Principles of Good Stewardship
One of the most important themes in the Bible is that of Stewardship. It's a theme that preachers usually hit on at the beginning of the year when budgets are being formed and plans drawn for the work of the church for the upcoming year. Usually, the sermon that talks about "good stewardship" describes the idea of stewardship in terms of our offering at church:
- How much to give
- When and why to give etc.
All good and biblical but I believe too narrow an approach to stewardship. Stewardship is the broad heading, giving in church is a sub-heading under stewardship. Basically, stewardship is the management of what God has given us to His glory and the edification of others and ourselves. For example, Adam was the steward of all that God gave him and was taught to return the first portion to God. He managed everything; the giving of the first portion was only part of his stewardship, not the whole of it.
In other words there's more to stewardship than what you put in the plate. You could say that if we learned how to be good stewards in the general sense, it would guide us in the specific area of giving to the Lord in the assembly. And so this morning I want us to study a parable that provides us with some general principles that Jesus taught concerning good stewardship. First, we'll study the parable itself and then try to draw some of the conclusions it teaches in Matthew 25.
Parable of The Talents - Matthew 25:14-30
Master Entrust His Possessions - vs. 14-15
14For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. 15To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey.
This master promotes these servants to stewards. Slaves just carry out tasks. These servants were given special responsibility by having control over wealth of their master. Talent was a measure (6,000 Denari) worth about several thousand dollars then, today a small fortune. Note that each received a sizable amount although different and each according to his ability. Each had enough to work with but not beyond his ability to manage.
Servant's Response - vs. 16-18
16Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents. 17In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more. 18But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.
First one immediately (without delay) began to work. Obviously ready for the challenge and opportunity Word trade means labour or work, not the trading business or stock trading. He accomplishes a 100% return on investment. Second does the same thing in the same manner with similar results. Third one "..went aside" - verb, suggests lack of direction and purposefulness. He hides the money, (acc. to oriental custom digs a hole).
Settling of Accounts - vs. 19-30
1. Master returns - vs. 19
Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.
The master returns to see what they have done in order to punish or reward. He "entrusted" - so there was going to be a reckoning.
2. First Servant's report - vs. 20-21
20The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, 'Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.' 21His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.'
Servant brings forth the original investment and profit. Master responds to him with approval and reward.
- Approval / personal confirmation of his ability and success, faithfulness.
- Reward / responsibility and position.
He demonstrated his faithfulness in little things now he will be entrusted with greater things. (Principle of how God deals with us.) Interesting to note that in the parable, vast sums of money are considered as "few" things --- suggesting the great wealth and generosity of the master.
3. Second Servant's report - vs. 22-23
22"Also the one who had received the two talents came up and said, 'Master, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more talents.' 23His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.'
Similar situation and report. Approval and reward is the same but in proportion to his ability to benefit from it and do it well. God does not bless us beyond our ability and capacity to handle it. (Lead us not to temptation.) God doesn't give us more than we can handle good or bad.
4. Third servant's report - vs. 24-25
24"And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, 'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. 25And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.'
Servant begins by making an excuse for his failure and blaming it on his master. 'Hard - inhuman', over-demanding, this is usually a term of reproach. 'Reap / gather' - says the same thing in two different ways. A man who earns a living from the work of others. Slave driver. What he is saying is, fearing a hard master who lives off of his servants I held on to your money so I could be sure you received something when you returned.
His argument was that if he lost the money his master, being totally without sympathy, would punish him so he played it safe.
5. Master's Response - vs. 26-27
26"But his master answered and said to him, 'You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. 27Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest.
He doesn't answer the accusation made about him. He assumes the servant's comments are accurate and judges him based on these and adds his assessment of the servant's character: I may be a slave-master but here's what you are:
- Wicked - Actively evil, word used of Satan. The malignant one.
- Lazy - Not just a slowpoke or slothful but irritating. The type that never does anything but manages to create trouble.
- Foolish - If what he said about his master was true, the wisest thing to do was to bank the money at interest. "You should have let the bankers do the work for me if you were not going to."
6. The Judgment - vs. 28-30
So he judges this servant like the others.
28Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.'
Loses the talent (Not just money, but opportunity and blessings that go with it). Sees his talent given to one who has 10. We have trouble with this verse, doesn't seem fair!
The explanation for this action in verse 29:
For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.
The principle of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. In society, we try to relieve the plight of the poor and this is right and according to God's principles in the Bible. We are our brother's keepers. We should love our neighbors as ourselves. But Jesus is not laying down a principle for social justice in this parable; He's explaining how things work in the kingdom of heaven!
A parable is a story using earthly characters and situations to reveal and explain the workings of the unseen world - in this case the kingdom of heaven on earth. So the fact that the servant with the most talents gets even more wealth doesn't square with our idea of justice - it's not meant to à it's meant to show that in the kingdom, those who are in Christ grow richer at an ever-increasing rate and those who are poor (because of wickedness, laziness) become poorer at an ever-increasing pace.
