“Stewardship is Accountability” – The Holiness Project – Day 48

Stewardship is AccountabilityStewardship is Accountability – Lenten Season 2021

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16 NIV).

Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice over you. But I want you to be wise about what is good and innocent about what is evil” (Romans 16:19 NIV).

“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.  For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.  I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:8,9 NIV).

7 Spiritual Laws of Success – Stewardship is Accountability (Law #6)

The original title of this post was “Stewardship is Simplicity” and you can imagine why.  After all, we are talking about success and the world likes to define that in terms of resources.  What is that bumper sticker slogan that seems to make people smile?  Oh, yes.  “The one who dies with the most toys, wins!”  We know it’s a bit childish but the truth is that success has been defined that way since the beginning of time.

We define success as relational in terms of our relationship with God.  Some people would, no doubt, agree that success is relational but in terms of human relationships – with your spouse, your family, your friends and having the respect of your community.  Good stuff, just not enough for Christians.  For us, success is “pleasing God by becoming like Christ through a lifestyle of effective ministry.”

We know that there is no distinction between our spiritual life and our day-to-day existence.  Everything is Spiritual.

We know that our goal of success is worthy of our best efforts, therefore Ambition is Expected and Discipline is Necessary.

Life is Ministry.  It is NOT a drudgery but the fulfillment of all of our dreams, desires and gifts.

MEANING in life comes from an IDENTITY in Christ, a PURPOSE in Christ and a SIGNIFICANCE in Christ and in working for the furtherance of the Kingdom of God.

It brings JOY and PEACE and a true satisfaction that all of this pain and suffering was worth it.

It only remains to define what “effective” ministry is from God’s point-of-view since He is the one we are trying to please with our efforts.  And we define that ministry (as the Bible does) in terms of Discipleship, Stewardship and Leadership.   Discipleship is Warfare.  Stewardship is Accountability.  Leadership is Influence.

Stewardship is Simplicity vs. Stewardship is Accountability

So why did I change the name of this post from Stewardship is Simplicity to Stewardship is Accountability?

Good question.

“Stewardship is Simplicity” is also true.  It focuses on the fact that success is not defined in terms of money or resources (or even what you do with it) but in terms of “relational” meaning (identity, purpose and significance).  We are NOT preaching a Prosperity Gospel message here.  Far from it.  The concept of “simplicity” and a “simple lifestyle” so that we can dedicate our lives and resources to the furtherance of the Kingdom of God is a necessary message for the modern church but is too narrow for our purposes.  We need to go deeper to find the true spiritual law of success.

Perhaps the idea of Stewardship as Accountability is, in itself, also too simple.  It’s obvious, isn’t it?  If Jesus defines us as “stewards” or “managers” of his kingdom then, by definition, we will be held accountable when the Master comes back to check on things.  We interpret this “accountability experience” to mean at the judgment of God after our own death or at the end of the age but it is also a dynamic process of “discipline” that can happen in real time, during our ministry here on earth.

Christian Culture vs. Kingdom Purpose

That “judgement” theme is usually understood in terms either of our relationship with God (sheep vs goats) or our morality (good vs. bad).  But the Bible does not speak only of morality but rather of a judgement on “what we have done” and that includes our stewardship.

The modern church is too focused on morality and culture and not focused enough on stewardship and kingdom.  As one example of this modern dichotomy, look at the culture wars of the United States over the past 15 to 20 years (especially lately under ex-President Donald Trump) where evangelical Christians were eager to back a morally bankrupt candidate who “pretended” to be a Christian to accomplish cultural change (or the protection of family values).  The negative fallout for our evangelistic efforts to further the Kingdom of God will be felt for at least a generation.

Whether you agree with me or not, the difference between our “Christian culture” and our “Kingdom purpose” is the difference between a focus on morality and culture and a focus on evangelism and witness.  So we need to go deeper than simplicity (although many Christians need to hear that as well) and talk about accountability for managing the furtherance (the expansion) of the Kingdom of God.

