In Luke 16, Jesus put His finger on the heart of the subject of finances. His message was clear: Scriptural growth is tied directly to the way we handle our money.
With wry wit He used the improbable illustration of a shrewd manager (Lk. 16:1-8) to make His point. The manager’s master, who was a rich man, had turned over responsibility for all his money to the manager, who was later accused of squandering the rich man’s wealth. In accord with his culture, he faced the prospect of being publicly fired and humiliated. Such shame would prevent him from again being employed as a manager.
Threatened with having no means to earn a living, the manager planned ahead.
‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig; I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do, so that when I am removed from the management people will welcome me into their homes.’ And he summoned each one of his master’s debtors, and he began saying to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ And he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ And he said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty’ (Lk. 16:3-7).
The manager schemed to buy the help of his master’s debtors by putting them in debt to himself. Each adjusted account would be worth so many months or years of room and board which the debtors would be obligated to provide the manager in return for his favor to them. This clever scheme quickly secured his retirement needs.
This action won grudging praise from the manager’s master. “And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly” (Lk. 16:8). The manager recognized his need to provide security for his future, and so he aggressively accomplished his goal.
In commenting on this story, Jesus said,
For the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light. 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’” (Lk. 16:8-9).
Do these words shock you? Read His statement again. What is the shrewdness that the people of the world possess and God’s people lack? Is it not in their foresight, and in their ability to influence one another to achieve their ends?
A typical business executive’s bookshelf abounds with books on how to manipulate, motivate, and otherwise influence people to achieve management goals. But such purposes are often selfish, and always limited to this present life.
God’s people belong to a different realm. Yet, unfortunately, believers often fail to recognize the fact of their heavenly orientation. Such disorientation prevents them from influencing others heavenward. Christians may even find themselves playing the same game as the rest of the world, frantically scrambling for ultimately meaningless goals.
Jesus spoke of our being “received into the eternal dwellings” (v. 9) after using wealth wisely. He was obviously referring to heaven. Heaven is the future of the believer, and he must prepare for it.
Just as the shrewd manager was able to influence people for the future, so the Christian must learn to use his wealth – such as it may be – to influence people toward heaven. A day will come when wealth is useless and meaningless. But those who are wise will learn to use money while it is useful to bring people to Christ. We can use whatever wealth we have to influence people to become eternal friends.
Your welcome committee in heaven
But can we really buy Christians?
Picture yourself walking up to heaven’s gates. As joyous music resounds, a crowd of radiant faces surges toward you with happy cheers. Your eye is caught by a banner that has your name in large letters underneath the words WELCOME HOME.
“What is this?” you stammer.
“We are your eternal friends,” the joyful strangers say. “Your giving brought the gospel to me in Ecuador,” one of them says. “And in Kenya,” says another. “And in Indonesia.” “And in New York.” And so on.
Do you think you’ll have a welcome committee in heaven like this? We can exchange wealth for people! We can invest in proclaiming the gospel and making disciples all over the world.
Wealth is more than money
Money is only one aspect of wealth. Your wealth may include a home, a car, gadgets, or even the prestige of your position. All that we have, then, can be used to influence others in a positive way for the gospel.
David Livingstone said, “I will place no value on anything I may possess except in relation to the kingdom of Christ.” He said he would use all his possessions to “promote the glory of Him to whom I owe all my hopes in time and eternity.”
Whatever we possess must be viewed in relation to eternity and to whether it is helping influence people to become disciples of Jesus Christ. Doesn’t it excite you to realize that everything you have can be used for such a purpose!
Ready for true riches
With the parable of the shrewd manager, Jesus helped us understand how to use wealth. He then explained why we should use our wealth in this way.
Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? (Lk. 16:10-12)
Will the Lord entrust you with much? For Him to do so, you must be faithful and trustworthy in little things – such as how you use worldly wealth. Make it your aim to use your wealth to extend the kingdom of God. Those who do this are counted by God as being worthy of “true riches.”
What are the true riches? They are the truths in God’s word, answered prayer, a fruitful witness. How definitely Jesus ties our spiritual development to faithful use of our money! if your life is lacking in true riches, perhaps you should take a look at your checkbook. How are you handling this “very little” thing?
Jesus spoke in this passage of our need to be trustworthy “with someone else’s property.” How much of what we have belongs not to us, but to God? A tenth? No, of course not. Everything we have has been given as a trust from Him, and He holds us accountable for what we do with it.
There can be no fence-sitting in this matter. Hear the words of the Lord Jesus:
No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money (Lk. 16:13).
Either we are servants of God using His money for His kingdom, or we are servants of money. Those who do not use their money to serve God are being used by money to serve it.
