We’ve mentioned several times the concept of stewardship, but what exactly is it? If we look at a dictionary today we’ll likely see something like this, ‘the employment or use of one’s time, talents, or abilities.’ It is a definition focused on us, but I would suggest that this focus is a relatively recent development. As an example, we have no further to look than the titles of some of our leading magazines over the last seventy years or so, as they are a reflection of our society. At the beginning of that time span we had publications like Time and Life, and they did quite well. Fast forward to the early 70’s and we first had People, and a mere ten years after that we had Us and Self. Notice the progression? It is no different from many of our other basic concepts and ideas, including stewardship. We’ve ‘progressed’ from being fascinated by the big picture of things outside of ourselves, to one absorbed with ourselves. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with self-examination, if it is balanced with a valid objective. That objectivity within individualism is provided by a set of virtues and a given morality. Within collectivism that objectivity is provided by the dictates of the state.
The definition provided above for stewardship is correct, as far as it goes. It is about the use of our gifts, but it is also much more. It is about how those gifts are employed, and to what end. The definition above implies all we need to do is use them, but that is simply not enough. Clement of Alexandria developed a concept that he termed ‘The Gnostic’ to provide an example of how to live, which included the notion of good stewardship. One thing to remember about Clement’s concept. When he wrote, the world was a very different place. Although Rome was at the peak of its power, most of its population lived on the edge of subsistence. The norm for by far the largest portion of its population was being poor. Related to his concept of stewardship are the following ideas:
Our Creator created everything. Man can only create out of what our Creator has already created.
‘Human art, moreover, produces houses, and ships, and cities, and pictures. But how shall I tell what God makes? Behold the whole universe; it is his work: and the heaven, and the sun, and angels, and men, are the works of His fingers.’ Exhortation, Ch. IV.
Everything was created for our use.
‘For if the heavenly bodies are not the works of men, they were certainly created for man. Let none of you worship the sun, but set his desires on the Maker of the sun; nor deify the universe, but seek after the Creator of the universe.’ Exhortation, Ch. IV.
We are on a journey, and should focus on its end. Creation was provided to support us on our journey. We are to care for the things of the world, use what we need, but not attach ourselves to them.
‘For all things are of one God. And no one is a stranger to the world by nature, their essence being one, and God one. But the elect man dwells as a sojourner, knowing all things to be possessed and disposed of . . . The body, too, as one sent on a distant pilgrimage, uses inns and dwellings by the way, having care of the things of the world, of the places where he halts; but leaving his dwelling-place and property without excessive emotion; readily following him that leads him away from life; by no means and on no occasion turning back.’ Stromata IV, Ch. XXVI.
That journey has specific objectives which include: (1) choosing to become good, (2) acquiring wisdom through knowledge and virtue, (3) caring for ourselves and others, and (4) doing this all simply because it is good and right.
‘For it is of great importance in regard to virtue to be made fit for its attainment. And it is intended that we should be saved by ourselves. This, then, is the nature of the soul, to move of itself.’ Stromata VI, Ch. XII.
‘It is, then, not by availing himself of these as virtues that our Gnostic will be deeply learned. But by using them as helps in distinguishing what is common and what is peculiar, he will admit the truth. For the cause of all error and false opinion, is inability to distinguish in what respect things are common, and in what respects they differ.’ Stromata VI, Ch. X.
‘Let no one seek his own advantage, but also that of his neighbor, so as to be able at once to do and to teach, building and building up.’ Stromata IV, Ch. VII.
‘This, then, is the perfect man’s first form of doing good, when it is done not for any advantage in what pertains to him, but because he judges it right to do good; and the energy being vigorously exerted in all things, in the very act becomes good; not, good in some things, and not good in others; but consisting in the habit of doing good, neither for glory, . . . for reputation, nor from reward either from men or God.’
Stromata IV, Ch. XXII.
We are to use what we need, and take care of the rest, both for those who journey with us and those yet to come. Desire for the things of the world is true poverty.
‘It is not the diminishing of one’s resources, but the augmenting of insatiableness, that is to be considered poverty; for it is not slender means that ever constitutes poverty, but insatiableness, from which the good man being free, will also be rich.’ Quoting Plato in Stromata II, Ch. V.
‘He impoverishes himself, in order that he may never overlook a brother who has been brought into affliction, through the perfection that is in love, especially if he know that the will bear want himself easier than his brother.’ Stromata VII, Ch. XII.
Implicit in the above is the need to exercise stewardship always, as we never know when our journey will end. We should therefore strive to make choices consistent with an eminent ending.
So stewardship is not only about using our gifts, but also about using them well. Stewardship over creation is not just about things, but includes people too. This is where stewardship ties back to education, and where I’ll pick up next time.