We will be held accountable.

The Parable of the Shrewd Manager – Stewardship is Accountability

Jesus talked once about a shrewd manager who wasted his Master’s resources and was about to get fired.  He decided to go and reduce the amounts that people owed his Master and make them obligated to him personally.  This would help him after he got fired because they would welcome him into their homes.

Not one of Jesus’ best parables, no doubt.  But there is a truth here that is deep and powerful if we look for it.

Jesus said that the Master “commended” the shrewd manager (or praised him) for what he had done.


It seems rather dishonest to us.

Some scholars point out that since Jews couldn’t charge interest (which was considered usury) to other Jews, they would, as a pre-requisite to get the loan, increase the capital amount of the debt itself.  So a loan of 1000 gold coins would be written up as actually a loan of 1500 gold coins.  No interest.  All capital.  Which was a sneaky way to get around the Mosaic law and was not God’s intention in the first place.  Is that what this shrewd manager was doing?  Reducing the debt to the original amount?  We just don’t know.  But perhaps it wasn’t as morally wrong as we think looking at it from our modern perspective.  The shrewd manager may just have been holding the Master to a moral and legal standard that he should have done in the first place.  Again, we just don’t know.

Also, there is no reason to assume that in this parable, the master is supposed to be God (as in other parables).  So that would allow for a master who was not morally upright himself.  In other words, a typical “worldly” master, who was, himself, a shrewd businessman.  It seems that Jesus is just using an understandable, if unlikely, scenario to make a point.

So what was his point?

In his own words he tells us.  “For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light” (Luke 16:8b NIV).  Their shrewdness may be a bit morally questionable and certainly selfish, and for their own benefit, but it works.  You can imagine that this “worldly master” might be asking himself why this manager didn’t apply this shrewdness to his management of the master’s resources in the first place.  Obviously he had the business knack but, like the prodigal son in another parable, he “wasted” the master’s resources (perhaps on his own selfish needs and desires).

But Jesus doesn’t stop there.

He makes another application of this truth to the spiritual realm.  “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9 NIV).   The comparison here seems to be a bit convoluted to say the least and a lot of people find it hard to understand.  Let me try to clarify it a bit.

The point of comparison is “worldly resources” (meaning the same thing in both instances) and the point of difference is “eternal” dwellings (as over and against “temporal” dwellings of the manager’s new friends).  The point of dispute is the term “friends” meaning…..what?  who?  Jesus?  God?  That would seem to be the meaning given that Jesus is talking about “eternal” dwellings.

So the meaning seems to be something like, “You should use your worldly wealth and resources to gain friendship with (or please) Jesus/God so that when you die (when the worldly wealth is gone), you will be welcomed into God’s home (eternal dwellings).”

Meaning……if you want to be selfish and think only in terms of the benefits, at least think in terms of the eternal kingdom of God and not just in terms of using your wealth for worldly needs and issues.

Wisdom vs. Shrewdness

Perhaps the problem is a question of one word translated differently depending on which version of the Bible you read.  That word is “wise” or “shrewd” and is translated both ways.  We know the saying, “be as wise as serpents but as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16) but in the NIV it is translated “be as shrewd as serpents.”  That has a bit of a different connotation.

And don’t forget the context.

Jesus had just finished saying that he was sending them out as “sheep (or lambs) among wolves.”  He clarifies later that the “wolves” are the pharisees and religious leaders and that they would be persecuted.  They needed to be wise or “shrewd.”  Sometimes Jesus didn’t hang around when the religious leaders wanted “to sieze him” and perhaps “stone him” but disappeared into the crowds.  His time had not yet come.  He had a job to do and it was the same job he was giving to his disciples – to go out into all of the towns and villages of Israel and preach the coming of the Kingdom of God.  Don’t get sidetracked by persecution and difficulty.  Be singleminded about your purpose.

