(Graphic retrieved from http://www.stjames-greater.com/councils/ on 7/19/16.)
(Please read Luke 16:1-13 in your Bible. I have used the NIV for my remarks.)
The discipline of stewardship is one way to prove yourself a trustworthy disciple.
- The point of the parable (vs. 10-12).
The discipline of parables is to look for the one main point and be contented with that. Don’t lose the forest by focusing on the trees. The one main point of the parable: A good steward works at earning God’s trust.
As we mature in our faith, we prove that we are worthy of God’s trust and then He moves us on to a greater responsibility, and so on. The most common resources God asks us to manage are our time and money. They also receive the most attention in Scripture. While we may regard either or both of these as terribly important in and of themselves, the truth is the really important thing is using them to God’s glory. Time and money are means to an end, not an end in themselves.
The opposite is also true; being irresponsible means that God will trust us with less. Why would He give His best gifts to someone who will not use them?
“Stewardship” is the Bible word for the spiritual discipline of our management of God’s resources according to God’s will. Let’s unpack that definition.
– Because it is a “discipline,” it is something that requires thought and willpower; it can be learned and developed through practice.
– It is a “spiritual discipline” in the sense that stewardship is something we do for God’s sake and with the assistance of the Holy Spirit.
– These are God’s resources. We like to think that we’ve earned or otherwise deserve the resources we have, but the simple fact of the matter is that everything is God’s and they are on loan to us. Life itself is a gift from God and you can’t get any more basic than that.
– Finally, we want to manage our resources in a way that draws everyone’s attention to God. We want to manage in His wisdom, not our own because we know that leads to the best possible outcomes.
- The parable that proves the point (vs. 1-8a).
The parable begins with the rich man’s steward being given notice; he was to be sacked, given the pink slip, fired. The word “manager” or steward refers to any servant entrusted with his master’s property. The master warned the steward he would have to GIVE AN ACCOUNT; “Prepare the books for auditing.”
There are three ways in which the manager showed himself to be SHREWD.
First, he knew himself. He says to himself, “I’M NOT STONG ENOUGH TO DIG, AND I’M ASHAMED TO BEG.” I imagine Danny Devito in this role: how about you? The obvious first step in being a godly manager is to know God. The second is to know yourself.
Second he knew his master’s business. As keeper of the master’s books, he knows his master’s clients and figures out how to use the ones who owe his master money to save himself. He does what Jesus Himself commended in v. 9: he used money to make friends. (The unethical part is that he used HIS MASTER’S MONEY to make friends.)
Third, he turned disadvantage into opportunity. He secretly contacted people who were indebted to his master and forgave part of their debt. One person’s debt he cut in half and another person’s he reduced by a fifth. Interestingly, the amount of the value of the goods forgiven is nearly the same, about 500 denarii. That is the equivalent of sixteen month’s wages for the average worker. (This would be over $56,000 for an average American worker in 2016.) This steward is burning through his master’s money! I believe this is an example of Jesus’ sense of humor and use of exaggeration to make His point.
When the master sees how the steward has “cooked the books” and lost him a lot of money you’d expect him to be vengeful. Instead, he approves. Don’t be all warm-hearted about this: it’s just one crook congratulating another. Actually, everyone in this parable is crooked; the master, the manager, and the debtors. Which is one of the reasons the parable makes some interpreters scratch their heads.
Of course, Jesus is not offering these evildoers as examples of good behavior. Instead, as Jesus explained in v. 8, worldly-minded people are more adept at worldly ways that are His followers, the PEOPLE OF THE LIGHT. Jesus’ disapproval of the manager’s actions is implied in the fact that Jesus called him DISHONEST in v. 8. Shrewdness is not a virtue any more than subtlety. Jesus is in no way saying “Go therefore and do ye likewise.” The fact is, not all the characters in Jesus’ parables are good people.
- Extra lessons at no additional charge (vs. 8b-13).
The first of these secondary lessons is that there is a worldly way and a heavenly way to manage our resources. The worldly way may earn us praise, but the heavenly way earns God’s trust. Verse nine is our key verse, answering the question posed in the title of this message.
To the best of my knowledge, this is the only place where Jesus tells us directly what WORLDLY WEALTH is good for. He cited two things:
One, to MAKE FRIENDS. Jesus is not advocating that we copy the methods of the DISHONEST STEWARD, but that we share his objective. We should not embezzle in order to make friends, but in every way we can do it ethically, we should use money to MAKE FRIENDS. If we can be as generous with our own money as the DISHONEST STEWARD was generous with his master’s money, then we will MAKE FRIENDS for the sake of the Gospel
Two, to receive rewards in heaven: BE WELCOMED INTO ETERNAL DWELLINGS. The idea is that we’re not just thinking about our WELCOME in heaven, but that we take as many friends with us as we can! The ideal attitude toward money and every form of WORLDLY WEALTH takes an eternal perspective; seeing these resources as investments in eternity and using them in ways that honor God.
The other of these secondary lessons is that mixed motives and methods are not allowed (v. 13). Loving money or any other kind of material goods is completely opposed to faith. No matter how piously we may posture, sooner or later the truth will become known and people will see whether we love God or money.
I find church people are rarely guilty of “loving” money; we’re too subtle for that. But we are too often guilty of trusting money instead of God. We need to be reminded:
– Disciples of Jesus draw their assurance from God’s promises, not from a bank account.
– Idle money is just as likely to be a vice as a virtue.
– Sometimes people fail to see the difference between purse strings and reins. Financial officers are servants, not rulers.
Notice Jesus’ use of the word SERVE. Service is mandatory; our attitude toward material wealth will serve the Money Master or God as our Master. We choose our master, but not our service; in fact, Jesus said, we will LOVE one and HATE the other. There’s no fence to ride in this matter!