“You do not belong to yourselves.”—1 COR. 6:19.
1. The world in general has what view of independence?
SOME 2,500 years ago, a Greek playwright wrote: “No one willingly wears the yoke of slavery.” Many today would readily agree with that statement. Slavery evokes images of people oppressed and in bondage, whose work and sacrifices bring benefits, not to themselves, but to those who own and dominate them.
2, 3. (a) What position do willing slaves, or servants, of Christ enjoy? (b) What questions about stewardship will we consider?
2 Yet, Jesus indicated that his disciples would be humble servants, or slaves. There is nothing demeaning or oppressive, though, about this slavery involving true Christians. These slaves enjoy a position of honor, trust, and respect. Consider, for example, the comments Jesus made about one “slave” shortly before His death. Christ foretold that he would assign duties to a “faithful and discreet slave.”—Matt. 24:45-47.
3 It is significant that in a parallel account, that slave is called a “steward.” (Read Luke 12:42-44.) Most faithful Christians now alive are not members of that faithful steward class. However, the Scriptures show that all who serve God have a stewardship. What responsibilities are involved? How should those be viewed? To find out, let us examine the role of stewards in ancient times.
4, 5. What responsibilities did ancient stewards have? Give examples.
4 In ancient times, a steward was often a trusted slave assigned to supervise the household or business affairs of his master. Typically, stewards had considerable authority and were charged with managing household belongings, money, and other servants. We can see this in the case of Eliezer, who was entrusted with the care of Abraham’s extensive belongings. It may have been Eliezer whom Abraham sent to Mesopotamia to choose a wife for his son Isaac. What an important and far-reaching assignment!—Gen. 13:2; 15:2; 24:2-4.
5 Abraham’s great-grandson Joseph looked after the household of Potiphar. (Gen. 39:1, 2) In time, Joseph came to have a steward of his own, who was appointed “over Joseph’s house.” That steward arranged hospitality for Joseph’s ten brothers. And at Joseph’s command, he orchestrated matters concerning the “stolen” silver cup. Clearly, stewards enjoyed positions of great trust.—Gen. 43:19-25; 44:1-12.
6. What stewardship do various Christian elders have?
6 Centuries later, the apostle Paul wrote that Christian overseers were to be ‘God’s stewards.’ (Titus 1:7) Appointed to shepherd “the flock of God,” overseers give direction and take the lead in the congregations. (1 Pet. 5:1, 2) Of course, responsibilities vary. For example, most Christian overseers today serve one congregation. Traveling overseers serve many congregations. And Branch Committee members care for congregations in entire countries. Still, all are expected to carry out their duties faithfully; all must “render an account” to God.—Heb. 13:17.
7. How do we know that, in a sense, all Christians are stewards?
7 What, though, of the many loyal Christians who are not overseers? The apostle Peter wrote a letter to Christians in general, stating: “In proportion as each one has received a gift, use it in ministering to one another as fine stewards of God’s undeserved kindness expressed in various ways.” (1 Pet. 1:1; 4:10) God has in his undeserved kindness imparted to all of us gifts, assets, abilities, or talents that we can use to benefit fellow believers. Accordingly, all who serve God are stewards, and with their stewardship comes honor, trust, and responsibility.
WE BELONG TO GOD
8. What is one important principle that we need to remember?
8 We will now focus on three principles that we as stewards need to consider. The first: We all belong to God and are accountable to him. Paul wrote: “You do not belong to yourselves, for you were bought with a price,” the sacrificial blood of the Christ. (1 Cor. 6:19, 20) Since we belong to Jehovah, we are obliged to obey his commandments, which are not burdensome. (Rom. 14:8; 1 John 5:3) We also become slaves of Christ. Like stewards of old, we are given much freedom—but our freedom has limits. We must handle our responsibilities as instructed. No matter what privileges of service we may enjoy, we are still servants of God and of Christ.
9. How did Jesus illustrate the relationship between master and slave?
9 Jesus helps us to understand the relationship between master and slave. Once he spoke to his disciples about a slave who came home after working through the day. Does the master say: “Come here at once and recline at the table”? No. He says: “Get something ready for me to have my evening meal, and put on an apron and minister to me until I am through eating and drinking, and afterward you can eat and drink.” How did Jesus apply the illustration? “So you, also, when you have done all the things assigned to you, say, ‘We are good-for-nothing slaves. What we have done is what we ought to have done.’”—Luke 17:7-10.
10. What shows that Jehovah appreciates our efforts to serve him?
10 Of course, Jehovah appreciates our efforts to serve him. The Bible assures us: “God is not unrighteous so as to forget your work and the love you showed for his name.” (Heb. 6:10) Jehovah is never unreasonable in what he asks of us. Furthermore, whatever he asks is in our best interests and is never unduly burdensome. Still, in line with Jesus’ parable, a slave does not please himself, putting personal interests first. The point is, when we dedicate ourselves to God, we choose to put his interests first in our life. Do you not agree?
WHAT JEHOVAH REQUIRES OF ALL OF US
11, 12. As stewards, what quality must we display, and what must we avoid?
11 A second principle is: As stewards, we all adhere to the same basic standards. True, some responsibilities are assigned to a few within the Christian congregation. However, most responsibilities are common to all. For example, as disciples of Christ and as Witnesses of Jehovah, we are enjoined to love one another. Jesus said that love is the identifying mark of true Christians. (John 13:35) Our love extends beyond the brotherhood, though. We endeavor to show love toward those who are not related to us in the faith. This is something all of us can and should do.
