When a thing belongs to us, originates from us, we can do with it what we will. When a thing is given to us, however, and we’re entrusted with it, we must treat it in an entirely different way. We don’t own it then, can’t mess with it, and need to guard it like a steward.
I saw this idea at work in, of all places, season 1 of Downton Abbey. *** if you require a spoiler alert here, c’mon!, this was back in season 1 *** Lord Grantham is walking with his daughter Lady Mary and she is upset that inheritance laws will keep her from getting a piece of the family wealth, title, estate. She protests with him and his answer shows that whatever we might believe about peerage, aristocracy, or inheritance – we could stand to learn something about receiving an unalterable gift. He tells her:
You are my darling daughter, and I love you, hard as it is for an Englishman to say the words… If I had made my own fortune and bought Downton for myself, it should be yours without question. But I did not. My fortune is the work of others, who labored to build a great dynasty. Do I have the right to destroy their work, or impoverish that dynasty? I am a custodian, my dear, not an owner. I must strive to be worthy of the task I have been set.
Lord Grantham gets it. He didn’t create it, he doesn’t really own it, he must preserve it to pass on. He certainly doesn’t have any right to chop it up into preferred pieces. This is true of Christian Faith as well.
In a world where we so often live according to our preferences, it’s only natural that we try to apply that to spiritual matters of faith. Whatever our level of commitment to Christ may be, we’re inclined towards what we prefer and away from what we don’t.
But the Apostle Jude doesn’t portray a smorgasbord of spiritual things. He portrays a package deal, a “common salvation” that was “once delivered to the saints” (vss 3-4). It is not ours to change or chop up. The task of the faithful is to keep the faith.