Bishop Rupert Neblett | National Overseer Panama
In 2010, the Church of God of Prophecy adopted VISION 2020, emphasizing the importance of prayer, leadership development, and the importance of focusing our efforts towards the harvest as the key pillars for missionary work in 135 countries in the world where our church is present. In 2016, after much reflection and prayer, the incorporation of biblical stewardship was approved as the fourth pillar of Vision 2020. I will not attempt to make an exhaustive exegetical analysis of everything that encompasses biblical stewardship. I will point out some of the most important aspects of stewardship.
Biblical stewardship encompasses time, talents, money, and all God’s creation. Luke 16:1–13 presents an important biblical framework from which we can draw important principles to teach Christian stewardship. Biblical stewardship recognizes that all comes from God, that He has placed all things in our hands, and that we are responsible for administering what He has entrusted to us. God is the creator and sustainer of all things; He must then be the center of everything. The primary principle of stewardship is this: What I am, what I have, and what I can be for God and to God is my responsibility to steward. In fact, all teachings, doctrines, exhortations, and demands in the Bible emanate from this key factor.
God Owns Everything
When we were born, everything was already here. The Bible declares:
• The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein (Psalm 24:1).
• The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of hosts (Haggai 2:8).
• Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine (Ezekiel 18:4).
The owner is a person who owns something and has lawful rights over it. On many occasions, we say we are owners of things, but this is only in a very relative sense. God is the sole owner.
God Has Entrusted Us With Everything
Since the beginning of history, God gave man a limited entitlement, to use and enjoy things, and gave him also commands to care for and work with what was placed in his hands. Thus, man received certain privileges and took charge of certain responsibilities. This is what the Word of God says in Genesis 1:28 and 2:15:
And God blessed them, and God said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.
Throughout the Old Testament, specifically in the Pentateuch, the Lord gave precise and assertive instructions to Israel, the chosen people, to recognize Him as their God, to serve Him, and worship Him. This service and worship were to be expressed through offerings and sacrifices, which represented the total submission of God’s people to Him. To emphasize His sovereignty, God asked His people for a portion of everything. In the heart of the Hebrews, religion was the principle of stewardship, the acknowledgment that everything comes from God, and man must return it all back to Him as an expression of faith, worship, gratitude, and joy.
Christian Stewardship as a Means of Transformation
One of the greatest purposes we pursue with the missionary work we do in every country and community where we serve the Lord, is to achieve the person’s complete transformation until we reach the measure of the stature of a perfect man, our Lord Jesus Christ. When we have the clear conviction that what we are bringing to people is not a religious formula to change from one religion to another, but leading them to Jesus Christ, the only one who can cause a complete transformation, inside and out, it will lead us into a clear understanding and an unavoidable commitment to the practice of Christian stewardship.
A good example in which the Good News changes people’s lives, communities, and entire nations, can be seen in Bob Moffitt’s account of how the church changed ancient Rome:
At the beginning of the first century, Jesus had commissioned a small group of believers to take His message to the world. They did, and God used the message taken by this small, persecuted, oppressed, rejected, and criticized group of 120 people to change the Roman Empire. In fact, this has been called the greatest social transformation in the Western cultures in the last two thousand years.
Social scientist Rodney Stark examined the relationship between this social transformation and the early Church. He found out that the small group of Christians had introduced a new vision of humanity into the Roman world. Seven beliefs and practices of the early Church impacted the Roman society and eventually the world:
• The God of the Christians truly loved those who loved Him. This God was radically different from all Roman gods.
• The God of the Christians loved all humanity and showed His love through His own sacrifice. This was revolutionary! The pagan Romans only loved their families and those at their social level. Nevertheless, the God of the Christians demands them to love the poor and the suffering ones.
• Christians do not separate according to social status or ethnic groups. This was completely different from the Roman culture! The Church created a pattern of human relationship that did not exist in Rome before Christianity.
• The God of the Christians is a God of mercy who demands mercy. Mercy was not part of the pagan Rome lifestyle, which was well known for its cruelty.
• In Christianity, man shall love his wife as himself. Romans laughed at the Christian’s perspective that man should love his wife and children. This was a concept and practice radically different from what was done in Roman society.
• Christians rejected abortion and infanticide, which were common practices in Rome. In Christianity, every life (handicapped, pregnant woman, man, woman, slave, or noble) was sacred.
• Christians should love others, even those unassociated with their faith. Christians, having love and mercy as key duties of their faith, showed mercy and charity (love) in times of fierce epidemics.
Christianity provided a new and motivating vision of humanity, which led many people to the faith. The Christians’ influence was great. In 40 A.D., 0.0017 percent of the Roman Empire population were Christians. By 300 A.D., Stark projects that this group had grown to 6.3 million, 10.5 percent of the population.
Despite their small numbers, those early Christians had such a great influence that Emperor Constantine declared the legality of Christianity in 313 A.D., and gave the Church freedom and social acceptance, thus ending the persecution that existed against it. The Emperor and his successors continued expanding the political measures that favored the Church and, by 381 A.D., Christianity was declared the state official religion. The pagan Rome was now, officially, Christian Rome.
After reading and analyzing the book of the Acts of the apostles and observing the fact that the Church practiced sound stewardship, inasmuch as we all are part of the Church of God of Prophecy, I dare to suggest we imitate the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for the well-being of us all. Let us regain a transformational influence in the middle of a world that is broken by sin and in need of the saving and redeeming work of our Lord Jesus Christ.