“Who is the Faithful and Wise Steward?”
1 Chronicles 27:25-31, Luke 12:41-48
July 14, 2019
A steward embraces their responsibility for the king’s property.
I. Stewards are given various responsibilities for the King’s property
II. Blessed is the steward who is wise and faithful
Last week I promised that our summer series on stewardship would be both practical and spiritual. It may not have seemed so at first, because we started with a principle: you are not your own. You are God’s treasured possession. You were bought at a price, through the sacrifice of Jesus. But the principle has practical implications. If we are not our own, then we are not the boss of what we do with our lives. “Expressive Individualism,” the quest for personal fulfillment, can be laid aside. A commitment to God’s kingdom and God’s will can become first priority, 24/7/365.
Stewardship is living that way, living as if God owns everything we would otherwise call our own; our time, our energy, our money, our talent. The job of a steward is to manage those things on his behalf. We want to look at Scripture this week and see the job of a steward spelled out, the beginning of practical details. In the Old Testament we’ll see a text that shows the work of some of King David’s stewards. We’ll learn that stewards are given various responsibilities for the king’s property. Then we’ll look at a teaching of Jesus and learn that whatever task we’re given we need to pursue it wisely and with faithfulness. Together these two passages teach us the job of a steward, a person who recognizes and embraces their responsibility for the king’s property.
I promised to draw illustrations this month from the Apollo program. This point, that we all have a different stewardship and we need to pursue it faithfully and wisely is evident in the program. First, we all have a different stewardship, a different job, a different responsibility. Did you know that the lunar program, at its peak, employed over 400,000 people from 20,000 different companies? In those years NASA and Apollo employed more people than every company on the Fortune 500 except General Motors. Each of those people had a role to play, larger or smaller, in service of the overall goal of man on the moon.
For example: when President Kennedy committed us to the Apollo program, there was no such thing as a real-time special purpose computer, like the one in that projector, or the microwave in the kitchen, not to mention your phone. No one knew how to make one, especially one that could control 200 different inputs and outputs, navigate 240,000 miles, land a space-ship and launch it again. But that was what was needed for Apollo. Further, it had to be smaller than a carryon suitcase. The closest thing we had was the guidance system for the new Polaris ballistic missiles, and that had been hand crafted in the Instrument Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
But Apollo was a whole new level of complexity, reliability, size and weight, and even Charles Draper and the geniuses at MIT had trouble making it work. I can’t tell you the whole fascinating story, but for our purposes today I want to focus on a few different people who were stewards of that great mission. First, Margaret Hamilton. She was a working mom, putting her husband through Harvard. She gradually assumed a lead programming role at MIT. For Apollo she wrote much of the code for guidance and navigation and pioneered the concept of prioritized execution, in which the program knew which tasks were important and made sure those got done on every cycle.
She was also involved in fitting the software into what at the time was an impossibly small computer. To do so she helped pioneer rope core memory, in which tiny donut shaped magnetic cores were hardwired with the software in what today we would call read-only-memory. It was literally hardwired, with thousands of memory address and sensor wires. For each bit in the address if the wire went through the core it was a one, and if it didn’t it was a zero. And these rope cores were threaded by hand by a team of little old ladies from the Massachusetts garment industry. They hand wove the computers for every Apollo command module and lunar module. One of Margaret Hamilton’s nicknames was “the rope mother,” for her special stewardship of this task. But each lady who did this was a steward, doing their job for the larger cause.
The same is true of each of us as we pursue the larger cause of God’s mission and God’s kingdom and faithfulness to his calling. We each have a role to play. The first text today is a great example of how stewards play different roles in managing the king’s possessions. The text is in 1st Chronicles 27. David has been king for a while and he’s at the height of his reign. These chapters of 1st Chronicles are devoted to how he organized the kingdom. He lays out a plan for the work of the priests, the Levites, the army, the gatekeepers, the musicians, the officials, all kinds of roles in his kingdom. And then near the end of 1st Chronicles 27 we find a relatively short list of the people who were stewards of King David’s personal property, who managed it for him. Look at verse 31, in the ESV: “All these were stewards of King David’s property.”
