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It's Greek to Me - An Ancient Lesson in Economics, Part 1

I have always been intrigued by ancient languages and how many of their words have survived and found their way into our everyday lives. Etymology, or the origin of words, is a fascinating study that can lead to unexpected discoveries and insights. Take the word, economics, for instance. If you're like most people, you naturally think of money when you hear the term, or perhaps about how the Federal Reserve develops policies to influence spending. You may even think of professors deliberating about convoluted monetary theories in their university classrooms.

Image Credit: Canva

None of these ideas, however, convey the full, original meaning of the word. The term economics comes from οικονομία, which is a blend of two words from Greek, house (οικος) and order (νομία). In ancient Greece, this compound term referred to the administration of a household. Now here's where it gets interesting. The person in charge of the household was called the οικονόμος, which is translated as manager or steward in English. So then, the words steward and economics actually share the same root meaning, and a good steward was someone who ran the household well.

Fundamentally, being a good steward is about making wise choices with the resources that are under one's care. Historically, a steward was a person who had charge of his master's or employer's belongings. In the Christian worldview, all human beings are stewards of the resources God has entrusted to them. There are many Scripture verses about how all of our resources actually belong to God:

  • 1 Chronicles 29:12a, 14: “Wealth and honor come from You; You are the ruler of all things. Everything comes from You, and we have given You only what comes from your hand.”

  • Job 41:11: "Who has first given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine." (God speaking to Job)

  • 1 Peter 4:10: "Based on the gift each one has received, use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God."

There are several examples of stewards in the Bible as well. Joseph was Potiphar's steward and essentially became steward to the pharaoh of Egypt. As such, he was entrusted with the daily running of the country and had power over all of its resources. Abraham's servant, Eliezer, is assumed to also have been his steward and the one who found Rebecca as a bride for Abraham's beloved son, Isaac. Nehemiah was wine steward to the king of Babylon, an incredibly important and trusted position, as the king relied on him to make sure he wasn't poisoned.

As you can see, the position of steward is one of ultimate confidence. The men mentioned above took their jobs seriously and did their best to please the one they were serving. The result of faithful service was gratitude and reward from the master. The result of unfaithful stewardship, as seen in the parables of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) and the watchful servants (Luke 12:42-48), was not so pleasant. As Jesus, speaking of stewards in Luke 12:48, said, "To whom much is given, much will be required."

In Christian circles, we may be most familiar with the word stewardship in the context of yearly budget campaigns. During those seasons, we are reminded of God's care and provision for us and urged to return a portion of our income to support the church's ministry. While this is an important aspect of stewardship, it may obscure the word's original meaning and how we apply stewardship - or as the ancient Greeks would have said - economics, to our everyday lives.

If stewardship/economics was originally about the management of households, how do we implement this concept in modern times? The answer is that we are to be mindful of the daily choices we make with what has been given to us. Though resources entail far more than money, our financial stewardship is the focus of this blog; and the choices we make with our monetary resources should directly reflect how we view our relationship with God as well as other people.

In the second part of this series, we'll explore the practical applications of being a household steward. I hope you will join us and not only take these suggestions to heart, but also share them with others. After all, better capitalism, like many other worthy things, should begin at home!


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