Few laws distinguish Latter-day Saints as much as consecration and stewardship. And perhaps few laws are less understood. In this 2-part series, we will explore the law of stewardship, its foundation, stipulations and incredible blessings. Only by our living the law of stewardship can we become Zion people and candidates for eternal life.
Am I a Steward? (Part 2)
In Part 1 of this two-part series, we learned that a foundational principle of the law of stewardship is that all things ultimately belong to the Lord, whether property, time, talents, families, or capacity for service within the Church organization.
Stewards act in their lives or in a Church calling as a trustee for the Lord, not out of personal ownership or privilege. While we no longer are required to deed over our property, we are required to figuratively deed over our hearts. We recognize that ultimately our time, talents, and property belong to the Lord, and we are stewards assigned to manage his resources under his direction.
Then a remarkable thing happens: God helps us to depart from Babylon, and he becomes our Paymaster in Zion. Once the Lord has separated us from Babylon and has placed within our care a stewardship in his kingdom, we must discharge our duty faithfully and never turn back.
The law of stewardship is the law upon which Zion’s equality is achieved. Zion people come unto Christ and hearken to his voice by seeking to purify their hearts; by seeking to equalize the condition of the Lord’s children through the giving of their means; by striving to heal the Lord’s children, bolster their faith, and love them. The pure in heart view themselves as stewards rather than owners, and they seek to bless the Lord’s children with their stewardships, which is the sum of everything that they have and are.
Stewardships in the Scriptures
In the early days of the Church, stewardships were also called inheritances or “portions.” BYU professor Clark V. Johnson explained that the Lord “required the bishop of the Church to give every man an inheritance. [The Lord] explained that Church members were equal according to their family, circumstances, wants, and needs (D&C 51:4).” Here we see the principles of stewardship and accountability as they apply to an inheritance. We note that it is the bishop who assigns inheritances in Zion, and he is also the one who, in behalf of the Lord, receives an account of their management.
Receiving and reporting on Church callings and tithing settlement are manifestations of these principles. With regard to the management of their stewardships, “the Lord reminded members of the Church that when they had enough to satisfy their needs, they were to give the surplus to the storehouse. D&C 70:7-D&C 82:18 Excess gained in the operation of the stewardship was to be used to administer to those who were in need (D&C 42:33-34). The bishop kept all surplus donated from the stewardships in a storehouse he organized (D&C 51:13).”[iv]
Even today we might expect to render accountings of our various stewardships to the bishop. For example, we make such an accounting to him when he interviews us for a temple recommend, and from time to time, when we counsel with him, we also make an accounting of our lives. Because the law of consecration requires that we consecrate our time, talents, and all that we have and are to the kingdom of God, the bulk of our stewardships usually lie outside the Church organization. Nevertheless, we are accountable for them to the Lord and to his servant, the bishop. Perhaps more blessings would flow to us if we lived the law of stewardship more faithfully and felt more accountability on each point of the law.
We would expect that our actual inheritances in priesthood society of Zion would follow the pattern described in Doctrine and Covenants 58: “This is a law unto every man that cometh unto this land to receive an inheritance; and he shall do with his moneys according as the law [of consecration] directs.”[v] Although we privately own our inheritances, we must consider them as consecrated stewardships, and thus we are accountable to the Lord for them according to the law of accountability.[vi]
If we live the law of stewardship, we are promised safety, for our consecrated effort is “to prepare [us] against the day of vengeance and burning.”[vii] If we do not live this law, we run the risk of suffering the consequences: “If any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.”[viii]
Understanding the Order of the Law of Stewardship
In section 104 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord revealed the order by which inheritances (stewardships) are apportioned from the Lord’s resources to us, the stewards. We are reminded that “the sacred things” which are “delivered into the treasury” are the Lord’s, “and no man among you shall call it his own, or any part of it, for it shall belong to you all with one accord.”