I love that sentence. Let’s read the whole passage. 1 Chronicles 27:25-31 Over the king’s treasuries was Azmaveth the son of Adiel; and over the treasuries in the country, in the cities, in the villages, and in the towers, was Jonathan the son of Uzziah; 26and over those who did the work of the field for tilling the soil was Ezri the son of Chelub; 27and over the vineyards was Shimei the Ramathite; and over the produce of the vineyards for the wine cellars was Zabdi the Shiphmite. 28Over the olive and sycamore trees in the Shephelah was Baal-hanan the Gederite; and over the stores of oil was Joash.
29Over the herds that pastured in Sharon was Shitrai the Sharonite; over the herds in the valleys was Shaphat the son of Adlai. 30Over the camels was Obil the Ishmaelite; over the donkeys was Jehdeiah the Meronothite. Over the flocks was Jaziz the Hagrite. 31All these were stewards of King David’s property.
I don’t normally preach a list of names, but in the context of stewardship, this list of names becomes fascinating. David is the king. He has a wide variety of things that he owns, properties and riches and lands and livestock. These are not his kingdom possessions, but, I believe, personal possessions. Yet he is the king. He’s got a kingdom to run and wars to fight and songs to write. So he doesn’t personally manage all these things. He has people to do that. Some of these are people who’ve served him well, those who are particularly trustworthy, or those who are especially gifted in some arena. And he gives them charge of his possessions. That’s exactly what we’re talking about in this whole series. Jesus is the king, and he’s made us not only his sons and daughters through faith, but he has also entrusted us with lots of things that he actually owns, but that we are called to manage. He’s gifted us, through the Holy Spirit, to do that. We are all stewards, but we all have some niche in which we manage.
Let’s look at the names. In charge of the treasuries, David’s personal bank accounts, was Azmaveth the son of Adiel. It’s very likely that Azmaveth was one of David’s thirty mighty men, from a town called Baharum. But the treasuries he was responsible for were likely in Jersusalem, because the next person on the list, Jonathan the son of Uzziah, was responsible for David’s remote bank holdings, in the towns and villages and fortified towers. Jonathan was a common name in those years so we really don’t know which one he was. But these were very responsible positions, for David’s personal holdings were extensive. When Solomon is grown and David is dying, he makes a personal donation to the construction of the temple. He says “I have a treasure of my own of gold and silver, and because of my devotion to the house of my God I give it to the house of my God: 43,000 talents of gold, of the gold of Ophir, and 7,000 talents of refined silver, for overlaying the walls of the house.”
These stewards had a tremendous responsibility. The next one on the list, Ezri the son of Chelub, possibly from the tribe of Judah, had charge of David’s farms and farmers, growing grain and other field crops. We don’t know where these fields were, but we know that Boaz, David’s great, great grandfather owned extensive barley fields near Bethlehem. So again, a significant stewardship and one assumes Ezri the son of Chelub is well suited for it. In charge of the vineyards was Shimei the Ramathite. He wasn’t from David’s tribe, but from Saul’s tribe, Benjamin, and from one of the key wine-growing areas in David’s kingdom, Ramah, where he would gain his expertise.
So important was wine to David’s holdings that there was one official in charge of his vineyards and another, Zabdi the Shiphmite in charge of his wine-cellars. We don’t know anything about the place Zabdi was from, nor about the man himself, except his name means “gift of God.” But this is typical of stewards. Being a steward doesn’t mean rising to fame. It means being used of God in a specific way, allowing God to get the glory. May it be said of us, as it was of Titia’s dad Jerry yesterday, that he was God’s gift and God’s servant.
A few more people here. We move down to the Shephelah, the lowlands between the Judean hills and the coast. This area was always in contention between the people of Israel and the Philistines and other coastal dwellers. But here David had both olive groves and sycamore trees. We’re not sure, but it’s possible they were sycamore-fig trees, like Zacchaeus climbed in Luke’s Gospel. But the fascinating thing is that Baal-hanan, which means the grace of Baal is a clearly pagan name. Geder, his town, is likely near that coastal plain, also known as Gezer, a pagan town. But he was David’s steward of trees! You don’t have to have the right credentials to be a steward in God’s kingdom.
As with the wine, there was a separate steward for the stores of oil. He’s Joash, maybe the same person mentioned in 1st Chronicles 12:3 as one of David’s mighty men. Moving north into Galilee, we find David had herds, probably of cattle, maybe of oxen. The place name is Sharon, as in the rose of Sharon mentioned in the Song of Solomon. The steward of these herds was Shitrai the Sharonite, obviously from Sharon. In another area, called ‘the valleys’ another steward, Shaphat, also cared for herds of cattle or oxen. Yet another steward, Obil the Ishmaelite had care of David’s camels. The interesting thing about Obil is that he’s a foreigner, an Ishmaelite, descended from Abraham’s son Ishmael. David also had donkeys, and the steward was Jehdeiah the Meronothite, probably a town or region near Gibeon, in the tribe of Benjamin.
