Stewardship: It’s NOT What You Think it Is, Part One


It’s About the Treasure!

1 Timothy 6:18, 19

According to the dictionary, the word “stewardship” means:

the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially : the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care <stewardship of our natural resources>

In our modern, politically correct society, when we hear that word we think automatically of the environment, however, “stewardship” is a powerful word that applies to our whole lives.  As God’s children, we are God’s servants and we serve Him by being good stewards of that which He has graciously given us.  We naturally think of things like money and time, but God has given us many blessings which He expects us to manage and look after.  Things like talents, character, our temperament, and many more things that come as “standard equipment” at birth, are given to us with the expectation that we will cultivate them, nurture them, in some cases control them; with the ultimate aim of glorifying God.

Interestingly, there is another purpose in the proper stewardship of that which God has given us.  According to Paul’s advice to Timothy, proper stewardship involves something for us

Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:18, 19)

The sentence, “In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves,” should be an exciting sentence for those of us who believe in the literal interpretation of Scripture!  Imagine every single Christian alive today has the potential of, upon their death, finding a veritable storehouse of wealth waiting for them on “the other side.”

But Paul wasn’t the only one who spoke of this.  Jesus taught about “laying up treasure in heaven” in Mark 10:21—

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Just what were Paul and Jesus getting at?  Is our “treasure in heaven” the same as the rewards believers will receive at the future Judgment Seat of Christ?

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.  (1 Corinthians 3:11—15)

In the case of the believer’s reward, it seems to be based, not necessarily on stewardship, but on the motivation of our service to God.  God weighs the attitudes and the reasons we do what we do in His Name so that we may rewarded, or not.  It seems that our “treasure” and our “reward” may be two different things.  If that is case, no wonder Paul wrote these stirring words—

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know!  (Philippians 1:21—22)

For Paul, death offered so much more than life.  Living provided him with more opportunities to work for the Lord, but death opened the door to not only being united with Christ, but also being united with the treasure he had sent on ahead.  We might call this “deferred gratification” of the highest degree!

1.  Contentment is the key, 6:6—10

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Although it sounds like Paul is preaching against money, or more specifically having too much of it, he is really teaching that we ought to be content with where we are at any given time in life.  The Greek word rendered “contentment” is autarkeia, and it is a classical Greek word meaning “a perfect condition of life, in which no aid or support is needed” (Thayer).   This word is seen in one other verse in the New Testament, where it is used objectively for “a sufficiency of the necessities of life”—

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.  (2 Corinthians 9:8)

Here, though, the thought seems to be that the truly godly person, while he does not despise money or wealth, is not interested in becoming rich.  Rather, the truly godly person possesses all he needs regardless of his station in life.   To this person, in poverty or prosperity, in sickness or health, in joy or sadness, Romans 8:28 means everything because they take it literally—

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Supernatural peace, contentment, and assurance of one’s position in Christ are among the greatest assets of the Christian life, and knowing this the truly godly person understands that nothing temporary, like earthly treasures, can compare to or satisfy the soul like the eternal treasures in heaven.  Paul expressed this godly attitude best when he wrote—

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  (Philippians 4:11)

Epicurus, the Greek philosopher, was once asked about the secret of contentment and his answer echoed Paul’s statement:

Add not to a man’s possessions but take away from his desires.

Or as Sinead O’Connor, songstress-philosopher of the modern era so eloquently put it:

I’m walking through the desert
and I am not frightened although it’s hot
I have all that I requested
and I do not want what I haven’t got.

I have learned this from my mother
see how happy she has made me.

It is important to read verse 6 properly and to remember that Paul is not a Greek Stoic philosopher, but a Christian evangelist; he is not against ambition or desire.  What he condemns is the desire to be rich.  The problem with desiring riches is that that desire, when unchecked, leads to other temptations and more dangerous desires.  William Hendriksen writes:

Sin never walks alone.  The desire to become rich causes the man who, in today’s terminology, is “an incarnation of fat dividends” to fall into numerous cravings.  One kind of craving leads to another.  The person who craves riches generally also yearns for honor, popularity, power, ease, etc.

