The Glory and Futility of Stewardship
Why loyal stewards struggle with redemption, and how the up-side-down logic of God’s Kingdom comes to our rescue.
Forgive me for the outrageous title – but I think it’s profoundly true – and intensely real for me and for many of my peers in the Kingdom of God. It holds both warning and promise as we seek to practice redemptive stewardship.
To start, let me share a story about 3 business partners:
The founder, Josh, diligently built a food packaging company with his bare hands over several decades. As the company prospered, he took on two high-potential apprentices, Ben and Stu, to train-up and eventually take over the business. Ben was energetic, creative and ambitious. Stu was hard-working, methodical and frugal. Ben was popular and knew how to motivate staff, while Stu’s consistent sound judgement ordered the business into profitable growth. Quickly both became junior partners, though Josh (the founder) stayed in charge for a long-time.
Eventually Ben got impatient, sold his shares in the company and used the proceeds to fund an exciting new venture. Unfortunately, this startup was more flash than substance, and when the economic bubble burst, the firm crashed and Ben found himself lonely, penniless and unemployed. After a string of low-paying jobs, he realized he was wasting his potential and decided to approach Josh and see if he could get his old job back. Josh, though naturally disappointed in Ben’s past choices, still loved him, believed in his potential and was worried about his situation. So when Ben showed up unannounced one afternoon, Josh got so excited he threw a huge impromptu office party to welcome him back.
Just then Stu came back from his daily inspection rounds through the factory departments. He was pleased the firm had finally recovered from the damage caused by Ben’s departure. Rounding the corner of the building, Stu was shocked to see a big party tent on the front lawn, replete with loud-music and BBQ pits. Flagging a passing accounting clerk, Stu wondered out loud if somehow he “missed the memo.” He was about to make a snide remark about waste and unproductive activity when the clerk related the actual reason, leaving him in stunned silence. Enraged, Stu just stood there at the edge of the parking lot, fuming as he recalled that Josh NEVER threw a party for him. Meanwhile Josh, noticing Stu standing there, excitedly rushed up to tell him the great news of Ben coming back…. And you know the rest of the story.
This parable has been named “The Prodigal Son”, but I am guessing Yeshua’s original title was “The Lost Steward”. The picture of the Father running to embrace the son who squandered his inheritance is a beautiful and grace-filled encouragement to us regarding God’s heart. However, it is not the climax of the story. Rather, Yeshua’s key punch-line is the Father pleading with the embittered older son to embrace the full measure of his identity: “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” (Luke 15:31-32).
Both sons misunderstood their identity by equating it with their responsibility. Only one son found redemption, and it was by failure, honest confession and repentance. The older son, though obedient and excellent in stewardship, was measuring his worth the wrong way and couldn’t accept or extend grace.
Herein lays the dark-side of stewardship and the heart-ache, frustration and even seething anger I encounter among sincere servants of God. Though we consciously deny it, we have internalized the world’s logic that outcomes = value. We believe our faithful service is what undergirds our worth, and the “fruit” we produce is what God most values. It is this “good kid” psychology that drives us to perform for God by our own power, and corrupts the function and practice of stewardship by turning it into an unhealthy identity. Excellence driven by a needy zeal to win God’s approval becomes our slave- master. Ironically, the more accomplished we are, the more blind we become.
When we confuse our identity with our task, we take responsibility for outcomes rather than resting in simple obedience. Worse yet, we are not able to experience personally the very redemption we seek to facilitate. So, even at its pinnacle, stewardship without intimate identity results in bitterness, and an inability to receive and give God’s greatest gifts of sacrificial grace, acceptance, love, peace and joy.
We begin with great vision and noble intentions. But as results fall-short of our expectations and desires, we feel failure and frustration. Since God whom we serve so sincerely is perfect, we either internalize this as personal inadequacy, or we blame Him for not blessing the work we are doing on His behalf. In either case, we are now descending the distinctly UN-redemptive path of bitter judgement. Unrepentant, this path can end in burnout, depression, self-destructive, addictive and abusive behaviors, with severe personal and communal outcomes.
