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8-Week Program
: With God's Permission

Here's a complete resource for a congregation to begin using an asset-based approach to financial stewardship. "This simple program can help your congregation fund God’s mission in a fresh and exciting manner." Available for free PDF download. From ELCA Stewardship.

Resources: Bible Story

Servant and Steward

 By the Rev. Eugene Gardner

A Bible study that uses the themes of servant and steward from the gospel of St. Luke and the writings of St. Paul and St. Peter.

Lay leaders, congregational groups and circles.

1. To relate our understanding of servant and steward.

2. To study a variety of biblical texts as related to the theme of the study.

3. To understand our role as servants and stewards in the church today.

Sufficient copies of this study for each participant, Bibles, LBW, newsprint and markers, refreshments.

One and one-half hours, assuming that group will not have studied in advance.

1. You may wish to review a commentary on the biblical texts referenced.

2. Note that small groups of three to five persons are essential for personal sharing.

3. You may add other questions as the needs of your particular group seem to indicate.

4. Don't neglect the need to provide hospitality time and supplies. Small group Bible study is a crucial time for relationship building in the life of parish and inter-parish groups.

Review the Bible study and become familiar with the needs of your group.


The Bible Study

The purpose of this study is to look at the association of the words servant and steward in the New Testament and to think about those characteristics of being a servant that will help us grow in our understanding and action as God's stewards today.

"And the Lord said, 'Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing.'" (Luke 12:42,43)

In this passage we note that our Lord uses two titles to describe the same person, steward in verse 42, and servant in verse 43.

There are several examples in the New Testament of close association of steward and servant. In Luke 16, verses 1—9 we find Jesus' parable of the dishonest steward. In his commentary on the parable (verses 10-13) the Lord says, "No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other." Steward and servant are associated in Luke 16.

In 1 Corinthians 4:1, Paul, writing about the apostles, says, "This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God." In verse 2 he announces an important principle of stewardship and servanthood, "Moreover it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy." Servants and stewards are closely linked in the mind of Paul.

In one more example, 1 Peter 4:10, it is written, "As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace." Here the words employ it for one another literally mean, "use it to serve one another."

In all of these passages the same Greek word is used for steward. However, four different Greek words are used in the four-passages to mean servant.

In Luke 12:43 the phrase is, "Blessed is that servant...." Here the word translated as "servant" literally means slave. Incidentally, this is the most often used word for servant in the Greek New Testament. When used about our human relationship to the Lord we are reminded that we are not our own, we have been bought with a great price.

In Luke 16:13 we read, "No servant can serve two masters..." The Greek word here for servant means domestic or house servant, and the word for serve is the verb form of the word for slave. Maybe it would be clearer if we translated it, "No servant can belong to two masters..." When we study these words we remember that a house servant knows all the family secrets. How important it is for such a person to be loyal to the family, how damaging if one is not!

As steward-servants in God's family, the Church, we know the secrets of God; God has taken us into his confidence and made known to us his love and mercy. How important it is for us to be loyal to God, the head of the family, who has shared such good news with us.

In 1 Corinthians 4:1, "servants of Christ," uses a term that means literally under-rowers, or underling. In the merchant ships of the ancient world, men were positioned in the lower part of the ship to work the oars when the wind failed. Since it was important that they row together, one man kept time, beating out a rhythm. Paul is saying that he and the other apostles are the underlings of Christ, taking their direction directly from Christ. They are underlings of Christ and managers (stewards) of God's mysteries. The highest human office in the Church is described in the humblest of terms. No one in the Church is exempt from being loyal to Christ. It is just as our Lord said, "Everyone to whom much is given, of him will much be required." (Luke 12:48)

Our final example is 1 Peter 4:10, "As each has received a gift, employ it for one another..." Here the verb that is used means to wait on someone, to minister. From this word we get our title, deacon. Peter says that a good steward is one who uses the gifts of God to minister to others.

Four different words for servant, four different mental images. Used in association with steward these words for servant teach us that whatever else a steward may be, a steward of God is a servant of God. As a servant of God the steward's life and loyalty belong to God, the steward is responsible within-the family of God (the Church), and a vital part of loyal stewardship includes using all the gifts God gives us in service to one another.

Most of us have probably never been a servant or employed servants. Can you think of occupations and/or relationships in contemporary life that require characteristics like those of a servant? One that occurs to this writer is the occupation of waiter or waitress in a restaurant. Such a person must work according to the owner's policies and serve (wait on) the customer. When you have a suggestion, put it with steward and see what effect you get. For example, "Being God's steward is somewhat like being a waiter/waitress. We must follow His policies and pay attention to those who need our assistance."

Encourage participants to offer their ideas of what it means to be a servant/steward, and then conclude with the following prayer and the hymn, Lord of Light, (LBW 405);

Let us pray together

Lord of Light, your name out-shining all the stars and suns of space, use our talents in your kingdom as the servants of your grace; use us to fulfill your purpose in the gift of Christ your Son; Father, as in the highest heaven, so on earth your will be done.

In Jesus’ name we pray. AMEN.


The late Rev. Eugene Gardner, a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, died in 1993.