The third and final temptation the devil reaches for, and — more importantly — Jesus’ response to it, helps us see the goal of stewardship:
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me’. Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him” ‘.
Subtle, right? (Although, the devil may be playing on a less blatant misunderstanding of what it will mean for Jesus to be the Son — something akin to Peter’s foot-in-mouth incident following on from his startling recognition of Jesus as the Christ, and possibly something that’d even be able to claim support from passages like Psalm 72.)
Drawing yet once more on Scripture, Jesus meets the devil’s outrageous suggestion with his deep understanding of the aim of the responsible stewardship he’s to exercise as God’s true Son — Israel’s Messiah and humanity’s representative. The way he’s to handle himself, and God’s good gifts (including the creation), must be oriented towards worshipping and serving God alone.
For Jesus, this meant rejecting the temptation to pursue his own ambition and imperialistically make the world his servants — since ‘the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many’ (Matt 20.28).
From this I derive the following litmus test for creation stewardship. Of any use of (or action towards) the creation, ask: ‘Does it serve God, drawing out creation’s potential to glorify him, or does it serve me, twisting and distorting it into my servant?’
Sound easy? Well, in some situations it may be readily discerned. But most of the time it’ll be much more difficult to work out which way your actions are tending. Imperial ambition rarely announces itself as Satanic at the outset. It kind of creeps up on you. And thus requires you to continually scrutinise yourself (and, as an aside, probably learn a thing or two from the postmodern ‘masters of suspicion’ about probing your own motives and the consequences of your actions).
This is probably too complex to do justice to in one (already over-long) post. But one point is worth mentioning. It’s a point Leslie Newbigin makes in his important essay, ‘The Congregation as Hermeneutic of the Gospel’ — namely, keep it as a ‘church’-thing and you’ve got a good chance of keeping it as a God-glorifying thing; farm it out and you’ll probably run into trouble.
Yet another reason to see Christians at the forefront of creation stewardship. Not because it’s the gospel. But because if we’re not doing it, it’ll become someone else’s gospel.