FUNDAMENTAL DOCTRINES AND PRACTICES OF STEWARDSHIP
Stewardship: The Object of The Initial Assignment;The Ultimate Subject of Accounting
Daniel O. Ogweno
ABUSE OF AUTHORITY:
Using Things For What They Were
Not Initially Meant
“And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron. And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf …” —Exodus 32:3-4.
Intervening opportunities are not always better alternatives; they are most likely sly distractions sent to test your integrity and resolve. Remaining focused keeps you on the course of
the original plan and the set goals.
A Noble Venture to Justify Misappropriation
There are always intervening opportunities majority of which divert the focus from the original goals. Although some intervening opportunities can be genuinely better alternatives, letting go the original plan can invalidate the foundation and inspiration that birthed a project. One needs to be acutely discerning in order to safely clutch on an intervening opportunity. In the absence of this, it is safe to remain focused, the lure of the intervening opportunity notwithstanding.
The power of an intervening opportunity lies in its promises of quick fixes and easy accesses. It provides shortcuts and insists on revising and reneging on the initial priorities and goals.
In its wider meaning, misappropriation can range from diverting resources into other uses (if mild) to utter fraud (if gross). More often, the term misappropriation is used to refer to resources that are diverted to purposes they were not initially meant for.
In its mild form, many people don’t see misappropriation as a problem. Part of the reason for which this is likely to go unchallenged is because there are euphemisms that mitigate the practice. It can positively be referred to as the reallocation of resources; accommodation of changes; emergency response; flexibility in tackling impromptus, etc. The tricky part is that all these may not be outrightly wrong. They must therefore be thoroughly interrogated to establish whether they are snares or positive options.
There was a church that needed instruments sooner rather than later. They organised for fundraising. The members, not being endowed, were unable to raise the required amount of money amongst themselves. It made the church ask for help from beyond its membership. It worked. All the money required was raised within the set time.
Things changed after they got all the money they wanted. The church realised that souls were perishing somewhere. The instruments could wait. They organised a mission and used the money that was originally intended for buying the instruments. There you have it—misappropriation. But look at it again! What can be as noble as using money for missions to win souls?
After the mission, they realised that they still needed the instruments as a matter of urgency. The church members may have ‘understood’ that it was a good idea to prioritise the souls at the expense of the instruments. The church organised a fundraising once more but like the first time, they were unable to raise all the money needed for the instruments. They once again contacted brethren far and wide. Some of the people who had contributed in the earlier campaign were overheard asking: What happened to the money we had already collected? The idea that the money was used for mission only brought more perplexing question: Is there a time when there will be no souls perishing somewhere so that the church could buy the instruments with a clear conscience?
Though some of the misappropriations can be a result of a short-term plan, others are spontaneous. There was a case where a man gave some money to his friend and brother in the Lord for a business project. The friend diverted some of the money marked for the business project into buying Bibles. He then distributed the Bibles to people on the streets. What a noble venture, you could say! But was it? At one time again, the same man was given money to deposit into an account. But he didn’t. When his friend called to ask if he deposited the money, he answered: “I used my discretion as a minister and gave the money to some of your relatives who were having some financial challenges.”
It doesn’t matter how generous we know somebody to be, or whether we are great friends with somebody, we may not be generous on that person’s behalf, especially if we are doing it with his resources. We can only distribute it if that is what he told us to do or if we consult with him and agree.
The Snare of the Intervening Opportunities
What biblical story explains the snare of the intervening opportunity than the story of Esther! Mordecai had challenged Esther to risk her life and go before King Ahasuerus and rescue the Jews. A wicked man called Haman had planned an ethnic cleansing of the Jews. Though Esther went to see the king illegally, God granted her favours. The King asked her to make her request and it would be granted up to half the kingdom. The king repeated this offer three times (Est. 5:3, 5:6, 7:2).
Something better had come up—or hadn’t it? Esther could have requested half the kingdom. Why? Because that would have made her equal to the king. In this case, she wouldn’t need the king’s power to rescue her people but use her own powers. But she remained focused on and loyal to the original mission. She never opted for half the kingdom.
