Stewardship 1 – A Good Steward

What are the roles of a college president?  Someone has noted that there are basically three.  One is to be the college’s leader, which involves visions, goals, and outcomes.  This role was summarized with the word “inspiration”.  The next role is to be the college’s governor.  The board’s decisions must be respected and implemented.  Policies, rules, and protocols must be established to keep things running smoothly and on course.  This role can be summarized with the word “administration”.  The last role is that of a manager.  The role has many aspects since there are many groups—vice-presidents, staff, faculty, parents, and students—and many areas—strategic plans, academics, funding, development, speeches, public relations, etc.   This role was summarized with the word “perspiration”.  A college president is a steward of the board for the institution’s benefit.  A college president doesn’t own the institution, but he leads, administers, and manages it according to the board’s desires.

Today we’ll begin a series looking at the concept of stewardship in the Bible.  Let’s define stewardship, and then we’ll look at a good example of a faithful steward.  The Hebrew word for steward means “the servant who was over the house”.  Remember how Joseph was made the steward over all of Potiphar's fields, goods, and other servants (Genesis 39:4-5)?  The word in Greek means “the manager over a household”.  Remember how Jesus told a parable in Luke 16 about an unjust steward who was accused of wasting his maser's goods?  Someone made this good observation: “When God gave the Israelites the land of Canaan as an inheritance, He said to them the land shall not be sold permanently for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me (Leviticus 25:23).  This made the Jews the stewards or caretakers of the land.  Ever after, the [Israelites] were expected to use their possessions as a sacred trust.  This understanding applied to their property, their money, and everything else that they treasured.  All really belonged to God” (Bible Almanac).

Now let's look at a good example of a steward to get a fuller picture of this concept.  If you are not in Genesis 24 already, it would be good to turn over there.  Now this chapter deals primarily with how Rebekah became Isaac's wife, but we want to give attention to a secondary but important character in this story.  In our reading this morning, we saw how Abraham, who was now 140 years old, calls his steward, the one who rules over all the goods of his house (v.2), and makes him take an oath that he will not take a wife from the pagan Canaanites for Isaac, but will go to Abraham's family abroad, most likely in Haran, to find a wife for him (vv. 3-4).  Now this steward was wise, and asked Abraham if he should take Isaac to Haran if the woman refused it come (v. 5).  Abraham assures the steward that an angel will help him, but if the woman refused to come, he was no longer obligated to find a wife, and he should not take Isaac there (vv. 6-9).

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ur lesson has three major points and three minor ones concerning this steward.  First of all, we see that this servant wants to understand the will of his master.  He understands that his mission is to find a wife for Isaac among Abraham's relatives.  He does ask a question, however, to be sure that he understands all his obligations in case things don't work out as hoped.  And Abraham further clarifies his wishes for him.  This steward showed wisdom in wanting to understand fully his master's will.

Likewise we are stewards too, and we should seek to know fully our Master's will as well.  The apostle Peter admonishes us in 1 Pt. 4:10: “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”  Like the Israelites who cared for the land and like this servant who cared about fulfilling Abraham's desires, we too must care for God's wishes and what has been entrusted to us.  We have received not only God's grace but also His blessing of some kind of skill.  As entrusted stewards, we are to utilize our skills in order to help other members of the church.  Now the apostle Paul also exhorts us in Ephesians 4:15-17: “See then that you walk [or live] circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.  Therefore, do not be unwise , but understand what the will of the Lord is.”  To live circumspectly means we are to avoid those wicked influences that Christ would not approve.  To live wisely means we are taking advantage of the opportunities of service with which God blesses us, and we are always to seek to understand fully God's will.  Of course, we learn God's will through imitating Jesus, reading His commands in the New Testament, asking for God's guidance and getting help from other saints.  An old hymn states well what our attitude should be: “Have Your own way, Lord, have Your own way.  You are the Potter; I am the clay.  Mold me and make me after Your will while I am waiting  yielded and still.”  As God's stewards, let's seek to understand His will both personally and collectively, and let's fulfill the obligations we have as stewards to implement His desires!

