In response to a legal question about the greatest commandment, Jesus replied with a relational answer. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:29, 30). For Jesus, worship and living religiously was not a matter of law or fulfilling a legal demand, but an invitation to be in relationship with God. This call to “love God” fully requires total commitment and is consistent with the repetition of the word “all” which is used four times in verse 30. In fact, Jesus was quoting from the same command given to the Israelites as they were preparing to enter into Canaan, the Promised Land. They were to love God supremely with all their “heart,” “soul,” “mind” and “strength” (Deut. 6:4,5). Jesus’ emphasis on the whole person was intentional and fundamental to His teachings as noted in the Mark 12 passage. At all times, as followers of Christ, we are to respond to Him with our entire life. This is what God requires of His stewards. Stewardship, as a human response, is about our willingness to let God take control of our total person (Matt. 6:33)—“It’s all of me in response to all of God.”
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength”
To illustrate this point about “total” living under the rule of Christ, consider a colorful pizza as a representation of our human life and experience. Each piece portrays a subsystem and category of our human culture, and while each piece is distinct, it is also part of the whole. For the sake of the illustration, each piece is labeled accordingly: worship, leadership (influence), relationships, possessions, finances and language. When we talk of Christian stewardship, we are in essence saying that Jesus is Lord of all these different pieces. In other words, stewardship applies to all of our human life and experience.
Stewardship on Two Levels
In addition to the fact that life is made up of different but interrelated pieces, we also know that as humans we live life on two levels: the surface and the deep. Jesus recognized these two levels of human life when he spoke about the “outside” and the “inside” in Matthew 23:27, 28. At the surface level (outside), for example, this is where we are engaged in specific behavior as an expression of our values and principles. Our behavior on the surface level is visible to the public eye and they tell the story of who and what we are “within.” Our experience at the deep level (inside), on the other hand, while it is not visible to the naked eye, exists and is real. It’s at this deep level where we have our core beliefs and basic convictions about life or worldview. These guiding norms inform and give expression to what we do at the surface. From the perspective of Christian stewardship, what takes place at the deep level where human values are developed and formed is of great importance to us. These guiding norms determine what we do in Christian living.
We know, for example, that our values and principles inform, influence and impact our behavior. The things we do on the surface are a natural outcome and manifestation of what we are and what we believe at the deep level.
With this biblical understanding of people as “whole” entities, and accepting the fact that as humans we live life on two levels, we need to next explore the relationship between our experience at the deep and surface levels. We know, for example, that our values and principles inform, influence and impact our behavior. The things we do on the surface are a natural outcome and manifestation of what we are and what we believe at the deep level. This kind of relationship between our values and behavior is similar to what takes place in the natural world of plants where what happens at the roots can have an impact on the fruit. The essence and key principle of this behavioral model and understanding is this: We behave according to our beliefs. What we do on the surface level is a reflection of what we believe at the deep level. There is a direct relationship between our values and our behavior.
Stewardship as Sanctification
How does this illustration of values and behavior help us understand Christian stewardship? I suggest that Jesus is the core “value” and a spiritual guiding force in our lives, while stewardship is our personal response to this value. As a biblical steward we made a deliberate decision to let Jesus come into our hearts through our worship experience. We sense our need for God and we yearn to have a relationship with Him. Naturally, by allowing Jesus to come into our lives, He finds His place in our value system and He starts to transform us from within. For Jesus to come in, we must first invite Him in. It is a personal choice and decision on our part, but once He comes in He starts the work of transforming us from within. This inward work of God will manifest itself in our outward behavior. This is the work of spiritual conversion and Christian transformation.
The Apostle Paul makes a powerful statement about this transforming experience with Christ in this way: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). In this Bible reference, Paul is highlighting two historical realities in the earthly ministry of Christ—His death and resurrection. He then makes a present day application. When Jesus died, he (Paul) died and when Jesus was raised to life, he also came back to life through Him. More importantly, the life that he (Paul) lives in the present is not his own but is the life of Christ in him. So how does this transforming life in Christ relate to Christian stewardship? I believe it is one and the same. In the context of Galatians 2:20, stewardship is a parallel experience with sanctification. With stewardship, I am releasing the control of my entire life—my worship, leadership, relationships, possessions, finances, and language—to Jesus. I have made Him the dominant value in my inner being. With every victory I experience in my life daily, it is not me winning, but it is Christ doing His work in me. So when I am being faithful as a steward in the use of my time; when I’m being faithful to my family; when I am being faithful in my witness for Jesus; when I’m being faithful in the returning of tithe and the giving of my offerings of gratitude; this is not me, but Christ living in me. This is transformational stewardship.
The Stewardship Advantage
The question is often asked, “How can we as a Church create a culture of faithfulness and generosity that is sustainable?” We can provide stewardship education through different training activities, develop new and practical inter-generational resources, upgrade and strengthen financial systems, visit and encourage church members in their homes.
We can make all of these important and necessary efforts and put in place good mechanisms but will they be sufficient to give us faithful stewards?
We can make all of these important and necessary efforts and put in place good mechanisms but will they be sufficient to give us faithful stewards? The answer is both “yes” and “no”. Yes, all of these resources and approaches can individually and collectively make a difference and we must make every effort to include and implement these in our stewardship strategies. However, at the same time, no amount of education nor adjustments in a system can change human behavior unless there is a transformation taking place from within. This is where we need external help and God can provide this necessity for us through His Holy Spirit.
In John 15:5 Jesus makes this offer: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” While we as leaders all have a desire to see our people grow and become faithful stewards, the truth is, no one can produce faithfulness on their own unless they have Jesus in their life. This is the stewardship advantage. The key to a sustainable stewardship experience is making Jesus the center of our value system and allowing Him to change our behavior from the deep level of our being. Helping people to have a personal and intimate relationship with Jesus daily ought to be our goal in stewardship ministries