What’s one topic that most people feel falls under the “mind your own business” category, especially in relation to spiritual matters? Money. We all need it to survive in this world; it’s a necessity of life but exactly “how much” is necessary, and exactly how is it to be used? If we “follow the law” and donate our 10% to the church, are we free to do what we want with the other 90%?
In Luke 16, Jesus tells two parables about this very subject; the entire chapter addresses what our attitude toward money should be, and the pitfalls and dangers of not listening to God’s financial advice. I’ve always found the first parable a bit hard to understand. It’s called “The Unrighteous Steward.” A rich man discovers that his money manager has been less than honest, squandering his possessions. He tells the man to get his accounts in order, as his employment will soon be terminated. (He got a pink slip!)
The man is apparently quite lazy and comes up with a plan to benefit himself after his employment has ended; after all, he doesn’t want to actually work for a living, and he’s too proud to beg. He calls in the people who owe his master money and reduces their debt, so that they will feel kindly toward him later. You would expect the master to be angry with him, but he praises him for his shrewd idea. Jesus explains this, saying, “the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8). Then Jesus makes a statement that confuses us at first read.
Luke 16:9 – And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.
Is Jesus telling us we ought to act like the unfaithful steward? Cheat our bosses to make our own lives more comfortable?
Of course not. He’s making a point. Those who live for the wealth of this world are very good at what they do for one purpose – to store up future wealth. They are always looking to gain, to build up more wealth. As we read the rest of the chapter, we discover that Jesus is saying if the unrighteous, wealth-obsessed, lost world has enough sense to plan for the future with the resources available to them, ought not His disciples to be thinking of the future and use whatever good things God gives us to “steward” (manage) for eternity as well?
The second half of the chapter is the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Lazarus lay at the rich man’s gates, poor, hungry, covered in sores; his life was miserable. The rich man ignored him, walking by him every day, enjoying the wealth of the world. When both died, Lazarus went to paradise (waiting room for heaven), and the rich man to Hades (waiting room for hell). The rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers to warn them, so they will avoid coming to the place of torment. Sadly, Abraham says it’s impossible; if they wouldn’t believe the prophets, they won’t be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead (16:31).
In between these two parables, Jesus tells us clearly the point He is making. No servant can serve two masters…you cannot serve God and wealth (16:13). If we’re not faithful in the little things (like how we handle our money) we can’t be trusted with great things (like spiritual truth and the true riches of the kingdom). He reminds us that we are stewards of what belongs to another…every dollar in our bank account, every toy in our driveway, every bite of food in our pantry…it’s all a gift from God, given to us to manage on His account, for His kingdom purposes. He gives it to us as that which is entrusted to faithful servants, and we ought to be managing it with eternity in mind.
How do you view money? Is it something to be gained so that you can get as much comfort and pleasure out of this life as possible? Or is it a trust … an earthly resource granted to you by the Father to enable you to serve as an ambassador of heaven, and intended to be managed well for the sake of the gospel, the mission for which Jesus came? Like that steward, one day we will all be called to give an account for what we did with God’s money. Our “term of employment” in this world will be up, and the kind of steward we are will come to light.
It doesn’t matter how much we have; the instructions from Jesus are the same. He is who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much (Luke 16:10). Don’t look at the amount of your possessions; it is the Master who determines what we manage. Instead, seek God’s heart for how He would have you use whatever He gives you, with an eye on eternity.