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Friday, October 16, 2009

Stewardship

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known... (Colossians 1:24-25)

"A stew boiled is a stew spoiled" ?

Contrary to how the word may appear, stewardship is related to stew only by a tenuous stretch of the imagination. The bowl of stew that you enjoy on a cold afternoon is named after the act of taking a bath. (from a Middle English word, stuwen, meaning to bathe). The cook "bathed" meat and vegetables in simmering hot water to create your dinner.

Stewardship, however, comes from the Anglo Saxon language:

Steward, from Anglo Saxon stiweard, stigweard, fr. sti, stig, house, hall, sty + weard warden; the position of an officer or employee in a large family or estate, managing domestic concerns, supervising servants, collecting rents or income, keeping accounts. (Source: Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, 1949)

The original word meant "ward of the house". Sti or stig meant house or hall, and weard meant watch or guard. We see the influence of Anglo Saxon in "pig-sty", a house for pigs.


What word in the Greek did Paul use?

Stewardship: oikonomia {oy-kon-om-ee'-ah} Strong's {3622} from (3623) ; administration (of a household or estate); specially a (religious) "economy": - dispensation, stewardship.
oikonomos {oy-kon-om'-os} Strong's {3623} from (3624) and the base of (3551) ; a house-distributor (i.e. manager), or overseer, i.e. an employee in that capacity; by extension a fiscal agent (treasurer); figurative a preacher (of the Gospel): - chamberlain, governor, steward.
oikos {oy'-kos} Strong's {3624} of uncertain affinity; a dwelling (more or less extensive, literal or figurative); by implication a family (more or less related, literal or figurative): - home, house (-hold), temple.
nomos {nom'-os} Strong's {3551} from a primary (nemo, to parcel out, especially food or grazing to animals); law (through the idea of prescriptive usage), general (regulation), special (of Moses [including the volume]; also of the Gospel), or figurative (a principle): - law.

We can see Greek influence in the English word "economy", the management of the affairs of a community, estate, or establishment. We also speak of "nomenclature", meaning a system of naming things...in other words, the "regulation" of names.

Paul wrote that God had made him a steward, a "ward of the house", an administrator of God's household, responsible for managing the affairs of God's family; in a sense, "parceling out" spiritual food.

Important ideas surrounding stewardship

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known... (Colossians 1:24-25)
  • Paul suffered for the sake of the church
  • Paul rejoiced in his suffering
  • Paul's stewardship was the preaching of God's Word

Paul suffered for the sake of the church

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church...(Colossians 1:24)

Paul's stewardship involved suffering, physical stress and violence, for the sake of believers in Christ.

Suffering here means hardship or pain. Filling up implies substituting for another, cramming full. Lacking means something fallen behind or late.

"Filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions" is most likely a reference to the fact that the world is still persecuting Christ, still trying to murder the One Who claimed to be Son of God. Christ's afflictions are "lacking" in that they are behind, or after the resurrection of Christ.

Understood literally, Paul meant:

"I rejoice in the physical stress and violence that I've experienced for your sake. For the sake of Christ's church I have endured the persecution that is still being thrown at Jesus even though He is no longer here on earth."

Paul taught that he, with all Christians, would share in Christ's sufferings:

For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. (2 Corinthians 1:5)

Examples of Paul's suffering:

Stoned and left for dead...arrested, attacked, stripped, beaten and imprisoned in stocks...Humility, tears and trials...I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ...I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God...I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God...In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.' (Acts 14:19; 16:19-24; 20:19, 20-21, 24, 27, 35)
Hunger and thirst, ragged, buffeted and homeless...reviled, persecuted, slandered...scum of the world, refuse of all things. (1 Corinthians 4:11-13)
Utterly burdened beyond strength...despairing of life...under sentence of death...afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, impronments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger...treated as impostor, unknown, dying, punished, sorrowful and poor...Without rest...afflicted at every turn...fighting without and fear within...labors, imprisonments, countless beatings and often near death...39 lashes of the whip suffered five times...beaten with rods and stoned...shipwrecked three times...adrift at sea a night and a day...frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 1:8-9; 6:4-5, 8-10; 7:5; 11:23-28)

Paul rejoiced in his suffering:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings... (Colossians 1:24)

"Rejoice" in the Greek means to be cheerful or calmly happy. Paul calmly and happily endured tremendous persecution and hardship in order to preach and pastor Christ's church.

