Part 1: Our Lives Are Not Our Own
The New Testament, although emphasizing grace, has hundreds of commands. These are not requirements for salvation, but rather describe the results of salvation—results of God’s grace and his Spirit working within us. The new covenant makes comprehensive demands on us—not just outward conduct, but our hearts and minds.
The apostle Paul explained it like this: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
The price of our salvation is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. He is our Redeemer—he has bought us. In ancient times, this terminology was used in the slave market, where one person could buy another. If a person could not pay a debt, he or she could be sold into slavery to pay the debt. But if a friend or relative could pay the debt, that person could act as a redeemer, to buy the slave back.
Spiritually, this is what Jesus did for us. We were in debt and could not pay our way out. We were in slavery to sin. So Jesus paid our debt, purchased us with his blood (Acts 20:28), so we should no longer be slaves of sin, but be slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:6-18).
Paul says that Christians are to glorify God in everything they do. “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). This is a comprehensive command. No matter what we do, we are to bring glory and honor to God.
Paul is talking here about eating meats offered in sacrifice to idols. In verse 28, Paul says that “if anyone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice,’ then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience’ sake.” He explains: “The other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience?” (verse 29).
Paul implies that my freedom should not be judged by someone else. But, nevertheless, it is voluntarily limited to serve someone else. I modify my behavior because of what the other person believes, in this case, about meat sacrificed to idols.
This particular situation may not present itself today, but it illustrates what Paul means when he says all our activities are to be done for God’s glory and honor. We serve him by what we do in front of our neighbor. Our decisions about eating and drinking can serve to glorify God in our bodies—but those decisions are shaped in part by the circumstances we are in.
The new covenant does not just give us a list of dos and don’ts—it gives us the responsibility of thinking through a situation to see what brings glory to God, including how we might need to limit our behavior based on the conscience of others. The gospel does not let us do anything we want. No—far from it. The new covenant limits what we can do not only in our private lives, but even more so in public. The gospel gives us a new perspective toward God and neighbor, a perspective that presses us to do whatever brings honor and glory to God.
Paul says: “I try to please everybody in every way.” Does this mean that Paul was a two-faced hypocrite? No, it means he was living out the reality of the new covenant. Notice what he said in chapter 9: “Though I am free and belong to no one, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible….. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings” (verses 19, 23).
This is the kind of freedom we have in Christ. We are not our own; we no longer just live as we please. We are slaves of Christ, and to serve him, we make ourselves slaves to serve others. They are not our boss, but we are to serve them.
Property that belongs to Christ
Our lives are not our own. Our time is not our own. Our minds and hearts are not our own. Our relationships are not our own. Our skills and abilities are not our own. They all belong to Jesus Christ. However, we still must decide how to use our lives, our time, relationships, skills and abilities.
We have the new covenant gift of managing someone else’s property. The biblical term for a person who does this is steward. In the parable of the faithful and wise steward, we see this concept:
Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.
But suppose the servant says to himself, “My master is taking a long time in coming,” and he then begins to beat the menservants and maidservants and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.
That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. (Luke 12:42-48)
Everything we have is to be used in the Lord’s work. That applies to physical property such as our bodies and homes. It also applies to intangible things such as emotions, relationships and spiritual gifts. Everything we have is the Lord’s. Everything we have should be used for his honor and glory.
Part 2: Using the Lord's Time
Since our lives are not our own, neither is our time. When we manage our time, we are managing something that belongs to our Master. We are stewards of time.
No matter whether we are rich or poor, we all have 24 hours in each day. How do we use it? Some rich people waste all their time; some poor people waste all their time. Some people even waste other peoples' time. Hopefully, Christians are not wasting all their time — or rather, wasting time that belongs to the Lord.
Time is one of the basic dimensions of our lives. All our decisions affect our use of time. Even making decisions is a use of time. Time is a tremendously complex and comprehensive measure of what life is being used for. How do we use time?
For example, how much time should we use in prayer? The purpose of prayer is not simply to spend time. Time is not the goal. Rather, time is a means to an end. We use time to achieve something more important than time. The goal of prayer is communication with God, both to talk and to listen.
Many people spend too much time talking and not enough listening. That's often true in our relationships with people; it is often true in our relationship with God. But any relationship takes time. We can't get to know a person very well through small talk about the weather. We have to talk about ourselves and things of significance.
In our prayers, we have to spend time talking about ourselves, our thoughts and our feelings. We also have to listen to what God says about his thoughts, his emotions, and who he is. And we have to be willing to listen to what he says about us.
In our prayers, we need to build our relationship with God. We can't just fill the time with small talk about the weather, or even our requests for God's miracles. Our prayers need to have some fervency in them. There needs to be some emotion. Our relationship with God should be at an emotional level, not just an information exchange.