The surplus derived from the management of the stewardship rightly belongs to Lord and must be placed in his sacred repository for the common good: “And thus shall ye preserve the avails of the sacred things in the treasury, for sacred and holy purposes.
And this shall be called the sacred treasury of the Lord; and a seal shall be kept upon it that it may be holy and consecrated unto the Lord.”[ix] The Lord’s servant, the bishop, manages the treasury and the Lord’s resources. This is the order of the law of stewardship.
In our day, we would call this sacred treasury the Bishop’s Storehouse, which is separate from the “Lord’s Storehouse,” mentioned in the scriptures, which is essentially a virtual treasury into which we consecrate our time, talents and all that we are and have to the Lord.
Of course, the Church maintains other treasuries-for instance, monetary funds, warehouses of supplies, and service departments. We also read of sacred treasuries in heaven. For example, “Lay up for yourselves a treasure in heaven, yea, which is eternal, and which fadeth not away; yea, that ye may have that precious gift of eternal life.”[x] To access that heavenly treasury, we must sacrifice our personal treasures in this world: “Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto [the rich young man], Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.”[xi]
One definition of “treasure” is anything that is good. Under this definition, even our testimonies could be considered stewardships. We know that the law of consecration requires that every good thing that we receive from the Lord must be returned to him with increase. Interestingly, when we bear sincere testimony, our testimony grows,[xii] and that allows us to fulfill the law and return our testimony to the Lord with increase.
Our bearing witness of the truth is much like casting our testimony into the treasury of heaven; in return, great blessings are unleashed: “Nevertheless, ye are blessed, for the testimony which ye have borne is recorded in heaven for the angels to look upon; and they rejoice over you, and your sins are forgiven you.”[xiii] “Also I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God.”[xiv] Again, these blessings flow from the order of the law of stewardships.
Upon what principle do consecrated properties flow into the sacred treasuries? “Joseph Smith taught that the consecration of properties must be done by mutual consent. The bishop could not dictate in matters of consecration or he would have more power than a king.’ The Prophet further explained that there must be a balance of power between the bishop and the people in order to preserve harmony and good-will.'”[xv] Therefore, the bishop, who is the Lord’s steward, is authorized to extend stewardships to his people; the people accept the stewardship and manage and account for it by their free-will choice; the people sustain the bishop in his calling.
That sustaining is done by mutual covenant: the people agree to accept the bishop as the voice of the Lord, and he agrees to receive their accountings and judge them righteously in the Lord’s name. In his office, the bishop is entrusted to receive free-will offerings from the surpluses of the stewards’ stewardships, and he places those offerings in the common treasury. Then the stewards, who have common access to the treasury, may draw upon it, with the bishop’s permission, for their needs and wants.
Clearly, the interaction between the stewards and the bishop is one of common consent. The bishop manages the treasury, assigns stewardships, and takes accountings, and the people sustain his actions, and through his ministry gain access to the Lord’s treasury. Such transactions are to be done “only by the voice of the order, or by commandment. . . . And there shall not any part of it [the treasury’s resource] be used, or taken out of the treasury, only by the voice and common consent of the order.”[xvi]
We see this law in action in every ward in the Church today. One of the highest manifestations of this law is that the steward receives access to the Lord’s resources for the purpose of growing and managing his stewardship: “And this shall be the voice and common consent of the order-that any man among you say to the treasurer: I have need of this to help me in my stewardship.”[xvii]
In whatever form the law of consecration and the law of stewardship exist, the order that governs those laws will always apply. By common consent, the bishop, who is sustained by the voice of the people, will always apportion, aid in, judge, and take accounting of all stewardships pertaining to the kingdom of God. This is the order of the law of consecration.
Spiritual Gifts Are Stewardships to Bless Others
The stewardships that the Lord places in our trust are our time, talents and abilities, and everything else that we are or possess. Some of these stewardships are listed in Doctrine and Covenants 46 and are called spiritual gifts. These gifts include:
- The gift of knowing-“that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.”
- The gift of believing-“on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.”
- The gift of administration-“the differences of administration.”
