Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire —” I Corinthians 3: 11-13
People say the two things you can’t avoid are death and taxes. I’d add a third: answering. You can’t avoid the day you’ll give an answer for the way you’ve handled what God gave you in this life.
We should get a good grasp of the parable of stewardship in Matthew 25:14-30. It describes a master commissioning his servants with differing amounts of money, then taking a long trip, expecting each of them to make good use of what they’d been given by investing it wisely.
It was still his money, not theirs, and he’d entrusted them not only to still have it when he got back, but to have also managed it in such a way that it earned interest. They understood he would return, and that when he did, they’d each give an account of the way they’d handled his finances.
You know the outcome. Most of his servants made good use of what he’d trusted them with, so they were able to give back more than he’d originally given. That’s what he expected, which explains why he was so enraged with the one servant who, afraid to even try investing his portion, simply buried it and left it alone.
“Not Mine, But Thine”
Stewards take note: What we have He gave; what He gave He expects a return on. He’ll not only come back, He’ll come back with questions about our commission.
That’s good news for the faithful, judgment to the unfaithful, and a warning to all of us. It’s a joy to serve Him, sure, full of blessing and excitement no one can adequately describe. But it’s also a responsibility, a heavy one which we’d best take seriously.
Paul had a lot to say about this. He said that he (and others following in his ministry steps) should be considered stewards, and that a primary requirement of a steward is faithfulness.(I Corinthians 4:1-2)
He also noted that, where ministry’s involved, a foundation has already been laid which cannot be replicated, which is Christ Himself and His finished work (I Corinthians 3:11) who commissioned His servants with gifts for the building up of His body. (Ephesians 4:12) When these gifts are exercised they add, for better or worse, to the original foundation, depending on how they’re used. (I Corinthians 3: 12-15)
That’s what we’ll answer for, according to Paul. Plainly put, when we communicate eternal truths or otherwise use what we’ve been commissioned, we add to the foundation. The layers we’ve added over our lifetimes will be tried with fire to determine their true nature: precious or perishable; valid or not.
Mind you, we’re talking about fire testing our works, not the hellfire Jesus described elsewhere. (Mark 9:45) But it’s still a fearful flame, revealing what is versus what seems to be.
I want my work to stand when it faces the fire; I want to hear the eternal “Atta Boy!” wrapped up in that precious phrase “Well done, good and faithful servant.” All of which has me asking myself how I can be sure (as sure as one can be in this life) that my work is acceptable to God? Three qualifications come to mind.
First, my work needs to be doctrinally sound.
If God has spoken, and He has, and if He has spoken in His inspired written word, which He has, then everything I do by way of service must be in accordance with Scripture, coming under its scrutiny and passing it.
Never perfectly, I know, but essentially. Essentially, what I communicate should either repeat, or illuminate, or at the very least be in harmony with, what He has already communicated. Not only my work, in fact, but my very life needs to be one that’s able to withstand Biblical examination.
So does yours. Settling for anything less constitutes unfaithful stewardship.
Second, my work must be relevant.
The message should match the need. For example, it’s true that you should eat less red meat and more green vegetables. But if you’re talking to a woman who’s just been injured in a car accident, communicating that particular truth would make you quite the Bozo.
It’s not enough to hold the truth. We’re also commissioned to manage it wisely, applying appropriate truth to the situation it’s relevant to. I must prayerfully search the scriptures to know and hold the truth. I must be equally prayerful when assessing the world I live in, the area of influence I’ve been placed in, and the needs represented in each.
When making that assessment, I’ve got to plead, literally, for God to show me how to both live and express truth in such wildly confused and deceived times, and express it in ways that are practical, pertinent, relevant. That’s true of all of us. By God’s grace, we have to see the area of need, then draw upon the relevant truth, then apply it.
Christians are called lots of names these days, most of them unfair; some of them deserved. But let’s never let it accurately be said that we’re irrelevant.
Finally, my work must be stewarded in love.
Agape love, that is, divine and durable. Here’s where I’m tempted to wave the white flag, because dealing with people means dealing with difficulty; dealing with difficulty inspires rage, yet requires love.
Paul said “The love of Christ constrains us” (II Corinthians 5:14) and that reminds me how impossible it is, with my limited emotional resources, to summon up the level of love that serving others requires.
If I’ve learned anything in the past 31 years of my own service, it’s that the same Master who commissioned gifts to me needs to give me His love as well, because mine simply won’t sustain the workload. Unless I’m motivated by His love, I’ll give up on people too soon; reject when I should embrace; lash out when I should speak softly. For my work to have lasting impact, it needs to be under-girded by lasting love. My Commissioner is glorified all the more when I admit my lack, draw from His abundance, and thus thrive.
How incredible that we’re allowed the privilege of being involved in what our God does! And how sobering to realize we’ll answer for how we’ve stewarded our involvement.
So today, Lord, make us good and faithful servants. Let our work pass the scrutiny of Your word, answer the needs of our time, and spring from the eternal love You have and we crave. May we all face the fire with humble, godly confidence, waiting for Your examination and hearing, gratefully and joyfully, Your final commendation.