not experienced such a rapid and extensive extinction of species since the dinosaurs were killed off 72 million years ago. Nearly 10% of the world's estimated 10 million species of plants and animals have become extinct over the last 20 years, and the extinction rate continues at about 50,000 species a year. [About half of the currently endangered species live in tropical rain forests.]

So why should we care about loosing a couple of million exotic species that hardly anyone would ever see anyway? Let me give you one example: Five years ago, Professor Paul Cox, a biologist from Brigham Young University, was living on a tiny island in Western Samoa. When he learned that bulldozers were destroying the island's forests, he managed to raise funds to protect the trees and halt the destruction. He later discovered Homolanthus nutans, a tree with shiny green leaves, pale flowers, and containing a compound known as prostratin in its trunk. Samoan healers use it to treat yellow fever, and Prof. Cox found in laboratory experiments that it protects cells against the HIV virus which causes AIDS. [Morning Call, Aug. 24, 1992 A3]. Will it become an AIDS vaccine?

In Africa, because of drought, desertification, erosion, and population growth grain production has dropped by 28% since 1967.

It has been convenient for industrialized countries such as the U.S. to blame many of these problems on third-world countries, for example, where there is rapid population growth, or Brazil where there has been massive destruction of rain forests. However, the United States, with only 5% of the world's population uses 25% of the world's energy, emits 22% of all CO2 produced, and accounts for 25% of the world's GNP. India has 16% of the world's population, but uses only 3% of the world's energy, emits 3% of all CO2 produced, and accounts for 1% of the world's GNP.

References

Time, June 1, 1992 (p.40ff); June 8, 1992; June 22, 1992. Christian Social Action, September 1992 (pp. 9-16)

Discussion Questions

What do people in other parts of the world think about us? How does God see us? What (if anything) should we be doing differently? (Why?)
What should our (church, community, nation) be doing?
What is our individual responsibility?

Another paradyme of environmental stewardship

Five centuries ago, when Columbus first sailed across the Atlantic Ocean, 800 nations comprised of as many as 100 million people inhabited the lands now known as North and Central America. Although there were, of course, many differences among these nations, one commonality among them is their respect for all creation--the mother earth. And--as we read in the creation story of Genesis--the American Indians understood their relationship to the earth and her living creatures as one of reciprocity and mutual respect, rather than domination and exploitation. The European notions of personal property rights and land ownership were foreign to them. Buying and selling the land would be like buying or selling one's mother.

As they have done for centuries, when the elders of the Irquois nations gather in tribal council to make a decision, they deliberate until a true concensus is reached. And then they examine what the consequences of that decision will be for the next seven generations before the decision is announced to the community. How often do our leaders consider the consequences of major decisions for even seven years, let alone seven generations?

As a result of Columbus' arrival in the New World, there was a major holocaust on this continent. Ninety percent of the indigenous peoples whose ancestors had lived here for centuries, if not for hundreds of thousands of years, lost their lives. They were driven from their homelands, starved, slaughtered, tortured, and infected with foreign diseases.

When will it end?

In Wisconsin, the Menonominie nation was forced to relinquish their tribal status in order to allow clear-cutting of their virgin forests by timber companies.


Household Ecology


Stewardship of the Church


Epilogue



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