Here's how God clothes (“vests”) human beings as prophets, priests, and kings to fulfill their high—and profoundly other-centered—calling.
Stewardship is the idea that God is the rightful owner of all things. Psalm 24:1 says this very clearly: “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it.” This makes sense because God is the creator of all things. Stewardship recognizes that everything in our possession actually belongs to God. All the things we own are really God’s things that he has entrusted to us. We are managers—or stewards—of God’s possessions.
This understanding of stewardship helps free us of the selfishness and acquisitiveness that is so endemic to life after the Fall. All of us are prone to grasp after things and to hold them tightly. Recognizing our role as God’s trustees can aid us in being content with what he has given us and to share generously with those in need. It can liberate us from the power money exerts in our lives. Living in that freedom offers a powerful witness to the reality of God and his kingdom.
But as big as this vision for stewardship is, it is actually too small.
We tend to approach stewardship by asking the question, “What has God entrusted to me?” To answer this query, we take stock of our money and possessions: the balance in our bank account, our properties, cars, investments, etc. We understand stewardship in terms of the resources God has placed in our immediate possession—and that is valid. God has entrusted us with these things.
This is what I consider to be stewardship with a lowercase “s.” This “small ‘s’ stewardship” involves our responsibility for the things in our immediate possession. Biblically, though, there is a much bigger sense of stewardship that we must come to see and understand.
Stewardship with a capital “S” is the astonishing reality that God has entrusted us with stewardship of his entire creation. In Genesis 1, when God creates humanity in his image, he commissions them to be royal stewards over everything he made. Verse 26 says, “let them rule…” (NASB). The New Living Translation reads, “they will reign” and the ESV says, “let them have dominion.” No matter the translation, this is stewardship language.
How do we answer the question of what God has entrusted to us? If we take Genesis 1 seriously, the answer includes far more than our bank accounts, homes, personal property, and investments. Also under our trusteeship, in the language of Genesis 1, are “the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky … the livestock and all the wild animals … and all the creatures that move along the ground.” In other words, the entire creation! God made all things and then made us to be royal stewards over all those things. That is Stewardship.
If you find this hard to believe, you’re in good company. Even King David, the man said to be “after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14), struggled to comprehend it. In Psalm 8, we read about David trying to wrap his mind around this bigger vision of stewardship: “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them little lower than the heavenly court and crowned them with glory and honor.” David then uses explicit stewardship language, marveling: “You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet…” (vs. 4-6, emphasis added).
Psalm 24 proclaims: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” Combine that with Psalm 8 and what King David is saying here: “You made [humanity] rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under [our] feet.” God owns it all, but God also entrusted it all to us, his royal stewards.
What an exhilarating and ambitious reality! Commenting on the breadth of our stewardship mandate, R.C. Sproul writes:
At creation, the mandate that God gave to humanity was for people to reflect and mirror God’s stewardship over [the whole earth]. This involves far more than religious enterprises or the church. It has to do with how we engage in scientific endeavors, how we do business, how we treat each other, how we treat animals, and how we treat the environment. That dominion over the earth is not a license to exploit, pillage, consume, or destroy the earth; it is a responsibility to exercise stewardship over our home by working and keeping it.
Just as there are two levels of stewardship, there are also two levels to investing. One is more familiar: the level of investing that corresponds to small “s” stewardship. Here we recognize that God has put specific dollars into our care and that we are responsible to be wise with his money. Typically, we think that this means we must seek to generate a good financial return on our investments, by practicing prudent risk-taking.
But there is a second, higher level of investing. It corresponds to the idea of capital “S” stewardship. This involves supplying capital to support businesses. Our capital enlarges the work of these companies, enabling them to amplify their activities in the world. With this larger sense of stewardship, as Christians, we understand that God has put the entire creation in our care, and we must be wise with it, as well. Therefore, we aim at enlarging the beauty, goodness, provision, and flourishing of creation with the investment decisions we make. At this higher level of stewardship, we are seeking to generate a “good return” on God’s creation such that the world is made even more the place of delight he created it to be. Therefore, we must be attentive to the kinds of companies we’re investing in and the impact of those companies in creation through their products and practices. Looking solely at financial return is inadequate.
The good news is that there is an entire industry of Christian faith-based investments that are seeking to help us pay attention to both levels of stewardship. Faith-based investing seeks to help us grow God’s money by investing it in companies that reflect God’s purposes for how business is meant to operate in his good world.
While the notion of big “S” stewardship is exhilarating, if we’re honest, it’s probably a bit overwhelming, too. It is right for us to feel its weight; certainly, King David did. Investing of this kind is typically framed in the language of responsibility, yet a closer look at Psalm 8 helps us see something David saw. He recognized that the proper motivation animating the big vision of stewardship is not duty, but worship. Remember: David’s reflection on this bigger vision of stewardship in Psalm 8 is situated within a hymn of praise. It begins and ends with this worshipful refrain:
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
The end of faithful stewardship is not the glory of the steward, nor even the glory of this amazing, sacred trust that our Maker has bestowed upon us. It is the glory of God himself; it is the majesty of the name of the Lord that fuels our stewardship.
As it was for King David, may worship of the Master be the beginning and end of our stewardship, as well.
A version of this article appeared first in an interview with Jason Myhre on the FaithFi radio program.
This communication is provided for informational purposes only and was made possible with the financial support of Eventide Asset Management, LLC (“Eventide”), an investment adviser. Eventide Center for Faith and Investing is an educational initiative of Eventide. Information contained herein has been obtained from third-party sources believed to be reliable.