Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 25, 1961
NUMBER 4, PAGE 2,10a

The Stewardship Of Life (I)

Jesse M. Kelley, Tulsa, Oklahoma

"As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." (1 Peter 4:10) A steward is "One entrusted with the management of estates or affairs not his own." Christians are stewards of God, that is, God has entrusted into their hands his goods for the management and keeping, or disbursement, until he returns for an accounting. All will be called to account for the kind of stewardship rendered while the Master is gone. This truth is set forth vividly in Matthew 25 in the parable of the Talents.

It is our purpose in this and succeeding articles to discuss the principles and also the practice of stewardship. The practice of stewardship is essential to the growth, development, and stability of the individual belonging to God, and is fundamental to the well being and progress of the church of Christ. It is impossible for the church to fulfill its mission in either the preaching of the gospel or in caring for the poor saints without the individual's knowledge of the principles of stewardship, and a practice based upon those principles. Much of the trouble involved in church cooperation among us today lies in the fact, for the most part, stewardship and the principles involved in it have either been forgotten, or have never been learned, by multitudes of well meaning people who make up a good portion of the church. It is an undeniable fact that the church can fulfill its mission only to the degree that its individual members recognize and acknowledge their stewardship. The principles around which the practice or acknowledgment of stewardship revolve are clearly set forth in the Bible. They need to be studied and learned and understood. It is a sad commentary on the part of any individual when he comes to think the only service that he can render is through organized effort. The real potency of Christian stewardship is largely lost because the rank and file of the individual members of the church have in them no knowledge, and consequently no acknowledgement of the Bible teaching of stewardship as it pertains to the individual and his relationship to God and his fellowman In this study we do not want to assume anything or take anything for granted. Our aim is to start at the beginning of the subject and carry the reader through to a logical and scriptural conclusion. Some of the material presented may not be entirely new to the reader, as indeed it should not be, but it is hoped that the presentation in this and succeeding articles may lend a fresh emphasis, and renew again our perspective as it concerns Christian stewardship.

One of the great barriers to an adequate appreciation and understanding of stewardship lies in one's failure to understand that his life is a unit; that time, talent, energy, personality, and possessions are all part of the life. These different parts of one's life are not to be held as separate entities which are unrelated to each other and therefore operated as distinct and separate. Life must be counted or valued in the sum total of its powers and inherences. This necessitates a coordinated relationship between the various phases or parts of one's life. One cannot suppose that because his time is one thing and his possessions or talent or personality another, he can deal with them separately. The time phase of one's life is so closely related to his talent phase that it is impossible to affect the one without affecting the other. One cannot separate time and talent. For example, one cannot suppose that his talent belongs to God and his time to himself, or that he owns his possessions and God his life. If God owns the life, he owns the possessions, for possessions are not separate from life, but are a part of the life owned by God. To Christians Paul said, "Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men." (1 Cor. 7:23) If God owns the life, then the service, talent, possessions, or anything else that inheres in that life cannot be given unto men; all belong to God and must be directed to him. One cannot say, as some do, "Here lies our religious and there our secular life." True stewardship will not permit it. The unity of life must be recognized by the individual steward of God. Understanding this, it is not difficult to see that a study of stewardship necessarily involves a study of the principles of life and all that inheres in or belongs to it. Since time, energy, talent, personality, and possessions all constitute the life owned by God it is not difficult to see that a study of stewardship involves all of these.

In consideration of "God's ownership" of our lives, we need to understand that we are not talking about that which is recognized as legal ownership in human relations. Legally a man may have a title to a piece of property and by virtue of the title be recognized as the owner or possessor. This kind of ownership was recognized by our Lord when he said, "render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's" (Matthew 22:21), but he recognized another kind of ownership when he added, "and unto God the things that are God's." A legal title gives one the right of exclusive possession to property, and he may use it as he wishes: he may lease it, farm it, sell, or abandon it. It is his and he may do with it what he will. But when all this is granted there are restrictions of legal ownership. His property may be taxed; it can be confiscated in an emergency; and there may be restrictions imposed which would keep him from building certain kinds of buildings or establishing certain kinds of businesses on the property. Such conditions accompanying legal ownership almost belie the term "owner."

But God's ownership is not subject to restrictions — it is absolute. There is no higher power than God's power, and his absolute ownership consists in the fact that he is God and there is no other beside him. The individual Christian has voluntarily surrendered his life to the will of God. Therefore, God owns him and all that belongs to his life. His stewardship was not forced upon him, nor was it arbitrarily decreed that he surrender himself to the rules and actions of Christian conduct against his will. Christianity is not compulsory. His move was voluntary and in his very act of conformity, is a recognition of the absolute ownership of God. Now the will of God is supreme. God's ownership gives him that inherent right. The word "owner" carries with it the idea of supremacy as regards the use of things owned. God owns the Christian and all that he has or will have in this life. Therefore the very first requisite to an acceptable service and life in the sight of God is a knowledge and a recognition of the absolute ownership of God.

We do not believe it is necessary to prove by multiplied scriptures the absolute ownership of God, we think our readers recognize this. However, there are many individuals who regard the ownership of God as a mere abstract truth. We talk about a steward, a possessor, an owner, with no clear understanding of what the terms mean, which in turn leads to a misconception of the entire structure and purpose of individual service in the kingdom of the Master. These articles are not intended to deal with the issues facing the church today which threaten to burst it asunder, nor do we propose to seek your indulgence in discussing them here, but we firmly believe that a great deal of the trouble before the church in our day may be traced either directly or indirectly to the misconception, or else ignorance of what the Bible teaches about the duties and obligations of the individual Christian and the discharge of his stewardship.

We believe this subject is vital to the individual and to the church as a whole. No hour ever presented a greater urgency upon the part of God's people to know and understand the will of God concerning stewards. It is only when the many members recognize their duty, and manifest an acknowledgment of God as the supreme owner of their lives in the discharge of such duty that the Cause we love will be on the road to peace and prosperity and progress.