And finally, David had flocks, sheep. This isn’t unexpected, he’d been a shepherd as a boy. But the steward of his flocks was Jaziz the Hagrite, probably also an Ishmaelite. This tribe, the Hagrites had lived east of the Jordan and were conquered by the Israelite tribes that stayed east of the Jordan, and the record shows they had huge flocks of sheep. Jaziz was probably skilled in this area.
Then the author of 1st Chronicles adds my favorite line “All these were stewards of King David’s property.” The word steward there is not a narrow word. Old Testament Hebrew doesn’t have a specific word as Greek does. But this word is a broad word that is translated by words like prince, captain, commander, official, keeper, ruler and many others. At times it indicates positions of real rule, where it is used with the princes of foreign nations.
At times it refers more to subordinates, like officers and officials. And sometimes it’s used for people like the keeper of the prison where Joseph was imprisoned and the chief cupbearer and chief baker in Pharaoh’s court, clearly positions of stewardship. I think in the paragraph we just read ‘steward’ is a perfect translation of this word, though only the ESV uses it.
But the point is there are many kinds of stewardship, many levels of responsibility, but all carrying this one key characteristic, they are all stewards of the king’s possessions. Last week we learned that we are not are own. This week the key thing is that nothing we have is our own. All that we do in life is the proper or improper use of resources we have been given by God. The time you spend, at the constant rate of 168 hours a week, is not your own, none of it. It’s all a gift from God. Every dollar you’ve ever earned and every dollar you’ve ever spent has been God’s dollar. Every talent you have, from cooking to singing to engineering to managing is something God the creator built into you or God the Holy Spirit gave you. The energy to get out of bed in the morning, or the energy that 400,000 people invested in Apollo was all given by God. So, just as the truth that we are not are own was foundational to stewardship, so the truth that we don’t own anything, that we only manage the king’s possession is foundational. It allows us to push back on the fallen human tendency to self-fulfillment and to lift up the real purpose of life as serving God, 24/7/365.
But how are we to steward all these things he’s given us? In a real sense the rest of this series this summer is the answer to that question, but today we get to see two fundamental answers: wisely and faithfully. We see that our responsibility is for another person’s property and another person’s best interests and so we strive to manage all things carefully and with wisdom and without faltering.
We’ll see the importance of this in our other text, Luke 12:42-48 And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? 43Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 44Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 45But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, 46the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. 47And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. 48But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.
We will look at this in detail in a few months when we continue our journey through Luke. We’ll find that the context is a series of accounts and parables showing several different attitudes, mental outlooks, that Jesus wants his followers to have. That’s going to be a fun section. After talking about our attitude toward wealth, and our attitude toward anxiety he focuses specifically on the attitude we must have while waiting for Christ’s return: dressed for action, lamps burning, awake and alert, ready to serve. Peter hears this parable and asks “Lord, are you telling this parable for us [the disciples] or for all?”
Jesus doesn’t directly answer the question, but responds with a question that leads to another parable. “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time?” In other words what kind of behaviors and attitudes do you think you should have? He uses two words to summarize what he thinks his people should be like while they wait for his return. These two words are aimed as much at us as they were at the disciples. A steward, a believer, living 24/7/365 for God, should be faithful and wise. Of course, the translation uses the word manager where I’m using the word steward, but in this case, in New Testament Greek, the word really implies stewardship. A manager is hired to do a specific job. It’s true he manages another person’s property and interests, but he still owns himself. The steward in New Testament times was sometimes a free person, but more often he was the chief slave in a household. He was bought at a price, and his life and work belonged to the master.
Notice that this steward was set over the household to manage it well, to give the other servants their food at the proper time. Jesus says that for anyone, like the disciples, who is given responsibility in the Kingdom, in the household of the king, caring for others is a key responsibility. Notice what he says “blessed is he whom the master finds doing this,” carrying out the responsibilities he’s been given, when the master returns. The wise and faithful servant is the one who knows his or her responsibilities and carries them out faithfully though the master is out of sight, and may seem unlikely to return any time soon. That kind of faithful servant who is wisely doing his duty, is blessed. He’s doing what the master is looking for. That kind of faithful stewardship will be rewarded with even more responsibility for the master’s business.
