The Role of Stewardship
Because of the depth and breadth of stewardship, it is easy to get lost in the big picture, bogged down by tangents and overwhelmed by its enormity. Stewardship is simple yet also complex, and thus easily can be misunderstood. However, neither the Christian nor the church can exist or function without it. To be a Christian is to be a good steward, as well.
“It is not a theory nor a philosophy but a working program. It is in verity the Christian law of living. . . . It is necessary to an adequate understanding of life, and essential to a true, vital religious experience. It is not simply a matter of mental assent, but is an act of the will and a definite, decisive transaction touching the whole perimeter of life.” —LeRoy E. Froom, Stewardship in Its Larger Aspects (Mountain View: Calif.: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1929), p. 5.
What are some of the core tenets of what it means to be a Christian steward? This week, we will look more at the roles that stewardship plays in Christian life. We will do so, though, through an interesting analogy: a chariot wheel.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, March 10.
Jesus is the central figure throughout the Bible (John 5:39), and we need to see ourselves in relationship to Him. He paid the penalty for sin and is “ ‘a ransom for many’ ” (Mark 10:45). Jesus has all authority in heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18), and all things are in His hands (John 13:3). His name is higher than all others, and one day every knee shall bow down to Him (Phil. 2:9–11).
“Jesus is the living center of everything.”—Ellen G. White, Evangelism, p. 186.
Christ is the heart of our stewardship and the source of our power. Because of Him, we produce a life worth living, demonstrating to all that He is the central focus of our lives. Paul may have experienced many trials, but no matter where he was or what happened to him, he had one priority for living: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21, NKJV).
There is no genuine stewardship without Christ being our central core (Gal. 2:20). He is the center of “that blessed hope” (Titus 2:13), and “He is before all things, and in Him all things consist” (Col. 1:17, NKJV). Just as the axle is the center of the wheel and thus carries the weight of a wagon, Christ is the center of the steward’s life. Just as a solid axle provides stability allowing the wheels to rotate, Jesus is also the fixed and stable center of our Christian existence (Heb. 13:8). His influence should affect everything we think and do. All aspects of stewardship rotate around and find their center in Christ.
“ ‘For without Me you can do nothing’ ” (John 15:5, NKJV). The center of stewardship is not a hollow void but the reality of the living Christ, who is working in us to mold our characters now and for eternity.
One usually doesn’t think of the sanctuary in the context of stewardship. Yet, the link is there because the sanctuary is so crucial to our belief system, and stewardship is part of the system. “The correct understanding of the ministration [of Christ] in the heavenly sanctuary is the foundation of our faith.”—Ellen G. White, Evangelism, p. 221. It is imperative that we understand the role of stewardship in light of this biblical concept.
1 Kings 7:33 describes a chariot wheel. We will illustrate the sanctuary doctrine as the hub of the wheel. The hub attaches to the axle and provides more stability for the wheel when it turns. Having experienced death and a victorious resurrection (2 Tim. 1:10), Christ, through His death, is the foundation for His work in the sanctuary (Heb. 6:19, 20) and provides the stability for our faith. And it is from the sanctuary that He ministers in our behalf here on earth (see Heb. 8:1, 2).
“Standing on the sola Scriptura [Scripture alone] principle, Biblical Adventism builds its doctrinal system from the general perspective of the sanctuary doctrine.”—Fernando Canale, Secular Adventism? Exploring the Link Between Lifestyle and Salvation (Lima, Peru: Peruvian Union University, 2013), pp. 104, 105.
The sanctuary doctrine helps to reveal the great truth of salvation and redemption, which is at the core of all Christian theology. In the sanctuary we see not only Christ’s death for us but His ministry in the heavenly sanctuary, as well. We can see, too, in the Most Holy Place the importance of God’s law and the reality of final judgment. Central to it all is the promise of redemption made available to us by the shed blood of Jesus.
The role of stewardship reflects a life anchored in the great truth of salvation, as revealed in the sanctuary doctrine. The more deeply we understand what Christ has done for us and what He is doing in us now, the closer we come to Christ, His ministry, His mission, His teaching, and His intent for those who live out the principles of stewardship in their lives.
The sanctuary is central because it is where the great truth of salvation is expressed so powerfully, where the meaning of the Cross is revealed. And all our doctrines, one way or another, must be linked to the gospel promise and salvation. Like the spokes of the wheel, other doctrines come out from the great truth of salvation by faith in Jesus.
