The word steward comes from stigweard, lit., a sty ward. Stigu means sty and weard means warden, guardian. A sty is a pen for swine and a ward is one who guards. A steward, then, is someone who guards or protects or is responsible for something that belongs to another or for someone that serves or pertains to another.
Originally, a steward in England, under feudal law, was “a household officer on a lord’s estate having charge of the cattle; later, a head manager in the administration of a manor or estate, presiding at the manorial courts, auditing accounts, conducting inquests and extents, and controlling the husbandry arrangements.” In general, a steward is “a man employed in a large family, or on a large estate, to manage the domestic concerns, supervise servants, collect rents or income, keep accounts, etc.”
Stewards are not owners
Stewards do not own the concerns which they manage nor are the servants which they supervise their own servants, but the servants of the steward’s lord. Thus, we find the Lord saying:
And if the properties are mine, then ye are stewards; otherwise ye are no stewards. (D&C 104: 56.)
Stewards and stewardships are for probation
Obviously, the Lord owns everything, so He tests His children by granting them a temporary stewardship and then seeing how they act in it.
And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them (Abraham 3: 25.)
Rendering an account of one’s stewardship
At some point, every steward must give an account of his or her stewardship, both here on Earth and later at the day of judgment.
And verily in this thing ye have done wisely, for it is required of the Lord, at the hand of every steward, to render an account of his stewardship, both in time and in eternity. (D&C 73: 3.)
And an account of this stewardship will I require of them in the day of judgment. (D&C 70: 4.)
Good and bad stewards and their rewards
Depending upon what kind of steward we are here on Earth, so shall be our eternal reward. Those who are faithful, just and wise stewards get the top reward.
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. (D&C 51: 19.)
And he that is a faithful and wise steward shall inherit all things. Amen. (D&C 78: 22.)
While those who are wicked, unjust and unwise stewards don’t get so much.
And in his hot displeasure, and in his fierce anger, in his time, [the Lord] will cut off those wicked, unfaithful, and unjust stewards, and appoint them their portion among hypocrites, and unbelievers; even in outer darkness, where there is weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth. (D&C 101: 90-91.)
Stewards possess authority
A stewardship (the office of a steward) comes with authority, or, in other words, a steward is given both authority and responsibility in order to manage the concerns of the stewardship. If you don’t have a stewardship, you don’t have authority. The authority of a steward is a set of keys, just as the original stigweard held the keys that opened the swine pens. These keys allow the steward to protect, guard, maintain and take care of the concerns in his or her care. Without such authority, a steward can do nothing.
In the case of a stewardship that supervises people, the authority of the steward is only valid as long as the people being cared for sustain him or her as their steward. In other words, there is a second set of keys held by the people who have claim on the steward as their steward and it is this second set of keys that allows the steward to operate in his or her office. Without the consent of these people, the steward cannot do anything in righteousness.
D&C 83 gives the order of parental stewardship as follows:
Verily, thus saith the Lord, in addition to the laws of the church concerning women and children, those who belong to the church, who have lost their husbands or fathers: Women have claim on their husbands for their maintenance, until their husbands are taken; and if they are not found transgressors they shall have fellowship in the church. And if they are not faithful they shall not have fellowship in the church; yet they may remain upon their inheritances according to the laws of the land. All children have claim upon their parents for their maintenance until they are of age. And after that, they have claim upon the church, or in other words upon the Lord’s storehouse, if their parents have not wherewith to give them inheritances. And the storehouse shall be kept by the consecrations of the church; and widows and orphans shall be provided for, as also the poor. Amen.
Whoever has claim upon another for his or her spiritual or temporal maintenance is the concerns of the stewardship and whoever is responsible for the maintenance is the steward. Therefore, according to this revelation, parents are the stewards of their children and husbands are the stewards of their wives.
This arrangement does not go both ways. Children are not the stewards of the parents because they are not responsible for providing spiritual or temporal maintenance for their parents. Nor is the wife the steward of the husband because she is not responsible for maintaining her husband in his spiritual or temporal needs. If stewardship could go both ways, husbands could have claim upon their wives and parents upon their children. Although there may be many husbands who might love to relinquish their family stewardship to their wives and allow her to support him and their children, under gospel law it doesn’t work like that.
Children are also given stewardships
When children are old enough to obtain some responsibility, they may receive a stewardship from their parents. Perhaps they must take care of their room, keeping it clean and tidy, or their clothes, making sure they are folded and put away, or some household chores, such as sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, doing dishes, or, perhaps they are given a temporary stewardship over their younger siblings, looking over them and watching out for them while their parents are engaged in some other aspect of their own stewardship.
Stewardships in the church
Every church calling is a stewardship with responsibility and authority, and may be of a temporal and/or spiritual nature. The steward uses that authority to manage the concerns of his or her stewardship, which may include supervising, teaching, and/or leading people. So, for example, a bishop is the steward of the ward and the entire ward is the concerns of his stewardship. An elder’s quorum president is the steward of the elders quorum, which are the concerns of his stewardship. A Relief Society president is a steward and the society members are the concerns of her stewardship. A visiting or home teacher is a steward and the families or sisters being visited are the concerns. Etc.
