This week's guest blog comes from Nashville attorney Michael Ewing. As young adults, my peers and I are bombarded with well-meaning lessons from various Christian sources about "how to be a good steward." It is the topic of popular classes at church, heavily-attended seminars, and widely-syndicated radio shows. These lessons provide good, practical advice about managing your finances and living within your means, lessons that are extremely helpful to people who have yet to learn them. We should be grateful these programs are out there. But I think we should also be concerned that these lessons have come to monopolize our conversations about stewardship. It is as though being a good steward is nothing more than being a shrewd manager of material things. Such a definition is incomplete, at best, and backwards, at worst.
Miriam-Webster defines the word stewardship as “the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.” Conversely, a prominent pastor defines it as “embracing the life God wants you to live. Realize that the Lord’s will is to prosper you. Your job is to not get in the way of that prosperity.”
I prefer Miriam-Webster’s definition. To begin with, stewardship itself has nothing to do with prosperity and everything to do with responsibility. Our culture is filled with people who are very prosperous and, yet, very irresponsible. Read the news about Wall Street, or the tabloids about Hollywood, and you'll see what I'm saying. These are not good examples of stewardship.
Similarly, stewardship is not about money alone—or money primarily. While we certainly enjoy an abundance of financial advantages here in America, capitalizing on those advantages cannot be the highest aim of our lives, and it cannot define our success. That ideology is emphatically un-Christian. We cannot serve two masters.
As followers of Jesus, He is our example—a God who abandoned His station as the Almighty to walk among and teach His rebellious creation, knowing that we would crucify Him in the end (cf. Phil 2:5-11). That sacrifice, we believe, has the power to transform all that is broken in this world. But to do so, we must be sacrifices ourselves (Romans 11:33-12:2). Whether we are good stewards, therefore, is measured by one very simple, and very singular, inquiry: for whom have you sacrificed? Your time, your talents, your energy, and your money: have they been committed to God’s glory? Or have they been committed to your own? Making that distinction honestly is a very revealing, and therefore, often-neglected endeavor.
For instance, there are a number of benign pursuits that, without some divine orientation, are merely self-serving. Building wealth is perhaps the best example. Alone, it does not glorify God. In fact, it can easily cause you to dishonor God. Gaining notoriety is much the same. Without a God-honoring purpose, it is simply an act of self-worship. With a God-honoring purpose, however, these things can be transformed into obedience and virtue. They, like all gifts, can be saved from futility and the threat of sin—if they help you serve the lost, feed the hungry, honor the Church, and promote goodness and mercy. On the other hand, if all they enable you to do is live comfortably—by confusing luxury with necessity, providing your children with extravagant things, or stashing away mountains of cash for “your” retirement—please consider whether your heart lies in this world or the next. And then consider whether you want it to stay there.
Our life is, in the end, a gift. One that it is meant to be given again in sacrifice. Hoarding our blessings, therefore, is wasting them. Our lives should be invested not in our own happiness, but in our Creator’s. Glorify God with the blessings God has given you, and be diligent in that process. As Miriam-Webster says, be careful and responsible in managing that which has been entrusted to your care. Because stewardship is just what Mennonite teacher Lynn Miller called it—"the act of organizing your life so that God can spend you."
From that perspective, we should not want to save a thing. Here's to spending like there's no tomorrow.
Michael is a Labor & Employment and Business Litigation attorney in the Nashville office of a large, regional law firm. He is a native of Texas and Tennessee, so he knows first-hand what both buckles of the Bible Belt are really like. Along the way, Michael has learned to enjoy the sometimes difficult, but always rewarding, search for God in this complicated world. And he particularly appreciates the light shed on those things by the Tokens Radio Show.