Did Esther lose an opportunity? It is only a matter of speculation what could have happened if Esther opted for the offer of half the kingdom. One thing is certain though: the king knew that Esther had a petition and this petition was not about dividing the kingdom with her. The king used half the kingdom expression to show how much he was willing to address Esther’s concerns. If Esther took up the offer, the king would probably have hated her for being an opportunist and power thirsty.
The Shrewd Manager
Jesus told the parable of the shrewd manager and noted that the people of this world are clever in the way they deal with their kind. One needs to be ‘clever’ in order to deceive and it is a game in the world, characterized by deceiving and being deceived (2 Tim. 3:13).
And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods. And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.
Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty. Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore.
Initially, I used to think, contrary to what is written, that it was Jesus who commended the manager for his shrewdness. He couldn’t have done that. It was the steward’s master that commended his shrewdness (v.8). The master knew that he had been defrauded but it seems like he couldn’t recover his goods without the manager’s signature.
The power of an intervening opportunity lies in its promises
of quick fixes and easy accesses.
I like Jesus parables, they hide so much and whenever you discover something, it gives a delightful feeling. Both the master and the manager were not wise. The master made a mistake by telling the manager that he was at the verge of losing his job. He could have called him to give an account without telling him that he was being dismissed.
The manager was also anything but wise. If he was wise, it is the kind of wisdom that I would describe as the ‘wisdom of darkness.’
Upon digging deeper into this parable, I perceive that the Lord Jesus wanted believers to understand how the wisdom of the world is foolish. If the man had a true wisdom—the ‘wisdom of light’ which could be as easily available as using common sense—he could have…:
i) understood that it pays far much better to live on his salary doing a faithful work than defraud his employer and wait to benefit from handouts from those who benefitted from his dishonesty.
ii) known that his solution was very temporary. It wasn’t going to be long before his master’s debtors have had enough of him. His response was impulsive.
iii) considered that his master’s debtors wouldn’t employ him after he had proved to them that he was dishonest (The amount of debt they owed implies that they were also businessmen. They could have probably considered employing the man).
iv) invested or saved part of the proceeds of his work. This could have given him something to depend on in an event of losing his job.
v) stopped deceiving himself that he won’t be caught in his mismanagement.
Paradoxically, the “children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light” (v. 8). What this means is that the children of darkness are clever in how to do the deals of darkness than the children of light are clever to do the deals of light.
We must ask ourselves and insist to answer ourselves: When God puts wealth in our hands to manage in our generation, what is the primary purpose? Is it to live large and luxurious or is it to minister to others?
Anyone who preaches against tithing is like the shrewd manager cancelling what people ‘owe’ to God. He does this so that he can be accepted by the beguiled.
Defrauding Others in Order to Preach the Gospel?
Really! There are things that ought not to be even mentioned among brethren. Recently, I wanted to involve brethren to help me expose a book. A pastor friend advised me not to involve pastors to sell the book. “The books may be sold but you will not see the money!” He said.
This was no news for I had experienced this in another form. This was also confirmed first hand by a Christian author who had stocked her books in the bookshops of some very renowned Churches in a country I will leave unnamed for now. She fell short of naming the names, kind of protecting them. I was afraid to hear who they were, but she told me: “You will be shocked if I told you the names”. Talk of dead conscience (1 Tim. 4:2); people who tell others not to steal when they do exactly that (Rom. 2:21); people having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof (2 Tim. 3:5).
I have come to learn that there are two categories of ‘believing fraudsters’. One group is that which have a taste for missions—not a bad thing at this point. Any money that lands in their hands, they use for missions. After all, isn’t the pursuit of souls the most noble venture to use money for? Many ministers judge the success of their ministry by the number of people they lead to Christ or the crowd they influence with the Word of God. It is a kind of ‘the end justifies the means.’
I am afraid many so-called believers will get a shock of their life if they don’t wake up in time from the diabolic trance they seem to be in now. We must not behave as if we love people more than God loves them. We must remain faithful in our dealings. If God doesn’t provide the money in a right way, it is better to wait with the mission. The Bible implies that one can preach to people and they go to heaven without the preacher necessarily getting there. That is the fact against which the apostle Paul took self-counsel.