For example. those who come to church regularly (am/pm/wed/devos/fellowship) grow in spiritual knowledge, wisdom, patience, joy, love, peace, ability to live successful Christian lives because they feed on the word regularly. Their blessings don't just add up - they multiply - there is a quantum leap in their growth.
On the other hand those who are unfaithful and sporadic become weaker and weaker, either become bored with religion or muddled in sinfulness and the world until they have no strength left to believe and fall away.
30Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Final judgment of the third servant sees him outside the master's house, which is equivalent to suffering and damnation. So we see this servant revealed for what he is, losing his position, punished by separation from his master - contains all the elements of our own judgment as stewards when it comes:
- Revelation of what we are - faithful/unfaithful
- Transformation of our portion - glorified with Christ/Separated from Christ and in darkness.
I said at the beginning, that this parable teaches us that one facet of God's judgment upon His people will be based on how they managed the talents they have been given. This parable gives us instruction about good and bad stewardship. We've seen some bad stewardship with the third servant, let's see if we can draw some lessons on good stewardship from this parable. I want us to leave with positive lessons, not negative ones.
1. Good Stewardship Involves Risk
Need to understand that hood stewardship isn't just hoarding and counting resources. Some see stewardship as accounting principles only. For example, make sure you have the receipts.
Good stewardship is doing something constructive with what you have. Servants had to work, risk losing talents in order to make profit. It involves wise investment in the Lord's work After all it's His resources. He has lots of resources. He wants profit, not just balanced books, not just everything accounted for. In the parable the safe investment in the bank was the least one could do, not the most.
We need to understand that there is no faith with out risk and our master has assured us He will not let us fall when we're out on a limb for Him! We need to worry about souls not about money. We need to invest our emotional energy in helping people find Jesus, not in arguing who controls the purse. Remember that in the New Testament, the only person who expressed worry over money was Judas, not Jesus.
2. Good Stewardship Involves Excellence
As stewards of God's talents and blessings we need to be aware of the fact that whatever we do, we must do it well - from the most insignificant to the most important. Jesus takes great pains to repeat the idea that personal and corporate growth in the kingdom involves the learning of accountability and excellence in small matters before being entrusted with large. People in the Church don't always see, or have the authority to judge and certainly no power to reward us for what we do - but God does see, He can judge; He will re-ward and punish based on our stewardship of His talents.
Do it right the first time and don't cheap out, be the best for the Master.
3. Good Stewardship Involves Hard Work
Making suggestions or complaints isn't stewardship. Carrying out task based on those suggestions, solving problems that cause the complaints - that's Stewardship. Worrying about money isn't stewardship - it's a sign of lack of faith, eyes on this world, not Jesus. Giving significantly, regularly - that's stewardship. This is where the idea of giving fits.
"Fitting" some of the Church's activities into your lifestyle isn't stewardship. Making the Lord and His Church the basis and then building your life around Him and His Church - that's good and wise stewardship.
Good stewardship requires the risk of faith, commitment to excellence and old fashioned hard work but the reward is worth it because good stewards: Grow richer and richer in the spiritual blessings of Christ each day they live; if you've tasted them you know that it's worth it.
The joy of hearing the shout, the voice of the angel, the trumpet of God and know that the call will be for us to be with Him forever in the heavens when He comes in His glory - This is a reward worth preparing for.
When it comes to Stewardship the question isn't just, "Am I giving enough?", or "How much should I increase my giving?", These questions are too small; they don't address the entire picture.
A better question is, "Am I a good steward?" because if the answer is yes - this business of giving to the Church is usually well in hand as is the management of all other things that God has blessed you with. And do you know how to answer that question?
Not simply by counting how much you put in the plate. No, you answer that question by examining how anxious you are for the return of Jesus Christ!
I've noticed that good stewards are not only ready but anxious for the return of their masters. From righteous Able to beloved John, those who serve with zeal and faith saw the coming of the Lord as a great day, a happy and blessed day. (Like children who have a good report card for their parents.) And those who had nothing but excuses for sloppy work, slovenly attitudes and sinful habits dread the day of His coming - they have nothing to look forward to because they have nothing to bring forward.
Are you a good steward - are you ready and are you anxious for the Master's return? You are ready if you have confessed His name, repented of your sins, and been immersed (baptized) to receive forgiveness and the Holy Spirit. You become anxious for His return as the quality and quantity of what you give to the Lord in every area of your life increases.
- If you're not ready - come and prepare yourself for His return by being baptized in His name.
- If you're not anxious - make the decision to re-dedicate your life and all that it encompasses to His service.
If the Lord is inviting you come now.