1 Corinthians 4:1-2; Titus 1:7-8; 1 Corinthians 9:17; Colossians 1:25; 1 Timothy 1:4
The subject of our meditation is to be that of stewardship. A steward is a man who, on the one hand, stands in a living relationship to all that his Lord has, and, on the other hand, in an equally close relationship to all who look: to his Lord for the supply of their needs, or to receive somewhat of His bounty. So that the steward is a very responsible person. He is responsible for the reputation of his master. What the world knows of his master will very largely accord with what the steward is, and what the world knows or the household receives of enrichment and good, will depend very much upon him. That is a very simple illustration, but that, and very much more, is what is bound up with this word "steward," or "stewardship."
The Apostle Paul spoke of himself as a steward, as having been entrusted with a stewardship, and it is impressive to note that he applies the term to the believers in the Corinthian church or assembly. We can quite readily understand and appreciate that Paul should be a steward, but when he addresses the people in the Corinthian assembly and says to them: "Let a man so account of us, as of ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Cor. 4:1), thus bringing them all in, surely that is transferring the designation to very ordinary believers. We cannot, therefore, evade the issue by saying, Well, that applies to special people like Paul! It clearly applies to ordinary people, like the Corinthians and ourselves, and the exhortation is that men should be able to regard us, to take account of us as stewards.
The Fact of Responsibility
That speaks of something more than merely having a standing as believers. We might perhaps think the world must take account of us as Christians; they will do so in any case if we make a profession! But this Divine thought takes us much further. It brings us out into a place of specific and definite responsibility in two connections; firstly, to the Lord, binding up the Lord's interests with us in an active way; secondly, in a like practical way, to men. We are stewards, we stand in a place between, with a responsibility in two directions.
The Lord's people need to be reminded, from time to time, of the fact of their responsibility. There is a tremendous responsibility resting upon everyone who is related to the Lord, because that relationship is never a passive one, or ought never to be so. It is not the case that we are just members of a family, and there the matter begins and ends. Membership of the family, in the household of faith, is but one phase of truth, of the teaching of the Word of God. It has its own special meaning and value. The fact that believers are called by a variety of designations, and that the various designations seem to counter one another, presents no actual conflict when it is seen that they are but so many aspects of a whole, and not mutually exclusive. For instance, in the case of earthly relationships, for one to be a member of a family would preclude one from being the steward of the household, but with the spiritual relationship it is not so. We have to keep the family relationship in its own place, to recognize that it brings its own responsibility and obligations, and has its own meaning and value; but with that in its place, you yet find yourself, in another direction, in the position of a steward, where you come into a great and specific responsibility. This holds good of all. We are all called to be stewards: that is God's thought for every one of us. Such an observation leads us to one or two important considerations.
The Qualification For Stewardship
A fact which should be very helpful to us is that all the Lord's dealings with us are with the design of making us such stewards as it is required we should be. A steward has to be qualified for his stewardship. A steward must be a man of certain definite characteristics. The fulfillment of his stewardship will demand experience. He cannot step into a true spiritual stewardship at will. There has to be a real preparation, a real development, a real endowment for such a stewardship. If you read carefully the connection in Paul's mind between the stewardship and its fulfillment, you will see that the connection is a very practical one, a very active one, a very deep one. He was conscious of the need of special enablement, special gifts, special qualifications, and for such equipment he had to go through special experiences. Stewardship is a matter of training, and deep training at that.
In order to make us able stewards, the Lord takes us into many different kinds of experiences; into extraordinary, unusual experiences; into such a variety of experiences as come to none but His Own people. No one else goes through quite the same variety of experiences. There are features about the experiences of God's people which are uncommon. Other people in the world may go through certain sufferings which are seemingly like the sufferings of believers: they may know the difficulty of poverty, the difficulty of maintaining their position in the world; outwardly there may be a similarity; but in reality, on the inward side, there are elements associated with the experiences of believers which are not associated with the experiences of the world; their's are peculiar. They have factors of a spiritual character associated with them, which are entirely foreign to the ungodly, to the unbelieving. With the experience of believer there comes a challenge which does not come to the unbeliever; there is a demand to be faced which in the case of the world is not there. I believe that we go through a great many things as the Lord's people which we should never go through if we were not His people. It is simply because we are the Lord's that we go that way. The explanation is not merely that we have to face an enemy when we take sides with the Lord. We have further to take into account the fact that the Lord allows the enemy to do what he does.
(continued with # 2 - "In Experimental Knowledge of the Need")