MANAGE | OCT 30, 2021

When Stewardship Is Taken Too Far

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Leo Sabo

It's hard to imagine taking something like Biblical stewardship and overdoing it. How can someone be overcommitted to good stewardship or to doing too much to advance it? It's not only possible; likely, we've all done it at some point in one form or another.

Stewardship in the Christian context is managing everything God provides. God is the creator and the owner of all things. He's given man the responsibility of managing [being a steward of] his creation while He retains ownership. Everyone is a steward, and everyone will give an account of their stewardship, so we must understand what that means and how we are to live it out.

As I learned God's principles of managing money, I developed a genuine desire to embrace and live out these principles. Because we had suffered from taking on too much debt early in our marriage, my wife and I became laser-focused on removing debt from our lives. Each financial principle we were learning and implementing brought about more order and positively impacted our lives. Unlike my wife, who was just grateful for things to be better and less stressful, in my excitement, I wanted to share what I learned with everyone.

I feel bad for the people I tried to help early in my ministry efforts. In my eagerness to help people embrace these principles that had been so beneficial to me, I went overboard. I started teaching these Biblical financial principles through small groups, classes, and one-on-one coaching. Although my motivation was to help, my enthusiasm, coupled with my lack of experience, caused me to offer much knowledge and little grace or understanding.

Why is it that when we learn something, especially those who have a natural bent to teach, we act as experts on the topic? I wish that this was just me, but I know it's not. I have been on both the giving and receiving end of sharing knowledge without love. This is rooted in pride and feelings of superiority, something Paul directly spoke to in his first letter to the church in Corinth.

Paul emphasizes the role of the apostles as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. God had called and purposed Paul and other apostles and teachers to share the message of the gospel. They felt compelled by the Lord to share and steward this critical message. As they did, the Corinthians began to have division [forming sects] among themselves. Some were saying, "I am of Paul," or "I am of Apollos," or "I am of Cephas, "or "I am of Christ." (1 Corinthians 1:12)

This sectarianism, the devotion to a particular narrow tradition or belief, which Paul described as "carnal," was based on a perceived superior knowledge and wisdom, which the Corinthians claimed to possess. Because of their pride, they took the gospel's message and used their new positions to elevate themselves as better than others. Without realizing it, we can engage in similar behavior, all in the name of good stewardship.

A few years ago, while serving as a stewardship pastor, a member of our congregation saw me drive up in my 2001 Mercedes Coupe. Although 15 years old at that time, the car was in excellent condition and could easily pass for a vehicle much newer and more expensive than it was. His comment to me suggested I should not be driving a car that nice or that expensive.

Feeling that my response would not change his perception or make things any better, I said nothing. However, I would be lying if I didn't admit that I felt a bit frustrated about his comment. I had a few things I would have liked (ok, LOVED) to share with him. Like, the car was bought with cash, was well within my ability to afford and maintain, and it was worth one-third of the price of his SUV. I wanted to justify myself, to prove to him I was right, and more importantly, that he was wrong.

But, what if he wasn't wrong? What if this car didn't meet God's standard of good stewardship for me? The truth is, I can't confidently say, without any reservation, that that purchase was good stewardship. Although it met what I considered good stewardship criteria, only God can honestly answer that question, and that's the point. None of us are qualified to judge the stewardship of others, and when we do, we've taken stewardship too far. In our desire to do right and encourage others to do right, we create rules, living standards, and traditions that we impose on others.

Paul's insight regarding stewardship is very helpful in understanding our role as stewards, and in avoiding the potential to overdo it. Here's what he wrote:

"Now, a person who is put in charge as a manager must be faithful. As for me, it matters very little how I might be evaluated by you or by any human authority. I don't even trust my own judgment on this point. My conscience is clear, but that doesn't prove I'm right. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide. So don't make judgments about anyone ahead of time-before the Lord returns. For he will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives." - 1 Corinthians 4:2-5 NLT

Paul tells us that to be a good steward we must be faithful. He didn't think much of what others thought about his faithfulness. He didn't even trust his judgment on the matter, and neither should we. He knew that God alone would judge his actions and that God would do the same with every person. It wasn't part of his calling to evaluate and approve the faithful stewardship of others, nor is it ours.

There's a real need for financial discipleship and teaching people, especially the Body of Christ, to be good stewards. As for me, I'm committed to this calling, and I want to be found faithful. And although I get excited when I start sharing what I know on this important topic, I must remember, and I hope you will too, that "knowledge puffs up, but love edifies." (1 Corinthians 8:1) What we do matters, but why we do it matters more.

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