Being “shrewd” is more than what we normally mean by “wisdom.”  It sort of includes “street smarts” and an ability to get the job done.  It gives the idea of a smart, but perhaps not entirely moral, businessman who, nonetheless, has amassed a small fortune.  He knows how money works and he makes it work for himself.  He is a shrewd businessman who knows how to get the job done.

Wisdom is another thing altogether.  We can be wise or foolish but it is more black and white.  There is no moral grey area here and no focus on getting the job done “come what may” but rather on our reputation, on our manner of doing things.  We are moral above all even if it means that things don’t get done.  It isn’t pragmatic but rather relational.

And that’s good, isn’t it?

Well, yes and no.

Now don’t think I am promoting a pragmatic “shrewedness” over morality.  I’m not.  I am saying that a pragmatic singleminded “shrewedness” IS morality (from God’s point of view) when the focus is on doing God’s good, pleasing and perfect will.  There is a “godly shrewedness” that Jesus demonstrated over and over again that we need to emulate.

The Seriousness of our Mission – Stewardship is Accountability

You see, everywhere in the New Testament Jesus talks tough about the Kingdom of God.  There’s a lot of pushing and shoving to get in and take part in this new Kingdom of God on earth.  Jesus said at one point that “everyone is forcing his way into it” (Luke 16:16b NIV).  Certainly there were crowds wanting to hear what he had to say and a lot of sick people to heal and there were long hours and often sleepless nights.  It was bloody hard work.  People saw the benefits and they wanted to be part of it.  Once they started to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, even the possibility of throwing the hated Romans out of Israel was on the table and the golden age of Israel was at hand.

At least that’s how it seemed at the beginning…

The crowds would turn on him, of course, (after the feeding of the five thousand) and even his own disciples would abandon him at the last minute because the Kingdom of God was made of sterner stuff, stronger stuff than we could ever imagine.  You know the story but living it was another matter altogether.  No doubt.

So what am I trying to say?  Just this….

In the same way that the cross is an indication of how serious the problem of sin and evil in the hearts of mankind is, so, too, is the judgement of God, the accountability of the stewards at the end of time, an indication of the seriousness of our mission.  Stewardship is accountability for the hearts and minds of the people we are fighting for in our efforts at Discipleship/Evangelism and Leadership.  It is a burden of glory – their glory or their horror – to be revealed on that day of Judgment before the throne of God.   It is a burden of glory that we share with Christ in joint ministry.

Our mission is not to establish a Christian moral culture but rather to win the hearts and souls of men and women to Christ (the Christian moral culture is a result of that).  Stewardship is accountability for our Kingdom mission and purpose not just for our moral lifestyle.

It requires our “every effort” and it expects our ambition and needs our discipline.  It isn’t just about a placid morality that is worried about what other people say or think (even in the church) but about a “godly shrewdness” or a “shrewed” morality that is focused on getting the job done no matter what other people say or think or what obstacles we find in our path or what price has to be paid.  That singlemindedness of purpose is usually rooted in our own suvival, our own needs, our own benefit.  To elicit such singlemindedness towards God and pleasing Him above all with a life of effective ministry…..well, that is the stuff of legend…..the material that miracles are made out of. 

Singlemindedness Towards God – Stewardship is Accountability

Did you get that?  Jesus did……

He eats with tax collectors and sinners, the religious leaders complained.  He allows his disciples NOT to wash their hands and feet every day.  He flaunts our religious culture and beliefs and drinks wine and eats like a glutton. 

And you can imagine the disciples reaction…

Jesus….what’s wrong with you?  You’re making us look bad.  Snap out of it.  Your witness is suffering because people do NOT think well of you, nor will people listen to you if you don’t play ball.  Right, Jesus?

But what did Jesus say?

You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee the wrath of God?  You whitewashed tombs……Woe on you…..the judgement of God is coming upon this adulterous generation……

You know what I mean…

Either Jesus was bipolar……loving one moment and a hell-and-brimestone preacher another…..or we are missing something.

