Loren Seibold, Senior Pastor, Worthington SDA Church, Worthington, Ohio

Summary: The author stresses that just as we are stewards of God’s material world, we are stewards of His people—?care? givers together, with Him. Read the four principles for family stewardship and learn how we can more delicately love, cherish, and take care of our families, according to the guidelines of His Word.

Delicate relationships. Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord?. Love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her?. Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord? (Ephesians 5:21-22, 25, 6:1, 4).

It is a pity that we often don’t let stewardship extend its influence and embrace all of the gifts God has given us. Take our families, for example. Our people are undoubtedly more valuable than our money. And in many ways, money is easier to manage. Within the family, we find ourselves engaged in life’s most delicate relationships. How we manage our families is the single most important task of stewardship. And this task has been given to us as a trust.

Principles for family stewardship. In a business, a boss can fire uncooperative employees, but the management of a family operates on different principles. Paul addresses these principles as he instructs families in Ephesians 5 and 6:

1. Stewards of family love

Family members must be good stewards of family love. ?Husbands, love your wives,? says Paul, ?as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her? (Eph 5:25). We live in a world that has greatly cheapened the word ?love.? It has come to mean anything from a mild preference to raging lust. Yet real love—the kind that is ?patient and kind ? not jealous or boastful ? not arrogant or rude ? that does not insist on its own way ? is not irritable or resentful ? does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right,? the kind of love that ?bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things?—this kind of love is the bond that holds families together (1 Cor 13). But—like money—love can be lost.

I once met a couple whose whole conversation revolved around the new things they were going to buy. I never heard them speak of each other’s feelings or concerns. They only spoke about the new car, the new stereo, the new house, the new clothing. All of the love they might have invested in one another, they spent on things. I wasn’t surprised when their marriage ended. They’d spent love, not on one another, but on things that were merely temporary.

2. Stewards of authority

Paul tells us there is a stewardship of authority. ?Wives,? he says, ?be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord.? And again, ?Children, obey your parents in the Lord.? While in Paul’s culture, patterns of family authority were composed along somewhat different lines than they would be today, still the principle of authority remains. Whether that authority comes from the husband, the wife, or ideally from the two working in cooperation, families that have no central authority may deteriorate into anarchy.

A mother I know recently complained of her grown children’s chaotic lives. ?And we tried to be such good parents,? she said. ?My husband and I never interfered with our children’s desire to do anything they chose to do, nor forced them to do anything they didn’t want to do.? Theirs was a tragic abdication of authority. Too much freedom left their family without guidance. They had abandoned their responsibility to ?bring up [their children] in the discipline and instruction of the Lord? (Eph 6:4).

3. Stewards of trust

Paul implies a stewardship of trust. One of my friends tells me that in his childhood his father frequently came home drunk, angry, and cursing. But the next morning the father would awaken with horrible regret. With tears and embraces, he would promise his wife and children that he would never drink again.

?And each time,? says my friend, ?I would believe him.? Inevitably, though, it would happen again the next week. And the next. My friend grew up feeling that the people you love can not be trusted. Though this is an extreme example, there are many families that have not been careful to steward the trust they have between one another. Unfaithfulness to trust comes in many guises—from sexual infidelity, to the misuse of family finances, to uncontrolled anger. And, once it is squandered, trust is difficult to get back.

4. Stewards of respect

Paul tells us to be stewards of respect. Children are to respectfully obey their parents, and husbands and wives are to respect one another. Occasionally I have met a father and husband who sees himself as family ?dictator.? He feels that his family can only function well if he directs their every action, word, and thought. And woe unto anyone whose ideas don’t agree with his own! Though he demands respect for himself, he is a poor steward of respect. Invariably his children come to resent him.

While too little authority can create a spiritually ?rootless? family, in Paul’s words, too much authority can provoke children to anger. They may even come to hate their parents, and to equally hate those sources of authority, such as religious faith or law, that their parents abused in order to place them in spiritual bondage.

All of Paul’s counsel to family members is governed by this one principle: ?Be subject to one another.? The relational economy of a family doesn’t depend on who is at the ?top? of the family hierarchy, but upon mutual respect.

A husband who loves his wife will relate to her with respect and humility. A wife who loves her husband will not belittle or ignore him. A child who respects his parents is more likely to obey than a child who is resentful. And a parent who respects the full humanness of her offspring is much more likely to hold them to her heart by love, than by anger, guilt, and punishment. In reality, can any person hold anyone by anger or guilt?

More or less? When I talk to families in deep financial straights, I sometimes ask, ?Where did the money go?? Too often, no one seems to know. A little here, a little there. It was spent through poor choices, on things of little value, and with little thought to the needs of the future. While it is possible for such a family to pull itself out of debt, it is difficult; and the money they’ve wasted is gone forever.

Unlike money—love, authority, trust, and respect are not diminished by use. Yet, as with money, they can be lost. These virtues disappear as we indulge in negative words and actions. And they are consumed—sometimes forever—in the indulgence of anger, selfishness, self-gratification, or simple laziness.

It is much harder to restore these qualities in a family than it would have been to keep them in the first place. The unkind words that burn up love, the carelessness that wastes authority, the dishonesty that destroys trust, the resentment that squanders respect—these can be forgiven, but they will never be forgotten. Once the damage is done, the scars last and sometimes cripple those we love for a lifetime.

But all of this can be prevented by the discipline of mutual subjection! Isn’t that really all Jesus asks of us when he says, ?Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you? (Mt 7:12)?

Remember: Just as we are stewards of God’s material world , we are stewards of His people—?care? givers together, with Him.