18 January 2007

More on Stewardship

More on Stewardship

Here are some more thoughts on Stewardship as a model for leadership.

1 Peter 4:10 Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. 11 Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.

The associations here are Grace, Steward, and Serve. Unusual associations. Let’s look first at the word Grace.

When we look at grace in the New Testament, we are looking at the first century world in which Paul lived, and was based on reciprocity. Reciprocity was basic to all forms of social interaction in ancient Mediterranean society. Cicero, for example, tells us that if obligations are incurred between two parties, an adequate response is required, for no duty is more imperative than that of proving one's gratitude. Seneca does not hesitate to point out reciprocal interchange was the chief bond that holds people together in society. Within the Graeco-Roman world the exchange of services were never voluntary, but always reciprocal.

In this context was the benefactor, who was someone who could provide you with access to goods, advancement, resources, assistance, and so forth. There were variations on this theme, but the main characteristics seem to be:

  • There was a difference in status between the benefactor and the beneficiary, the one who received assistance;
  • It was a voluntary relationship;
  • It was based on trust, loyalty, and obligation
  • It was the role of the superior (benefactor) to provide protection for the beneficiary.

The motivation that moved the benefactor to give assistance to the beneficiary was the free and good will of the benefactor. It was solely the choice of the benefactor to help the potential beneficiary or not, but accepting the gift meant accepting an obligation of loyalty and service to the benefactor.

In the New Testament it became know as Grace. God was the Benefactor for his people. Like the Roman-Greek world that Paul moved and lived, God was not compelled or required to respond to those who came to him for a benefit (indeed, we can make the case that God acted unmoved and unasked to bestow benefits on his people).

Grace then is the foundational understanding of how God related to his people. Unasked and unmoved, he bestowed benefits on his people, and expected a reciprocal relationship of loyalty and service in response to his grace. This is the motivation for the New Covenant and the sending of Jesus Christ to become a human being (If you want to understand this a little better, I suggest a few hours of reading Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics).

The second idea that comes into play is that of the steward. Peter applies the concept to God’s grace and the relationship between Christians. Each Christian receives Grace from God, which manifests itself in various ways. Each of us is called to be stewards of that grace, to act as brokers in a way. This means we are responsible to see that God’s grace is extended to every person, and that they experience that grace in real and meaningful way.

As we receive this grace from our benefactor, we are called upon to show loyalty and service to him, and to use that grace and as well as carry it to others.

The final result is that this will all amount to the glory of the benefactor. He will be honored and recognized for his generosity to his beneficiaries.

Finally, as brokers of his grace, we are to serve each other. The concept of the steward as it is used here is that I have been given a trust and a commission to use God’s grace in my life to minister to others. When we speak, we speak the very words of God; when we serve, we do so with the strength that God supplies.

And I must give accountability for all this someday.

This is why I like the concept of the steward better than leadership. For me, leadership moves the focus from God to me and what I can do for God, and how I can be used by God. Stewardship says that what I have is not my own, it has been given to me, and I have to respond to God’s gift of grace by my loyalty and service to him. When I do that, others benefit from his grace. If I do it as a leader, I have a great program as the result. I think lives count more.


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