Melak Alemayehu Tsegaw

Stewardship Director

Central Ethiopia Field

East-Central Africa Division

Summary: The author looks at the Apostle Paul’s life and teachings to talk about four secrets to successful stewardship.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines stewardship as, “conducting, supervising, or managing of something, especially the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care” (italics added).

This noble concept that evidently entails trustworthiness, heavy responsibility and accountability may be unpopular among the self-centered and in an individualistic society where only “I, me, and myself” seem to matter. Nonetheless, whether we recognize it or not, human beings are stewards of the Most High who is the creator and the rightful owner of everything in the universe. The word of God is unambiguous in affirming this truth: “The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” Psalm 24:1. Needless to say, if one assumes the position of a steward one important thing that is required of him is faithfulness (1 Corinthians 4:2).

Success in stewardship can be measured by the degree of recognizing and faithfully fulfilling the owner’s desire in all respects. Therefore, it is important to search for the secret to successful stewardship. And one of the most accomplished stewards in the history of the Bible, the apostle Paul, could serve as a role model in our search for these traits.

When we take a closer look at Paul’s life and teachings, we discover the following four secrets to successful stewardship.

1. Admit that you are not your own. The apostle is not ashamed to declare that he has no rulership over his own life, rather points to Jesus as the one owning his life and living in Him. Here are his words: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20-21). Paul counts himself as a dead person when it comes to leading his life and acknowledges Jesus, who gave his life to redeem humanity from the slavery of sin and Satan, as the rightful owner of everything. Hence, he reminds each one of us, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

A steward cannot be successful without recognizing the importance of submission to the true owner. Let’s pause for a moment and ask ourselves the following questions: Do we consider ourselves as mangers of God’s property, which includes of our very selves? Do we search for the will of God in our daily lives and in the decisions that we make so that we may fulfill his desire? Successful stewardship begins with admitting the fact that we are not the owners but stewards.

2. Understand the love of Christ. In whatever he did, Paul’s motivation came from his understanding of the supreme love of Christ. “For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died” (2 Corinthians 5:14 NIV). And it is this heart that is filled with the love of Jesus that motivates us to be good stewards. It can indeed overflow with selfless deeds which become a blessing to our fellow humans as well as capture the pleased eyes of God. On the contrary, any good work which doesn’t spring from this love is a short-lived conditional love and a fruit of hypocrisy. And God abhors it.

Recognizing the importance, Paul prays for us so that we may experience this secret of successful stewardship. “And I pray that you,…may…grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Ephesians 3:17-19 NIV).

·The love of Jesus is so wide that it encircles the whole world (John 3:16).

·The love of Jesus is so long that it lasts forevermore (Jeremiah 31:3).

·The love of Jesus is so deep that it stooped down from heavenly court to the shameful death of the cross (Philippians 2: 6-8).

The love of Jesus is so high that it raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6).

When we understand this love we will consider our stewardship activities as a tremendous privilege rather than as a mere drudgery.

3. Recognize your accountability. Paul recognized the fact that he will one day give account, on whatever he owed, to his Master who entrusted him. He unequivocally asserts this fact when he writes to other fellow believers, “For we will all stand before God's judgment seat” (Romans 14:10-11). Paul elaborates the purpose of our appearance before the judgment seat of God, “ For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). While the importance of accountability is starkly evident, the lack thereof in a steward’s life leads to negligence in accomplishing the will of the master.

Paul was so confident about what he will eventually receive when he appears before God’s judgment throne, for he has lived every moment of his life as a steward with a sense of responsibility and accountability. Sure enough, he has the following to say as he was about to conclude his earthly journey: “I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

What will our final words be when we face the inevitable death at the end of our earthly journey? Will we be able to repeat Paul’s same words? If so, it would mean that we have cultivated the sense of accountability in our lives. If not, it is now time that we give this important issue a serious thought.

4. Declare that you can do all things through Christ who strengthen you. When we listen to stewardship sermons or read books that list numerous “DOs” and “DON’Ts”, we become so overwhelmed to the point of feeling inadequate. Subsequently, a seed of doubt is planted in our mind, and the involuntary “I just can’t do it!” response inescapably takes a strong hold. And this humbling experience which leads to admitting that we cannot do things on our own is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it could be a step in the right direction. Jesus himself has said it straightforwardly, “…apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Ellen White aptly comments on this point, ‘your promises and resolutions are like a rope of sand.’

However, what is equally true yet more uplifting is recognizing the fact that “[We] can do everything through him who gives [us] strength” (Philippians 4:13). This is indeed our best armor against doubt, unbelief, spiritual deficiency and inadequacy, which surely enables us to affirm, as the Apostle Paul has, “Apart from Christ we can do nothing. But through him we do everything!”

This truth is so vital that all others cluster around it. It is through Him we recognize the heavenly knowledge that we are not of ourselves but His. It is through Him we can understand His wondrous love that surpasses knowledge. It is through him that we can recognize our responsibility and accountability. And His strength never runs out or fails us. He is a faithful God who empowers his stewards to be faithful. Glory be to his name!

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October–December, 2008

Sacred Eloquence