By Benjamin C. Maxson, Director, General Conference Stewardship
Summary: We really don’t bring anything of our own to this relationship with God; we merely choose to accept the privilege of partnering with Him. And God will not force us into this incredible partnership.
Most of us know the theory that stewardship is more than tithes and offerings; that stewardship is more than managing money. When we stop to think about it, we recognize that God really is owner of everything we often claim as ours. We struggle applying this to daily life, but we at least acknowledge the concept. We talk about working for God and managing His resources. But as stewards, we are more than God’s employees--We are partners with God.
There are different types of partnership. Normally, partners are two equals who bring something of equal value to the relationship. In some cases, one partner is the investor with the money and the other an expert with the knowledge. Sometimes partnership is a reward for a special service or superior performance. Our partnership with God, however, is quite different. After all, what can we bring to this partnership?
God is owner of all: He gives us abilities and talents, He provides all the resources, He gives us our very life. We really don’t bring anything of our own to this relationship with God; we merely choose to accept the privilege of partnering with Him. And God will not force us into this incredible partnership.
Interdependency and Intimacy
God’s partnership with Noah provided a means to save the human race. When God chose Moses, Israel marched out of Egypt. When God inspired Daniel, prophecy revealed the future of God’s people. But the ultimate partnership was in the incarnation, when God and man become one. This is a powerful model of how God works with us in a unique partnership. Jesus modeled an interdependence with God. Throughout the Gospel of John, we find repeated references to this partnership: The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands (3:35). I and the Father are one (10:30). These and many other passages reveal the intimacy between the Father and the Son. They are models of what God desires for us.
The Gospel of John provides a foundation for understanding the depth of our potential intimacy with God. Speaking of the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus says On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you (14:20). In John 15, the vine provides a vivid metaphor of this partnership: 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 (15:5). And Jesus closes His prayer to His Father with that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me (17:21).
Identity, Position, and Power
Our partnership with God is a productive partnership. Paul states For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Eph 2:10). In Philippians, he declares that it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose (2:13). In addition, God takes us, who have been slaves to sin (Rom 6), and lifts us to the position of friends (John 15:13- 15). This friendship includes being seated with Christ on His throne in heavenly places (Rev 3:21; Eph 2:7). So this partnership includes identity--we are part of God’s family and His friends. It includes position--He places us at His side. It includes power--all we need to do His will (Phil 4:19; 2 Pet 1:3-4). And it produces fruit or results (Eph 2:10; John 15:5).
So what is our role in this partnership? First, we must be willing to accept it as a gift. We cannot earn it, and God does not give it to us because of our ability. Instead, it is an incredible act of God’s grace which makes it possible. This is why this partnership is so humbling to us. We would rather think of God needing to reward our performance than to accept it as a gift. Second, we must realize that this gift goes far beyond the human partnership. It becomes a union--a blending of the divine within the human. We become partakers of His divine nature (2 Pet 1:4). We do not become divine, but God dwells within us. We do not lose our identity; instead we discover our true identity. We discover who God created us to be in the first place.
God created Adam in His own image, to reflect His image. In an incredible act of intimacy, God shaped him with His own hands. Then He gave him dominion over the world He had just created. Thus, God began a unique partnership with man. When sin destroyed this partnership, God restored our union with Him through the life and death of Jesus Christ and through the ministry of the Holy Spirit that makes the presence of Christ in our hearts a living reality (Eph 3:16-19). Christ, dwelling within the human heart, provides a new union, a new image, a new intimacy. And this partnership produces powerful results.
All true obedience comes from the heart. It was heart work with Christ. And if we consent, He will so identify Himself with our thoughts and aims, so blend our hearts and minds into conformity to His will, that when obeying Him we shall be but carrying out our own impulses. The will, refined and sanctified, will find its highest delight in doing His service. When we know God as it is our privilege to know Him, our life will be a life of continual obedience. Through an appreciation of the character of Christ, through communion with God, sin will become hateful to us.--Desire of Ages, p 668
The third step is to step forward in faith, exercising the partnership He has given us. We make choices, and as we walk with God, His Spirit guides and empowers our choices. We act in a partnership that goes far beyond our very best imagination. We do not work for Him, but rather in intimate union with Him. No human partnership can compare. No human partnership can illustrate. The very God of the universe calls us to return to Him, to the relationship for which we were created. Then every part of life becomes an exciting adventure of walking with God--applying partnership with Him to each moment and each action.