What Is the Meaning of Stewardship in the Bible?

Stewardship refers to the act of managing someone else’s property that they have entrusted to your care for a time. There are at least two key components that must be present for one to be considered a steward.

Authority. A steward is always under the authority of the owner who determines how the steward takes care of the property.

Responsibility. The steward has the moral obligation to manage the owner’s assets or personnel according to the desires of the owner and not their own. A steward is given authority over any people or assets necessary to help them accomplish their tasks.

What Does the Bible Say about Stewardship?

Scripture says much about stewardship that begins with and centers around God. He is the Creator and Owner of everything (Genesis 1:1; Psalm 24:1). That means God alone is the One Who determines the rightful function, purpose, value, and order of everything in the universe. It’s His prerogative to do what He wants whenever He wants with His creation (Psalm 115:3; 135:6). This includes our bodies and our lives. In one sense, every command God gives us is a statement of stewardship because it reveals something about the way our Master expects us to manage the lives He gave us.

Today, a sinful, worldly philosophy drives many people’s lives. It undergirds several movement, including the LGBTQ+ movement and the so-called Abortion “Rights” movement. It’s the philosophy that claims a person can do anything they want as long as it doesn’t harm someone else. We often hear people say, “my body, my right.” At first glance, this may seem fair and innocent enough. After all, what right do we have to impose our views on another person? The problem is it’s not “my body, my right,” but it’s God’s body and God’s right.

A person does not have the right to do what they please with their life because they are under obligation to their Creator, Who has given them stewardship over their body and life, not ownership. God alone determines what rights we have. Make no mistake, I’m not saying we should expect the world to manage their lives according to God’s Word. They are sinners. Their life is defined by their rebellious state against God’s designs and plans. However, we should not allow ourselves to be deceived into thinking what the world does is innocent or God’s Word has no say in what they do. Their actions are harmful to themselves because sin is destructive, regardless of how good it may feel. And if nothing else, it is a rebellious use of the bodies and free will which belong to God. Furthermore, even if no human being is hurt by someone’s sinful actions, that doesn’t make it okay, because God is impacted. Our sin is an offensive abomination to God. On those grounds alone, a person cannot say their actions don’t affect anyone but themselves.

All people have sinful desires which tempt them to live according to their standards and not God’s. Non-believers violate their moral obligation to live according to the commands and desires of God. Christians are called to be different. All true believers in Christ place themselves under His lordship. That means they acknowledge Christ as the Owner of their lives. They now strive to live according to the conditions and desires determined by Christ. Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23, emphasis mine). What it means to deny ourselves is to forsake any desire which tempts us to sin against God. No Christian ever manages their life in perfect accordance with God’s Word. However, God becomes the central focus around which a Christian’s life is oriented. They endeavor each day to put to death their sinful desires and yield to the Lordship of Christ.

Jesus’ parable of the talents, found in Matthew 25, gives much insight into the way God expects us to steward what He gives us. The parable begins with a master giving his three slaves charge of his possessions while he goes on a journey. He distributes his wealth to each slave according to the slave’s ability. To one, he gives five talents (a talent is estimated to be the equivalent of 15 years’ wages). To another, he gave two talents, and to the last slave,f he gave one talent. The slaves who had charge of the five talents and two talents both used the money wisely; they each doubled the amount of money their master had entrusted to them. However, the slave entrusted with one talent foolishly buried it in the ground for safekeeping until the master returned. When the master returned, he called the three slaves to himself to give an account of what they did while he was gone. He praised the first two slaves who worked diligently to increase the wealth entrusted to them. However, he rebuked the last slave, calling him wicked and lazy. He then took back the one talent the slave had buried and commanded the slave be cast into the outer darkness.

