If we are satisfied that one of our roles as Christians is to steward the Earth – the place He created specifically for us – then the next logical question would be how. We can find our answer in many places in the Bible, but let us focus our attention to what Jesus Christ said about stewardship.
The short and simplistic answer to how we steward creation is simply to say to do it the way that God would do it. However, it is through Christ’s teaching we can learn how God would do it. Christ’s parable of the talents is valuable for us to examine when considering stewardship. The primary understanding of this passage is about Christ answering a question about the nature of the kingdom of heaven. But, the Bible has much depth in application, and stewardship of His provision to us is a valid application of this passage. In Matthew 25, our illustration features three stewards asked to care for something that is the owner’s.
For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey. Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents. In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more. But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, “Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” Also the one who had received the two talents came up and said, “Master, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more talents.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.” But his master answered and said to him, “You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.” For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
As I read it, the passage holds a powerful message for agriculture – especially for those of us who profess to be Christians. Here is the summation of the passage in the form of several takeaways:
1.) God expects us to be productive with what He gives us. To put it plainly, our Creator expects a return. We cannot be content with simple maintenance, God expects productivity and usefulness.
2.) Not everyone is given equal amounts to manage. Reward is given to those who are successful regardless of the amount for which they are responsible. What is fair is determined by God, not by man.
3.) The responsibilities God gives us are based on the combination of two things: our abilities and His working in us. However, we often add to our responsibilities with things and activities that were not God’s intention for our lives. This can often overshadow the stewardship we are supposed to exercise for that which God has given us.
4.) When we manage God’s creation as He would, our reward will be abundance. What a great promise and witness this is for us.
5.) Finally, stewards are held accountable for their actions. Remember, this is God’s creation, His magnificent work that He called very good. You would not doodle with a magic marker on Leonardo da Vinci’s painting The Mona Lisa. Why do something to desecrate God’s artwork? We all will give an accounting for what God has entrusted to us and this includes our farms, ranches, and homesteads.
The next illustration gives us a very stark reason why we must steward God’s creation as He would. Luke 12 tells us the consequences are dire.
And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master will be a long time in coming,’ and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers. And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.
We must be able to see two perspectives: one is God’s perspective as the One who provides and is the Owner; the second is the steward’s perspective, who has responsibility for care and productivity. A simple parallel will help provide understanding of this.
When parents turn children over to the care of a babysitter, they are doing so with the implied and often implicit understanding that the caregiver will watch over the child as nearly as they can to the way the parent would. In fact, the loving parent leaves instructions for the caregiver to better help them care for the children. The babysitter does not feel they are now the parent. The return of the parents is ever in the mind of the sitter, so the quality of care given to the child is impacted by this imminent return.
God put care of creation in the hands of man and even left guidance in His word and in His creation itself from which we can take our instruction on how to steward His creation in anticipation of God’s return. Yet, the Heavenly Father did not stop there. In addition to His book of instructions, God has also given us an in-person Guide to shepherd us along the way in the person of His Holy Spirit.
With the instructions from what creation shows us, the Holy Spirit leading us, and the teachings of God the Son, as unexcused stewards we will either be found wanting or rewarded when the owner returns.