1. Define stewardship. How does it differ from ownership?
A steward is one who is entrusted with the responsibility of caring for and managing another’s property, finances, business, etc. It differs from ownership in that the property by rights belongs to another. The biblical concept is the idea of a manager or guardian. Stewardship then is the responsibility of one entrusted to manage another’s affairs without the inherent rights given to the one who owns the house, business, property, etc. The steward can make claims to his authority to manage only on the basis of the owner’s wishes. He is indebted to handling the everyday affairs in a way that reflect the owner’s desires.
2. Genesis 1:25-31. God gave mankind dominion over the world. What does this mean? How do we practice this dominion over the world?
The climax of creation came at the creation of man. Mankind was the only part of creation characterized as reflecting the nature of God. He was created in God’s image and likeness. He was the most noble of God’s creatures, dwelling in a garden especially made for him. Man was not left without responsibilities. God commanded him not only to fill the earth through propagation, but to “have dominion” and “rule”. Theses ideas were closely linked to being made in the likeness of God, in that how man ruled was dictated by God’s nature: he ruled like God ruled. The Hebrew words for “have dominion” and “rule” can be defined in both a negative and positive sense. It is determined by context. The way mankind was to rule was determined by how he viewed God as a ruler.
Adam and Eve were commanded to care for the earth as God cares for it. They were to rule in a way that respected the beauty and wonders of God’s handiwork. They were to use the gifts God gave to them as they were meant to be used and were not to seek to satiate their desires but God’s. They were to understand that creation was good because of God’s creative power and they function the way God intended for them to function. It was God’s creation and he reminds Adam and Eve by letting them know that they would only survive in it by his power (vvs. 29-30). Even Israel had to respect the idea that even though God gave them the land of promise, they could not simply take from it whenever and whatever they desired. The sabbatical year in Leviticus 25:1-7 demanded that Israel gave the land time to “rest”. In Deuteronomy 22:6-7, God commanded Israel to leave the mother bird if they came upon a fallen nest with the mother and her young. If the people of Israel made extinction a practice, there would be no more food in the land for them. The concept of preservation of species is not foreign to scripture.
This calls for a healthy respect for the world today. We as Christians have ecological responsibilities. It is true that the resources of the world were given to us for our benefit, but to benefit us in the way God intended, not to satiate our greed and lusts. We are not here to destroy our natural resources for our pleasure. We are here to enjoy God’s creation and rule in a way that reflects God the creator and ruler.
3. When God created the world, he called all things “good”. What did that mean? Mankind then fell and brought sin and corruption into the world. Has that, in your opinion, affected the idea that all things are “good”? What has the fall of man done to the idea of man having dominion over the world? How do we abuse that responsibility (cf. Romans 1:22-23)?
The Hebrew term for “good” is too ambiguous to determine the meaning by the word alone. It can describe appearance or function. It is probable that in this context it refers to both. God acknowledges that his creation functions in the way he intended it to function and that it was pleasing to his eyes (beautiful). It was his creation made for the benefit of man, and it was good in that it fulfilled that role also. But this was all before the Fall.
We all recognize the division that took place between both man and God and man and woman when sin entered the world, but there was another relationship damaged. Man and creation became divided. Man would no longer toil for his food without experiencing hard labor (Genesis 3:17-19). Paul, in Romans 8:18-22, claims that sin subjugated the world to futility and it longs for man to be redeemed so it can be released. Man brought sin into the world and tainted God’s creation. In Jeremiah 4:23-26, the prophet describes Judah’s sin as unraveling the very fabric of the created world. That is what sin does, it destroys.
Not only did man taint God’s beautiful world, but he abused it. In Romans 3, God gave up mankind because he turned to creation itself and formed gods out of precious metals and wood. He took the gifts of God and made them into gods. He formed gods in his own image to justify his perverse lifestyle. What the Lord had given man as a divine gift from his creative hands, man used it for his own pleasure. Greed and idolatry had come into the world and man looked at God’s creation in a terrifying, new way.
4. Leviticus 25:23; Deuteronomy 9:1-6; Psalms 24:1; 89:11-12. God gave Israel the land as a gift, but constantly reminded them it belonged to him. What implications did this have for Israel? What does this mean for us as we continue to receive material blessings from God today? Do we really own anything?
The land belonged to God. Israel was his steward. God expected them to
live within the land the same way Adam and Eve were to live in the garden, but now as people in a world of pagans and sin. They were to live in light of God’s revelation and his will found in the Law. The land was God’s to give and he gave it to Israel. Not because they deserved it, but because he loved them and ultimately, he used them to work out his plan: the redemption of mankind through the Christ. And as long as they were in the land, they were to use it and its produce the way he intended it to be used. By not doing this, it not only reflected a negative image for Israel, but effected Yahweh’s reputation as well. His name was to be regarded as holy and righteous. Israel could make no claims to their property as owners, but as stewards of God, living in a land God had won for them and not their own military prowess. They were to be thankful to God for his generosity and love expressed to them in his gifts.
