Oikonomia — Work as Stewardship

Work [Explored], by Riccardo Cuppini, Flickr

Work [Explored], by Riccardo Cuppini, Flickr

In January I attended a conference put on by the Oikonomia Network. Oikonomia is a Greek term used in the New Testament to describe the concept of stewardship and the appropriate management or administration of the resources of a household. Oikonomia is also a root word behind the English word economy, and points us to the connection between healthy economy and healthy stewardship of work in relationship with others.

The Intrinsic Value of Work

This conference for professors and theological educators is a place for those teaching or administrating in seminaries to come together and engage the priority of affirming the significance and goodness of work within our world and within our economies. Rather than work only having utilitarian benefits (i.e., just a way to bring home a pay check), there are significant theological reasons to affirm the intrinsic value of work in addition to the utilitarian value of work.

Most individuals engaged in everyday work feel the toil and struggle involved with work. Among the consequences of sin in our world is the reality of pain and toil in labor and work. But from a biblical perspective, it is important to remember that work was a part of the fabric of our world before the fall of humanity into sin.

God as Worker

In Genesis, the first description we read of God is his role as Worker and Creator:

  • In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), and
  • on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done” (Genesis 2:2).

God not only worked in the beginning, he also continues to work:

  • all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17), and
  • he is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3).

Workers in God’s Image

While God is described in the Bible as one who worked and continues to work, the Bible also describes humans as made in his image. Part of this image of God is our identity as those who work. A core dimension of being human is that we also create and work. And, it is important to remember that this core was a reality for humanity before the image of God in us was ever distorted by sin. Note the description of Adam’s work in the garden before the fall into sin was a reality: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15).

Working with Excellence

Though work was a part of the human story before humanity’s fall into sin, sin’s presence now affects our work. What once was joyful stewardship of God’s creation now is accompanied by toil and pain. But God is in the business of redeeming what is broken. This includes the process of redeeming work.

In light of such gospel transformation, God’s people are part of the redemptive story in the area of their work as well. Through our work, we serve others within God’s household—the broader context of the world in which we live. Through our work, we both serve others and honor God. Note the New Testament call to work with excellence, as one serving the Lord directly: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Col. 3:23-24).

Stewarding Our Work Well

Stewardship—oikonomia—is a helpful frame through which to consider the broader meaning of our everyday work. Certainly leadership is one context for stewardship. Leaders serving with a stewardship mindset recognize that their role is not simply about making decisions regarding their own resources, but rather making decisions that consider the needs of others and effectively stewarding the resources of the organization in a manner that considers the interests in which others are vested.

But in addition to leaders leaders, viewing our work under the leadership of God means that all workers have a stewardship responsibility. If we believe what the Bible says about God—“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1)—then all workers have a stewardship responsibility in their work to faithful care for and steward the resources of God’s household well.

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What are the resources that have been entrusted to you? What are the skills, talents, and abilities you’ve been given? How are you using your work as a pathway for stewarding both who you are and what you have in service of others and contributing within the wider economy within which you live and work? Work is a primary context for living as stewards. May this vision of oikonomia give you renewed energy to lead, serve, and work as stewards in God’s household—the world within which we live.

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