A few observations:

God does not give equally. Each slave in the parable received an amount based on “his own ability” (Matthew 25:15). It wasn’t the duty of the slave with the five talents to redistribute his wealth to make sure everyone had an equal amount. Nor was it the responsibility of the other two slaves to obligate the other to give up his share. Rather, it was each slave’s responsibility to use what he was given. Understand, in no way am I saying Christians shouldn’t give of what they have to those in need. In fact, God commands us to do so (James 2:15-16). However, we aren’t called to ensure everyone’s life looks identical. God arranges our lives according to His purposes. Just because someone is living without electricity and Internet doesn’t mean they are poor. Maybe their lack of material wealth helps them develop a spiritually rich life that benefits other people in a nonmaterial way. With that in mind, it should be noted those to whom God gives more, He expects more (Luke 12:48). God expects people who have more, to do more because they have a greater capacity to do so. This does not just pertain to material wealth, but any blessings God gives, such as spiritual gifts or social connections.

God expects growth. As demonstrated in the parable, it’s not enough to preserve what God gives us. The slave with the one talent learned the hard way. Whatever God gives us: material wealth, skills, knowledge, spiritual gifts, etc. He expects us to use and develop in such a way to increase our effectiveness in serving His kingdom.

God judges fairly. Notice how the master did not rebuke the slave with the two talents for not acquiring the same amount as the slave with five. Instead, they both received the same praise from their master. God’s expectations are realistic and obtainable. He judges us based on what we have. He doesn’t compare us to other people. 

What Is the Difference between Stewardship and Stinginess?

Good stewardship requires wisdom. There is a fine balance between being reckless and paralyzed hoarding. God expects us to use the blessings He’s given, but we are called to use them wisely. For example, let’s suppose there is a mother who has a gift for interacting with children. She decides to offer her services to parents within the church and offers to watch the single mothers’ children during their work hours for free. What a great service! However, this mother fails to set guidelines that keep her service sustainable and protect her personal family life. She sets no limitation on the times, days, or number of children she’ll watch. Soon she finds herself in a house with a revolving door, constantly overwhelmed with children of all ages through the whole day. Her kind offer to watch children soon invades her personal life as she has no time to spend with her own children, and her health declines. She quickly burns out and cannot continue her services. This example may be extreme, but it demonstrates a point. Good stewards know how to use the blessings God gives them to benefit others without ruining themselves or the blessing itself.

Stingy people do not use what they have to benefit anyone. Whether it’s fear or ignorance that influences their behavior, they are not heeding the words of our Lord, “It’s more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 20:35). The slave with the one talent tried to use fear as an excuse, but the master gave no heed to his poor attempt to shirk his responsibility.

Stewards, on the other hand, work with what they have for the benefit of others. God has called us to do good works with what we have (Hebrews 10:24). Good works require good stewardship.

Why Is Stewardship Important?

The parable of the talents not only gives insight to the nature of godly stewardship, but it also reveals its purpose. Our stewardship is bound to our relationship with the Lord. We exist to give God glory. Christ redeemed our lives by giving His (1 Corinthians 6:20, Galatians 3:13). The word redeemed means to purchase. It is not merely like paying someone’s bail so they can go free. It is about coming under the ownership of the one who paid the redeeming price. All Christians are owned by Christ. This means we have an obligation to obey Him. We have an obligation to be good stewards of the life and opportunities He provides. The parable of the talents is about being ready for our Master’s return. Christ will return, and when He does, we will give an account for how we lived (Romans 14:12). There are only two possible outcomes; either we will rejoice, or we will shrink back in shame because we wasted the life He gave us (1 Corinthians 3:10-15, 1 John 2:28-29). If we don’t take time to understand how we are to steward the life God has given us, we will inevitably drift away, doing what is right in our own eyes and wasting the one life God gave us.

Photo by Josh Appel on Unsplash

Stephen BakerStephen Baker is a graduate of Mount Union University. He is the writer of a special Scripture study/reflection addendum to Someplace to Be Somebody, authored by his wife, Lisa Loraine Baker (End Game Press Spring 2022). 

He attends Faith Fellowship Church in East Rochester, OH where he has given multiple sermons and is discipled by pastor Chet Howes.