Copyright © 1997 AFLM
May/June, 1997 Volume XII Number 6 - FEATURES
Stewardship and family planning
by Paul deParrie
I have a responsibility to be a good steward of what God has given me. After all, God gave me a brain, didn't He? -- Oft-repeated argument by Christians in favor of birth control.
Self-justification is an earmark of humanity. Jesus faced it all the time and the most frustrating and angering type -- to Him -- was religious self-justification. Ensconced in very selfless-sounding, God-honoring terms, they are the most difficult kind of excuses to remove. Witness Jesus decrying the Pharisees overturning of God's law through human religious tradition in the rule of Corban which allowed Jews to withhold financial assistance to their parents if the money had been promised to God (Mark 7:11).
In fact, the "stewardship" argument against birth control, in many ways, mirrors the Corban tradition. Both place a higher responsibility on how we treat money than on how we treat human beings -- especially family members.1
What is a steward?
How does Scripture define a steward?
This can be discovered by both the terms used and the examples given by God in the Holy Writ.
The word steward is oikonomos.2 This word refers to a slave or hired freedman who was assigned specific duties in a household. The parables of Jesus give us illustrations of the role of the steward. In fact, the whole concept of stewardship in Christian circles is primarily based upon these stories.
Let us look at one example. Matthew 25:14-15 begins:
For the kingdom of heaven is as a man traveling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.
The opening to this parable is the prototype for all of Jesus' illustrations about stewardship. First notice that the lord does not consult his stewards about his journey or the number of talents he gives to them. He is, after all, their lord.3 Whether one reads this as the lord speaking to outright slaves or hired freedmen, the position is the same. The steward serves at the pleasure of the lord performing the tasks which the lord requires. The steward is not in charge of what he is steward over, but how well he performs as a steward over those things assigned to him by his lord.
Notice that the lord in the parable "delivered unto them his goods . . . every man according to his several ability."
It is the lord and not the steward here who determines the "several ability."
It is abundantly clear in 1 Corinthians 10:134 that God knows our abilities to bear temptation. How much more does He know our abilities to bear "blessings?"
Another feature of the stewardship parables is the designation of ownership. In the parable above, the lord "delivered unto [the stewards] his goods." He delivered these to "his own servants."
Ownership here is directed both toward the steward himself and the goods entrusted to him. I suppose some could argue that the servants were possibly freedmen and therefore were not property of the lord, but this begs the question. Certainly, if nothing else, the service and abilities of the hired servant were the property of the lord even if the body was not.
Even this argument would be vain for we are told over and over by Scripture that we are "bondslaves.",5 And, whatever this word does not make clear, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 does.
What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's. (KJV)
"Ye are not your own" therefore "glorify God in your body." A definitive statement of God's ownership of you and, if one is going to be claiming godly stewardship, one must be a steward who is a bondslave and under the complete control of your Lord. No other condition is acceptable in Scripture.
Also, we are commended to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice as a "reasonable service" (Romans12:1-2).
Beyond this, there is the matter of the "goods" which are delivered into your care.
I cannot count the times a proud parent has said to me that their children were merely "on loan" to them from God and that they, as parents, were simply taking care of them for God. Most of the time, this statement is tossed around as a kind of syrupy-sweet religious platitude spoken without much thought. Yet there is an elemental truth to the statement far exceeding the casual usage. Malachi 2:15, speaking of a godly marriage, tells us:
And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. (KJV)
You see that the stated purpose that God (he) made the two (husband and wife) one, was that He (God) might seek a godly seed.
God has always expressed an interest in households. He instructs parents to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4) as though He expected some result. He jealously guarded children in Israel. Two of the crimes He condemned most consistently in the Old Testament were 1) idolatry (unfaithfulness to Him) and 2) child sacrifice (an affront to His claim to all the people of Israel). Repeatedly, God condemns making children to pass through the fire -- whether offered to a foreign god or allegedly offered to Him.
In one place He is quite explicit. Ezekiel 16:20-21 tells us:
Moreover thou hast taken thy sons and thy daughters, whom thou hast borne unto me, and these hast thou sacrificed unto them to be devoured. Is this of thy whoredoms a small matter, that thou hast slain my children, and delivered them to cause them to pass through the fire for them? (KJV)
Whose children does He say they are? My children. Here God stakes claim to ownership of the children His people bear. When we say that we are trying to be good stewards, we are often simply telling God how many children He will be allowed to have. This is not the attitude of a bondslave.