If all this reminds you of another parable, it should. The parable of the talents, in Matthew 25, and the parable of the minas in Luke 19 are also about stewards who are given various levels of the master’s possessions, and responsibilities while their master is away. Those who embrace their responsibilities faithfully and with wisdom, investing what the master has given them, receive a reward that is a greater stewardship. “Ten cities” is what Jesus says in Luke.
But they also receive something many of us feel is the greatest reward, their master’s commendation, “Well done, good faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” This is one of the things we can celebrate with assurance when someone like Titia’s dad is called home, that he is receiving his well done.
But it’s also possible for any of us to abuse our stewardship. “But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, 46the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful.” The steward who neglects his calling and lives for himself, eating and drinking and getting drunk will be judged. The one who abuses others will be judged. In verse 47, the servant who knew what his master wanted but did not get ready or act according to his will, received a severe beating. The heart of stewardship is to know what Jesus wants you to do, which you can learn from his word and his Spirit, and to do it. If you want to be a good steward, managing well the king’s possessions, seek wisdom and pursue faithfulness. In a sense stewardship is the opposite of ownership, because all of life is God’s. But in a sense it is a new and better kind of ownership, owning and engaging with God’s mission.
The 400,000 who built Apollo owned the mission. The MIT guidance and navigation computer contract was awarded August 10, 1961. For eight years a growing population of physicists, electrical engineers, little old ladies, and a new kind of engineer that Margaret Woodward called “software engineers” pursued this goal relentlessly. The little old ladies who hard-wired the computers knew the success of the program and the lives of the astronauts rested on their flawless work. At one point a set of rope cores had passed its acceptance test at the factory, but the women rejected it. Their boss remembers telling them. “This thing costs $75,000. It passed its tests, and you’ve scrapped it. Why” One of the ladies “looks up at me with this face, and says, “You know, I built that and it passed. But I don’t think it’s too good. So you wouldn’t want me to pass something that I thought wasn’t too good on to one of our boys. This isn’t a missile that we fire. Somebody’s going to be out there counting on this thing.” The rope core got scrapped. That’s stewardship, working on another’s behalf.
The computer they invented and built had more going for it than just rope core memory. It was the first computer that could self-prioritize its tasks in real time and also restart itself almost instantaneously at any point. Despite the fact that MIT fell way behind on the writing of the software, and that storage space for software was literally priceless, and countless features had to cut out of the system, this emphasize on real time executive and restart remained.
When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin descended toward the surface of the moon on July 20th, 1969 that wisdom paid off. The descent to the moon was the most taxing moment for the computer. It was doing hundreds of things. Suddenly the computer started throwing code 1202, announcing a problem. In fact the computer, with its static rope core memory was shutting down and restarting while Neil was flying the landing. Everyone thought they’d have to abort.
Gene Kranz asked for a determination from GUIDO, the guidance officer, Steve Bales. His backroom, MIT guy was Jack Garman. But in the last simulation before launch Jack Garman had been asked to throw a code at Mission Control to see what they did with it, and he ended up with a list of codes that ranged from abort immediately to no problem. He looked at his hand-written list and saw that 1202 was not a problem, and told Bales, “we’re go with that code.” Five times it happened. Five times Bales and Garmin said “Same thing. Go.”
Later they learned what happened. The Lunar Module had a landing radar and a rendezvous radar, which was also running, though not doing anything unless they had to abort. But due to a documentation error the rendezvous radar’s sensors had been allowed to power up electrically out of phase with the main bus. So the rendezvous radar asked the main computer to order it restarted, 12,800 times a second. The main computer would process the request and its executive function would ignore it. “I’m busy. I don’t need the rendezvous radar right now.” But a couple times the requests came in so fast the computer ran out of space to check and ignore them. An ordinary computer would have locked up. But the executive was programmed to do that quick restart and it did its job, the way MIT had programmed it. It shut most of itself down for the briefest moment, threw a 1202 telling the world what it was doing, and didn’t miss a beat landing the lunar module. All because the programmers had been wise and faithful stewards, who were committed to the mission.
A steward recognizes that they are working with the king’s possessions on the king’s mission and they strive to do so wisely and faithfully.