We begin here with the issue of money - because our attitude concerning money reflects our core values - most especially our attitude toward God - and, ultimately, whether or not we truly believe that we, as Christians, will stand before Christ at the "bema" and give an account of ourselves there - how we handled the grace God deposited in us. This first article takes up the Parable of the Unjust Steward - and what it tells us about our reward Christ promises to faithful Bhristians at his judgment seat.
Turn with me to Matthew 6:19-20. Here we have Jesus speaking to his disciples.
Notice very carefully what Jesus is not saying here:
And why’s that? It’s because – look very carefully at the verse – the earth is where treasure is destroyed. And he puts it to us in the form an unbreakable, immutable law that governs the accumulation of wealth here on the earth. The earth destroys wealth.
But Jesus doesn’t leave it at that. He goes on to tell us how it’s destroyed…
That’s the inevitable fate awaiting whatever treasure – whatever wealth – we store up for ourselves here on the earth. And struggling against that fate – trying to resist it – leads to anxiety and sorrow. That’s why we’re told in 1 Timothy 6:10...
For the love of money (not money itself, but the love of money) is the root of all evil: which some having lusted after, have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
1 Tim. 6:10
The struggle to preserve the wealth we store up for ourselves here on earth – to keep it from losing value – to protect it from being stolen – is an unending, exhausting task. And it’s a task that can so overwhelm us that there’s no time left to enjoy our families, our friends – or even, for that matter, whatever our wealth purchases for us – including houses, furniture, cars, boats, vacations, and any other trinket that might catch our fancy. We’re too exhausted – too beset by anxiety – to enjoy any of it. We’re pierced through with the sorrows that arise from trying to guard our wealth – from trying to preserve it.
But verse 19 doesn’t tell the whole story. Verse 20 finishes it up.
But lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust can destroy it, and where thieves can’t break through to steal it.
Just as earth is where wealth is lost; so heaven is where wealth is preserved. Heaven is where you can deposit your wealth and know it will be protected…
And just as in verse 19, Jesus puts what he’s telling us here in verse 20 in the form of an unbreakable, immutable law: heaven is where wealth is preserved.
Isn’t that a simple, easy to understand principle? Of course it is! Why, then, is it so seldom acted upon? We honor it more in the breach than in the doing of it – meaning, we, as Christians, all acknowledge it’s true – that storing up treasure for ourselves here on earth is foolish; but then we go right on doing it – and, in the process, we fall prey to the anxieties and sorrows that 1 Timothy 6:10 tells us are its inevitable consequences.
American Christians spend no more than 2% of their income on furthering the purposes of God. In short, the average American Christian – and here we’re talking about Bible believing, church attending Evangelical Christians – the average American Christian invests 98% of his income here on earth – and consumes it on himself – on items that bear no relationship whatsoever to the kingdom of God – and which will surely lose value and will eventually be destroyed.
Now that’s foolish, isn’t it?
It’s not just that it’s morally wrong: we aren’t treating Christian giving this morning from an ethical standpoint. We’re not talking about whether it’s moral or immoral – godly or ungodly, but rather whether it’s rational or irrational; whether it’s wise or foolish.
We spend thousands and thousands of dollars on expensive cars we don’t really need – that are little more than status symbols; homes too large for us to really use; health clubs we don’t actually make use of; food we eat that kills us or makes us fat; furniture that’s not really necessary; clothes we wear just once or twice and then hang in our closets never to be worn again; movies we really shouldn’t be watching in the first place; vacations that don’t really relax us; and so on and so forth.
While at the same time we spend on average no more than 2% of our income – a mere pittance – on the kingdom of God – on programs and ministries that will further the purposes of God – an investment that will testify to our faithfulness and honor us when we get to heaven – where we’ll be spending not a mere 70 or 80 years, but all eternity.
Now that’s irrational!
What is it about being a Christian that causes us to be so foolish – so irrational? What is that causes us to spend 98% of our income on what we won’t carry over into eternity, on what won’t honor us when we get there, or testify to our gratitude in the presence of God surrounded by angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim?
It’s almost as if, shortly after having become Christians, we stopped using our heads. Because no one in his right mind would invest 98% of his income on a venture that was bound to fail while spending only 2% of his income on a venture that was a sure fire bet - that was fully guaranteed to not only never fail but guaranteed as well to earn a fabulous return. But that’s exactly what we Christians do. Very few of us behaved that foolishly before we became Christians. Why are we behaving that foolishly now?
The Parable of the Unjust Steward
And, believe it or not, that’s the very issue Jesus addresses in a parable he tells his disciples in Luke 16:1-9, “The Parable of the Dishonest Steward.”
I know this parable is difficult to understand – especially the last two verses, verses 8 and 9. But I’ll walk you through it .