By contrast redemption is a process of rescuing, saving and/or ransoming (buying the freedom) of the one sold, trapped or enslaved. The Hebrew for redeem, Ga’al, is linguistically linked to being covered with blood. It is an action motivated by the duty and devotion of a family member or community leader. It requires the redeemer have a recognized identity, a blood-relationship to the redeemed (or inheritance rights to the property), and ability to pay. Clearly, Yeshua is the perfect redeemer:
1. His double identity as Son of God and Son of Man. 2. Being a Jewish man – having blood-kinship with the people of Israel and humanity in general. 3. Laying on the altar all of His divine glory and life-giving-life as substitutional payment – shedding and covering us with His atoning blood.
Stewardship is the practice of guarding, cultivating and growing someone else’s treasures, on their behalf. The word steward in Hebrew, Sochen, means agent, representative and even power-of- attorney. It is a position of trust, requiring the trustee be faithful (Ne’eman) and reliable (Amin). In the Hebrew, these two words come from the same root as the word FAITH (Emunah), and its origin word – nursemaid (Omenet) – the one entrusted to nurture and raise the household’ most precious members, its children. The Greek word, oikonomos, expands the concept to management, meaning overseer or superintendent of household affairs. Thus, stewardship in the Greek is closely associated with providing for the needs of the extended family or community – economics.
Stewardship is an honorable function, often reserved for the most capable servants in a household. It was the highest rank a devoted slave or ambitious hired-man could hope for.
Yet, no steward, however capable and trustworthy, can redeem of their own accord. Only a free person, owner of their own resources and blood-relative of the captive can truly perform this function. It is an act rooted in identity, requiring personal sacrifice.
When studying Biblical examples of stewardship, one of the foremost characters is Joseph, son of Israel. And for good reason: Joseph is an arch-type of the Messiah – sold into slavery, unrecognized by his own brothers, yet bringing salvation not only to his family, but to all of Egypt and the entire ancient near- east. Furthermore, we see in him a perfect picture of calling, giftedness and faithfulness combined with hard-work. A man who with great grit, devotion, integrity and excellence, remained faithful despite circumstances that would have embittered most others (myself included). He is a model of stewardship, par-excellence. In fact, he is TOO perfect – inhumanly so.
The Bible notes that in his drive to maximize profit for Pharaoh (perhaps to prove his fealty and worth?), Joseph hyper-monetizes the “redemptive process” God originally intended to preserve life (Genesis 47:13-26). Joseph proceeds to impoverish the Egyptian people, moving them in-mass from a free land- holding agrarian society into feudally-bound urbanized serfs of Pharaoh. It is the very opposite of the Biblical picture of societal righteousness – “each man under his own vine and fig tree”. Joseph’s very gift, his highly-skilled stewardship overworked and unconstrained by healthy boundaries, may have been the direct cause of Egyptians antipathy towards the Hebrews – slavery begetting slavery.
By contrast, there is another man whose story intertwines with Joseph’s – his half-brother Judah – a man in search of redemption. 4th son of Jacob, Judah is born into a family whose members for two generations have been deceiving and competing with one another for the father’s attention, love and favor (Genesis 25, 27, 29-30). Judah is the first to suggest selling Joseph for profit rather than killing him. Perhaps he felt pity for Joseph or thought killing a family member went too far, but he couched his argument in pure economic logic advising they capitalize on the opportunity (Genesis 37:26-27)
We next find Judah abandoning his family (Genesis 38:1). Joseph is sold into exile against his will, but Judah goes into self-exile unable to face his father. Belatedly he realizes the terrible impact his actions had on his family. Likely, Judah is not able to handle his father’s grief knowing he caused it, and the collective stress and shame of maintaining the ongoing deception is too much to bear. So, leaving his father’s household, Judah tries to build his own separate community and family. His attempts at creating his own peace fail miserably: Judah’s two older sons are put to death by God for their wickedness, his wife dies prematurely, and in his low moral state he unwittingly impregnates his own daughter-in-law. Judah, humbled and broken, confesses that pagan and conniving Tamar is more righteous than himself (v. 26).