5. 1 Chronicles 29:11-12. Wealth and honor have one source: God. What attitude should we take regarding our possessions because of this? How does this affect our use of them?
If God is the source of all wealth and honor, then he is the one we must honor with that which he has blessed us. God has all things in his grasp, but does not hold onto them because they are his, but freely opens his hand to his people and allows them to enjoy his possessions. He alone gives us what we have If we make claim to having things based on our own abilities, resources or power, then we do not honor and respect the One who gives us all things. David recognized this in this psalm in the book of 1 Chronicles. He had no room to boast about his success, nor do we. It is the Lord we praise and honor for all the good things we have, not our parents, jobs, the stock market, our stockbrokers, etc.
The context of this prayer is David presenting his son, Solomon, to the leaders of Israel as the one whom God ordained to build the temple. David called for them to offer gifts toward the building of the temple as he did. David offered large sums from his own personal treasury and reminded the leaders that his success and prosperity could only be attributed to God. He acknowledges that all things belong to God and it is only through the Lord’s generosity that he has anything to give. How could he deny giving to the building of this “temple” (literally in Hebrew “palace, fortress”), that would be the house of God? How could he deny giving to a God that was so generous to him, to allow him the honor of being a steward over his kingdom?.
6. Psalms 50:7-15. All the gifts we give to God are really his. We merely return to him a portion of what he gives to us. What then is the purpose in giving to him what he already owns?
The power of this psalm is immense. The primary intention is to remind Israel of the real essence of sacrifice. The false view Israel had was reflective of the pagan notion of sacrifice. Many pagan religions believed that sacrifices were food for the gods. For example, in the Babylonian flood story, a man named Utnapishtim was saved by the god Ea, when another god, Enlil, decided to flood the world because man was too noisy. Utnapishtim (Babylon’s version of Noah) built a boat and was saved from drowning. When he finally found dry land, he exited his boat and offered sacrifices. The gods swarmed around it like flies because they were starving. They had nearly destroyed mankind and cut off their suppliers. The language in this psalm reflects such an attitude among Israel. There is no evidence that Israel actually believed they fed God and he was dependent on them for his sustenance, so it is unlikely that that is the intended meaning. What the psalmist suggested is that Israel’s view of sacrifice was no different that those of the pagan worshippers. Just as the pagans believed they could manipulate the gods with their offerings, so did Israel. The Israelites believed that because they offered sacrifices, they would be deemed as worshipers of God, despite their lifestyle. They gave priority to the ritual rather than the quality of the worshiper. Giving their tithes, offerings or first fruits, however, said little about their devotion. It was the life that accompanied them that God deemed important.
Couched within this idea is a powerful statement made by the Lord that all the earth was his. Nothing Israel gave to him was theirs to begin with. They were simply returning a portion of what he already owned. So why give at all if he already owns it?
First, it reflects an attitude of conviction to God and not to things. We must prove to God that we are not too attached to his gifts, but we are dedicated to the Giver. Letting go of our things is more valuable than holding onto them. Second, it reflects the heart of God. It shows that we, like God, are generous. Third, we show God that we know how to be good stewards. This can only be done when we give the way God intends for us to give and we see that giving to God includes giving to each other, especially the needy.
7. Jeremiah 29:7; 1 Peter 2:11-3:7. How are we as God’s people to live in the world? How does this affect our acquisition and use of our possessions?
The people of Judah had been taken captive and were living as exiles (a large number of them) in Babylon. They were away from the land of promise and no longer had the temple in which they could offer sacrifices and worship. Jeremiah told them not to despair in their current condition, but to realize the temporary nature of it. They would soon return, but in the meantime, they were to “seek the welfare (shalom) of the city.” They were to live as strangers, but to make certain they did all they could to benefit the people they lived among. 1 Peter addresses the same idea. We as Christian should not settle for this world when so much more is to come. We are not at home, but we do have responsibilities. We must do the best we can with what we have to honor God and benefit others.
We also need to realize that all this stuff can be dangerous. It can persuade us to settle down and feel complete. It can turn our attention away from our goal: seeking the redemption of mankind to God through Christ. It can force our hearts away from yearning for Jesus’ return. We must accept the fact that we are strangers here. We cannot accept the idea of living as God’s people in a world corrupted by sin, when we have so much promised to us by our loving Father and our Savior. We must not allow our possessions to draw us away from our goal, but use them in a way that leads us closer to God and helps us see the need for a new heaven and a new earth. This world is not our home. We will not be at home until Jesus returns to take us there.
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