The Marks of a Steward
A Christian steward’s brand, or mark, is a reflection of Christ’s love through the relationship that he or she has with Him. When we live and practice the traits of Christ, our lives will reveal our brand. Our brand is His brand; our identities are blended with His (1 Cor. 6:17).
This week, we look at identifying character traits of God’s stewards that make up their brand name. These traits inspire us to look for Jesus’ return and to do the work entrusted to us as faithful stewards of His truth. Each characteristic describes a deepening relationship we can have with the One who came to seek and save the lost. The more these qualities are studied, the deeper they will be ingrained in our lives.
God’s character of love, in all its dynamics, will become our brand and have an influence on every aspect of our lives, today and eternally.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, February 10.
“Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2, NKJV). To fight and win “the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12, NKJV) is crucial for a faithful steward. “Faithful” is what God is and what we are to become through Him working in us. Being faithful means staying true to what we know is right, especially in the heat of spiritual battles.
Spiritual conflicts between right and wrong, good and evil, will surely come. They are part of the fight of faith. The decision that marks stewards in every situation is the choice to be faithful. If you love wealth, be sure to remain faithful to God and what He says about the dangers of loving money. If you crave fame, remain faithful to what the Word of God says about humility. If you struggle with lustful thoughts, remain faithful to the promises of holiness. If you want power, remain faithful to what God says about being a servant of all. The choice to be faithful or unfaithful often is made in a split second, even if the consequences can be eternal.
In Hebrew, “faithful” means to trust. The same Hebrew root gives us the word “amen,” and it really means to be “solid” or “firm.” Faithfulness means we have been tested and tried, and still we have remained firmly committed to God’s plan.
Preparing to speak before the emperor, the Reformer Martin Luther “read the word of God, looked over his writings, and sought to draw up his reply in a suitable form. . . . He drew near the holy Scriptures . . . and with emotion placed his left hand on the sacred volume, and raising his right toward heaven, swore to remain faithful to the gospel, and freely to confess his faith, even should he seal his testimony with his blood.”—J. H. Merle d’Aubigné, History of the Reformation (New York: The American Tract Society, 1846), vol. 2, book 7, p. 260.
Knowing that God’s name means “jealous” (Exod. 34:14) should give us a clarion call for loyalty. Loyalty to a “jealous” God is loyalty in love. In the fight of faith, loyalty helps define who we are and encourages us to stay in the battle.
Our loyalty is important to God (1 Kings 8:61). It is not a contract that tries to foresee every contingency; nor is it just a list of rules. It is, rather, the visible expression of our personal beliefs, faith, and commitment.
Where there is loyalty, however, there is the possibility of betrayal. Loyalty, like love, must be offered freely, or it’s not true loyalty. Sometimes in war, frontline troops are forced to stay and fight; otherwise, their officers would have them shot. These men might do their duty, but it isn’t necessarily out of loyalty. That’s not the kind of loyalty God asks of us.
Look at Job. He did not foresee the catastrophic events that would destroy his family, possessions, and health. He could have given up trust, love, and commitment, but his loyalty to God was an unwavering choice of morality. Honest and unafraid to praise God publicly, he uttered the famous words, “ ‘Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him’ ” (Job 13:15, NKJV). His fidelity in the face of disaster is the essence of loyalty, and it illustrates loyal stewards at their finest.
There are many precious things that we can possess. Health, love, friends, a great family—these all are blessings. But perhaps one of the most important of all is a clear conscience.
Our consciences function as internal monitors of our outward lives. A conscience needs to attach itself to a high and perfect standard: God’s law. God wrote His law on Adam’s heart, but sin almost obliterated it—not just in him but in his descendants. Only fragments of the law remained. “[Gentiles] show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness” (Rom. 2:15, NIV). Jesus succeeded where Adam failed because God’s law was “within [His] heart” (Ps. 40:8, NKJV).
“The cobwebbed closet of conscience is to be entered. The windows of the soul are to be closed earthward and thrown wide open heavenward that the bright beams of the Sun of righteousness may have free access. . . . The mind is to be kept clear and pure that it may distinguish between good and evil.”—Ellen G. White, Mind, Character, and Personality, vol. 1, pp. 327, 328. When God’s law has been inscribed on the heart of the believer (Heb. 8:10), and the believer by faith seeks to follow that law, a clear conscience is the likely result.