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ow let's return to our text and begin reading in verse 10: “Then the servant took 10 of his master's camels and departed, for all his master's goods were in his hand.  [Note how all that Abraham possessed was under this steward's management].  And he arose and went to Mesopotamia, to the city of Nahor.  [This was a trip of about 450 miles.  Nahor was Abraham's brother, so the text means that it is the city of Haran where Nahor lived.]  And he made his camels kneel down outside the city by a well of water at evening time, the time when women go out to draw water.  Then he said, 'O Lord God of my master Abraham, please give me success this day, and show kindness to my master Abraham.  Behold, here I stand by the well of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water.  Now let it be that the young woman to whom I say, “Please let down your pitcher that I may drink,” and she says, “Drink, and I will also give your camels a drink”--let her be the one You have appointed for Your servant Isaac.  And by this I will know that You have shown kindness to my master.'  And it happened, before he had finished speaking, that behold, Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel, son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham's brother, came out with her pitcher, and came up [it sounds like this well was below the surface and had steps going down to it.]  And the servant ran to meet her and said, 'Please let me drink a little water from your pitcher.'  So she said, 'Drink my lord.'  Then she quickly let her pitcher down to her hand, and gave him a drink.  And when she had finished giving him a drink, she said, 'I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.'  Then she quickly emptied her pitcher into the trough, ran back to the well to draw water, and drew for all his camels [Watering 10 camels would not be an easy job, so we see Rebekah's industrious nature in this kind work.].  And the man, wondering at her [dumbfounded that his prayer had been answered so quickly] remained silent so as to know whether the Lord had made his journey prosperous or not.”  This steward not only understands His maser's will but also he worked diligently to fulfill it.  And this is our second major point.  He doesn't stall and hem-haw around, but he makes the long trip with others and carries provisions and gifts with him.  He worked diligently to fulfill his master's wishes.

As good stewards, we must do the same.  We have seen in our studies in James how he encourages us to be doers of the word and the work, and not just hearers only.  James must have learned this from his brother Jesus.  Jesus Himself one said, “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4).  Like the steward in our story, God has place into our hand His goods: His message of salvation, His blessings, His wealth, His church.  Now the question is, “What are we going to do with our Master’s goods to fulfill His will?”  Let’s work to fulfill our Master’s wishes as well!

Now let’s notice three ways that the steward works to fulfill his master’s will; these are our three minor points.  First of all, we see immediately from what we’ve just read, that this man was willing to give his time in order to do his master’s will.  A roundtrip by camel of about 900 miles would take some weeks, maybe even a month.  It would have been so much easier to find a wife among the Canaanites in the surrounding lands, but this was not his master’s will.  In fact, it was just the opposite, so this steward took the time necessary to fulfill his master’s wishes.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor in 2006, the average American between 25-54 spent their day in this manner: 8.2 hours went to working, 7.6 hours went to sleeping, 2.6 went to leisure and sports, 1.1 went to eating and drinking, 1.1 went to caring for others, 1.0 went to household activities, and 2.4 went to other activities (shopping, communicating, studying, volunteering, etc.).  Isn’t it amazing that, except for working and sleeping, the highest part of our day goes to leisure and sports?  The average for religious activities was 11 minutes.  How much time are we devoting daily to doing our Master’s will?  Here is an interesting story.  A college student once did some volunteer work on an island.  She enjoyed visits with a woman in her 90s.  The woman had a good friend named Netta whom she had known since they were girls.  She would often walk to Netta’s house.  She had to walk a long ways down a stream in order to cross it.  The college student got this brilliant idea to have a footbridge made further upstream.  When the college student showed the bridge to the woman, she was not overjoyed and shook her head with pity.  She explained to the college student that when she took her walks to Netta’s house, she also did several other things: she swapped news with a  certain man, she took quilt scraps to another lady, she drank a beverage in another place in exchange for her bread, and she looked out on some ‘older folks’ too.  ‘Child, you can’t take shortcuts if you want friends in this world,’ she told her, ‘Shortcuts don’t mix with love’” (Larson-Elshof).  Does our Master see our love through the gift of our time?