“The sacrifice of Christ as an atonement for sin is the great truth around which all other truths cluster. . . . Those who study the Redeemer’s wonderful sacrifice grow in grace and knowledge.” —Ellen G. White Comments, The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 1137.
Our doctrinal beliefs influence who we are and the direction in which we are going. Doctrines are not just abstract theological ideas; all true doctrine is anchored in Christ, and all should in various ways impact how we live. In fact, one could say justifiably that our identity as Seventh-day Adventists is rooted in our doctrinal teachings more than in anything else. The teachings, then, which we derive from the Bible, are what make us who we are as Seventh-day Adventists.
The role of stewardship is to live doctrinal truth as it is in Jesus, and to do so in a way that positively affects our quality of life. “You have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:21–24, NKJV).
In this text, we find what it means not only to know the truth but to live it. Being a steward isn’t just about believing doctrines, however true those doctrines are; being a steward means living out those truths in our lives and in our interaction with others.
Only twice has God warned the world of coming catastrophe: once to Noah (Gen. 6:13–18, Matt. 24:37) and the other through the three angels’ messages (Rev. 14:6–12). These messages pull back a curtain to reveal a unique perspective on future world events. Our understanding of these messages has matured over time, but the message and mission are still justification by faith in Christ, “the third angel’s message in verity.”—Ellen G. White, Evangelism, p. 190. In other words, Jesus and His great sacrifice for us stand at the core of our present-truth message, the message we have been called to proclaim to the world.
As Seventh-day Adventists, our mission is to present the truth of the three angels’ messages in preparation for the second coming of Christ. People must be able to make a decision regarding eternity. The role of stewardship is a partnership with God in mission (2 Cor. 5:20, 6:1–4). “In a special sense Seventh-day Adventists have been set in the world as watchmen and light bearers. To them has been entrusted the last warning for a perishing world. On them is shining wonderful light from the Word of God. They have been given a work of the most solemn import—the proclamation of the first, second, and third angels’ messages. There is no other work of so great importance. They are to allow nothing else to absorb their attention.”—Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, p. 19.
That rim of a wheel is near the point of contact with the ground and represents the mission of the three angels’ messages. Their mission is to protect against theological drift and to identify our responsibility in the last-day events. We are to be stewards of this message, proclaiming it to the world.
Christ wants us to live holy lives. His life illustrates “holiness” and what ultimate stewardship should look like (Heb. 9:14). We should manage our lives in a way that is pleasing to God, including how we manage all that we have been entrusted with. Stewardship is an expression of that holiness.
The Romans discovered that a chariot wheel lasted longer if a band of iron was placed around the rim. The craftsman heated the metal to expand it just enough to slip it over the rim. Cold water shrank it to a tight fit. The band of iron then made contact with the road as the wheel turned. The iron band on the rim can represent the concept of stewardship.
This is the moment of truth, where our spiritual lives rub against our practical lives. It is where our faith meets the ups and downs of life through successes and failures. It is where our beliefs get real in the rough-and-tumble scuffles of daily living. Stewardship is the outer wrapping of who we are and what we do. It is a witness of our conduct and of a life well managed. Our daily actions that reveal Christ are like the iron on the wheel that touches the road.
Actions are powerful and must be controlled by our commitment to Christ. We are to live with this assurance and promise: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13, NKJV).
“The sanctification of the soul by the working of the Holy Spirit is the implanting of Christ’s nature in humanity. Gospel religion is Christ in the life—a living, active principle. It is the grace of Christ revealed in character and wrought out in good works. The principles of the gospel cannot be disconnected from any department of practical life. Every line of Christian experience and labor is to be a representation of the life of Christ.”—Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 384.
Further Thought: At times chariot wheels had to have the band of iron reset because of stretching caused by the metal’s striking against the road. Resetting took a lot of hard banging and hammering on the iron band itself. This resetting of the band of iron represents stewardship as practical sanctification. It is having the mind of Christ when responding to every large or small aspect of life, even when the process can be hard and painful. Whether this process pertains to our use of money, family relations, or employment, to name a few, all are to be responded to in the will of Christ. Sometimes, as we all know too well, we can learn this lesson only through some hard knocks.
It’s not easy to reset iron. Nor is it easy to reset human character. Think of the experience of Peter. He had been everywhere with Jesus, but he didn’t expect these words from Jesus’ lips: “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:32). Not too much later, after denying Jesus, Peter had a change in his life, but only after a very painful and difficult experience. In a sense, his stewardship was reset. Peter was converted anew, and his life was going to head in a new direction, but only after some real pounding.