So while ambition is not wrong, nor is desire properly directed, if it leads to selfish behavior and attitudes, then it is wrong because we become bad stewards of what God has given to us; namely of our time, our talents, and our own natural abilities.   If what we want are riches, then we will use what God has given us exclusively to that end.  Talk about selfishness!

If we are to be truly godly people, how “stripped down” and “simple” should our lives be?  According to Paul,  all the believer needs is life’s most basic necessities; things like food and clothing.  Of course, life is much more complex today than it was in Paul’s day, and it is not unreasonable to take broader view, yet remain prudent.  The Christian must remain ever on his guard against making the acquisition of money and things their reason for getting up in the morning.   In our 21st century life style, where it takes so much to have so little, these are perhaps the wisest words ever uttered—

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.   (Matthew 6:33)

2.  A foundation made of treasure, verses 17—19

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

Paul now turns from those who “desire to become rich” to address those who are rich.   Just as a sidelight, this section gives us a peak into the makeup of the early church.  We have a notion that the apostolic church was made up of the poor and of outcasts, but it is clear that, at least in the Ephesian church, that the congregations were quite diverse, having both the wealthy and the poor, the masters and the slaves all worshiping together.

The first few words in this paragraph are rich in meaning; when the apostle uses the phrase “rich in this present world,” he is planting a seed in the minds of his readers that  this world is transitory and therefore what this world offers is also transitory.   The wealth of the affluent is not permanent; it can be lost.  But the temptation of having wealth is to think the exact opposite is true.  When we have, for example, a good pension plan we think we will be safe in our retirement.  When we have a good health care plan, we don’t worry about getting sick.  It’s amazing how much trust we place in things that can vanish without warning and are dependent on so many variables; many have found out how tenuous their grasp on the future is when the most recent recession wiped out their retirement funds.

In fact, good retirement plans and health care plans are wonderful and can be considered as blessings from the Lord, but God wants us to put our trust in Him.  God, not our employers and certainly not the government, is the One who “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”  God’s motives are pure:  He gives us our wealth for our enjoyment, not for our worship.   The word “enjoyment” is from the Greek word apolausin, which is a rare word, complex in meaning.  Simply stated, apolausin refers to the enjoyment one experiences that come from within the structure of God’s will.  In other words, there is nothing wrong with enjoying the good things of life, but the believer must realize those good things have been given him by God.

With wealth comes a heavy responsibility, however.  When one has much, much is expected in return.  The wealthy are to use their money, not to live a life of leisure, but to “do good.”  Retirement is a modern notion and not a Biblical concept whatsoever.  What Paul is describing here is a divinely ordained obligation.  If God has given us much, then we are obligated to help those in need.  John Wesley’s famous words are appropriate:

Gain all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.

There never is a time when a believer can stop working for the Lord.  Going to church is not working for God.  Being involved in some sort of ministry that spreads the Gospel is serving God.  Working to meet the needs of others is serving God.  Money cannot buy salvation, but proper stewardship of money can and does build a Christ-like character and may enable one to more firmly take hold of eternal life.

The reason why being generous with ones money is linked to something as spiritual as eternal life is obscure, but clear when we understand that the wealthy are told by Paul to be “willing to share.”  This phrase in the NIV, comes from a single Greek word, koinonikos, which is seen only here in the New Testament, and therefore worthy of our attention.  It’s root should be familiar: koinonia, meaning “fellowship” and “communion.”  By using koinonikos, Paul is suggesting that when one is generous with their money, they are generous with their hearts, and this combination of generosity is obviously something that pleases God because these generous believers will be doubly blessed:  first, they are laying up for themselves treasure in heaven, which is the foundation of their eternity, and second, because of their generous hearts they will be able to hold on to real life; a new life from God which alone is true and everlasting.   Their attitude toward money helps makes their faith in eternity secure.


Without a doubt, salvation is entire by grace through faith—

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.  (Ephesians 2:8)

[H]e saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.  (Titus 3:5)

But both our future reward and our treasure in heaven will be according to how we lived our lives on earth.  Did we do good works God, or did we live only to indulge ourselves?  Were we good stewards of the time allotted us, or did we treat time frivolously?  Did we use our talents and abilities for good, in service to God, or to just “get ahead?”

Stewardship is not what you think it is.  Stewardship, as we have learned, is all about our treasure in heaven.  Now, who does not want a treasure?

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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