To discover what the Bible says about stewardship, we start with the very first verse: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). As the Creator, God has absolute rights of ownership over all things, and to miss starting here is like misaligning the top button on our shirt or blouse—nothing else will ever line up. Nothing else in the Bible, including the doctrine of stewardship, will make any sense or have any true relevance if we miss the fact that God is the Creator and has full rights of ownership. It is through our ability to fully grasp this and imbed it in our hearts that the doctrine of stewardship is understood.
The biblical doctrine of stewardship defines a man’s relationship to God. It identifies God as owner and man as manager. God makes man His co-worker in administering all aspects of our life. The apostle Paul explains it best by saying, “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:9). Starting with this concept, we are then able to accurately view and correctly value not only our possessions, but, more importantly, human life itself. In essence, stewardship defines our purpose in this world as assigned to us by God Himself. It is our divinely given opportunity to join with God in His worldwide and eternal redemptive movement (Matthew 28:19-20). Stewardship is not God taking something from us; it is His method of bestowing His richest gifts upon His people.
In the New Testament, two Greek words embody the meaning of our English word “stewardship.” The first word is epitropos which means "manager, foreman, or steward." From the standpoint of government, it means “governor or procurator.” At times it was used in the New Testament to mean “guardian,” as in Galatians 4:1-2: “What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father.” The second word is oikonomos. It also means "steward, manager, or administrator" and occurs more frequently in the New Testament. Depending on the context, it is often translated “dispensation, stewardship, management, arrangement, administration, order, plan, or training.” It refers mostly to the law or management of a household or of household affairs.
Notably, in the writings of Paul, the word oikonomos is given its fullest significance in that Paul sees his responsibility for preaching the gospel as a divine trust (1 Corinthians 9:17). Paul refers to his call from God as the administration (stewardship) of the grace of God for a ministry of the divine mystery revealed in Christ (Ephesians 3:2). In this context, Paul is portraying God as the master of a great household, wisely administering it through Paul himself as the obedient servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Also significant in what Paul is saying is that once we’re called and placed into the body of Jesus Christ, the stewardship that is required of us is not a result of our own power or abilities. The strength, inspiration and growth in the management of our lives must come from God through the Holy Spirit in us; otherwise, our labor is in vain and the growth in stewardship is self-righteous, human growth. Accordingly, we must always remember the sole source of our strength in pleasing God: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13 NJKV). Paul also said, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
More often than not, when we think of good stewardship, we think of how we manage our finances and our faithfulness in paying God’s tithes and offerings. But as we’re beginning to see, it’s much more than that. In fact, it’s more than just the management of our time, our possessions, our environment, or our health. Stewardship is our obedient witness to God’s sovereignty. It’s what motivates the follower of Christ to move into action, doing deeds that manifest his belief in Him. Paul’s stewardship involved proclaiming that which was entrusted to him—the gospel truth.
Stewardship defines our practical obedience in the administration of everything under our control, everything entrusted to us. It is the consecration of one’s self and possessions to God’s service. Stewardship acknowledges in practice that we do not have the right of control over ourselves or our property—God has that control. It means as stewards of God we are managers of that which belongs to God, and we are under His constant authority as we administer His affairs. Faithful stewardship means that we fully acknowledge we are not our own but belong to Christ, the Lord, who gave Himself for us.
The ultimate question, then, is this: Am I the lord of my life, or is Christ the Lord of my life? In essence, stewardship expresses our total obedience to God and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.