But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
—1 Corinthians 9:27.
God will not reject anyone because the person who preached to him never made it to heaven. And God will not allow anyone to enter heaven on the account of how many people he led to Christ. The transforming power of the Gospel must work in the life of everyone who confesses the name of the Lord Jesus.
The other group is that which is hypnotized by the desires for material prosperity. They want to be seen as prosperous and so when they handle the Scripture, they employ all interpretational gimmicks and nuances to justify their pursuit. I call it hypnosis because someone in his right mind cannot dare flout the overt principles of loyalty to Christ and honesty with one another. Otherwise, how can one help himself on what is not his and still get away with it? (John 12:6).
One of the most profound characteristics of people lost in chasing after wealth is that they are presumptuously daring. I still don’t understand how Judas Iscariot could steal from Jesus’ ministry with the Lord physically present. Didn’t it bother him that Christ knew everything? Greed and covetousness also cause people to be impetuous, acting on the spur of the moment without considering the guaranteed and the possible consequences. Isn’t it sad what happened to Gehazi, Elisha’s servant?
But Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said, Behold, my master hath spared Naaman this Syrian, in not receiving at his hands that which he brought: but, as the Lord liveth, I will run after him, and take somewhat of him.
—2 Kings 5:20.
Gehazi’s sin to go and get gifts from Naaman compounded his sins. He couldn’t get the gifts without lying to Naaman and when Elisha confronted him, he also lied to him. He ended up getting Naaman’s leprosy not only for himself but for his descendants as well.
That was a bit of digressing. Let us come back to the subject of discussion. If God says, I want to give you your own but I want to see how you are going to take care of someone else’s, will that be a difficult assignment? The interesting thing is that more often, God puts us under a test without us knowing that He is testing us before promoting us. Whether we know that we are under a test or not, the secret that I could as well make a chorus is: Always do the right thing!
When Jesus asked, “And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own?” (Lk. 16:12). Jesus implied that if we can’t take care of what belongs to somebody else how will we take care of our own? ‘Our own’ is still Someone’s. It is stewardship at every turn. What this means it that we are supposed to take care of things whether they belong to someone or they belong to us.
We must not ‘steal’ and con people in order to preach the gospel. This may be like king Saul taking the best of sheep and cattle from Amalekites to sacrifice to God who had instructed him to destroy everything (1 Sam. 15:15). The question is: Were they really going to sacrifice these animals, or they were just trying to find a way of escape after having been caught? In the same way, we can ask: Are we still serving the interests of God when we defraud others in order to preach the gospel or in order to project an image of being materially blessed by God?
It is Easy Invoking God’s Name
The abuse of authority in stewardship occurs when servants of God invoke the name of the Lord in order to forestall opposition or avoid censor. If the Lord hasn’t indeed spoken, then any invocation of His name constitutes a misuse of God’s name and an abuse of authority.
In his book, Chanakya’s Chant, Ashwin Sanghi says: “It is impossible to know when a fish swimming in water drinks some of it. Thus it’s quite impossible to find out when government servants in charge of undertakings misappropriate money.”
If it is impossible to tell when the fish is drinking some of the water it swims in and to tell when a government employee misuses the money under his management, it is even trickier finding out when servants of God pursue their personal whims but invoke God’s name to delude fellow believers. I once watched a servant of God—if indeed he is—being asked by a journalist to explain his lavish life. He maintained that his lifestyle and effluence reflect what the Bible says about servants of God. The journalist tried to probe but the minister couldn’t allow her to probe any further. He simply walked away.
Interestingly, there are multitudes of believers partnering with ministers who are already wealthy. In fact they are wealthy enough to sponsor and sustain an elaborate work of God. Those partnering with a wealthy minister are not necessarily supporting the work of reaching the souls more than they are funding and sustaining a lavish lifestyle. May the reader not get me wrong, I am not saying that rich ministries should not be supported, I’m saying the ministers should be very careful that they don’t settle for unnecessarily and overly lavish lifestyles. Otherwise, we might be misappropriating resources by supporting such ministers. I believe it matters where we put our money and why.
Anything that is fraudulently acquired will
most likely be imprudently utilized.