Like the prodigal son, Judah rejoins his family a changed man, acting with increasing responsibility and leadership. He is able to forebear Jacob’s serial dysfunctional favoritism and over-protectiveness of Benjamin, rather than resent it – as it no longer threatens his own identity. Before, as a needy, spiteful and greedy man, he sold into slavery a half-brother he resented for getting all of his father’s attention. Now, as a son with deep love for his father, Judah sacrifices his own freedom as a substitute offering in place of the other unfairly favored half-brother (Genesis 44:18-34).
It is Judah, not Joseph, who steps into the role of redeemer. A leader of his brothers, Judah offers up himself to ransom a kinsman out of bondage, while Joseph, the accomplished steward who provides for his family, is still struggling to find his way home. Judah, who tried and failed to build his own legacy, is now secure in his identity as son, and can therefore act as a redeemed redeemer. It is at this time that the meaning of his name is fulfilled – “I praise the Lord”.
This is reason leadership and the monarchy of Israel remained within the tribe of Judah– and it is from this line that the Princes of Israel – King David down to the Messiah Yeshua came.
Interestingly, the Hebrew word for prince embodies the very qualities of a redeemer, and lights the way to true redemptive stewardship. The word PRINCE – Nasich – means anointed AND poured-out-one (literally libation offering). As children of God and co-heirs with the Messiah (Romans 8:13-17), this is our profound identity: royal sons of the king anointed to be poured-out as a representative offering for the people.
The highest form of redemptive leadership is therefore sacrificial – to risk ourselves in faith, creating a safe environment for others to gain freedom, be healed and grow. This redemptive effect is amplified by effective stewardship skills. However, excelling in stewardship can become a trap unless practiced within the protective boundaries of secure identity, meek dependence on God’s spirit, freedom from outcomes based self-value, and motives sourced in love.
Mordechai Wiseman is the founder of Israel Center for Economic Advancement
Sign up for KNI weekly updates
Some thoughts on fear
We’ve had a lot of scary things happen here in Israel lately, and it seems to just keep getting worse.
As I’m sitting here writing this blog post, Israeli Air Force jets and helicopters are launching strikes on Syrian military positions following the firing of two rockets at Israeli territory on the Golan Heights from areas controlled by the Assad regime. A full scale war, quite possibly involving rockets fired at me and my family here in Jerusalem, might be just around the corner.
This follows a weekend in which a Palestinian man randomly selected a couple of Jewish people to stab as they walked through the Old City of Jerusalem minding their own business. This reminds me that I live in a city where I have to be watchful as I’m simply walking around minding my own business, lest someone randomly select me as someone they’d like to stab.
As most readers of this blog will know, there was also an incident at the Pavilion in Jerusalem in which a bunch of young men and teenagers from the “Lehava” organization, which is an anti-Christian group within Jerusalem’s Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, attempted to disrupt a concert put on by a group of local Israeli Believers. This group, which all of my Ultra-Orthodox friends assure me represents a tiny fraction of the community and acts in ways that nearly everyone finds appalling and unacceptable, nonetheless continues to exist despite nearly everything they do being technically illegal. Similar groups exist in other Israeli cities and harass Believers, both Jewish and Gentiles, in various ways.
However, as bad as this harassment is, it’s light in comparison to what our Arab Christian brothers and sisters living in the Palestinian Authority administered cities in the West Bank and Gaza are subjected to from their Moslem neighbours and sometimes even from within the PA itself.
So, yeah, there’s a lot of scary stuff happening here in Israel. But wherever you live as you read this blog, you could no doubt make your own list of scary stuff. From increasingly common mass shootings in the US to increasingly common terrorist attacks in Europe, to environmental deterioration, economic uncertainty and political turmoil pretty much everywhere the list of things that can have a negative effect on our lives but over which we have little or no control is long and seems to keep getting longer.
I have never made a study of this subject myself so I beg your pardon if this is incorrect, but I have heard that the Bible contains 365 passages, one for each day of the year, saying that Believers are not to live lives of fear.
Some of the most often quoted of these passages are;
Isaiah 41:10; “Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand”
2 Timothy 1:7; “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline”
To this can be added Romans 8:28 which says “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose”
This passage doesn’t deal specifically with fear, but it has an obvious application which can help us cope with our fears.
However, there’s one other passage which gives us an even more precise instruction which can help us in our day-to-day struggles with fear and anxiety, and that is 1 Thessalonians 5:8; “But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation.”
