The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. (Psalm 24:1)
When the topic of stewardship comes up in church, it typically comes up around the time of funding the next year’s church budget. The pastor usually brings a sermon encouraging church members to faithfully tithe – give 10% of their income – to the church. However, stewardship has almost nothing to do with tithing, although tithing is certainly a part.
A “steward,” by definition is a person who manages another’s property or financial affairs; one who administers anything as the agent of another. A steward is also a person who has charge of the household of another, buying or obtaining food, directing the servants.
We find the first example of a steward in the Bible in Eliezer of Damascus (Genesis 15:2). He was steward of Abram’s household and heir apparent of Abram’s possessions since Abram at that time had no children. After Isaac, the promised son, came along and after Sarah died (Genesis 23:1-2), Abraham sent Eliezer to Mesopotamia to find a wife for his son, Isaac (Genesis 24). The responsibility was unimaginably great, and Abraham entrusted Eliezer with great wealth trusting that God would direct him to the perfect bride. This was no small trust!
The second example of a steward in the Bible is Joseph, who was sold into captivity by his brothers (Genesis 37:28). In Egypt, Pharaoh’s Captain of the Guard, Potiphar, bought Joseph (Genesis 37:36) as a household slave. Soon, Joseph showed his worth and Potiphar put him in charge of his entire household. “And it came to pass from the time that he [Potiphar] had made him overseer in his house, and over all that he had, that the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the LORD was upon all that he had in the house, and in the field” (Genesis 39:5, emphasis mine).
Jesus offered two examples of stewards. In one parable, the master gave differing amounts of money to his three stewards to manage (Matthew 25:14-30), and he went off on an extended journey. When he returned, the ones to whom he gave five and two talents respectively doubled their master’s money, but the one to whom he gave only one talent did nothing with the talent and returned to his master the original amount.
In the second example, a “nobleman” gave his ten stewards equal amounts of money (Luke 19:11-27) and left on an extended journey to claim his kingdom. Seven of the ten refused to accept him as king when he returned and paid for it with their lives. One steward took what his master entrusted to him and returned ten times the amount. A second took the “pound” he was given and return five times the amount. The third did nothing with his charge and lost his position as a steward.
From these examples, we learn that the steward possesses nothing of his own; rather, he manages the possessions of his master. More than that, the “good” steward makes a profit for his master and increased the master’s wealth.
In a similar sense, we are the stewards of all that God has put into our possession. We own nothing. It all belongs to God, and we are responsible for everything He has placed in our trust. This not only applies to our money, but it includes our time, our family, and material possessions. It also includes how we relate to those around us, our government, and our environment – God’s creation. Everything that God has placed in our realm of influence is our stewardship responsibility. One day, maybe very soon, the King will return from His extended journey, and He will expect an accounting of all that He has entrusted into our care. Will we respond like the unfaithful stewards and return to Him only what He gave us?
Now, in regard to the tithe and in light of what has been presented, giving 10% of our income back to God is a small thing. Consider that all that money you earn is not really your own. From where do your abilities to earn income come? Who ultimately provided you a job? Everything, according to our lead verse (Psalm 24:1), everything belongs to God. He could demand that you return everything to Him with interest, but He does not. He only asks for 10% to test your faithfulness and your trust in Him for your provision. This too is stewardship.