If our relationship with God is deficient, we probably need to spend more time in prayer. That's a use of time that glorifies God. That is one of the ways we can, as wise and faithful stewards, honor him with our bodies.
Which is the better use of time — studying the Bible, or watching TV? Frankly, there is no simple answer to that question. Sometimes it is more important to watch TV. It is up to each person to judge themselves — but I will venture the guess that most people watch too much TV. Often, TV time doesn't benefit anyone, not even the person watching. Maybe that time should be spent with family, with friends, with work, or even with Bible study. Each of you knows your own situation.
Another good use of time is participating in worship services. This is an organized way to glorify God and praise him for who he is and what he does. Some people don't think it's important to assemble, but the New Testament says it is.
The new covenant tells us to be instant in prayer, or constantly praying, constantly communicating with God. It's appropriate for us to be constantly mindful of what he, the owner and the boss, wants us to be doing with the lives and the time we have been entrusted with. That's good stewardship.
Redeem the time
Paul gives us some of our new covenant responsibilities in Ephesians 5. Let's start in verse 1: "Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." Since Jesus has done such a thing for us, we should respond to him as a living sacrifice.
"But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving" (verses 2-4). Paul is talking about stewardship of our bodies, of our minds, and of our words. We need to be careful in our words. Even our jokes should be honorable to God. As he says in verse 12, "It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret." Our mouths are to be used to glorify God.
Titus 2:11-12 says that grace teaches us to live holy lives, lives set apart for service to God. What we read in Ephesians 5 is grace in action. The more we realize what tremendous grace God has shown us in Christ, the more we will want to serve him as best we can. God gives grace so that we might be wise stewards with what he has given. As Paul writes in Ephesians 5:8, we once lived in darkness, but have now been given light in Jesus Christ. Therefore, we should live as children of light. Our behavior should be better than it was before. Unbelievers may not like the change in us, because our lives will be shaped by Jesus rather than by their whims.
Verses 15-16: "Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil." The King James Version says "redeem the time." Use it properly in God's service. Be a good steward of time, and be careful about how you live.
We have been bought with a price, and Christ has called us to be slaves of righteousness — serving not out of compulsion or fear of punishment, but serving willingly, out of thankfulness for what Jesus has done for us.
Part 3: Relationships That Glorify God
One of God's greatest gifts to us is the ability to form friendships and other relationships. We have families, friends, neighbors, co-workers and acquaintances. We have places in the church, in the community, in our families and in our jobs.
Relationships are spiritual blessings. They are good gifts, given to us by our Father, the giver of all good gifts. Our Creator has made us so that we can have relationships not only with him, but with each other. This is what he wants for us, and the way we have been created. When relationships are broken, we feel a sense of loss. Something valuable has been removed from our lives. Relationships are something of value, even though they cannot be measured in physical terms.
God has something to say about what we do in our relationships with others. The second-greatest commandment concerns our relationships with others. We are commanded to love our neighbors. Relationships are one of the few things we have in this life that we can continue to have in the next life. This is what we have been created for, and this is what we have been redeemed for, so that we can live forever not only with God, but also with each other.
Relationships are incredibly important, and they should be used to glorify God. That's why the new covenant has a lot to say about what we do with others and how we think about others. It commands us to love others in thought, word and deed. This is good stewardship in our relationships.
Consider our closest neighbor, which for many is our spouse. The Bible says that a spouse is a gift from the Lord. We do not own the person as a slave, but we have been given the relationship. We can consider this relationship the Lord's, a blessing that is on loan to us, for us to use in his service. So we might ask ourselves, Does our marriage bring glory and honor to God? Am I being a good steward of what the Lord has given me?
Consider the new covenant implications on marriage. Consider the fact that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died for your spouse. He esteems your spouse highly. He loves your spouse dearly, and he is watching you to see how you think about and treat this priceless treasure for whom he died. We should treat our spouses honorably, as we would treat the Lord himself.
Ephesians 5 and new covenant behavior
The book of Ephesians has a well-known passage on marriage. Let's look at it in the context of Christian stewardship of something valuable that belongs to the Lord. Paul gets into stewardship of relationships in verses 21-22: "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord." Paul did not say, "Husbands, your wives ought to submit to you, so tell them about it." Paul spoke to wives. Wives are to judge themselves. They know whether or not they are submitting.
Likewise, in verse 25, Paul speaks to husbands: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." Paul is not giving permission for wives to judge their husbands. He is telling husbands to judge themselves, to measure their love by the love of Jesus Christ. We always have room for improvement.
What gives Jesus the right to tell us how to relate to our spouses? First, he died to redeem us. And second, he died to redeem our spouses. Verse 30 says, "we" — both husbands and wives — "are members of his body." He owns us, and he owns our marriages. As wise and faithful stewards, we have work to do in our marriages — work that begins on our knees and changes our hearts and changes our behavior toward one another.