This passage is often taught as an example of metaphor and/or allegory but the late Derek Prince (whose teachings have played a large role in my own spiritual journey and which I recommend to everyone) pointed out that a “helmet” protects the head, which of course contains the brain. It is in our brains that we feel fear and anxiety, and so the “hope of salvation” is the remedy for that.
Prince went on to explain that, bearing this in mind, Believers are obligated to have an attitude of optimism, because this will make us stand out in a world increasingly consumed by fear and anxiety and it will also protect us from being overwhelmed by our own fears. I will be the first to admit that this is much easier said than done, but I am also forced to admit that there is simply no alternative.
May God give us all the faith, strength and courage to face our fears and anxieties with an attitude of optimism and hope because we KNOW where all these scary things we’re going through are taking us and we KNOW that our Heavenly Father is working all things together or our good.
Aaron is a member of Jerusalem Assembly, House of Redemption.
Sign up for KNI weekly updates
What you destroy is just as important as what you create
One day I walked into my local record store, which was carrying my latest CD. I asked the owner if I could have back all the copies of my CD, without any further explanation. I took all those CDs, and I threw them in the trash. Then I moved on to other record stores in the city to do the same thing. Why did I take my music off the shelves and trash it? Because sometimes, as an artist, what you destroy can be just as important as what you create.
This episode talks about:
- How art can keep things alive in your life that may not belong in your life.
- The freedom that comes with destroying your art.
- What it’s like to never have watched an episode of Game of Thrones.
In dreams begins responsibility. Adam Lee Rosenfeld, of the indie rock band Har Adonai, shares his lifelong pursuit of finding and creating beauty and truth. Check out more episodes here
Sign up for KNI weekly updates
A matter of perspective
PARASHAT BAMIDBAR (IN THE DESSERT/WILDERNESS)
VAYIKRA (LEVITICUS) 21:1–24:3
The Book of Numbers in Hebrew is called במדבר “In the Desert (Wilderness)” and it speaks of the time when the children of Israel wandered in the desert after their redemption from slavery in Egypt. The book records the numerous events that occurred in their decades of wandering. The first words of chapter 1 describe to us an interesting fact, which is that God spoke to Moses after they had already wandered one year:
Then the LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting, on the first of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying…”
God gave a very specific set of instructions to Moses and the children of Israel regarding the next steps that they were to take on their way to the Land of Promise. As we well know — and are going to learn together — Israel did not obey God, which resulted in not just another 39 years in the desert, but also that an entire generation was not permitted to enter the Land of Promise.
I sometimes wonder what would have happened if Israel had listened to God’s instructions. How tragic that they lost so much time wandering the desert, and that the same generation which was taken out of Egypt missed out on experiencing the ultimate promise of God. And this was all due to their lack of faith!
I entitled this blog entry, “A Matter of Perspective” because when we read chapter 1, we find some interesting things about the population of Israel during that time:
Take a census of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, every male, head by head from twenty years old and upward, whoever is able to go out to war in Israel, you and Aaron shall number them by their armies.
God’s instruction to Israel was to count every male from the age of 20 and above. This is important because these males were the ones who would lead Israel into the Promised Land, by an army. We understand from this that Israel’s entrance to the Land would possibly require military action.
Later on in Chapter 1, we read of the total number of these men:
These are the ones who were numbered, whom Moses and Aaron numbered, with the leaders of Israel, twelve men, each of whom was of his father’s household. So all the numbered men of the sons of Israel by their fathers’ households, from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go out to war in Israel, even all the numbered men were 603,550.
As I was reading this account, I got to thinking about how many people — men, women, & children — there were in the camp. The Scriptures tell us that there were 603,550 men over the age of 20, and most commentaries I read estimate that there were most likely 2,000,000 people in all! Talk about a huge perspective shift!
Let’s think of this a moment… 2,000,000 people were traveling in the desert together. Can you imagine how immense that must have been? These people would have needed water, food, and other essential items which were required for survival. Not only that, but Moses had to oversee 2,000,000 people! I must confess that I have an entirely new appreciation for Moses rising to the challenge of leading so many people through the desert. And more importantly, I have a new appreciation for God’s supernatural provision for the children of Israel through it all.