Abel knelt obediently at his altar, holding the lamb offering as God had commanded. Cain, on the other hand, knelt furiously at his altar holding the fruit. Both had brought offerings; yet, only one brother had been obedient to God’s command. The slain lamb was accepted, but the produce from the ground was rejected. Both brothers had understood the meaning and instructions regarding the offering of sacrifices, but only one obeyed what the Lord had commanded (Gen. 4:1–5).
“The death of Abel was in consequence of Cain’s refusing to accept God’s plan in the school of obedience, to be saved by the blood of Jesus Christ, typified by the sacrificial offerings pointing to Christ. Cain refused the shedding of blood, which symbolized the blood of Christ to be shed for the world.”—Ellen G. White Comments, The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1109.
Obedience starts in the mind. It involves the delicate process of mentally accepting the responsibility of carrying out commands from a higher authority. Obedience stems from a relationship with an authority figure and the willingness to obey that figure. In the case of our relationship to God, our obedience is a voluntary, loving action that molds our behavior to moral obligations. Obedience to God must be as specific as He directs, and not only as we think or desire it should be.
The case of Cain is a perfect example of someone doing his own thing instead of doing what God asks.
We don’t obey to be saved; we obey because we already are saved. Obedience is the practical statement of a moral faith. Samuel told Saul, “ ‘Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams’ ” (1 Sam. 15:22, NKJV).
This principle of trustworthiness is seen all through the Bible. For example, in one story four chief Levite gatekeepers were entrusted to protect the Old Testament sanctuary at night. They were to guard the rooms full of treasure and to hold the keys to open the doors every morning (1 Chron. 9:26, 27). They were given this task because they were deemed trustworthy.
Being trustworthy is a characteristic of a good steward. This means that trustworthy stewards understand the deep significance of their roles; they understand that God is trustworthy, and they will aim to be the same (Deut. 32:4, 1 Kings 8:56).
Trustworthiness implies a mature set of character traits. It is the highest level of character and competence that a person can achieve in the eyes of observers. Reflecting God’s character means you will do what you say you will do, regardless of circumstances or people who press you to do otherwise (2 Kings 12:15).
Daniel was considered trustworthy by the monarchs of two world kingdoms. His reputation throughout his life as a trustworthy counselor who fearlessly delivered wisdom and truth to kings was in direct opposition to that of the court soothsayers and magicians. Trustworthiness is the crown jewel of ethics; it puts your moral principles on display in their purest form. This quality in a steward does not appear overnight but comes over time by being faithful in even the little things.
Others notice our trustworthiness. They respect us and depend on us because they know we are not swayed easily by opinions, fads, or flattery. Being trustworthy is thus a demonstration of character performance in every responsibility played out on earth, the proving ground for heaven. “We are to be faithful, trustworthy subjects of the kingdom of Christ, that those who are worldly-wise may have a true representation of the riches, the goodness, the mercy, the tenderness, and the courtesy of the citizens of the kingdom of God.”—Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p. 190.
Further Thought: Another mark of a good steward is individual accountability.
“It has ever been the design of Satan to draw the minds of the people from Jesus to man, and to destroy individual accountability. Satan failed in his design when he tempted the Son of God; but he succeeded better when he came to fallen man. Christianity became corrupted.” —Ellen G. White, Early Writings, p. 213.
With Christ at the center of our being, we are open to His guidance. As a result, our faith, loyalty, obedience, clear conscience, trustworthiness, and individual accountability will be revealed in our lives. Thus, as stewards, we are made complete in the hands of God (Ps. 139:23, 24). Individual accountability is an essential biblical principle. While on earth, Jesus was individually accountable to the Father (John 8:28). We are accountable for every idle word (Matt. 12:36). “ ‘For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required’ ” (Luke 12:48, NKJV). The biggest threat to individual accountability, though, is the tendency to transfer our responsibilities to someone else. “Let it be borne in mind that it is not our own property which is entrusted to us for investment. If it were, we might claim discretionary power; we might shift our responsibility upon others, and leave our stewardship with them. But this cannot be, because the Lord has made us individually His stewards.”—Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 7, p. 177.