Stewardship is the care and management of that which belongs to another. And while we often speak of things as "ours," the reality is that all that we have and all we are belongs to another - God. As the Apostle Paul put it, "What do you have that you did not receive?" (1 Corinthians 4:7). So it is from God that we have received our lives and everything in them for which we are responsible. Temporarily - until God requires them from us - we are stewards of these gifts.
Though too often associated merely with money, stewardship is something one can also apply to time, talent, and treasure. But stewardship isn't just about being a good manager of our schedules, our skills, and our stuff. The discipline of biblical stewardship calls us to use all these things in the way the Lord wants - to employ them for His glory. However, no one can be a biblical steward who doesn't first understand the gospel, the story of what God has accomplished through the life and death of Jesus Christ.
The Gospel Creates Stewards
The gospel is infinitely more than a ticket to Heaven. It is a message that changes not only a person's destination in eternity, but also a person's heart and mind here and now. The gospel transforms more than a person's relationship to God. It also transforms a person's relationship to everything else.
For example, after the greedy Zacchaeus was converted, he said to Jesus, "Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much" (Luke 19:8). Today as then, the gospel of Jesus Christ turns lovers of money into lovers of God.
That's why one of the most reliable evidences of conversion is when a person begins looking for ways to use time, talent, and treasure in service to the gospel. This testifies to the value one places on the gospel, that they treasure the God of the gospel above all.
Sin makes us selfish and wasteful with all that we have and all that we are. But "the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:4) helps us to see that knowing Him is infinitely more important and valuable than grasping the clock and the dollar for ourselves. It causes us to find spiritual pleasure in using these things to meet the needs of others, and to enable them to hear the gospel and turn to Christ. Coming to know Christ through the gospel leads us to evaluate our resources on the one hand and the souls of lost people on the other, and say with the Apostle Paul, "I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls" (2 Corinthians 12:15).
Stewards Need Discipline
The discipline to steward our resources in an intentional, God-glorifying, gospel-driven way doesn't arrive fully formed with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It must be cultivated. Stewardship must be a discipline, for there's always something else clamoring for our resources. Without discipline, our best intentions to use our time, talent, and treasure for the gospel will give in to circumstances and impulses, resulting in inconsistency or neglect.
In a sense, the discipline of stewardship is central to all other spiritual disciplines. If we don't develop a God-centered use of our time, for example, we won't consistently engage in personal spiritual disciplines like prayer or the intake of God's Word, nor will we participate faithfully in interpersonal spiritual disciplines like congregational worship or communion.
One of the classic passages on stewardship is Jesus' parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-27). In it, the master rewards those who steward well the resources he committed to their care, and he punishes those who do not. Those stewards whom God rewarded as faithful were intentional about using the Master's resources for His purposes. God is pleased with disciplined, not careless, stewardship of that which belongs to Him.
What does disciplined stewardship look like? There are countless examples, such as scheduling time to meet with God in the Bible and to pray - as an individual and as a family - to make sure it's not squeezed out of your day. It's using your spiritual gifts to serve God and the gospel in your local church. It's designating a portion of money for the church each month before paying other bills, so that the use of your treasure is consistent with your most treasured priorities.
Discipline enters the stewardship picture because it is so easy to waste our time, squander our talent, and be careless with our treasure. But even the most scrupulous use of our resources is worthless apart from the gospel. For it's only through the gospel that we can receive eternal time in Heaven, glorified talents, and the richest of treasures - God Himself.
Read more about Spiritual Disciplines and the Gospel.