A steward is a person who administers the property, house, finances, etc. of another person who may be their superior. The ‘Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible’ defines a steward as a “house agent, managing the house and servants, assigning task, being responsible for the goods of his master, and training of the heir,” No doubt, in most Christian Churches today, a common encounter with the word ‘steward’ is when we hear of the phrase ‘guild of stewards.’ They are usually persons who act as ushers during services in our churches. They ensure that worshippers are orderly. They collect offerings during worship services.
They are a visible body of workers on Sundays and others days of worship. They welcome members and guest worshippers, they make people comfortable and see to their worship needs, they do the recording of attendance population as well as those of offerings, etc.
But we are not referring to these stewards here. From our definition, stewardship entails two things. A superior master or lord and a subordinate who serves as his employee. Stewardship involves a relationship of employer-employee. At the time of Jesus Christ, a steward was a house agent who was responsible for the administration of his master’s property. It was the responsibility of the steward to organise other workers in the employment of the master. The office of a steward was very important. It was a high position – in status and privilege – to hold. The steward was the caretaker of his master’s estate. He could employ other servants and supervise them. More importantly, the steward trains and mentors the heir of his master’s estate.
In Genesis 15:2-3, we read that: “But Abram said, Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!” This underscores the importance of a steward’s position. He could inherit his master’s wealth if there were no heir. Here, Eliezer would have being the inheritor of Abram’s estate and wealth.
God has promised Abram that his offspring would fill the earth. Consequently, God assured Abram in verse 3, “And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.”
God’s promise to Abram concerning who shall be his heir did not diminish the status and importance of a steward’s office. The fear of Abram was that Eliezer – one who was not a biological child – may end up becoming his promised child! Before the birth of Isaac, Eliezer was charged with sensitive and important roles by Abram. At old age, Abraham had to rely on him to secure a wife for his son, Isaac (Genesis 24:1-3). There are two lessons to be learnt from the stewardship of Eliezer. He was the head servant of Abraham and he ruled over the wealth of Abraham. He was ultimately charged with securing a wife for Abraham’s son and heir.
Given the importance of a steward in the life of his master, due diligence is often required before they are recruited for the task. It is an exalted position. It is important for a steward to be a diligent person. He must be loyal and obedient. Stewards are expected to be accountable, resourceful, faithful and trustworthy persons. Stewards must possess all these qualities. No master would compromise any of these essentials. “He also said to His disciples. ‘There was a rich man who had a steward, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward” (Luke 16:1-3).
The office of a steward is no mean position to hold. When the brothers of Joseph got “caught” with money hidden in their sacks, the one to whom they explained their situation and pleaded their case was described by the Bible as “the steward of Joseph’s house.” “So the men took that present and Benjamin, and they took double money in their hand, and arose and went down to Egypt; and they stood before Joseph. When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the steward of his house, “Take these men to my home, and slaughter an animal and make ready; for these men will dine with me at noon. Then the man did as Joseph ordered …” (Genesis 43:15-17).
The fact that in the verses that followed Joseph’s brothers pleaded their innocence to the steward, addressing him ‘sir’, points out to the high regards that was given to the position or office of stewardship. The “steward of Joseph’s house’ assuaged their fears thus: “Peace be with you, do not be afraid. Your God, and the God of your father has given you treasure in your sacks; I had your money” (Genesis 43:23).
Believers are all called to the office of stewardship in the Vineyard of God. It is unfortunate that many of us, even in the secular world get offended whenever we are required to give account of resources under our care. No Christian should take offence of being called to be accountable of their stewardship. A disloyal person have no business in the house of God. Stewardship is a high office of responsibility and trust. It is a privileged position to occupy. A steward has a tremendous responsibility in the estate of God, the Church. They are charged with the souls of men. They should organise people into becoming candidates for heaven. It is expected of stewards that they will use this office rightly and diligently. Only the uninformed and uneducated look down on the steward’s office as ‘ordinary’ ‘mundane,’ and ‘pedestrian.’ Believers’ authority and power; their commission and status are derived from the one who called and engaged them to be His steward, Christ Jesus is our Master. He reserves a commendation for us if we do well. “His lord said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord.” (Matthew 25:21).
The Rev’d Dr Karo Ogbinaka, an Anglican priest of the Diocese of Lagos West, lectures at the Department of Philosophy, University of Lagos. He is a member of the editorial board of The Trumpet.