Well,” you might say, “he was hard on the pharisees but loving towards his disciples, right?

Well, yes, sort of…..

Get behind me Satan…..he says to Peter…..right after Peter gives his wonderful confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God….

So no, not entirely true….even his disciples could get in the way at times.

Jesus said once that it was his food and drink to do the will of the Father, not to please the moral expectations of the religious leaders of his day or even to fulfill the Messianic expectations of his own disciples (including Judas or Peter).  Jesus was focused on pleasing his Father and his Father had sent him to die on the cross.  That was his “effective ministry.”

Something serious was going on and it required a single-minded focus on getting the right job done right.  And that job was not a question of “moral” expectations (although who was more morally upright than Jesus?) but about “mission” expectations (accomplishing the will of the Father).

That single minded “shrewedness” that was focused on getting the job done of building the Kingdom of God is something that the modern church needs to recapture if they want to be successful at pleasing God and leading lives of effective ministry.  Becoming like Christ in his singlemindedness, in his shrewd use of his time and resources always with an eye to getting the job done is the goal.  In that sense, shrewdness is morality if morality means pleasing God and doing His will (which is always moral) rather than pleasing men.

Singleminded Shrewdness in your Kingdom Purpose

Sometimes it may look like you are going against Christian culture and values (as I did above in talking about Trump).  Sometimes it may look like you are breaking the law (when you talk about Christ when it is forbidden or go places where you are not expected to be but go to do ministry).  Sometimes it means that you will make other Christians uncomfortable with how you preach or teach or who you hang around with or how you do your ministry.

Perhaps you are so invested in helping the poor that you don’t mind asking people in your church to contribute some money towards a worthy cause.  Watch out!  Many churches will shut you down.  All requests have to go through the Pastor and be approved by the Board.  People don’t like to be bothered at church with the needs of the poor.  And the powers that be are convinced that their job is to protect the people from the dangers of spontaneous acts of generosity.

Really?  Yes, really. (I speak from personal experience).

And if you say anything, then you are not respecting the spiritual authority of the Pastor and the Board and you are not “in submission” to those who are the leaders of the church.  Paul said, follow me as I follow Christ.  Many church leaders say, in effect, follow me because I am the pastor.  Big difference.

I would like to invite you to read the Gospels again in the light of this discussion.  Note how many times Jesus says something to the effect that he expects fruit (not only moral fruit but kingdom fruit) from us.  We are the fig tree that should be producing figs “in season and out” and Jesus will not be happy if we have lots of greenery but no effectiveness (figs).  It was a visual lesson for us to take “producing fruit” seriously.

“The Father is expecting fruit,” Jesus says over and over again.  This is serious business.  That’s why we are here.  That’s why we suffer.  That’s why the sun comes up every morning (II Peter 3:7,8).  There is a hell waiting for people and they will be in pain (burning fire) and in regret (gnashing their teeth) for eternity.  Fruit means making disciples, baptizing and teaching them….which is our primary mission directly from Jesus.  Everything else is secondary.

Of course this is a “godly shrewdness.”

Be as shrewd as serpents (the people of the world) and as innocent as doves (as the people of light).  Just like Jesus was.   After all, if discipleship is warfare then this makes perfect sense.  We need to fight for the hearts and souls of men and women and that means we are accountable for our Stewardship if we don’t do it. 

If you want to please God then there is no exception to this singleminded godly “shrewdness” and a placid morality that pleases men (even fellow Christians) simply will not do.  Jesus established a warrior church to get a difficult job done not a Christian softball team just to pass the time.  Stewardship is accountability to God for getting our Kingdom purpose done with singleminded shrewdness.

The Desert Warrior

Lord, I want to take my mission more seriously like you did.  Stewardship is Accountability.  You paid the ultimate price and I want to thank you for that.  Help me to stay focused on getting the job done and not on what people might think or say.  I need to learn to be more shrewed in using my resources of money and time and in my strategy and efforts to get the job done.  Thank you Lord.  Amen.