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A Lesson on Stewardship from "The Lord of the Rings"

In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien writes about a kingdom called Gondor which for many years has had no king. While waiting for the rightful heir to come and claim his throne, a series of stewards has been placed in charge of the land. The steward in charge at the time of the events described in the book is named Denethor. He has two sons, Boromir and Faramir, both of whom figure prominently in the story (and subsequently, in the movie). As steward of the land, Denethor had the power of the king but without the title and without the full measure of honor. He was able to make decisions and to pass judgment. He received the respect and admiration of the people of the land. His primary task was to do whatever was best for the land in the absence of its rightful ruler. In all he did he was to remember his position—to remember that he was not, and never would be, the king. As a constant reminder of his temporary position he was forbidden to rule from the king's throne. [Tolkien writes:]

Awe fell upon him as he looked down that avenue of kings long dead. At the far end upon a dais of many steps was set a throne under a canopy of marble shaped like a crowned helm; behind it was carved upon the wall and set with gems an image of a tree in flower. But the throne was empty. At the foot of the dais, upon the lowest step which was broad and deep, there was a stone chair, black and unadorned, and on it sat an old man gazing at his lap.

That man, of course, was the steward. Where the king was allowed the full honor of sitting upon the throne, surrounded by splendor, the steward was consigned to rule from a plain, unadorned chair that sat at the foot of the throne.

Denethor was not a very good steward. He dreaded the day the king would return, for he knew that with the return of the king would come his own return to obscurity. He jealously guarded the power that had been given him and did not look forward to the day when he would have to relinquish the kingdom to its rightful owner. This attitude affected his every decision, and he often ruled based on his own desire for preservation rather than on the basis of what would be best for the kingdom he was sworn to protect.

Denethor said," The Lord of Gondor is not to be made the tool of other men's purposes, however worthy. And to him there is no purpose higher in the world as it now stands than the good of Gondor; and the rule of Gondor, my lord, is mine and no other man's, unless the king should come again."

To this Gandalf replied, "Unless the king should come again? Well, my lord Steward, it is your task to keep some kingdom against that even, which few now look to see.

Denethor went beyond the care of his office and became corrupted by the enemy. His abuse of what had been entrusted to him led to his own corruption.

This concept of stewardship is one that has been largely lost to our time and our culture. We understand ownership, borrowing, leasing, and mortgaging but have little knowledge of stewardship. Yet it is a crucial concept in the Bible. Scripture tells us that we are to regard all that God gives us as if we are stewards, not owners (see, for example, Luke 12). This is true of wealth; it is true of talents; it is true of opportunities and children and spouses and property and businesses and everything else. Where God has given richly, much is expected in return. At no time does God give us full and final ownership of what he has given us. He gives us but the opportunity to be stewards of his gifts.

Stewardship is more difficult than we may think. How tightly we like to cling to those things that we regard as ours. How tightly we cling to our money and how quick we are to set our hope in the uncertainty of riches (1 Timothy 6:17). How difficult it is to release our children to the care of God, knowing that we are but stewards of them for the short time God grants them to us. How prone we are to hold fast to all of the wrong things. How hard it is for us to understand that we do not occupy the throne. No, we are those who sit in the steward's unadorned stone chair, far below, in the shadow of the throne.

Denethor held fast to the wrong things. Drunk with corruption and power and unwilling to hand over the kingdom, Denethor, steward of Gondor, eventually took his own life, ending his years of poor stewardship. He would rather die than give up the power that he thought was his. He would rather die than humble himself before the king.

Denethor's son, Faramir, took his father's place as the next in a long line of stewards. And no sooner did he do this than Aragorn, the heir to the throne, returned to Gondor. Faramir was faced with all that was so important to his father. Would Faramir be like his father? Or would he be a faithful steward? [Tolkien writes:]

Faramir met Aragorn in the midst of those there assembled, and he knelt, and said: "The last steward of Gondor begs leave to surrender his office." …

Then Faramir stood up and spoke in a clear voice: "Men of Gondor, hear now the Steward of this realm! Behold! One has come to claim the kingship again at last. Here is Aragorn son of Arathorn… . Shall he be king and enter into the city and dwell there?" And all the host and all the people cried yea with one voice.

Moments later, when the new king has been crowned, it is Faramir who leads the cries of "Behold the king!"

Faramir was everything his father was not. He was a good and faithful steward who looked forward to the return of his king and who was willing and ready to hand what had been entrusted to him to its rightful owner. Faramir proved his character.

It is said that Queen Victoria, who reigned over England for over 63 years said, "I wish Jesus would come back in my lifetime. I would lay my crown at his feet." Would you do the same? Will you lead the chorus of "Behold the King!"?

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