We live in a self-centered, consumer-oriented world that looks at life, religion included, primarily from a selfish point of view. And this world viewpoint all too easily rubs off on Christians. A large portion of the Christian community sees the blessings and provisions God has given us in Christ as designed strictly for our own personal happiness and comfort. Our tendency today is to make satisfaction and personal comfort our religion. As Packer notes:
We show much more concern for self-fulfillment than for pleasing our God. Typical of Christianity today, at any rate in the English-speaking world, is its massive rash of how-to-books for believers, directing us to more successful relationships, more joy in sex, becoming more of a person, realizing our possibilities, getting more excitement each day, reducing our weight, improving our diet, managing our money, licking our families into happier shape, and whatnot. For people whose prime passion is to glorify God, these are doubtless legitimate concerns; but the how-to books regularly explore them in a self-absorbed way that treats our enjoyment of life rather than the glory of God as the center of interest.103
By contrast, Scripture teaches us that even the comfort we receive from God is to enable us to comfort others with the comfort we ourselves receive from Him (2 Cor. 1:3-4). In other words, like our Savior who came not to be ministered to but to minister, the Christian life is to be other oriented.
In keeping with this focus on ministry, one of God’s objectives for the church is that we might allow Him to reproduce Himself in us as good stewards of His abundant grace. A steward is a manager, not an owner. He is one who manages the property of another. God is the owner and we are the managers of the various stewardships He has given. This includes the whole of life, of course. But to be good stewards of His grace, we must know the precise areas of stewardship for which God is holding us accountable. Scripture breaks this down into a number of areas. For instance, children are a gift from God and one of our most important stewardships. According to the creation mandate of Genesis chapter one, we are also to be good stewards of His creation. But for the purposes of this study, we will limit our focus to four areas.
1. The stewardship of time—redeeming it for eternity.
2. The stewardship of talents—discovering and developing our spiritual gifts and natural talents for the blessing of others and for God’s glory.
3. The stewardship of God’s truth—multiplying ourselves through evangelism and discipleship.
4. The stewardship of our treasures—laying up treasures in heaven through financial faithfulness.
Each of these subjects are obviously worthy of an entire book and many have done just that. However, in keeping with the goal of laying a foundation for Christian growth, some sections will be somewhat limited though a considerable amount of space will be devoted to evangelism and discipleship.
103J. I. Packer, Keeping in Step With the Spirit, Fleming H. Revell, Old Tappan, NJ, 1984, p. 97.