The Steward Mentality

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I still remember the day that I became an adult, or at least the day that I first felt like an adult. It was May 7, 2003. The reason that day is connected to adulthood for me is because it was the day that I first took ownership of something. In particular it was the day that I bought my first car.
When I left the car dealership that afternoon I knew three things. First, I knew that my name and not one of my parents’ names was on the title. Second, I knew that the payments would be drafted from my bank account and not my parents’ bank account. And, third, I knew that every drop of fuel, every service appointment, every necessary repair was my responsibility and not my parents’ responsibility. Thus, for all intents and purposes that car was my car.
Now if you were paying close attention you may have picked up on the fact that I financed that first car. I know what you are thinking—financing a car is not the same as owning a a car. I understand that now, but twenty-three year old me did not. The reality that I did not fully comprehend back then was that the finance corporation who approved my loan owned the car until I paid them back. In fact, it would be sixty months before the title would be in my possession, and I would be the sole owner of the vehicle. Until then I essentially operated as a steward of the vehicle that the finance corporation allowed me to use.

What is the Difference Between an Owner and a Steward?

An owner is the one who possesses proprietary rights and, as a result, is the one who benefits from and is responsible for the property.
There are three basic ways to obtain ownership:
You can obtain ownership through a purchase.
When you purchase a piece of property you receive a deed indicating your ownership of that property. When you purchase a vehicle you receive a title indicating your ownership of that vehicle. When you purchase some sort of goods you likely receive a bill of sale or receipt that indicates your ownership of those items. In such circumstances, ownership is secured through a transaction.
You can obtain ownership through a gift.
Ownership can be inherited, passed down, or gifted. Such transfer of ownership occurs when a loved one passes away and leaves instructions via a will that declares who is to receive ownership of what he or she leaves behind. Such transfer of ownership also occurs when one individual gives a gift to another individual during the celebration of a birthday, holiday, or a life changing event like a wedding or baby shower.
You can obtain ownership is by creating something.
This is ownership by origination. If you build a piece of furniture then you are the owner of that furniture. If you create something that will be shared with the public then you may need to obtain a patent, if it is an invention, a copyright, if it is a work of art, or a trademark, if it is a brand, to declare your ownership. Such government issued declarations of ownership protect your creation from being plagiarized.
Throughout the Bible, the most frequently used term in reference to this role is Master.
A “master” appears in several of Jesus’ parables…
A master appears in the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18:23-35) and a comparison is made to the “heavenly Father” in verse 35.
A master appears in the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16).
A master appears in the Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21:33-44) and a comparison is made to “the kingdom of God” in verse 43.
A master appears in the Parable of the Watchful Servants (Luke 12:35-40) and a comparison is made to the coming of the Son of Man in verse 40.
A master appears in the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Servants (Matthew 24:45-51; Luke 12:42-48).
A master appears in the Parable of the Shrewd Manager (Luke 16:1-13).
A master appears in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) and a comparison is made to “the kingdom of heave” in verse 14 which references back to verse 1.
In fact, God is referred to as our “Master” in Ephesians 6:9 (“Masters,… stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him”) and Colossians 4:1 (“Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven”).
A steward is one who has been entrusted with the management of another’s property and, as a result, is subservient to the owner.
The Greek noun translated steward is oijkonovmoß, which refers to “manager, superintendent (whether free-born or as was usually the case, a freed-man or a slave) to whom the head of the house or proprietor has entrusted the management of his affairs, the care of receipts and expenditures, and the duty of dealing out the proper portion to every servant and even to the children not yet of age" [1]
The Greek verb which refers to the activity of stewardship is oijkonomevw, which means to “manage, regulate, administer, plan.” [2]
We see several stewards in Scripture:
David had “stewards” who were “over all the substance and possessions of the king and of his sons” (1 Chronicles 28:1 NKJV).
Daniel was under the oversight of a “steward” when he arrived in Babylon (Daniel 1:11, 16 NKJV).
Joanna, a female follower of Jesus, was the wife of Herod Antipas’ steward (Luke 8:3 NKJV).
But the best example of someone fulfilling the role of a steward is that of Joseph. Joseph was Potiphar’s steward. Scripture says that Potiphar “put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned” (Genesis 39:5). To help us understand the magnitude of Joseph’s responsibility and the depth of Potiphar’s trust in him Scripture adds that Potiphar “left everything he had in Joseph’s care; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate” (Genesis 39:6). Joseph acknowledging his position proclaimed, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am” (Genesis 39:8-9).