First of all, let’s look at its context. Two distinct kinds of people are crowding around Jesus to hear what he’s teaching: his disciples and the Pharisees. His disciples – who have been drawn largely from the riff-raff of Jewish society and whose number includes more than merely the twelve apostles – know that they’re sinners; and have no trouble acknowledging it. A good many before becoming disciples were what the Bible calls “publicans”– meaning they were money-hungry shake-down thugs and scam artists who stopped at nothing to squeeze the poor for one more dime.
The Pharisees, on the other hand, are smug and sanctimonious – certain of their own righteousness – convinced that it warrants God’s approval – and contemptuous of the riff-raff claiming to be Jesus’ disciples. They’re the religious hypocrites of their day. The parable is specifically addressed to the disciples, not to the Pharisees – though Jesus knows that the Pharisees are lurking close by – listening to what he’s teaching.
The specific identity of the rich man is unimportant – meaning it adds nothing to the truth the parable is meant to convey; only two points about the rich man are pertinent: (1) that he owns the wealth the steward is managing – meaning the wealth is his, not the steward’s; and (2) that his authority entitles him to hire and fire the steward at his own discretion.
The steward has been employed by the rich man to manage his wealth – that’s what a steward does; he’s what today we might call a business manager or an accountant. The scope of the steward’s authority is vast – which was quite common in Jesus’ day and is still common today. The wealth isn’t his, but he’s in charge of it – almost totally.
The parable revolves around a dilemma the steward faces: he’s about to be fired – meaning he’s about to lose his stewardship – and with it all the wealth he has been enjoying.
The reason Jesus gives for the steward’s dismissal is dishonesty; that’s what the word “accusation” implies. However, that’s not important to the lesson that’s being taught. One possible reason Jesus has chosen a dishonest rather than an honest steward to be the leading figure of his parable is that his disciples can identify with him. Remember, before becoming his disciples they too were dishonest money-grubbers concerned mostly with acquiring wealth and spending it on themselves – and pity the person who got in their way. Not much else mattered to them.
Knowing that he’s about to be fired – but still in charge of his employer’s wealth – still authorized to manage that wealth however he sees fit, the steward asks himself: “With the time I have left until I’m fired and lose all the wealth I’ve been managing, what can I do with it to provide for my future?”
That’s the point of the whole parable. That one question! Let me say it again: “With the time I have left until I’m fired and lose all the wealth I’ve been managing, what can I do with it to provide for my future?” It’s not important to the truth Jesus wants conveyed how the steward in the parable gains his end; all that matters is…
And that’s why the rich man commends his steward – not how he achieves his end – the dishonesty he employs, but that, once again,
And that’s the whole point of the next two verses, verses 8 and 9. We’ll begin first with verse 8.
For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.
Luke 16:8 …
The term “sons of this world” is a figure of speech common among Jewish rabbis at the time of Jesus. It means anyone…
… exactly the kind of person most of his disciples were before they gave their lives to God!
The phrase “in their generation” simply means “with their kind;” and the phrase “sons of the light” refers, of course, to Jesus’ disciples. So what we have here is quite simple: “The unsaved, who harbor little or no concern about God, are smarter than the saved in the use of their money to provide for their futures among their own kind.”
Now for verse 9…
And I say to you (speaking to his disciples), make friends for yourselves by means of the mammon of unrighteous, that when you fail, they may receive you into everlasting tabernacles.
The word “friends” in verse 9 refers back to verse 4 – specifically to the pronoun “they.”
I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their homes.”
Remember the friends there in verse 4 were his master’s debtors whose favor he curried with his dishonesty. He used his control over his master’s holdings to reduce the amount of debt each of his master’s debtors owed – and, in doing so, he made them his friends – willing to take him into their homes after he was fired – meaning, willing to help him out and attend to his needs.
The term “mammon of unrighteousness” is simply a Jewish figure of speech meaning “worldly wealth.” The term “when you fail” means “when you die.” And the term “everlasting tabernacles” is merely another Jewish figure of speech meaning “heaven” – and conveys the same meaning of “homes” in verse 4.
Here, then, is what Jesus is saying:
Once again, how a Christian invests his resources - his time, his talents, and his money - isn’t just a matter of what’s morally right and wrong; it’s just as much a matter of what’s wise and what’s foolish. Remember:
Most Christians aren’t connecting the dots, are they? They haven’t ...
But that shouldn’t be true of disciples – of anyone who wants to press beyond merely being a believer to being a follower. One of the marks of a true disciple – an authentic disciple – not a disciple in name only – is that he has thought through…
… and, in so doing, he has radically changed the way he thinks about his future – meaning what he spends his money, his talents, and his time on – how he invests his resources – how he uses them..