Penny-Wise and Pound-Foolish? - Beyond Finances to True Stewardship

Michael J. Orlich, MD
Academic Dean and Health Department Chair, Weimar College


When you saw that this issue of Adventists Affirm was on stewardship, what was your reaction? What concepts immediately came to your mind? Perhaps you thought, “Well this is just going to be another reminder to pay tithe. What a boring topic!”


A Boring Topic?


This was my experience as a child growing up in the church. Every time a special “Stewardship Sabbath” came around I would prepare to be more bored than usual during the sermon.


I think stewardship can seem like a dry and boring topic to many people, especially young people. Yet, rightly understood, stewardship can be a very interesting and deeply spiritual topic. The key phrase in that sentence is “rightly understood.” Many of us just don’t really grasp what stewardship is all about. And many times when we teach and preach about it, we don’t do it justice.


I think we make stewardship seem small and narrow and uninspiring because we often make it all about money. Sure, money is important. Learning to return tithe, give offerings, and manage finances responsibly is all very important—but compared with all that stewardship is, money is just small stuff.


Okay, then, if money is really not what stewardship is all about, therefore, what really is it? Stewardship is about the weighty matters of the law.


Weighty Matters of the Law


Do you remember Jesus’ rebuke to the Pharisees? “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone” (Matthew 23:23).


This doesn’t make our usual concept of stewardship sound too elevating and important, does it? Sure, Jesus affirms that paying careful tithe is the right thing to do. But His description of other things as “the weightier matters of the law” implies that simply tithing carefully is by contrast a matter less weighty—not truly as important. What were the weightier matters? Judgment, mercy, faith.


Is stewardship then a superficial, shallow, narrow, small thing? No. Rather, true stewardship is about judgment, mercy, and faith—the weightier matters.


What Stewardship Is About


  • Stewardship a realization of our place in the universe, a confession both of our worth and of our duty.
  • It is an acknowledgment that Jehovah is Creator and Lord and Owner of everything.
  • It is an expression of gratitude that such a great God has taken some of His power and energy and life and resources, and placed them in our care.
  • It is a humble prayer that He might enable us to use well and wisely what we did not create nor could ever deserve.
  • It is a realization of God’s right judgment, His justice, in considering all His Own; a confession of God’s mercy in giving freely to us what is properly His; and an exercise of our faith, trusting His care and seeking His direction.


When we think in these terms, we realize how broad and grand and deep a topic stewardship is. We are not just stewards of money. We are stewards of God’s creative power: stewards of life, stewards of time, stewards of opportunity, stewards of relationships. Suddenly all the most deep and meaningful aspects of life are encompassed by the concept of stewardship.


Yes, monetary stewardship is important. If you think I intend to minimize it or suggest it not be given serious attention, you conclude wrongly and miss my point. I affirm the importance of both learning and applying consistently the principle of stewardship to our finances. But if this is where it ends, perhaps we are like certain Jews of old, faithfully sacrificing animals but passing by the Lamb of God.


Monetary stewardship is not the end, but just the beginning. It is the kindergarten of stewardship. It is very obvious and tangible, and is intended by God to teach and remind us of the greater principle of overall stewardship. As we regularly return tithe, as we consider the right use of the funds God has given us, we should be reminded of God’s ownership and creatorship and His grace in extending to us all that we have or are. Reminded of this, we should live every aspect of our lives informed by this great truth.


Aspects of Stewardship


Let’s take a moment to consider a few practical areas of stewardship that illustrate the breadth and power of this Biblical principle:


1. Stewardship of Time.

“Redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16).


“Our time belongs to God. Every moment is His, and we are under the most solemn obligation to improve it to His glory. Of no talent He has given will He require a more strict account than of our time” (Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons, p 342).


God gives every moment. Each one is precious and should put to good use, or “redeemed.” The Sabbath powerfully reminds us of God’s ownership of time.


2. Stewardship of the Environment.

“The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1).


All that is in the world belongs to God, but He has given us charge (dominion) over it all. Genesis 1:28. Shall we treat it recklessly, or care for it well?


3. Stewardship of Humanity.

“Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17).


By the terms of our stewardship we are placed under obligation, not only to God, but also to man. To the infinite love of the Redeemer every human being is indebted for the gifts of life. Food and raiment and shelter, body and mind and soul—all are the purchase of His blood. And by the obligation of gratitude and service thus imposed, Christ has bound us to our fellow men. He bids us, “By love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13). “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me” (Matthew 25:40).


Jesus reminded us that the poor would always be with us. And we are to feel a responsibility to them, to the suffering, and to the oppressed. Since God has given our fellow human beings into our care, little wonder that He says what we do to them is done unto Him.


4. Stewardship of Health.

“What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost Which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19).


This is a familiar text reminding us of the true motive for our health message—to honor God by caring for the precious physical life He has given us.


5. Stewardship of Relationships.

“And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9).


“When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple standing by, whom He loved, He saith unto His mother, Woman, behold thy son!” (John 19:26).


Human relationships and human love are some of the most precious gifts given to us this side of Heaven. God entrusts us with these gifts to treasure and to guard. Along with meaning and joy, relationships also bring duty. In all our relationships, whether friendly, familial, or romantic, we should seek the glory of God.


6. Stewardship of the Message.

“I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, Who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the Word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:1, 2).


“And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting Gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people” (Revelation 14:6).


Remarkably, the proclamation of warning and of grace to the world has not been entrusted to angels but to men—to you and to me. We have been given great news, great truth, great light. It is trusted into our care. And with it comes a duty to our fellow men to share with them that lifesaving Good News. Will we as unfaithful watchmen fail to warn our brothers and sisters?


“There is a yet deeper significance to the golden rule. Everyone who has been made a steward of the manifold grace of God is called upon to impart to souls in ignorance and darkness, even as, were he in their place, he would desire them to impart to him. The apostle Paul said, ‘I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.’ By all that you have known of the love of God, by all that you have received of the rich gifts of His grace above the most benighted and degraded soul upon the earth are you in debt to that soul to impart these gifts unto him” (White, Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 135).


Reverse Stewardship


As we begin to see every area of our life through the lens of stewardship, we see that it is neither boring nor superficial, but rather fascinating and profound. We thank God for entrusting us with time and talent, energy and ideas and means; and we desire to manage His assets wisely and well. Yet just as we seek to do so, we realize our problem. We seem ill-equipped for our task. How can we rightly manage God’s affairs? We are so prone to mistake and to misstep.


Just at this time it comes full circle, this concept of stewardship. We realize the only way that our money, time, talent, opportunity, and life will ever be well spent is if we entrust it all to God. We place ourselves fully in His care. Now, God is our Steward, our Manager, our Keeper, our Guide: You might call this “reverse stewardship.” This is the full cycle of giving and giving again—the deep lesson of true stewardship.


Stewardship is not just a narrow topic limited to money. Stewardship is God giving us everything we have, even giving us His Son, and teaching our hearts to give ourselves, unreservedly, back to Him.


We are not simply stewards of the trust God has reposed in us. Rather, in stewardship we entrust everything we are or have to God for His keeping. Stewardship, then, is total surrender to the lordship of Christ. Only then can we manage all things to His glory.


“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: . . . For it is God Which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:5, 13).


Note: For a further study on the expansive nature of true stewardship, we recommend the chapter “Talents” in the book Christ’s Object Lessons.