What are We—Owner or Steward?

We are not owners because God owns everything.
Consider for a moment whether or not you can truly claim ownership for anything. Everything points back to God’s ownership because God did one of three things: 1) He created it (or the means for us to create it), 2) He gifted it to us, or 3) He purchased it for us.
Do you own the property on which you live or does that property actually belong to God who “created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1)? Do you own the money in your bank account or does God who created the natural resources that give our currency value and who created the human mind that developed systems of financial exchange?
The Bible is replete with references to God’s ownership.
Hebrews 2:10 states that “all things exist” “for Him and by Him.”
When Paul addressed the philosophers in Athens he referenced a statue “To the Unknown God” then proceeded to tell them about the God they did not know, referring to Him as “The God who made the world and everything in it” (Acts 17:23-24).
We are stewards because God owns us!
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 4:1 (ESV), “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” In other words, he assigned us the identity of servants who functions as stewards of what God has given us.
The Bible unapologetically refers to Jesus’ disciples as doulos (doulos). Doulos is a Greek term that can be translated as “servant” or “slave.”
In Romans 6:22 Paul said that we who “have been set free from sin…have become slaves of God.”
In 1 Peter 2:16, Peter challenged us to “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” Our identity as a doulos is a reminder that we own nothing, that we are in service to the King, that we are of an inferior status.
The identity of a servant was the most prevalent identity adopted by the New Testament authors.
Paul referred to himself as “a servant of Christ Jesus” in Romans 1:1 and “a servant of God” in Titus 1:1. In Philippians 1:1, Timothy shared this title with Paul. James (James 1:1), Peter (2 Peter 1:1), Jude (Jude 1:1), and John (Revelation 1:1) also refer to themselves with this title. Paul referred to Phoebe (Romans 16:1), Apollos (1 Corinthians 3:5), Epaphras (Colossians 1:7), and Tychicus (Colossians 4:7) as a “servant.”
Paul could have emphasized his identity as an apostle, missionary, or author of half the New Testament. Peter could have emphasized his identity as an apostle, elder, or first gospel preacher. John could have emphasized his identity as an apostle, author of the biography of Jesus, or the caretaker of Jesus’s mother. James could have emphasized his identity as the brother of Jesus, an elder of the church in Jerusalem, or the guy who authored the Jerusalem council letter.
In Titus 1:1 Paul referred to himself as “a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ.” In 2 Peter 1:1 Peter referred to himself as “a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ.” Notice which identity they identified first. Apostleship took a backseat to servanthood.

What are the Implications of Being a Steward?

May Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 4:2 (ESV) serve as our guide through this study—“it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.” What does it mean for a steward to be faithful?
To answer this question we need to take a look at the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). Jesus began this parable by saying that the kingdom of heaven “will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property” (Matthew 25:14). There are two things worth noting in this introductory verse.
First, this story is addressing a kingdom issue just like the Parable of the Ten Virgins that preceded it (Matthew 25:1-13).
Second, the property is clearly identified as the master’s and he was entrusting it to his servants. In other words, there is a stewarding function happening in this parable.
Read Matthew 25:14-30
What do we learn about stewardship from the Parable of the Talents?
Stewards must be singularly devoted.
It is evident that the “Five Talent” servant and the “Two Talent” servant were singularly devoted to the Master. Their only objective was to do what would benefit the Master. Did you notice how quickly these two servants began their stewarding activities? The text says in Matthew 25:16 (ESV) that “He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them” then in the very next verse we’re told “So also he who had the two talents.” They made stewardship their top priority.
But not so with the “One Talent” servant. His interests were divided. He was not singularly devoted to serving his master; instead, he prioritized his own self-preservation. Listen to his response to the master in Matthew 25:24-25.
“Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.”
Did you notice how many first person pronouns he used in his conversation with the master? For the “One Talent” servant, it wasn’t about the master; it was about himself.
The point is a steward cannot have mixed allegiances. A steward must be singularly devoted to the service of the Master.
That’s why Jesus said in Luke 16:13 (ESV),
“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”
That’s why Jesus expects His disciples to “deny” themselves before they can “follow” him (Luke 9:23). That’s why the Greatest Command is “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30 ESV).
Stewards must be intentionally useful.
As the parable goes, the master gave one servant five talents, one servant two talents, and a third servant one talent. Two of the recipients of the master’s talents—the one with five talents and the one with two talents—took the resources they had received and utilized them for profit. They took their talents and worked in such a fashion as to gain more talents. As a result, they each doubled their master’s financial interests through their efforts. So, when the master returned to examine the results of his investments he told these two individuals, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21, 23).
But then there is this lone, one talent servant. He received less resources than the other servants, but it’s worth noting that the master distributed the resources “to each according to his ability” (Matthew 25:15). In other words, the servants were not expected to achieve the same results. They were given varying levels of resources because they possessed varying degrees of ability. The only thing that was the same was the expectation that the resources be used. This is supported by the fact that the master questioned the one talent servant as to why he did not at the very least invest the money with the bankers so that he would accrue interest (Matthew 25:27). The problem was that the one talent servant simply hid his resource. He did not use it, and as a result he did not increase it. The one talent servant deliberately choose the lazy alternative because he was afraid of the rejection that might come if he proved unsuccessful.
Now notice the response of the master to the one talent servant’s decision in Matthew 25:26-30. The master called the servant who hid the talent “wicked,” “lazy,” and “worthless,” and deemed him unfit to receive a reward. He even ordered that this servant be “throw[n]…into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The Bible does not mince words about failed stewardship. The Bible identifies it as a sin, and, more importantly, the Bible identifies eternal punishment as its consequence.
The point is a steward cannot be lazy.
In Romans 12:4-8 Paul wrote,
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
In 2 Timothy 2:20-21 Paul wrote,
Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. 21 Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.
In 1 Peter 4:10-11 (ESV), Peter said,
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies--in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.
Stewards must be constantly ready.
So the master in this parable “called his servants and entrusted to them his property” based on each servant’s “ability" (Matthew 25:14-15). That’s the extent of the introduction we are given to this story. Nowhere does the text indicate that this Master gave them a timetable. He didn’t say, “You have until the end of the week” or “I’ll give you a fiscal year” or “I’m returning on such and such date so be ready.” Once the assignment and resources were divvied out the servants were on their own without any idea of a timetable to complete their mission.
And guess what, the master didn’t return quickly while the assignment was fresh on their mind. Jesus said, “Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them” (Matthew 25:19). That means he returned when they weren’t expecting him, when they had had the opportunity to get comfortable, when enough time had elapsed that they could have forgotten the assignment. Two of the servants were prepared for this unexpected return but one was not.
The point is a steward must be ready to give an account to his Master at all times. Jesus frequently preached this.
In the Parable of the Watchful Servants (Luke 12:35-37 ESV), Jesus said,
“Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, 36 and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes.”
Then concluded with the words, “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Luke 12:40 ESV).
In the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Servant (Luke 12:42-48 ESV), Jesus said,
“Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? 43 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 44 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 45 But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, 46 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful.”
In the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13 ESV), Jesus said,
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’”
Jesus concluded this parable with the words, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:13 ESV)


ILLUSTRATION: When the Wind Blows (
Years ago a farmer owned land along the Atlantic seacoast. He constantly advertised for hired hands. Most people were reluctant to work on farms along the Atlantic. They dreaded the awful storms that raged across the Atlantic, wreaking havoc on the buildings and crops.
As the farmer interviewed applicants for the job, he received a steady stream of refusals. Finally, a short, thin man, well past middle age, approached the farmer.
"Are you a good farmhand?" the farmer asked him.
"Well, I can sleep when the wind blows," answered the little man.
Although puzzled by this answer, the farmer, desperate for help, hired him.
The little man worked well around the farm, busy from dawn to dusk, and the farmer felt satisfied with the man's work.
Then one night the wind howled loudly in from offshore. Jumping out of bed, the farmer grabbed a lantern and rushed next door to the hired hand's sleeping quarters.
He shook the little man and yelled, "Get up! A storm is coming! Tie things down before they blow away!”
The little man rolled over in bed and said firmly, "No sir. I told you, I can sleep when the wind blows.”
Enraged by the response, the farmer was tempted to fire him on the spot.
Instead, he hurried outside to prepare for the storm. To his amazement, he discovered that all of the haystacks had been covered with tarpaulins. The cows were in the barn, the chickens were in the coops, and the doors were barred. The shutters were tightly secured. Everything was tied down.
Nothing could blow away. The farmer then understood what his hired hand meant when he said, “I can sleep when the wind blows.” It meant that he was always prepared.
[1] Thayer and Smith. "Greek Lexicon entry for Oikonomos". "The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon". . 1999.
[2] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1979), 559.
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