The 5th principle of biblical generosity: On earth, we are stewards
Joseph was a confident kid, sold into slavery by his jealous brothers and bought by an Egyptian soldier captain named Potiphar. But the Lord was with Joseph, and Joseph would steward God’s plan to save nations.
Joseph prospered, and everything he managed was blessed. “The Lord was with Joseph.” The text says it … four times (Genesis 39).
God’s presence and blessing did not go unnoticed. In addition to success, God granted Joseph favor in Potiphar’s eyes. So Potiphar made Joseph the steward of everything he had. There was almost nothing Joseph didn’t manage for Potiphar. And the blessing from God that Joseph carried extended over the entirety of Potiphar’s estate.
The Lord continued to bless Joseph, even in the most unlikely and unpleasant places, and God continued to be with him. Joseph faithfully stewarded every opportunity until he was running the affairs of the most powerful country in the world.
God raised Joseph from the bottom of a pit to stewardship of a nation, and Joseph was faithful.
It was no mistake that Joseph rose so far. It was God’s plan all along. Chapters later, we get a glimpse into Joseph’s deep understanding of God’s plan for his life, his family, and his nation when he faces his brothers again in Egypt: “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God.”
Joseph’s life of faithfulness to God and those he served on earth culminated in an overwhelming show of generosity. In Genesis 45, Joseph was able to lavish forgiveness and mercy and “the best of the land of Egypt” (verse 18) to the same brothers who had betrayed him.
Trusting the Lord was with him, Joseph stewarded the gifts, opportunities, and assets God gave him with excellence and faithfulness. And he effectively stewarded God’s plan to save Israel and Egypt from starvation.
What things might happen among us if we also recognized that God was with us and remained faithful stewards of what he gave us?
Stewards, not masters
John Wesley preached, “When the Possessor of heaven and earth brought you into being, and placed you in this world, he placed you here not as a proprietor, but a steward.” Stewards are managers, and good managers seek to please the one they serve. Joseph served Potiphar, and later Pharaoh. But even when he had command of just about everything he set his eyes on, still he knew who his real Master was.
Like Joseph, we are stewards in this world. None of what we have is our own, not even ourselves, and we are not here on our own business. We are managers and ambassadors of the possessions and affairs of another Person, a King who owns everything. We are here on his business, with a mission to share his character and blessings with the world.
Nearly half of Jesus’ parables addressed this topic of stewardship. From story to story, these stewardship parables carry consistent themes:
- A master entrusts what he has to stewards, often knowing he will be away for a long time.
- The master always returns.
- Upon the master’s return, those left with his resources are called to give an account.
- The master rewards those who have been faithful and takes away from those who have not.
- Those who are expecting his return always fare best (Matthew 24:42-50; Mark 13:33; Luke 12:35-40).
These parables read like children’s stories in their simplicity, but they hold so much for us to learn. In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like a man who goes away on a journey. He calls those who work for him and gives them his wealth, each one receiving an amount to match his ability. Then the master goes away, leaving them holding his resources and on their own to decide what to do with them.
One man received five bags. He “put his money to work” and doubled his investment. The second man did the same, doubling his money. The third man hid the money, for fear of his master (v. 25), where no one would find it.
Then the master returned. (The master always returns: Matthew 24:46, 25:19; Luke 12:43, 19:15; Mark 13:35.) The two who made something of what he gave them received the same commendation: “Well done, good and faithful…I will put you in charge….” And the one who did nothing with what he’d been given was reprimanded. The master calls him “wicked” and “lazy” and “worthless.” The key to his motives lies in verse 25. He did not trust his master.
Trust and faithfulness
We’re more like Joseph than the men in the parable. Though we don’t see our Master here, we know that he’s with us. And he’s generous to us. He entrusts us with gifts, wealth, opportunities, and a message to spread. He also does something not all masters do. He tells us to be open-handed (Matthew 5:42, 6:3, 19:21; Luke 3:11, 6:38). In fact, our generosity with his blessings will be the measure of our future (Mark 4:24).
As Christians, we understand something about God’s generosity. We imitate his generosity (Ephesians 5:1-2). We trust him, and we know (if we’ve tried it) that there is a feeling only sharing what we have can produce. And there’s great freedom in trusting him, knowing that our needs will be met when we freely give things away that weren’t ours to keep anyway (Matthew 6:8, 25-33).
It is required of stewards that they be found faithful. –1 Corinthians 4:2
At the end of all of Jesus’ stewardship parables is this: will we be found faithful when the master returns? The same question waits at the end of every financial decision, at the end of each day, and at the end of every life. Have we been faithful with everything he has given us? Our faithfulness in stewarding what he’s given us is evidence of our trust that when he said he would return, he really meant it.
One day, we hope to hear the Master’s words:
“Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share in your master’s happiness.”
–Matthew 25:21, 23
by Jill Foley TurnerJill Foley Turner is Managing Editor at the National Christian Foundation (NCF). She has a degree in journalism and has worked as a Bible curriculum writer and theological book editor for 15 years for Dr. Kenneth Boa, the reThink Group, and Bible Study Media, among others.