Now let’s notice three ways that the steward works to fulfill his master’s will; these are our three minor points.  First of all, we see immediately from what we’ve just read, that this man was willing to give his time in order to do his master’s will.  A roundtrip by camel of about 900 miles would take a few weeks, maybe even a month.  It would have been so much easier to find a wife among the Canaanites in the surrounding lands, but this was not his master’s will.  In fact, it was just the opposite, so this steward took the time necessary to fulfill his master’s wishes.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor in 2006, the average American between 25-54 spent their day in this manner: 8.2 hours went to working, 7.6 hours went to sleeping, 2.6 went to leisure and sports, 1.1 went to eating and drinking, 1.1 went to caring for others, 1.0 went to household activities, and 2.4 went to other activities (shopping, communicating, studying, volunteering, etc.).  Isn’t it amazing that except for working and sleeping, the highest part of our day goes to leisure and sports?  The average for religious activities was 11 minutes.  How much time are we devoting daily to doing our Master’s will?  Here is an interesting story.  A college student did some volunteer work on an island.  She enjoyed visits with a woman in her 90s.  The woman had a good friend named Netta whom she had known since they were girls.  She would often walk to Netta’s house.  She had to walk a long ways down a stream in order to cross it.  The college student got this brilliant idea to have a footbridge made further upstream.  When the college student showed the bridge to the woman, she was not overjoyed and shook her head with pity.  She explained to the college student that when she took her walks to Netta’s house, she also did several other things: she swapped news with a certain man, she took quilt scraps to another lady, she drank a beverage in another place in exchange for her bread, and she looked out on some ‘older folks’ too.  ‘Child, you can’t take shortcuts if you want friends in this world,’ she told her, ‘Shortcuts don’t mix with love’” (Larson-Elshof).  Does our Master see our love through the gift of our time?

Now let’s read our text again, starting with verse 22: “So it was, when the camels had finished drinking, that the man took a golden nose ring weighing half a shekel, and two bracelets for her wrists weighing 10 shekels of gold, and said, ‘Whose daughter are you?  Tell me, please, is there room in your father’s house for us to lodge?’  So she said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel, Milcah’s son, whom she bore to Nahor.’  Moreover she said to him, ‘We have both straw and feed enough, and room to lodge.’  Then the man bowed down his head and worshiped the Lord.  And he said, ‘Blessed be  the Lord god of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken His mercy and His truth toward my master.  As for me, being on the way, the Lord led me to the house of my master’s brethren.’  So the young woman ran and told her mother’s household these things.”  Notice another thing about this steward.  He gave his prayers to accomplish his Master’s will, didn’t he?  We saw earlier how he prayed that God will help him to find the right girl for Isaac.  And the text says before the man finished his prayer, up walked Rebekah (v. 15).  Then we see that after the steward found out that Rebekah was one of Abraham’s relatives, he bowed his head and worshiped God for giving him success up to this point.

Are we prayerful stewards as well?  We’re involved in a great spiritual battle and often must act counter-culturally.  This is certainly a battle that we can’t fight alone.  We need God’s help and each other’s help as well to stand firm against the forces of evil.  After telling us all to put on the Christian armor of truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and God’s Word, the apostle Paul further encourages us: “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18).  Here’s another story.  A young boy went to the store with his mother.  The shop owner, a kind man, passed him a large jar of suckers and invited him to help himself to a handful.  Uncharacteristically, the boy held back.  So the shop owner pulled out a handful for him.  When outside, the boy’s mother asked why he wouldn’t take a handful of suckers when offered.  “Because,” said the boy, “his hand is much bigger than mine” (Larson-Elshof)!  Do we believe that God’s hand is bigger than ours so that we often ask Him for his help?  You know, we’ve heard the word “change” repeatedly throughout his election campaign, but don’t we really believe true change can be brought about only by our Heavenly Father?  Like the steward, let’s give our prayers to accomplish our Master’s will.