Another relationship we need to manage wisely is with our children. They are also gifts from God, on loan to us. As faithful stewards, are we bringing them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? (Ephesians 6:4). Are we bringing them up with spiritual nourishment in the teaching of Jesus Christ? Has the new covenant affected the way we interact with our children?
God has also blessed us with neighbors in the places we work and in the places we live. Are these relationships being used to honor God? Are they assets or stumbling-blocks in the work of the gospel? How do we use the positions and privileges we have in the community? These are things we need to manage, to take care of, on behalf of our owner in heaven. These relationships can be blessings if we are using them the way God intends.
Relationships in the church
We have relationships in the church, too, and Jesus has much to say about what we do with one another. One of the most visible tests of the Christian faith, he said, was that we love one another. We all fall short, but grace teaches us to improve, and to forgive the mistakes that others make.
There have been a lot of sins in this church. There have been a lot of sins in any church. Jesus calls on us to nourish one another instead of beating up on one another. He calls us to go forward as best we can, learning from the past, but not carrying the grudges any more. That's faithful stewardship of relationships in the church.
Also in the church, God gives us spiritual gifts. Here again, he has something to say about how we use them. They are not given to us for our own glory, but for the glory of God. "Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good" (1 Corinthians 12:7).
Peter says something similar: "Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 4:10-11).
All gifts are on loan to us. They are not our personal property, to be placed in our bank accounts for our own use. Rather, they are given for the purpose of helping others. In using these gifts, we are also going to benefit. We are going to enjoy the work God has called us to do. But we can't enjoy it by focusing on ourselves — we will enjoy life most when we use it to serve others. The faithful steward is also a richly rewarded steward.
Skills and abilities also are a gift of God and should be used in his service. This might include music or speech. It might include strength and health. It might include intelligence. It might include specialized training in medicine or accounting or automobile mechanics or family relations. Whatever it is, whatever you have, whatever you can do, it is God's. We are to use it to serve him.
Part 4: The Workplace and the Marketplace
Work is also a gift a God, and what we do on the job should bring glory and honor to God. That includes ordinary occupations. Consider Jesus himself — for at least a decade of his life, he worked as a carpenter. Manual labor is a God-honoring occupation. Jesus used it in God's service. That can apply not only in terms of the quality of workmanship that Jesus had, but also in terms of the way he worked with other people — in his customer relations and in the price he charged.
The New Testament says something about the way we work. In Ephesians 6, Paul addresses this area of our life:
Slaves [or in modern terms, we could say "employees"], obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. (verses 5-8)
Here we see stewardship on the job. Although we have an earthly master, we also have a heavenly master, and we are to work in his service, as his slaves in whatever occupation we have. We need to serve cheerfully, not grudgingly, for God loves a cheerful worker. Thankfully, God also happens to be a very good employer. The wages may be modest in this life, but the fringe benefits are exceptional!
So, whatever our work is, we need to do it well. We need to manage this aspect of our life to serve our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. That means not only in the quality of the workmanship we have, but also the quality of relationships we have in the workplace. These should also bring glory and honor to Jesus Christ. That doesn't mean that we have to convert everyone we work with. We should strive for peaceful and positive relationships.
While we are talking about serving Jesus Christ in our jobs, we should also say a few words about the money we earn from those jobs. Our responsibilities concerning money are simply one facet of our entire life's responsibility toward Jesus Christ. It all belongs to him. No matter how much we give, no matter how much we keep, it all belongs to him, and he's got something to say about how we use it and our priorities in life.
Money is a sensitive subject to many people. We can talk about friendships, spiritual gifts and work without much complaint. But when we discuss money, some people get defensive even to the point of being offensive. I suspect that it is because money is, to many people in Western society, an idol. To many people, money is more important than serving God.
If the mere mention of money gets your defenses up, it is likely that you have not done enough thinking in this area of life as to how it should be serving Jesus Christ. Notice I did not say that you aren't giving enough. I just said that you haven't done enough thinking about how much you are giving. If you get defensive, that's because things aren't settled enough in your own mind. You need to take this area of your life — the life that Jesus owns — to God in prayer, and discuss it for a while and get comfortable with it with God. That's who it's really for, anyway.
When we discuss using life in God's service, we cannot ignore the important role that money has in our lives. We have to talk about money, even if some people would rather we didn't. The New Testament says quite a bit about money. Jesus warned us about money. In Luke 12, for example, which has the parable of the wise and faithful steward, we also find some instruction about money. "Watch out!", Jesus said. "Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (verse 15).