The source of our "talents"
It might be worth noting that, while being given charge over someone else's money (as in the parable of the talents) might be seen as more of a responsibility than a blessing, the circumstances under which we receive those responsibilities from our Lord actually gives us a certain level of the pleasure of ownership. Whether God has entrusted us with money, or lands, or businesses, or children, they are all considered a blessing to us.
Scripture also makes it abundantly clear that all of the above are bestowed as blessings on us. (Deuteronomy 28:1-14) However, many Christians seem to be willing to view all of these except children as blessings. We forget that it is God, not us, who determines whether we will have any children at all -- it is He who opens and closes the womb.6
James 1:17 tells us, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning."
Since Deuteronomy 28 and many other scriptures7 tell us that children are an unqualified "good gift," there can be no other source for children than God.
So while a stewardship is given to us by God, it is designed to be enjoyed by us while we have it in our care. The catch, however, is we must be stewards over what God gives us, not what we choose to be stewards over.
The returning Lord
Perhaps the least comfortable aspect of the parables about stewardship is the vision of the returning lord.
American Christians, especially evangelicals,8 are loathe to imagine that Jesus will return and demand any kind of accounting of them. Yet this is precisely what these parables teach.
The Scripture indicates that rebellion against the will of God draws judgment from God in both this life and at a later judgment. One of the parables of Jesus explains the fate of an unprofitable steward in Luke 12:45-48.
But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken; the lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more. (KJV)
The unspoken assumption in all the stewardship parables is that the stewards are the lord's people. But notice the severity of the punishments -- everything from being cast out as an unbeliever to beatings with many or few stripes. What particular form those "stripes" take is open to speculation. But since this punishment occurs in the parable at the return of the lord, it should be assumed that these are judgments at the "judgment seat of Christ."
The statement of 2 Corinthians 5:10 would seem to confirm this interpretation.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. (KJV)
In addition to that, God's people have often been subject to judgments in this life as well. We are warned that God is not mocked and that whatsoever we sow, we shall also reap. (Galatians 6:7) In addition, we are warned that judgment begins in the house of the Lord. (1 Peter 4:17) One particular judgment against a rebellious Israel hits particularly close to home on this issue. Consider the implications of the following verses:
Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live; and I polluted them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire all that openeth the womb, that I might make them desolate, to the end that they might know that I am the LORD. (KJV)
Hosea 9:10-12, 13-14, and 16-17
I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the firstripe in the fig tree at her first time: but they went to Baalpeor, and separated themselves unto that shame; and their abominations were according as they loved. As for Ephraim, their glory shall fly away like a bird, from the birth, and from the womb, and from the conception. Though they bring up their children, yet will I bereave them, that there shall not be a man left: yea, woe also to them when I depart from them!
. . .
Ephraim, as I saw Tyrus, is planted in a pleasant place: but Ephraim shall bring forth his children to the murderer.
Give them, O LORD: what wilt thou give? give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.
. . .
Ephraim is smitten, their root is dried up, they shall bear no fruit: yea, though they bring forth, yet will I slay even the beloved fruit of their womb.
My God will cast them away, because they did not hearken unto him: and they shall be wanderers among the nations. (KJV)
Miscarrying wombs, dry breasts, glory departing from the birth, the womb, and the conception. God "polluted them in their gifts" and took away all sound judgment from them so that they passed their children (gifts) through the fire to strange gods. All because they "would not harken."
Lest anyone say that these were Old Testament events and not relevant to the New Testament (as though it was God Who was converted by the death of Christ), remember what it says in 1 Corinthians 10:11-12:
Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. (KJV)
Could it be that the rampant barrenness among Christian women has its roots in our haughty attempt to become "stewards" of how many children God gives us rather than how we raise the ones God chooses? Look around at all the barren women, miscarriages, and stillbirths. Could we be getting what my former pastor used to call "a bellyful of our own way?"
And how about a spiritual version of the same thing? Look at the mass exodus of children from Christian homes who depart from the faith and surrender to fornication, homosexuality, drugs, or just "the world?" Could it be that because we -- individually and as the Church -- placed such a low value on children and refused to be stewards of all that God put in our charge, that we were unable to convey the truths of Scripture to the ones we did have?