What thoughts sustained Paul in the midst of hardship? How did he continue to be calmly happy?

Paul believed God was his Father, which meant Paul would forever be under God's ultimate protection and providence:

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs...heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us...Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us... (Romans 8:16-18, 35, 37)

Paul understood that sharing in the suffering of Christ, for Christ's sake, also meant sharing in Christ's comfort:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too...That was to make us rely no on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again...We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh...For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal...So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord...He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthinans 1:3-5, 9-10, 4:8-11, 17-18, 5:6-8, 12:9-10)

Paul calls the hardship he's endured "light momentary affliction", and he believed that it was preparing him for future glory beyond all comparison. Has that been your experience? How has hardship prepared you for being "at home with the Lord"?

Every hardship, every weakness, allowed Paul to become more like Jesus, not just in appearance or physical experience, but in perspective and attitude:

It is my eager expectation and hope...that Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain...Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all...For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him...that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death...I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of having plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 1:20-21; 2:17; 3:8, 10;4:12-13)

Paul's greatest example of suffering for the sake of others was Jesus. Looking at Jesus brought comfort and encouragement to Paul:

Because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted...We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin...You had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you know that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one...Look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God...Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. (Hebrews 2:18; 4:15; 10:34; 12:2; 12:12-13)

The suffering of Jesus allows sinners to gain an intimate relationship with a holy God, the Eternal Creator, Sustainer and Sovereign God Who lives in the soul of every believer:

They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes...Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 7:16-17; 21:3-4)

Paul's stewardship was the preaching of God's Word:

I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known... (Colossians 1:25)

"Minister" in the Greek means an attendant or a waiter, probably derived from a word that meant errand-runner.

The Greek word for "minister" is related to words meaning to flee or to dread. God's appointment of Paul to the position of steward, an officer or administrator of God's business, was entirely focused upon the menial duty of waiting upon people, serving them what they needed or wanted, with a submissive, perhaps even fearful, attitude - fearful not of the people, but fearful of mis-using God's trust in him.

But before you get the picture that God wanted Paul to be a toady to the masses, a political leader playing to popular psycho-babble, look closely at how Paul describes his ministry: "...to make the word of God fully known...".

What does "fully known" mean?

"Fully known" is closely related to the previous word used by Paul translated as "filling up". It means to make replete, completely full. Literally, it meant to cram a net full of fish. Christian hearts and minds are the net, God's Word is the fish, and Paul is the fisherman.

Paul is saying that God has given him the job of serving up God's Word to the hungry and sick. And not just appetizers! God appointed Paul to deliver every different type of food that comes out of God's mind. Paul was to completely overload the banquet table, making sure that not a single example of God's Word was overlooked. If God's Word were an ocean of fish, Paul was to cram his net full, bring it to market and give it away!

Paul took God seriously! Is it no wonder that most of the New Testament books were written through God's inspiration of Paul the Apostle?

  • Of the 27 books of the New Testament, 13 were written by Paul.
  • Of the 28 chapters of the Book of Acts, 18 were focused on Paul's ministry.
  • What does this mean for us?

    If Paul was made the head waiter in charge of distributing God's Word, then we (the Body of Christ, the Church, the believers in Jesus) are charged with eating it! One of our primary "tasks" as children of God is to take in as much of God's word as our "stomachs" will hold, and then allow God's Holy Spirit to enliven us for His purposes:

    That their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowlege. (Colossians 2:2-3)