In order to align our attitude with that of Christ, we must understand that not everything we give away is a seed planted. There has been a misuse of the phrase “plant a seed.” Misappropriation of expressions lead to misappropriation of resources. If something is meant to be given away freely but somebody “plants” it, that would constitute misappropriation. “Freely you have received, freely give,” Jesus commanded (Matt. 10:8). May I repeat, not everything we give is a seed planted.
We must tame the attitude of ‘commercialized giving’. There is no denying that there are things we invest in a commercial sense where the hope to profit is the driving motive—that is part of life, no problem. But this must be kept into healthy perspective as had seen earlier. The apostle Paul warns against those who think that godliness is a means to financial gain (1 Tim. 6:5). He didn’t mean that gaining financially as a result of godliness is necessarily wrong. If everything is set into right perspective, then it is the wrong attitude and motive for godliness that he was attacking.
I would also like to caution that the attitude for supporting a ministry should be very clear and noble. I personally know somebody who was partnering with a very rich ministry. Her reason for partnering was not as much to empower the ministry to reach more people as it was for her to be blessed with material riches. The minister associated with the ministry had told her that people partnering with him will be exceptionally blessed materially.
What Did You Do With Ten Thousand
Bags of Gold?
If stewardship is used as the yardstick to qualify believers for heaven, almost everybody will be disqualified. This explains why the Lord Jesus plotted the grace of forgiveness in the context of stewardship. One of the anticipated and prevalent failures of meeting the expectations of the Kingdom of Heaven is in stewardship. Unless we are forgiven by God’s grace, we have no chance paying the debt of stewardship. Having said that, should we flout the principles of good stewardship because grace will cover for us? By no means (Rom. 6:1-2). Ironically, only those who don’t take advantage of the grace are destined to benefit from it.
Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.
But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.
A day for accounting is a day for reward if we did the right thing, but it is also a day of sentence if we did the wrong thing. Although the subject matter in the above quotation is forgiveness, it also brings to mind a failed stewardship.
The servant owed his master ten thousand bags of gold (NIV). The question is: What did he do with that large amount of gold? He was not able to pay and though he besought his master that he would pay with time, his master knew he would not be able to pay anytime soon. I am smelling misappropriation by the steward, that is, he must have used the gold in areas they were not meant for. He neither saved nor invested. That was a lot of gold that suggests the man may have been living beyond his means.
It is also possible that the man used to ‘borrow’ small amounts over a period of time. He must have been oblivious to the cumulative effect of the small amounts he was taking. If this was the case, it is a warning against addictive behaviour. If we repeatedly do something, it doesn’t matter how small amounts we take each time. The snowballing effect will raise the value to intimidating proportions. Take for example addictive smokers, if you compute the amount of money they use on cigarettes per year, you wouldn’t need to be surprised. If someone has smoked for ten years and the Lord says that the money he smoked was misappropriation, that he has to pay it back, he would be shocked at how much money it is.
The conclusion of the matter is that what is fraudulently acquired will most likely be imprudently utilized. This man, despite the great wealth that had been in his custody, still remained a ‘servant’. The wealth seemed to have been squandered; it vanished and that is why he wasn’t able to pay. The day of accounting caught up with him, he didn’t seem to be prepared for it.
We are not told how much wealth the Prodigal Son inherited from his father (Lk. 15:11-19). What we know is that a “wild living” devours resources like fire consumes dry leaves.
Reflections and Questions to Ponder
1. What is the most important thing you have learnt from this chapter?
2. There is an axiom that says: When the deal is too good, think twice. Can you tell when an intervening opportunity is a distracting strategy?
3. I had asked this question above, let me bring it here as well for a deeper reflection: When God puts wealth in our hands to manage in this generation, what is the primary purpose? Is it to live large and luxurious or is it to minister to others?
4. “Esther remained focused on and loyal to the original mission. She never opted for half the kingdom.” What do you think could have happened if she chose half the kingdom?
5. What are some of the addictive behaviours that make people engage in misappropriation and accumulation of big debts? How can such behaviours be solved?
6. In what ways can we misappropriate time and talents?
7. What are the strategies you can use to stop yourself from misappropriating resources, time and talents?