- The gift of “the diversities of operations, whether they be of God, that the manifestations of the Spirit may be given to every man to profit withal.”
- The gift of “the word of wisdom.”
- The gift of “the word of knowledge, that all may be taught to be wise and to have knowledge.”
- The gift to have “faith to be healed.”
- The gift to have “faith to heal.”
- The gift of “the working of miracles.”
- The gift of the ability “to prophesy.”
- The gift of “discerning of spirits.”
- The gift of speaking “with tongues.”
- The gift of “the interpretation of tongues.”[xviii]
Why does the Lord give us these gifts as stewardships? The answer echoes the language in the priesthood covenant. We receive gifts from the Lord “for [our] sakes, and not for [our] sakes only, but for the sake of the world.”[xix] The Lord said, “All these gifts come from God, for the benefit of the children of God.”[xx] When we consider the Lord’s answer, we recall other scriptural injunctions to consecrate our resources for the purpose of blessing other people: “For of him unto whom much is given much is required.
“[xxi] “Freely ye have received, freely give.”[xxii] Clearly, we cannot achieve celestial glory without blessing others.
Significantly, Doctrine and Covenants 46 mirrors many of the principles stated in the parable of the talents,[xxiii] signaling to us the parable’s latter-day relevance. Talents are gifts and therefore stewardships, and thus are to be used to bless the Lord’s children. Because every person receives a gift or gifts from God, we are treated equally-a characteristic of Zion. Thus, the Lord says,
And you are to be equal, or in other words, you are to have equal claims on the properties, for the benefit of managing the concerns of your stewardships, every man according to his wants and his needs, inasmuch as his wants are just-and all this for the benefit of the church of the living God, that every man may improve upon his talent, that every man may gain other talents, yea, even an hundred fold, to be cast into the Lord’s storehouse, to become the common property of the whole church-every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God.[xxiv]
These gifts, or talents, prepare us for the Lord’s return; they “are suited to the gifts and needs of the individual to give him or her the maximum opportunity for growth in the Kingdom of God.”[xxv] How we manage our talents determines our eventual inheritance in the celestial kingdom. Joseph Smith taught: “Many of our brethren are wise in . . . their labors, and have rid their garments of the blood of this generation and are approved before the Lord.”[xxvi]
Profitable and Unprofitable Servants
Jesus first introduced the idea of profitable and unprofitable servants in the parable of the talents.[xxvii] Over a century earlier, King Benjamin discussed the concept of serving profitably.[xxviii] Although our present mortal circumstances greatly hamper us from being profitable to the Lord, nevertheless, we must make the attempt, because profitability is central to our eternal progression and thus to the ever-expanding kingdom of God.
When the Lord gives us a trust, we are to magnify it on our watch. Otherwise, as the parable of the talents states, the unprofitable servant is cast into outer darkness, where “there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”[xxix]
At least two criteria lead to profitability: (1) our being “anxiously engaged in a good cause, do[ing] many things of [our] own free will, and bring[ing] to pass much righteousness,”[xxx] and (2) yielding our hearts and wills to God.[xxxi] Because we are agents with agency, we are endowed with the power of choice and the capability to magnify our stewardships. The goal of our creative effort is to “bring to pass much righteousness.”
