Get a bunch of Christians together to talk about stewardship and their conversation flows naturally into the language of obligation: “It is giving back to God what we owe Him.”
This is true. But stewardship is rooted in the rich soil of privilege, not the rocky soil of obligation. The Apostle Paul wrote, “So then, you are no longer a slave, but a son. And since you are His son, God will give you all He has for His sons” (Galatians 4:7 GNB).
This is where stewardship begins: in the family of God into which we have been adopted in Christ, in the realm where gifts are more important than obligations. In this soil true stewardship thrives. It is a matter for sons and daughters, not slaves.
God responded to man’s hopeless condition by coming in the person of Jesus. It was the supreme act of love, with the cross as proof. Did God want us to feel obligated because of what He had done? Of course not. He wanted us to feel loved, and He trusted in the strength of His love to draw us to Him. How we invest our lives (our stewardship) is not firstly how we respond to divine orders, but rather how we are drawn by love.
Yes, God is the owner and we are the managers (stewards) of His resources. But that reality is contained in a greater reality: God is our Father and we are His family. He is not interested in asserting ownership and squeezing the last ounce of legal obligation out of us. He is interested in having us in the family where we can find fulfillment.
Stewardship is the forfeiture of ownership and therefore the way to true happiness. It opens the door to one of the greatest privileges of the Christian life: freedom from the power of possessions. Christian stewards have this freedom because they have a family that shares and a God who gives.
Consider also what activates the Christian’s labor: the needs of others. This motivation characterizes the family of God. You will remember that in the early Jerusalem Church, “There was not a needy person among them… for [distribution was made] to anyone as he had need” (Acts 4:34, 35).
The most important thing to say about this matter of stewardship is that it is a splendid privilege granted to God’s own: the privilege of owning nothing—and therefore having everything, and the privilege of giving to others.
Philip D. Needham, The War Cry