The original mission we were given by God is recorded in Genesis 1. In verse 26, Moses records: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over … all the earth.’” This is how I read this: The intent behind the creation and the role of mankind, even before Adam was shaped out of the dust, was to be a steward of all creation. That was Adam’s job description.
The key word that Moses used here is the Hebrew word rada’. Dr. Skip Moen points out in his Hebrew word study blog, “Master and Commander,” that rada’ is used more than 22 times in Scripture and references human activity, not simply the divine. Rada’ is most often translated “dominion.” Rada’ is not a license to do whatever one wants to do. Not even close. Rada’ is authority given to us and informed by God’s image of grace and mercy. Rada’ distinguishes mankind from the rest of creation. Rada’ is responsibility. In short, rada’ is stewardship!
Many people define themselves by their work. We shake hands in greeting and then in cultural habit ask, “What do you do for a living?” Unfazed we answer, “I’m a teacher,” or “I work for the city.” Fine answers to be sure. The conversation explores the work and goes on from there. But it seems, in reading Scripture, that it is not inappropriate to identify ourself as a steward. What kind of a conversation could explore the role of being a steward in a casual encounter? Would we be so bold? There will come a day when teachers will retire and city workers will walk away from their positions, but stewards can neither retire nor walk away from the responsibility of reflecting the grace and mercy of the Creator in all they say and do.
This is when it becomes curious to me. I work with congregations as they gather data about themselves, the community and the priorities they have for ministry. Almost without fail and with only a few exceptions, when it comes to priorities, stewardship is at or near the bottom of the list. On my good days, when thinking about these answers, I think, “The discipleship level in the congregation is high, and there is great joy in the congregation regarding being a steward. They don’t need leading in this area because spiritual formation is already a high priority.” On my bad days I conclude that the members are simply saying, “Stay away from my stuff!” Either way, there is a disconnect between who we have been created to be and what we do. Like the Gospel itself, we, as God’s people, need to be reminded of who we are over and over again. Through the Law, we need to be mindful that we are accountable for what we have done, not with our stuff but rather with God’s stuff.
The reason this is even an issue is because of the terrible reality recorded in Genesis 3: the fall of mankind. Our first and primary responsibility described in Genesis 1 with the word rada’ became much more difficult after the fall. Now the ground is cursed and filled with thorns and thistles. The role of steward is more than challenging when the relationship with the One who gave us rada’ in the first place is broken. But in the midst of failure comes Good News, specifically the protoevangelium (the first Gospel) recorded in Gen. 3:15. Jesus was promised, and because of His death and resurrection, we are called to return to the original role of being a steward, reflecting the mercy and grace of God.
The world and creation, strangely, makes sense from the perspective of a steward. Biblical stewardship draws us back to where we started in the first place. In the context of stewardship we find meaning and purpose. We find freedom and fulfillment. As stewards of the things of God we experience a place that is both ancient and future. It is the ancient original role that will resource the Gospel proclamation to future generations. Perhaps that is why Paul could write to the Corinthians: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” 2 Cor. 9:7 That, after all, is our first mission.
By Rev. Steve Misch
Mission and Ministry Facilitator, Area A