Stewards and concerns likewise judged
Just as every steward must render an account of his or her stewardship to the Judge of us all, so the concerns of a stewardship will have to render an account of how they acted toward the steward. The steward is the Lord’s representative, empowered to take care of the concerns of the stewardship. Any interference with a steward’s divinely appointed duties is treated by the Lord as if it was done to the Lord of the steward Himself.
As long as a steward is acting righteously, meaning that he or she is acting in the stewardship in the following way—
No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of [a stewardship], only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; that he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death. (D&C 121: 41-44, re-worded a little.)
—those who have claim on the steward are bound by the Lord to use their second set of keys to authorize the steward’s own set of keys (his or her authority). If the steward is not authorized by the people concerned with his or her stewardship, yet is acting in righteousness, these people stand condemned by the Lord.
The principle is this: respect all stewards and stewardships insofar as they act righteously.
It is wickedness
Thus, it is wickedness to do away with a steward and stewardship granted by the Lord because this is how He tests His children. For example, some in the world would do away with the stewardship of the parents by granting the State stewardship over the children. This is wickedness. Others would do away with the stewardship of the husband, claiming that this diminishes the role of the wife. This is also wickedness.
Another form of wickedness is the interference in the operations of a steward’s duties. For example, no one is to perform the duties of the steward, other than the steward himself. If you do this, you interfere with the test, for the Lord appoints stewards and then steps back to see what he (or she) will do. Even if you think you can do a much better job than the steward, you are to step back, like the Lord, and let the man or woman perform, or attempt to perform, the duty. Another way to interfere is to withhold your authorization from the steward, so that he cannot perform the duties of his office and calling because you (the concerns of his stewardship) do not authorize him.
Finally, those who are not a part of the concerns of a stewardship, when dealing with a steward, should respect his or her calling, and recognize both the authority and responsibility that the steward has in managing his or her concerns. It is disrespectful and offensive both to the steward and to the One who appointed the steward to not recognize the stewardship, authority and responsibility that was given to the individual by the Lord.
Stewardships and equality
Stewardships are, by design, not equal. The Lord places one steward to preserve, maintain and increase a small amount of property, while another steward is placed over ten times as much. A pair of parental stewards may care for three children while a different pair may watch over ten. It is the inequality of the stewardships that adds to the test, to see what the children of God will do, both the stewards and those they look after.
Nevertheless, the gospel provides means whereby the unequal stewardships may become equalized. This is done through covenants.
Therefore, verily I say unto you, that it is expedient for my servants Edward Partridge and Newel K. Whitney, A. Sidney Gilbert and Sidney Rigdon, and my servant Joseph Smith, and John Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery, and W. W. Phelps and Martin Harris to be bound together by a bond and covenant that cannot be broken by transgression, except judgment shall immediately follow, in your several stewardships—to manage the affairs of the poor, and all things pertaining to the bishopric both in the land of Zion and in the land of Kirtland; for I have consecrated the land of Kirtland in mine own due time for the benefit of the saints of the Most High, and for a stake to Zion.
For Zion must increase in beauty, and in holiness; her borders must be enlarged; her stakes must be strengthened; yea, verily I say unto you, Zion must arise and put on her beautiful garments.
Therefore, I give unto you this commandment, that ye bind yourselves by this covenant, and it shall be done according to the laws of the Lord.
Behold, here is wisdom also in me for your good.
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. (D&C 82: 11-19.)
So here we have the Lord telling these nine stewards to bind themselves to each other by bond and covenant in their several stewardships, so that they become equal in both earthly and heavenly things.
For verily I say unto you, the time has come, and is now at hand; and behold, and lo, it must needs be that there be an organization of my people, in regulating and establishing the affairs of the storehouse for the poor of my people, both in this place and in the land of Zion—for a permanent and everlasting establishment and order unto my church, to advance the cause, which ye have espoused, to the salvation of man, and to the glory of your Father who is in heaven; that you may be equal in the bonds of heavenly things, yea, and earthly things also, for the obtaining of heavenly things.
For if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things; for if you will that I give unto you a place in the celestial world, you must prepare yourselves by doing the things which I have commanded you and required of you. (D&C 78: 3-7.)
The equality spoken of in these verses is all-important, yet unobtainable except by voluntarily entering into covenants, including marriage covenants, with other stewards. The Lord then creates a perfect test by first giving out unequal stewardships and then explaining how to equalize everything, with attendant blessings should His children decide to use their agency to that end.
He who is appointed to administer spiritual things, the same is worthy of his hire, even as those who are appointed to a stewardship to administer in temporal things; yea, even more abundantly, which abundance is multiplied unto them through the manifestations of the Spirit. Nevertheless, in your temporal things you shall be equal, and this not grudgingly, otherwise the abundance of the manifestations of the Spirit shall be withheld. (D&C 70: 12-14.)
Stewardships are meant to be increased
Every steward is to maintain, preserve, care for, protect, guard and increase his or her stewardship. Thus, missionary work is based on the law of stewardships. And when we hear the phrase, “multiply and replenish the earth,” that is also the law of stewardships at work. And so, parents, if able, are expected to bring more children to Earth.
Keep this law in mind
It may be beneficial to keep the law of stewardships in mind when dealing with stewards, whether they are found in one’s family, in the church, or in the world at large. A proper understanding of this law may make it easier to accept the steward’s authority, and a corresponding proper action towards that steward may make it easier to live other parts of the gospel and to stay in the Lord’s favor.