“You do not belong to yourselves.”
1. When people think of slaves, what do they think of?
ABOUT 2,500 years ago, a Greek writer said that no one chooses to be a slave. Most people today agree with that. When people think of slaves, they think of men and women who are forced to serve others and who are treated cruelly. They think of people who do work that benefits only those who own and dominate them.
2, 3. (a) How are slaves of Christ treated? (b) What questions will we now discuss?
2 Jesus said that his disciples would be humble servants, or slaves. But as slaves, true Christians would not be humiliated or treated cruelly. They would be trusted and respected. For example, think of what Jesus said about one “slave.” Not long before His death, Christ said that he would give duties to a “faithful and discreet slave.”
3 Note that in Luke’s account, he uses the word “steward” instead of “slave.” (Read Luke 12:42-44.) Most true Christians today are not part of “the faithful steward” class whom Jesus mentioned. But the Bible shows that in a way, all servants of God are stewards. What responsibilities do we have in God’s service? How should we feel about them? To find the answers, let us talk about what stewards in Bible times did.
THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF STEWARDS
4, 5. What responsibilities did stewards in Bible times have? What are some examples?
4 In Bible times, a steward was often a slave whom the master trusted and who was responsible for keeping the master’s house or business in order. He cared for his master’s property and money, and he had authority over the other servants. An example of this is Eliezer. He was responsible for looking after Abraham’s many possessions. He may even have been the servant Abraham sent to Mesopotamia to choose a wife for his son Isaac. That was a great responsibility!
We all belong to God and must please him
5 Abraham’s great-grandson Joseph was Potiphar’s steward. (Genesis 39:1, 2) The Bible tells us that later Joseph himself had a steward, and it calls him “the man who was over Joseph’s house.” That steward was the one who welcomed Joseph’s ten brothers and cared for their needs. He had an important part in Joseph’s plan to test his brothers with the silver cup. This shows how much masters trusted their stewards.
6. What responsibilities do elders have?
6 Hundreds of years later, the apostle Paul wrote that elders are God’s stewards. (Titus 1:7) As shepherds of “the flock of God,” elders direct the congregations. (1 Peter 5:1, 2) Of course, elders have different types of responsibilities in God’s organization. For example, most elders today serve one congregation. Traveling overseers serve many congregations. And Branch Committee members care for congregations in whole countries. But all elders are expected to care for their duties the best way they can. They all must “render an account” to God.
7. How do we know that all Christians are stewards?
7 How do we know that the many loyal Christians who are not elders are stewards? The apostle Peter wrote a letter to all Christians and said: “In proportion as each one has received a gift, use it in ministering to one another as fine stewards of God’s undeserved kindness expressed in various ways.” (1 Peter 1:1; 4:10) God shows us kindness by giving all of us certain gifts, advantages, abilities, or talents that we can use to help our brothers and sisters. So all who serve God are stewards. He trusts us, respects us, and expects us to make good use of what he has given us.
WE BELONG TO GOD
8. What is one thing we need to remember as stewards?
8 Let us consider three basic truths that all Christians as stewards need to remember. The first: We all belong to God and have to please him. Paul wrote: “You do not belong to yourselves, for you were bought with a price.” That price is the life Christ sacrificed for our sins. (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20) We belong to Jehovah, so we are required to obey his commandments, which are not too difficult. (Romans 14:8; 1 John 5:3) We are also slaves of Christ. Like stewards in Bible times, we have a lot of freedom. But we cannot do whatever we want. We must follow instructions. No matter how many responsibilities we have received in God’s organization, we are all servants of God and of Christ.
9. How did Jesus explain what a master expects from his slave?
9 Jesus helps us to understand what a master expects from his slave. He told his disciples a story about a slave who came home after working all day. Did the master say: “Come here at once and recline at the table”? No. He said to the slave: “Get something ready for me to have my evening meal, and put on an apron and minister to me until I am through eating and drinking, and afterward you can eat and drink.” What lesson was Jesus teaching his disciples? He explained: “So you, also, when you have done all the things assigned to you, say, ‘We are good-for-nothing slaves. What we have done is what we ought to have done.’”
10. What shows that Jehovah values everything we do for him?
10 Of course, Jehovah values everything we do for him. The Bible promises us: “God is not unrighteous so as to forget your work and the love you showed for his name.” (Hebrews 6:10) What Jehovah asks us to do is what we can do. Whatever he asks is for our own good and is never too hard. But as Jesus taught, a slave does not please himself. He puts the will of his master first. In the same way, when we dedicate ourselves to God, we choose to put his will first in our life. Do you agree?
WHAT JEHOVAH REQUIRES OF ALL OF US
11, 12. What quality must we show? In what way must we live?
11 A second truth we need to remember is: As stewards, we all obey the same requirements. It is true that some have certain responsibilities that others do not have in God’s organization. But God requires the same from all of us in most things. For example, all of Jehovah’s servants must love one another. Jesus said that people would know that we are his disciples if we love one another. (John 13:35) But we do not love only those who are our brothers. We also do our best to show love to those who are not Witnesses. This is something all of us can and should do.
