Stewardship of the Gospel
Pr. Thomas Cherian
Many hold on to the New Testament’s emphasis on grace, but we need to realise that God has enlisted us for certain duties-not a requirement of salvation, but a result of salvation through the work of His Spirit in us. In this article, we take a look at our duty toward our Master Jesus Christ by understanding stewardship and one of the most important duties of our Christian walk, i.e., our duty toward His Word. As we all know, the Lord has magnified His Word above all, along with His name (Psalm 138:2).
Etymology of the word-steward
Three Hebrew phrases used in the Old Testament describe asteward, they are:
1. ha'ish `al bayith (Genesis 43:16,19;I Kings 16:9), which is conveniently translated ‘steward’, but literally means man over the house;
2. ha-mel’tzar (Daniel 1:11), which means a steward of persons;
3. ha-sokhen (Isaiah 22:15), which is translated as treasurer.
In Galatians 4:2, the Greek terms epitropousandoikonomous denote guardianship of people, i.e., a child's legal representative, or a person with authority to manage a household or property. They are charged with the responsibility of conducting it. Many stewards were no doubt slaves, as is implied in Matthew 24:45, while others were freedmen (Luke 16:1-15).
From the above etymological descriptions, a steward can be defined as a responsible person who is entrusted with a very important task.
Stewards of the Gospel
In I Corinthians 4:1, 2, the application of this term is largely confined to the ministry of the gospel. Paul and his fellow-labourers regarded themselves as stewards of God’s mysteries. Here, Paul is focusing on the idea of taking meticulous care of that which was entrusted to him, and sharing it with others faithfully, as directed by his Master Jesus Christ. An overseer is expected to be a steward of God’s work (Titus 1:7). Peter considered himself and all other Christians as "stewards of the manifold grace of God” (I Peter 4:10). Although the steward’s role is uncommon today, it was very common in Biblical times (Genesis 15:2;1 Kings 16:9; Daniel 1:11; Matthew 20:8).
As the discussions above imply, we understand that a steward is the one whom a master puts in charge to watch over his valued possessions. As true Christians, we are stewards that have been put in charge by our Lord Jesus, over many vital possessions - time, talents, money, family, fellow-men, our own souls, church and gospel.
Among all the responsibilities, the Gospel is the most valued of all that is expected to be entrusted to a born-again believer. Paul presents the apostles, who are approved of God, as the stewards of the gospel, which is the good news of Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 2:4). Paul claims that God had entrusted him with the gospel as a steward (Romans 1:1; Ephesians 3:6-7).
Characteristics of a steward of the Gospel
Let’s now understand the phrase ‘stewards of the gospel’ from a biblical point of view to apply it in our personal lives. Gospel, in this article, is to be understood as the good news of Jesus Christ as mentioned across the Bible. What are the characteristics of a steward of the Gospel? How can one claim to be a steward of the Gospel?
Following are some distinctive qualities, which true born-again Christians must demonstrate, as stewards of the Gospel:
1. Sense of divine obligation: Stewardship is divinely in-built in our lives as true born-again believers. We are always divinely directed and obliged to preach the good news and mind you, not for a salary (Matthew 28:18-19). Paul wrote, “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of; for necessity is laid upon me; for woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel. For if I do this of mine own will, I have a reward: but if not of mine own will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me” (1 Corinthians 9:16-17).
2. Consider it a privilege: The gospel is God’s most prized and precious possession given to any child of God. We must understand that it is a great privilege and honour to be stewards of the gospel. Preaching the gospel is the greatest duty we have. A true believer should feel excited and thrilled, and not ashamed to share the gospel with others. Remember, we are termed, the ambassadors of Christ, and God makes His appeal through us (2 Corinthians 5:20). Such a mind-set can change our whole perspective towards missions and the mission field.
3. Attitude of careful handling: Expensive materials such as pearls and stones are always taken care of with utmost importance. How much more should it be when it comes to deal with the gospel of Jesus Christ? Paul describes the gospel as, “the gospel of the glory of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust (1 Timothy 1:11).”Therefore, it should be treasured and not trivialised or undermined. In other words, it should not be modified in any way, shape or form based on our convenience and interests. Hence, God is looking for highly responsible believers to handle His Word with utmost care.