As we return to the text at verse 29, here’s a summary of what happens.  Laban comes to greet the steward and offers him hospitality.  He even sets food before him, but the man says that he will not eat until he explains his errand.  Then the steward recounts Abraham’s wish and his mission to find a wife for Isaac.  He then explains his prayer at the well, how Rebekah had been an answer to that prayer, and how he thanked God for bringing him to Abraham’s relatives.  He then asked Laban and Bethuel to make a decision if Rebekah could leave at once and become Isaac’s wife.  They agree, and the steward brings out gifts for them and the mother.  These gifts were described as jewelry of silver and gold, clothing and precious things.  Undoubtedly, these items had great value.  It was customary to pay a bride price in those days, but the bride in turn often brought servants and other wealth to the new family to even things out economically.  After a feast, the steward is ready to depart on the next day.  The family realizes, however, that they may never see Rebekah again and tries to prolong the steward’s stay for another 10 days.  The steward again was wise and did not want to spend more time there, giving the family an opportunity to change their minds.  He is diplomatic and polite abut insists that he needs to return immediately.  They decide to ask Rebekah her opinion, and she chooses to leave.  So Rebekah and a close friend and the steward and other servants set off on the long trip back to Abraham’s home.  Notice that the steward also gave his wealth (or perhaps better, his master’s wealth) in order to achieve his master’s will.  He not only gave Rebekah gifts for his appreciation of her taking care of his camels but also he had planned ahead concerning the gifts for purchasing the bride.  None of his gifts were shoddy or cheap.

What about us?  Are we giving and using the wealth that God has given us to achieve His wishes?  Someone has said: “God has increased our income not to increase our standard of living, but to increase our standard of giving” (Alcorn)!  Someone else has observed: “Most Christian[s] give about 2% of their income to charity, and we pretend that this is OK, that such shallow giving is acceptable, that 2% giving is normative.  ‘Get used to it; 2% is just fine!’  The average Christian gives the price of a Big Mac per year to world hunger.  ‘[But] that’s OK.  Come to grips with it!”  Christians give almost nothing to combat world hunger.  So we avoid the truth about it.  We don’t want to talk about it.  We also don’t want to come to grips with the fact that poor Third World Christians [like Africans and South Americans] are [more] generous in percentages and are often found tithing [or giving at least 10%], but the richer a Christian gets in a First World country, the percentages almost always go down.  We just don’t want to be honest about the cheapness of our 2% offerings” (Markquart).  May I encourage you to vote against the lottery.  Proponents promise it will help education, but the truth is that it will only tax people.  The lottery will create a temptation to be poor stewards.  Like Abraham’s good steward, let’s not give our Master shoddy or cheap gifts.  Let’s use our wealth, which in reality is really His wealth just placed in our hands to manage, to achieve God’s will!

Now let’s return to our text once again and begin reading with verse 62: “Now Isaac came from the way of Beer Lahai Roi, for he dwelt in the South.  And Isaac went out to meditate in the field in the evening; he lifted his eyes and looked, and there, the camels were coming.  Then Rebekah lifted her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she dismounted from her camel; for she had said to the servant , ‘Who is this man walking in the field to meet us?’  The servant said, ‘It is my master.’  So she took a veil and covered herself.  And the servant told Isaac all the things that the had done.  Then Isaac brought her into his mothers Sarah’s tent, and he took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her.  So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.”  No only did this steward understand his master’s will and worked hard towards it, he actually achieved his master’s will!  He found a relative from Abraham’s family, paid the bride price, and presented her to Isaac.  His obedience helped Isaac to get his life back together after three years of grieving over his mother’s loss!

What about us?  How often have we worked hard to do our master’s will and then known the joy of seeing it achieved?  We rejoice when we see our Master’s will being accomplished!  We rejoice with the angels when one repents, confesses their faith, has their sins washed away, and is added to the Lord’s church!  We rejoice when a young man presents his first sermon before an audience!  We rejoice when we see a loving Christian mate caring for a spouse who is gravely ill or suffering some degenerative disease!  We don’t  rejoice at the situation, but we do rejoice at their maturity and their dedication to fulfilling their vows!  We rejoice when Christians give generously to get their building paid off and begin using the extra funds to support more missionaries!  We rejoice when godly parents raise up devoted children who want to put God’s kingdom first in their lives and their careers!  We rejoice when new church leaders are appointed!  Yes, we can even rejoice to some degree at the graveside of some saint who has lived their life well in our Master’s service!  Like Abraham’s steward, let’s achieve our Master’s will and rejoice!

The faithful steward is one who understands His master’s will, works diligently towards it, and very often achieves it with joy!  People like this do so by giving their time, their prayers, and their wealth.

Inspiration, administration, perspiration—this is the life of a faithful steward!  Let’s all work hard to be good stewards so we can one day hear those famous words of Jesus: “Well done, good and faithful servant, you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many.  Enter in to the joy of your Lord” (Matthew 25:23)!