We all obey the same requirements
12 God also requires that we do what he says is right and reject the bad things condemned in the Bible. Paul wrote: “Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men kept for unnatural purposes, nor men who lie with men, nor thieves, nor greedy persons, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit God’s kingdom.” (1 Corinthians 6:9, 10) It takes effort to do what God says is right. But when we make that effort, we benefit in many ways. For example, we can have better health, peaceful relationships with others, and a strong friendship with God.
13, 14. What work has God given all Christians to do? How should we feel about this work?
13 Remember, too, that a steward had work to do. So do we. God gave us a precious gift. He taught us the truth. And he wants us to teach that truth to others. (Matthew 28:19, 20) Paul wrote that Christians are servants of Christ and “stewards of sacred secrets of God.” (1 Corinthians 4:1) Paul knew that he was responsible for “sacred secrets,” or Bible truths, and that he had to teach them to others. That is what his Master, Jesus Christ, wanted him to do.
14 When we teach the truth to others, we show that we love them. Of course, we do not all have the same situation in life, so not all of us can do the same amount of work in the ministry. Jehovah understands that. The important thing is that we do all that we can. In that way, we show unselfish love for God and for people.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING FAITHFUL
15-17. (a) Why must a steward be faithful? (b) How did Jesus show what happens if we are unfaithful?
15 A third truth we need to remember is: We must show that we are faithful by being obedient. A steward may have many good qualities and abilities, but they mean nothing if he is disobedient and does not care for his duties. A steward must be faithful if he wants to do his work well and please his master. Remember that Paul wrote: “What is looked for in stewards is for a man to be found faithful.”
We show that we are faithful by being obedient
16 We can be sure that if we are faithful, God will reward us. If we are not faithful, we will no longer have God’s approval. Jesus’ story about the talents makes this clear. The master praised the faithful slaves who “did business” with his money, and he rewarded them greatly. But he judged the disobedient slave as wicked, lazy, and good-for-nothing. The master took the talent away from that slave and threw him out.
17 Jesus once again showed what happens if we are unfaithful when he said: “A certain man was rich and he had a steward, and this one was accused to him as handling his goods wastefully. So he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Hand in the account of your stewardship, for you can no longer manage the house.’” (Luke 16:1, 2) Because the steward wasted what belonged to his master, the master sent him away. These verses teach us a powerful lesson. We always want to be faithful by doing our best in whatever God requires of us.
IS IT WISE TO COMPARE OURSELVES WITH OTHERS?
18. Why should we not compare ourselves with others?
18 Each of us can ask, ‘What kind of steward am I?’ But it is not wise to compare ourselves with other people. The Bible says: “Let each one prove what his own work is, and then he will have cause for exultation in regard to himself alone, and not in comparison with the other person.” (Galatians 6:4) Instead of comparing what we do with what others do, we should think of how we can improve what we do and try our best to do it. Then we will neither become proud nor feel discouraged. Also, our situation may have changed. Perhaps because of health problems, old age, or other obligations, we cannot do all that we used to do. Or maybe our circumstances allow us to do more than we are now doing. If so, why not try to improve?
19. If we have not received a certain responsibility, why should we not be too disappointed?
19 Also, we should not compare ourselves with those who have certain responsibilities that we would like to have. For example, a brother may want to serve as an elder in the congregation or to give talks at assemblies and conventions. It is good to work hard to do what is required of those who have such responsibilities. But we should not be too disappointed if we do not receive them as soon as we hoped to. For reasons that we may not immediately understand, we may have to wait much longer than we expected. Remember that Moses probably thought that he was ready to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, but he had to wait 40 years before doing that. During this time, he was able to develop qualities that he later needed to lead a stubborn and rebellious people.
20. What can we learn from Jonathan’s example?
20 It may be that we will never receive a certain responsibility. That is what happened to Jonathan. He was the son of Saul and could have become king over all Israel. But God chose David, who was much younger than Jonathan, to be king. What did Jonathan do? He accepted God’s decision and even risked his life to help David. He said to David: “You yourself will be king over Israel, and I myself shall become second to you.” (1 Samuel 23:17) What can you learn from Jonathan’s example? He did not complain about his situation. And he did not become jealous of David, as Saul did. Instead of being jealous of others because they have responsibilities that we do not have, all of us can do our best in caring for the responsibilities that we do have. We can be sure that in the new world, Jehovah will satisfy the proper desires of all his servants.
We should not be too disappointed if we do not receive responsibilities as soon as we hoped to
21. How should we feel about our service to God?
21 Let us always remember that as God’s stewards, we are not slaves who are forced to serve a cruel master. Instead, Jehovah trusts us and honors us very much by giving us important work to do, such as preaching the good news during the last days, a work that will never be repeated. And he gives us a lot of freedom to choose how we will care for the responsibilities he has given us. So let us be faithful stewards. And may we never forget that it is a great honor to serve Jehovah, the greatest one in all the universe.