As we continue to study this book, I want to encourage us to read slowly, and think through the small details, which will help us to better understand the bigger picture.
Moran is the Founder and Executive Director of Hope for Israel, which is a service and resource-providing ministry that aims to bring the hope of the Messiah back to Israel. It is also a resource center for current and timely news updates concerning Israel that provides daily prayer alerts, Bible teachings, and weekly blogs in order to help believers across the world understand what God is doing in the Land, how to pray for Israel and filter everything through the Word of God.
Sign up for KNI weekly updates
The full blessing of Genesis 12:2
Growing up in a Jewish home, attending synagogue, and Hebrew school classes, I was introduced to Abraham early and often. To the Jewish people like myself, Abraham holds a place similar but greater than George Washington does to Americans Genesis. After all, George Washinton is only the father of a nation while Abraham is the father of our faith. Whether you are a follower of Judaism or Christianity, our faith begins with a conversation between Abraham and G-D. After all, we are told that we are children of Abraham through faith. See Gal 3:6-7:
Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” know then that those who have faith are children of Abraham.
Because Abraham is such an important part of the history of our faith the calling of Abraham in Genesis 12 is such a familiar story that was told to me as a child over and over again. It became so foundational to my faith that like most Jewish boys I could recite the promises given to Abraham. Because as a descendant of Abraham I was taught that these promises were mine also.
- I knew that G-D had called Abraham and promised to make Abraham a great nation.
- I knew that G-D promises to bless Abraham and make Abraham’s name great.
- I know that G-D promised to bless those who blessed Abraham and to curse whoever cursed Abraham.
- I also knew that G-D promised that all of the families of the earth would be blessed because of Abraham.
Genesis 12:2 My heart’s desire is to make you into a great nation, to bless you, to make your name great so that you may be a blessing. 3 My desire is to bless those who bless you, but whoever curses you I will curse, and in you, all the families of the earth will be blessed.
For most people who read these verses, the above list pretty well covers the calling of Abraham and the blessings G-D promised Abraham if Abraham would leave his home and family and follow G-D to the place G-D would show Abraham. Yet there is one promise that G-D gave to Abraham that wasn’t mentioned in my list above. This is a promise that G-D has been keeping since the time of Abraham and continues to keep today.
Look again at Genesis 12:2 the last 7 words. G-D promises to bless Abraham for a reason. G-D’s promise has a purpose beyond the promise found at the end of Genesis 12:3 which is the promise of Yeshua’s coming when all the families of the earth were blessed. At the end of verse two, G-D tells Abraham that He would make Abraham a great name…why? So that Abraham would be a blessing. G-D’s promise did not stop with Abraham being blessed and being a great name. G-D’s promise was not simply that Abraham would receive. No! Not at all! G-D’s promise was that Abraham would be blessed, so that Abraham would pour out those blessing upon others.
This Biblical truth doesn’t stop with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This blessing on Abraham travels generationally through the millennia until today. Through the physical descendants of Abraham, the world has been abundantly blessed not just because our faith has been a blessing to the entire world. And not just because through the Jewish people the Bible has been preserved. All we have to do is look at the advancements in medicine and technology that have come through the Jewish people that increased our standard of health and living.
But beyond the physical descendants of Abraham those who are children of Abraham through faith have also been blessed and are to be a blessing. If the body of Messiah wants to receive the full blessings of G-D that the Scriptures teach and promise which are found in the first half of Genesis 12:2. We must make ourselves open to the promise given in the second half of Genesis 12:2. We must stop being self-centered and self-motivated. We must understand that G-D’s blessings come with a requirement not just to receive but also to give. When the blessings of G-D flow into a group of people that do not also allow them to flow out of them the people become stagnant, and stagnant water stinks of death. Yeshua (Jesus) is the promised blessing of Genesis 12:3, and if we are to receive the full blessing of Genesis 12:2, we must understand and believe what Yeshua said in John 7:38:
Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture says, ‘out of his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’”
Eric Tokajer is author of With Me in Paradise, Transient Singularity, #ManWisdom, OY! How Did I Get Here?: Thirty-One Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me Before Entering Ministry, Jesus is to Christianity as Pasta is to Italians, God Has No Plan "B", and his most recent book Galatians in Context.