This would be a harsh judgment, but what is God to say when we return fewer "talents" than He entrusted to us. Our parable gives us a hint of the Lord's response after the steward with one talent told his lord that he was "afraid" (another reason often given for birth control).
His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Could our paucity on the area of evangelism be a spiritual barrenness we have acquired because of our poor stewardship?
Remember how Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and others were professed to have been "called from their mother's womb" and known before they were conceived. Should there be powerful ministers of the gospel out there who should have been born to us and been raised under our stewardship -- but who were "stewardshipped" out of existence.
I would say that the answer to these questions is obvious.
But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Matthew 21: 28-31a (KJV)
One of the great graces of God is that we can always change our minds and do what is right. As in the parable above, we can begin in obstinance and end in obedience. On the other hand, we can begin by feigning obedience, and end by doing our own will. The choice is ours. We can repent and surrender ourselves to doing God's will in God's way or we can subject God's blessings to scrutiny and decide whether or not we wish to be blessed. We can also suffer the consequences.
Not all of us will be blessed with children. If we are true stewards of God, we will faithfully handle whatever duties are entrusted to us without question. Whatever gifts God gives will be our responsibility. The following two verses show us the way of the faithful steward.
1 Peter 4: 10
As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. (KJV)
Romans 12: 6-8
Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness. (KJV)
No Scripture gives us the option of choosing which gifts will be given and which areas of responsibility will be ours. We are urged by Paul in Romans 12: 1-2
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (KJV)
Rejecting the world's birth control mentality will be the epitome of not being conformed to this world and having a renewed mind. Instead of saying "Corban" (that is, our money and time is a gift to God), let God decide where He wants you to spend your money and your time. In the end, let the words of our Lord in Luke 12: 42-43 describe you.
And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. (KJV)
1 CORBAN (korban) signifies (a) "an offering," and was a Hebrew term for any sacrifice, whether by the shedding of blood or otherwise; (b) "a gift offered to God," (Mark 7:11). Jews were much addicted to rash vows; a saying of the rabbis was, "It is hard for the parents, but the law is clear, vows must be kept." The Septuagent translates the word by doron, "a gift." (from Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words; Copyright (C) 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers)
1. oikonomos primarily denoted "the manager of a household or estate" (oikos, "a house," nemo, "to arrange"), "a steward" (such were usually slaves or freedmen), (Luke 12:42; 16:1,3, 8; 1 Cor. 4:2; Gal. 4:2), RV (KJV, "governors"); in (Rom. 16:23), the "treasurer (RV) of a city; it is used metaphorically, in the wider sense, of a "steward" in general, (a) of preachers of the gospel and teachers of the Word of God, (1 Cor. 4:1); (b) of elders or bishops in churches, (Titus 1:7); (c) of believers generally, (1 Pet. 4:10). (from Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words; Copyright (C) 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers)
1. kurios, properly an adjective, signifying "having power" (kuros) or "authority," is used as a noun, variously translated in the NT, " 'Lord,' 'master,' 'Master,' 'owner,' 'Sir,' a title of wide significance, occurring in each book of the NT save Titus and the Epistles of John. (from Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words; Copyright (C) 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers)
4 1 Corinthians 10:13 "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." (KJV)
5 BONDMAN, BONDMAID
doulos, from deo, "to bind," "a slave," originally the lowest term in the scale of servitude, came also to mean "one who gives himself up to the will of another," e. g., (1 Cor. 7:23; Rom. 6:17,20), and became the most common and general word for "servant," as in (Matt. 8:9), without any idea of bondage. In calling himself, however, a "bondslave of Jesus Christ," e. g., (Rom. 1:1), the apostle Paul intimates (1) that he had been formerly a "bondslave" of Satan, and (2) that, having been bought by Christ, he was now a willing slave, bound to his new Master. (from Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words; Copyright (C) 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers)
6 See e.g., Genesis 29: 31; Genesis 30: 22; 1 Samuel 1: 5-6.
7 Psalm 127: 3-5, "Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate. (KJV)
8 In general, evangelicals subscribe to the doctrine of eternal security in which all sins _ past and future _ are paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ without any further effort from the believer. Nor can the believer lose that salvation. They usually describe the "judgment seat of Christ" experience as more of a graduation ceremony than a judgment.