Money and what money can buy dominate our lives. The title of one book says it all: Born to Shop.
To follow up last Wednesday’s consideration of the Parable of the Dishonest Manager, we noted that the parable brings together several key biblical themes. The property owner in Luke chapter 16 is an honorable man. Confronted by a manager who is corrupt the owner justly dismisses him, but in his mercy does not have him immediately imprisoned. By his silence the manager admits his guilt.
A dark parable. However, perceiving the owner also to be merciful, the manager pursues a bold strategy that will rescue his future. But it is a strategy that is entirely dependent upon the mercy of the owner. It’s a dark parable about life and death issues – our corrupted character and the extraordinary goodness and beauty of God.
Which brings us to verses 9-13: ‘And I tell you’, said Jesus, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth, so that when it is gone they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
The And I say… indicates a new subject that is linked back to the parable. Unlike the manager in the parable, the people to whom Jesus now speaks have financial resources. Instead of simply serving their own needs, they are in a position to assist others.
The theme of an existential crisis about the future continues, but this time it is in the context of Jesus’ followers. Jesus wants us all to consider our own future and how we should live in the light of it. In particular he wants us to think about how we might use our resources – our money and possessions.
In Luke chapter 12, verse 33 Jesus urges his followers to lay up treasure in heaven. Here in verse 9 he is saying, ‘win friends now so that they may welcome you into the eternal homes.’
The they Jesus is speaking about, are people who have heard and responded to God’s good news because of the generosity of God’s people funding gospel ministries.
‘Life is short,’ Jesus is saying. ‘Ask yourself how you will use your material resources, for the time will come when you won’t need your money.’ It will happen when we die or when Jesus returns – whichever occurs first.
Costly Giving? Are you willing to use the resources you have at your disposal for the salvation of others – even those who in your view don’t deserve to be saved?
In the dark parable of the Dishonest Manager, God uses his resources to pay the price of the rescue of fallen humanity. Now Jesus is asking, ‘Are you willing to use your resources sacrificially so that the unlovely and the unjust can come to know him as their Lord and Savior? If you do, the day will come when there will be a welcome cheer for you in heaven.’
‘Don’t live for this world and its wealth. It is absurd to make money and possessions your life’s goal. Live for the world that is to come,’ Jesus is saying.
As now, so then. In verses 10-11 he illustrates his point by setting down a principle regarding faithfulness. To be found trustworthy in the small matters of life is a measure of trustworthiness in matters that are great. How we use money and possessions now is a measure of our fitness for the greater wealth of the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
“And if you have not been faithful in what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?” Jesus asks in v.12.
Worldly wealth is a temporary trust and a test of faithfulness. Entry into the coming kingdom is permanent wealth. Jesus is not an ascetic who sees the material world as evil. He knows money is temporary, but nevertheless useful stuff when properly used. He is also realistic for he knows how often the purse-strings control our heart-strings. He knows how easy it is to love money and the power it seems to give us.
So he warns in verse 13: “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
The word hate was a common expression in Jesus’ day. It underlines the point that of two alternatives one is preferred over the other. There is no place for compromise. Jesus wants us to put him first.
Jesus was speaking then to people living in the 1st century Roman society, but he might just as well be speaking to us today. The way we continue to consume goods is surely nothing short of idolatry. Our shopping malls look more and more like temples.
There are many practical ways we can apply this principle:
Adopt the Scriptural pattern of percentage giving: ten percent is the guide.
Support the ministry of the local church as a first commitment. We may not always agree with all the policies of the church – no church is perfect – but if the Bible is being taught and the gospel proclaimed we should have no hesitation in supporting it financially; local churches are fundamental to building people into God’s kingdom.
Invest in the training of ministers: the future of the church depends on this.
Support mission in the wider world and include Christian ministries that care for the poor.
You may also want to support the Anglican Connection – equipping and supporting church leaders in effective discipling and gospel ministry.
Many of God’s people understand the lessons of Jesus’ words here – making generous donations in support Christian ministry at home and mission work overseas, or in supporting foundations for the relief of the poor.
Jesus wants us to know that we are stewards, not owners of the resources we have. We should invest in the future laying up for ourselves, not treasures on earth, but in the home where we will live forever. Jesus is not saying we can buy our way there. Rather, in this instance, we are to enable others to hear the gospel by using our resources for ministry now.
The question he asks us is this: ‘Will you?’ It means trusting his promises about the future. It means trusting that the ministry of his Word will change lives forever.
A prayer for the gospel. Lord Christ, eternal Word and Light of the Father’s glory: send your light and your truth so that we may both know and proclaim your word of life, to the glory of God the Father; for you now live and reign, God for all eternity. Amen.
You may like to listen to the hymn, Across the Lands from Keith and Kristyn Getty.
© John G. Mason
Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my book in the ‘Reading the Bible Today’ series, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2018.
Support the Word on Wednesday ministry – Mid-year gift here.