4. Need to be faithful: A steward should be faithful or true to life. Paul entrusted Timothy with the gospel because he found him faithful. He advises Timothy to further entrust it to faithful men (2 Timothy 2:2). The word translated “faithful” (Greek:pistois) here means trusted, reliable or trustworthy. The word translated “men” (Greek:anthropois) refers to both men and women. If we are not faithful in sharing the gospel, then God will hesitate to entrust us with greater responsibilities (Luke 16:10). Can God find a reliable steward in us?
5. Must be passionate about God’s Word: Passion must lead one to aspire to study His Word deeply, since God has given us the gospel to know and understand it (Ephesians 3:4). Paul advises Timothy to devoutly study the Word of God (1 Timothy 4:13). One should fall in love with scripture and meditate on it day and night (Psalm 1:2). Systematic study will help us rightly divide God’s Word (2 Tim.2:15); without this we cannot claim to be a good steward of the gospel. It is observed that many church members are perishing because pastors are not serious students of the Word of God (cf. Hosea 4:6). That is why it is said - ‘Dead preachers are preaching dead sermons to dead church members.’
6. Trust in the power of the gospel: Knowledge of God’s Word is not enough, one must also believe in its power. God expects us to believe and accept His Word. Indeed, the gospel is powerful, but its power is available only to those who believe it (Romans 1:16).
Reading, studying and knowing the gospel isn’t enough. Even the devil knows it very well. Unless we believe that it has the power to save (Ephesians 1:13), it will only produce big-headed scholars with a tiny heart of faith. Thus, many have unfortunately either lost interest in preaching the true and full gospel or have started imitating the style of other preachers.
7. Should live the gospel: Born-again believers show their love for God’s Word and demonstrate stewardship of the gospel by living the gospel. According to Chris Reeves, ‘Christ’s gospel is not merely an academic exercise of study or a philosophical theory to muse about. We are not to simply say that we love the gospel, we are to live the gospel (1 John 3:18). Each day a Christian is to apply and practice the gospel. We must read, hear and keep the things that are written in the gospel (Revelation 1:3). The steward should live in such a way that their very life becomes the gospel of Jesus.
8. Advance the Gospel: Advancing means to press forward by all possible and genuine means. A Christian should be instrumental in pressing forward with the gospel. It should be done by preaching to the lost and teaching the saved (Matthew 24:14; Hebrews 5:12). All Christians must have a desperate longing to share the gospel (Romans 1:14-16) and look for all opportunities to preach it (2 Corinthians 2:12). Christians should be prepared to defend it (Philippians 1:7) by standing up for truth. Faithful stewards may have to suffer for the gospel (2 Timothy 1:8). This may even cost our own life.
9. Willing to support those in the fields: True stewards should try their best to support those in the ministry of the gospel. We know that a human being is made of a tripartite union—body, mind and spirit. Thus, every minister is in need of holistic (physical, emotional and spiritual)support. A strong prayer cover is a big need for those in the forefront of the spiritual battlefield. I sincerely request everyone to intercede intensively for ministers, as these are evil days. Encourage those who are feeling rejected, lonely and persecuted. Church needs people like Barnabas, who was instrumental in bringing Paul to the forefront. Finally, it is the duty of God’s children to generously help those who have physical needs (Philippians 1:5, 4:15-18). It is suggested that we may locate genuine and needy ministers globally and support them as true stewards of the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:14).
A steward of the gospel is a born-again believer, who can inculcate the above mentioned characteristics. Many people who started off well have shipwrecked their journey as stewards of the gospel. This may be due to various circumstances, improper guidance or casual lifestyles. May the Lord Almighty enable us to demonstrate the stewardship of the gospel by knowing it, believing it, loving it, living it and promoting it; and may the passion to save perishing souls increase in us!May we be found as “faithful and wise stewards” when the Lord returns (Luke 12:42-44).