12 Fine conduct is also required of us. We want to avoid conduct and lifestyles that are condemned in God’s Word. Paul wrote: “Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men kept for unnatural purposes, nor men who lie with men, nor thieves, nor greedy persons, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit God’s kingdom.” (1 Cor. 6:9, 10) Admittedly, it takes effort to conform to God’s righteous standards. Yet, such effort is worthwhile, imparting to us many benefits, including a lifestyle that contributes to good health, fine relationships with others, and an approved standing with God.—Read Isaiah 48:17, 18.
13, 14. What responsibility is given to all Christians, and how should we view it?
13 Recall, too, that a steward had work to do. So do we. We have been given a precious gift—the knowledge of the truth. God expects us to share that knowledge with others. (Matt. 28:19, 20) Paul wrote: “Let a man so appraise us as being subordinates of Christ and stewards of sacred secrets of God.” (1 Cor. 4:1) Paul recognized that this stewardship meant both scrupulously caring for the “sacred secrets” and faithfully imparting such to others as directed by the Master, Jesus Christ.—1 Cor. 9:16.
14 Sharing the truth is, after all, a loving thing to do. Of course, circumstances differ from Christian to Christian. Not all can do the same in the ministry. Jehovah understands that. The important thing is to do all that we personally can. Thus we display unselfish love for God and for our neighbor.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING FAITHFUL
15-17. (a) Why is it essential that a steward be faithful? (b) How did Jesus illustrate the consequences of unfaithfulness?
15 A third principle, closely related to the preceding two, is: We must be faithful, trustworthy. A steward may have many fine qualities and abilities, yet none of them would matter if he was irresponsible or disloyal to his master. Faithfulness is essential to be an effective, successful steward. Recall that Paul wrote: “What is looked for in stewards is for a man to be found faithful.”—1 Cor. 4:2.
16 If we are faithful, we will be rewarded; that is certain. If we are not faithful, we will suffer loss. We see this principle in Jesus’ illustration of the talents. The slaves that faithfully “did business” with the master’s money received commendation and were richly blessed. The slave who acted irresponsibly with what the master had entrusted to him was judged “wicked,” “sluggish,” and “good-for-nothing.” The talent he had been given was taken away, and he was thrown out.—Read Matthew 25:14-18, 23, 26, 28-30.
17 On another occasion, Jesus pointed out the consequences of unfaithfulness. He said: “A certain man was rich and he had a steward, and this one was accused to him as handling his goods wastefully. So he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Hand in the account of your stewardship, for you can no longer manage the house.’” (Luke 16:1, 2) Because the steward squandered the property of his master, the master dismissed him. What a powerful lesson for us! We certainly never want to be unfaithful in what is asked of us.
COMPARING OURSELVES WITH OTHERS—IS THAT WISE?
18. Why should we not compare ourselves with others?
18 Each of us can ask, ‘How do I view my stewardship?’ Problems may arise when we compare ourselves with others. The Bible counsels us: “Let each one prove what his own work is, and then he will have cause for exultation in regard to himself alone, and not in comparison with the other person.” (Gal. 6:4) Rather than compare what we do with what others do, we should focus on what we personally are able to do. This will protect us not only from being puffed up with pride but also from being discouraged. In evaluating ourselves, we should recognize that circumstances change. Perhaps because of poor health, age, or various responsibilities, we cannot do all we used to. On the other hand, we might be able to do more than we are now doing. If so, why not try to step up our activities?
19. If we do not receive a certain privilege, why should we not become downhearted?
19 Another aspect to consider is what responsibilities we have or yearn to have. For example, a brother may desire to serve as an elder in the congregation or to be assigned parts at assemblies and conventions. It is good to work hard to qualify for such privileges, yet we should not become downhearted if they are not offered when we might have hoped they would be. For reasons we may not readily understand, some privileges may be extended much later than expected. Recall that Moses seemed ready to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, but he had to wait 40 years before doing so. This allowed him enough time to develop qualities he needed to lead a stiff-necked and rebellious people.—Acts 7:22-25, 30-34.
20. We can draw what lesson from the experience of Jonathan?
20 Sometimes a certain privilege may not be given to us at all. That was so with Jonathan. He was the son of Saul and thus in line to be king over all Israel. However, God chose David, a much younger man, to be king. How did Jonathan react to that development? He accepted it and supported David even at the risk of his own life. He said to David: “You yourself will be king over Israel, and I myself shall become second to you.” (1 Sam. 23:17) Do you see the point? Jonathan accepted his situation, and unlike his father, he did not become jealous of David. Rather than being envious of what others may have been assigned to do, all of us can concentrate on handling the responsibilities we do have. We can be sure that in the new world, Jehovah will see to it that the proper desires of all his servants are satisfied.
21. How should we view our stewardship?
21 Let us bear in mind that as trusted stewards, we do not experience the abject slavery characterized by oppression and tears. Quite the opposite. We enjoy positions of great honor, entrusted as we are with the never-to-be-repeated work of declaring the good news during the last days of this system of things. While doing that, we enjoy great freedom as to how we will handle our responsibilities. Let us, then, be faithful stewards. And may we cherish the privilege we have to serve the greatest One in all the universe.