He told another parable about "how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God" (verses 16-21). Money has something to do with spiritual maturity. In Luke 16, where Jesus told the parable of the unjust steward, he concluded with some spiritual lessons about money:
Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own? (verses 10-12)
Jesus' point here is that the things of this life are training for the life to come. What we do now affects what we will enjoy later. That is true in terms of our time, our relationships, our jobs, and our spiritual gifts. It is true in terms of our money, too. Jesus spoke this to an audience that loved money (verse 14). He was challenging their idol.
"No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money" (verse 13). Our Lord is a jealous God. He wants our undivided attention, our complete allegiance. That means our time; it means our money; it means our relationships and everything we do. It means all our heart, mind, soul and strength. It means worship and dedication.
Some Christians give money because they are convinced that they have to. Some are happy to do it, and that's good. Other people give grudgingly, and that's not so good. Some people are holding a grudge about money they gave 10 or 20 years ago. That's just one illustration that money has a strong hold on our lives and is an important part of our lives.
When Jesus claims our lives as his own property, he claims all our money, too. When he assigns us the responsibility of managing our lives, we have to manage the money, too, all for his honor and glory. Being a faithful steward applies in this area of life just as much as it does in time and family and skills and abilities that God has given us. We need to take our money to God in prayer and talk it out and listen to what he has to say about it.
Part 5: Stewardship in the Gospel
The last area of stewardship that I want to address is the gospel. In the gospel, we have been given something of tremendous value. It is the pearl of great price for which we are willing to give up all other things. We are even willing to give up life itself for the sake of the gospel, because the gospel contains the promise of life forever with God.
Since the gospel message itself is a gift, we can ask ourselves what we are doing with this gift. This is something that Jesus Christ owns and we have been given a stewardship responsibility in. This gift, like all other spiritual gifts, is not given to us to hoard or hide. It gives us a benefit, but it is not for our benefit alone. We have been called into the church to participate in sharing the gospel. The great commission is given not just to the apostles, but to all disciples of Jesus Christ.
Are we faithful stewards of the gospel message? Or are we hiding it, keeping it to ourselves in such a way that it cannot bear fruit? Jesus told parables about that kind of behavior.
I am not saying that every church member ought to go out on street corners to preach the gospel. Some people are gifted for that kind of evangelism; most Christians are not. I am not saying that you have to preach to strangers or even to your co-workers and neighbors. Not everyone has a gift for that. But I would like to point out what Peter wrote: "In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (1 Peter 3:15).
If someone asks you why you believe in Jesus Christ, are you prepared to give an answer? You should be. Give your answer — or at least be prepared to. Sit down and write it out. See if you can say it in one minute. That's all the attention span that many people have. It doesn't have to be anything "profound" — just a reason that you believe.
If your life is bringing glory and honor to God, if you are not offending the people around you, then somebody may ask you: Why are you a Christian? Are you ready to give an answer? That is good stewardship of the gospel message.
The apostle Paul also dealt with this: "Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ" (Colossians 4:2-3). Here we see prayer in the context of the gospel. The Colossians Christians were exhorted to pray for Paul to preach the gospel.
We should pray for pastors to preach the gospel. If we had to make a choice between 10 percent of your money and 10 percent of your time devoted in prayer for the gospel, we would be wise to choose the time and prayer. What miracles would take place if each member devoted 1.6 hours a day to praying? Most people find that it is easier to give 10 percent of their money.
"Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders," Paul writes. "Make the most of every opportunity" (verse 5). Redeem the time. Use time to serve the Lord. Be a good steward of your words, too: "Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone" (verse 6). Know how to give an answer.
Paul, as a preacher, was aggressive with the gospel. He had the gift of preaching on the street corner. Most Christians do not have that gift. But all Christians should be responsive to opportunities — or I could also say responsible. We should be able to respond when we are asked about our faith. By being prepared, we can make the most of every opportunity. We can let our light shine so that people see, and are attracted, and ask, and are given an answer from somebody they know and believe.
Living for Jesus Christ
The apostle Paul was talking about the gospel when he wrote, "Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died." Christ's love, as seen in his willingness to die for us, motivated Paul to preach the good news.
Paul also preached the consequences: "He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again" (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). That is life stewardship: we live for Jesus Christ, to do his work, to serve him in everything we do. Paul is talking about something that applies to all Christians.
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (verse 17). Paul is still talking about all Christians. "All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ." Paul continues to talk about all Christians, and then he writes: "and gave us the ministry of reconciliation" (verse 18).
Each person who has been reconciled to God through the death of Jesus Christ has been given something. We have been given the ministry of reconciliation, the message of reconciliation, the message of the gospel, the good news that salvation is offered through Jesus Christ our Lord. We have been given a job, a job that starts with being prepared.
In the gospel, we have been given something that belongs to Jesus Christ. He tells us what to do with it. We are called to be stewards, or managers of his property — in our time, in our relationships, in our money, and in the gospel, all to his honor and glory.