We also learn that the greater the profitability of the stewardship, the greater the trusts that God will eventually place in our care. Commenting on the teachings of Joseph Smith, Orson Hyde wrote:
The most eminent and distinguished prophets who have laid down their lives for their testimony (Jesus among the rest), will be crowned at the head of the largest kingdoms under the Father, and will be one with Christ as Christ is one with his Father; for their kingdoms are all joined together, and such as do the will of the Father, the same are his mothers, sisters, and brothers. He that has been faithful over a few things, will be made ruler over many things; he that has been faithful over ten talents, shall have dominion over ten cities, and he that has been faithful over five talents, shall have dominion over five cities, and to every man will be given a kingdom and a dominion, according to his merit, powers, and abilities to govern and control. . . . There are kingdoms of all sizes, an infinite variety to suit all grades of merit and ability. The chosen vessels unto God are the kings and priests that are placed at the head of these kingdoms. These have received their washings and anointings in the temple of God on this earth; they have been chosen, ordained, and anointed kings and priests, to reign as such in the resurrection of the just.[xxxii]
For the present, our maximum effort will not generate the maximum profits that our stewardship is capable of producing. For that to happen, we must draw upon the principle of grace; we must humbly yield our wills to God, submit to his counsel, and allow him to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Only by such a partnership can the stewardship reach the summit of its potential. We are greatly benefitted by such a relationship.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught that we enhance our individuality by yielding our wills to God; that is, as we are stretched and molded by him, we become more capable of receiving “all that the Father hath.”[xxxiii] He concluded by saying we simply could not be entrusted with God’s “all” until our wills more closely corresponded to God’s will.
Profitable servants improve upon that with which they have been entrusted; they employ sound management principles by reducing waste and insisting that invested resources generate an appropriate return; they are tireless workers and represent well the person to whom they are accountable: “O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength.”[xxxiv] Then, when profits are produced over and above that which the servant needs to care for his family and himself, the servant releases that surplus to the Lord, to whom the surplus rightly belongs:
Nevertheless, inasmuch as they receive more than is needful for their necessities and their wants, it shall be given into my storehouse; and the benefits shall be consecrated unto the inhabitants of Zion, and unto their generations, inasmuch as they become heirs according to the laws of the kingdom.Behold, this is what the Lord requires of every man in his stewardship, even as I, the Lord, have appointed or shall hereafter appoint unto any man. And behold, none are exempt from this law who belong to the church of the living God.[xxxv]
How happy are the profitable servants who can report to God that they have accomplished everything that they were charged to do. They will hear: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things.”[xxxvi]
Stewardships Prepare Us for Eternal Life
[xxxviii] This assumption is evidenced in the Lord’s promise to righteous couples who are sealed in the temple and keep their marriage covenant. He promises that they “shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths.”[xxxix] The fact that this list contains diverse stations stated in the plural suggests that our celestial assignments and inheritances might shift and expand throughout the eternities, as we progress in our Father’s kingdom.
We also might expect that we will receive these stewardships by consecration, and that we will be held accountable for them. To develop our celestial stewardships, we might expect that we would draw upon the Father’s vast resources to improve and manage our stewardships, and, in turn, we would consecrate the resources thereof back to his higher kingdom to which we belong. If that is the case, if we intend to achieve that exalted state and live in that priesthood society, we must first learn to live the laws of consecration and stewardship here and now.
The Lord said, “And whoso is found a faithful, a just, and a wise steward shall enter into the joy of his Lord, and shall inherit eternal life.”[xl] And Elder McConkie added, “It is by the wise use of one’s stewardship that eternal life is won.”[xli]
This article is the second of two articles adapted from the Pillars of Zion series. You can download a free sample of the introduction to series: Portrait of a Zion Person. CLICK HERE . Follow our Internet missionary project: www.gospelideals.org and LIKE us at www.facebook.com/gospelideals.
[i] Genesis 26:5; Exodus 6:13; Numbers 4:4; 27:23; Matthew 18:23; 20:8; 21:33; 24:45; 25:21; Luke 12:42; 12:48; 16:2; 19:17; 1 Corinthians 4:2; 1 Timothy 4:14; Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 4:10; Jacob 1:19; 2:2; Alma 35:16; D&C 42:32, 70; 51:19; 64:40; 69:5; 70:4, 9; 72:3; 78:22; 82:3, 11; 101:90; 104:11, 55; 124:14; 136:27; JS-H 1:59; see also Genesis 48:22; Deuteronomy 32:9; Psalms 16:5; Isaiah 53:12; Zechariah 2:12; Luke 12:46; D&C 19:34; 51:3; 78:21; 104:18; 132:39.