Living as Faithful Stewards in a Fallen World (Leadership Is Stewardship, Part 3)

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3. The principle of accountability. As we've learned, when a leader is given responsibility, he is accountable to the one who gave it. Paul reminds us "it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy" (1 Cor. 4:2, NASB). Jesus told several parables in which he used stewardship as metaphor for how his kingdom operates. Each one ends with the steward giving account of what he had done with the master's property. In the same way, we are stewards of everything we have been given, including our time, money, abilities, information, wisdom, relationships, and authority. And we will all give account to the rightful owner as to how well we managed the things he has entrusted to us.

Adam didn't do so well when God called him to account for violating a direct command not to eat from a certain tree. True to form, those who want to avoid being held accountable blame others. She did it. Or even, God, it's your fault. I don't know about you, but this tendency toward blame runs pretty strong in me and many people I know. When something goes wrong, my default response is to look for someone else to point the finger at. Not that it's always my fault, but that's usually the last place I look. However, personal accountability must be a core value of leaders. Paul reminds us, like it or not, that we too will be held accountable.

For we will all stand before God's judgment seat. It is written: " 'As surely as I live,' says the Lord, 'every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.' " So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. (Rom. 14:10-12)

When we stand before God at his judgment seat, he won't be interested in how difficult our spouses were to love, how uncooperative our children were to parent, how difficult our boss or employees were to deal with, how obstinate the people were at church, or how corrupt a culture we had to endure. We'll give account for what we did with what he gave us.

4. The principle of reward. According to Jesus' parables of the Kingdom, faithful stewards who do the master's will with the master's resources, can expect a payday. We want to hear the master say, "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!" (Matt. 25:21)

Interestingly, this promise of reward in the New Testament applies not only to the stewards of the huge estates described in Matthew 25, but also to slaves working in a household. Everyone is a steward in God's household, and everyone can look forward to a reward for faithful service. Notice what Paul says to slaves in Colosse: "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving" (Col. 3:23-24)

Often we don't consider ourselves leaders unless we've been given some position of authority in an organization. Yet no matter what level or position you hold, you need to recognize that God has given you some responsibility of leadership—at the very least, you are a steward responsible to lead yourself and use your own gifts for his purposes and glory. If you have a family, you have been given a stewardship to lead them well—not for yourself, but for God.

So how do you think you are doing? The Parable of the Talents gives us a clue to the "reward" an unfaithful servant can expect.

Then the man who had received the one talent came. "Master," he said, "I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you." His master replied, "You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matt. 25:24-30)

This parable is a commentary, not on God's character, but on an unfaithful steward's perception of God's character. If we believe that our Master is harsh and exacting, we will act accordingly. Maybe we won't bury the vast resources that a talent represented (fifteen years' wages), but we will serve our own self-interests, not our Master's. And, in doing so, we will deserve to be thrown "outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

Let's be honest. We know that's what we deserve. I've blown my leadership responsibilities and been less than faithful too many times to count. I've misused my gifts, mishandled finances, mistreated my family, and misappropriated praise. I still drive too fast, wasting gas and polluting the environment. Hopefully, I fail less often than I used to. The good news is that, although our Master is an exacting judge, he is also a loving Father. The penalty deserved by faithless stewards was absorbed by the Master's own Son. Jesus, the faithful Steward, received the judgment we deserved. He was thrown outside the Father's household and felt the hellish darkness of separation from his Father for our sake. He offers to exchange his faithfulness for our faithlessness, so we can be welcomed back into his Father's household. As we serve the Master, we need not fear the outer darkness ever again. Look at Paul's amazing statement: "If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself" (2 Tim. 2:13).

Jesus' humiliation on the cross not only removed the fear of ultimate failure, it provided the example of selfless leadership. Jesus was the ultimate steward. He did not accumulate power for Himself, but gave it away.

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Phil. 2:4-8)

Thoughts for reflection and discussion:

Move on from failure. Jesus made it possible for us to lead without fear. If we've made mistakes, there is no reason for those who know Christ to "bury our talent." Instead, we can make the changes we need to make and freely invest all we've been given in the Father's work as faithful stewards.

  1. If you stood before God today and had to give an account, would He tell you, "Well done, good and faithful servant" or something more severe?
  2. In what areas do you need to claim God's forgiveness and move toward faithfulness? A good start would be to look at the areas where you tend to blame others.

Editor's Note: This article has been adapted from Bill Peel’s book What God Does When Men Lead. It is part 3 of a 3- part series called "Leadership Is Stewardship."
>> Read Part 1, Leadership Is Stewardship
>> Read Part 2, Not Ownership But Responsibility