Stewardship is one of the well-worn words of Christendom.  The word evokes a lot of different thoughts, but I think most Christians get the essence of stewardship wrong. 

They believe that if you give God a bit of what you have, then you have been a good steward, and the rest is yours to do with as you please.  They equate stewardship with “tithing.”

So today, as we approach the end of tax season,  when most of us think about how we’ve handled our money in the past year, let’s consider what the Bible really tells us about stewardship by examining the parable of the talents in Matthew 25.

Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like a man who goes on a journey and entrusts his possessions to his servants. Christ wants His disciples to understand that He, the Master, plans to entrust them (and ultimately you and me) with kingdom resources.  And when He returns, He will hold us accountable for how we handle them.

The servant who was given five talents went out at once and put those talents to work.  Biblical stewardship has a sense of urgency to it; it is not lazy or undisciplined. A good steward proactively invests what God has given to him or her with the goal of seeing the best possible return for the kingdom.

You may remember the rest of the story. The first two servants double what they have been given. The third, afraid of losing the talent entrusted to him, hid the money while his Master was gone.

I think a lot of Christians define stewardship by how well they save money, but that is not good stewardship.

You can save a lot of money but fail miserably as God’s steward because you have lost the opportunity for impact.  That does not mean we should be foolish and irresponsible in how we spend money.  But it does mean that the highest value in stewardship is not what you have saved, but how well you have used what has been entrusted to you.

Stewardship is defined by risk, not by playing it safe.

People of faith understand that investing in God’s kingdom is worth the personal risk.  And they are willing to take the risk of reducing their personal financial position in order to make an investment that will have an impact and return for eternity.

But I believe most Christians today do not really risk when they give.  They play it safe. Research shows that only 2 percent or so of household income in the U.S. is given to charity – by Christians.

This type of giving is based on the premise that only a portion of what we have belongs to God, and that is what we will give to Him – after we’ve met our other expenses.

But that’s not the biblical model of stewardship.  It is based on an understanding that what we have is ALL His, and He trusts us to invest it for the best possible return for the kingdom.

That doesn’t mean that a nice house and car are necessarily bad. They may, in fact, lead to advancing the kingdom in a way that makes them a great eternal investment.  And God tells us in Ecclesiastes that when He gives wealth, He also gives the power to enjoy it.

But the risk of stewardship comes down to priorities. We need to ask ourselves: “Am I unwilling to risk giving too much of my money away to advance God’s kingdom work?”

The best stewards have the Master’s interests at heart, not their own, and are willing to risk their own agenda and desires to invest heavily to get the best possible return for Him. Stewardship operates in the freedom of God’s trust, not in the fear of failure.

At the end of the parable, the Master rewarded the best steward with the talent of the one who was sent packing.  Why? Because he had proven himself faithful.

Rest assured, if you are a good steward of what God has given you, you will be given more to make an even greater impact for God’s kingdom.

This commentary is adapted from “Secure: Discovering True Security in Turbulent Financial Times” by Rick Dunham. He is the President and CEO of Dunham+Company, which helps ministries with their marketing and fundraising needs.

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