The Pharisees understood what Jesus was teaching here, but because of their devotion to riches they did not want to apply his truth to their lives. “The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus” (v. 14). They were the servants of money – not of God.
Why give money away?
In A Spiritual Clinic, J. Oswald Sanders referred to Jesus’ statement in Acts 20:35 – “It is more blessed to give than to receive” – as the “neglected ninth beatitude.” Sanders said this teaching underscored “the superior blessedness of liberality.”
Do we really think of giving money away as better than getting it? Or are we like selfish children in this area – missing out on the joy of giving?
The blessedness Jesus spoke of refers to the happiness and peace that marks the life of a person who gives. Jesus would have us enjoy the bliss of the giver.
In this teaching, as in every area of instruction, God asks of us only what is for our own good. God – the Creator, the Omnipotent, the self-existent Jehovah – certainly has no need for our gifts. Should we fail to recognize this, He has spoken directly to our delusion:
For every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird of the mountains, and everything that moves in the field is Mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is Mine, and all it contains (Psa. 50:10-12).
Why then does He ask us to give?
He asks because giving is God-like. God redeemed and restored us by giving freely the most priceless Gift in all the universe:
“He gave His one and only Son.” God is a lavish giver.
From Genesis to Revelation we discover God giving freely and bountifully to mankind. Jesus said, “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt 5:45). We even discover God withholding judgment to give men time to repent from their wicked ways. And to those of us who place their faith in Jesus Christ, “the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5).
Such is the giving nature of the love of God. No wonder John can ask, “But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 Jn. 3:17).
Generosity is one of the glorious characteristics of God. Those who bear His image ought to manifest this same quality.
Give, and you are acting in harmony with the Lord of the universe.
To whom should we give?
What do we wish to accomplish through our giving? In one of the many passages in which He dealt with materialism, Jesus concluded by urging His disciples to make it their first order of business to seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness – and He said that in doing so they would see God take care of their true needs (Matt. 6:33).
Therefore, our giving should contribute in some way to extending God’s kingdom and His righteousness.
The Scriptures identify two broad categories of people to whom we are to give: ministers of God, and the poor.
Give to the ministers of God
When God had Moses set aside the tribe of Levi to serve the Tabernacle, He established a professional religious group supported by the tithes of Israel. God did this rather than require service in the Tabernacle from the firstborn son in every family (Num. 3:5-9 and Num. 3:44-45). All the Levites stood in the place of a representative from each family. Today the method is different but the principle remains the same. The work to be done for God’s kingdom requires the full-time efforts of some. These professionals are to be supported by the gifts of the remainder of God’s people who have other avenues of income. Paul drew upon this Old Testament principle in 1 Cor. 9:13-14.
Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar? So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.
When Jesus sent His disciples on a missionary journey, He commanded them to accept the food and lodging offered to them because “the laborer is worthy of his wages” (Lk. 10:7). God has made the Christian ministry an honorable work, and the acceptance of gifts a legitimate means of livelihood for Christian workers.
Paul wrote to the Galatians, “When anyone is under instruction in the faith, he should give his teacher a share of all good things he has” (Gal. 6:6, New English Bible). Each of us has an obligation to help those who are ministering to us. Those whom God is using in your life are those whom He would have you support.
This principle is simple, but as in many things the practice often gets confusing. The local church is not the only Christian ministry supported by the contributions of God’s people. There are hundreds of groups in varying degrees of relatedness to the church all clamoring for attention and help. The myriad of financial requests is staggering. How do you determine which one to support?
A proper guideline is to first support the local fellowship to which you belong.
Koinonia is the Greek word used in the New Testament for the fellowship of Christians. It is rich with significance. In the business sense, the word was used in the ancient world as a term for a partnership in which financial burdens as well as profits were shared. In the same way, your local fellowship deserves your financial commitment.
Then consider two other categories.
First, there may be a special group or individual who has had a significant ministry in your life. It is scripturally proper for you to support such a ministry. Second, God may have placed special interests in your heart that are being met by churches and other Christian groups elsewhere, and you can properly provide financial support for these as well.
Here are essential questions you should ask before giving to a group or individual outside your local church:
- Is this group serving the interests of the kingdom of God?
- Do I know the beliefs and teachings of this group, and do they agree with the Bible in context?
- Is this group accountable for its use of finances?
- Is this group “delivering” on its stated goals?
- What do I know of the character of the people in this organization?
Give to the poor
We are also to give to the poor. “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God” (Prov. 14:31). “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered” (Prov. 21:13). “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed” (Lk. 14:13-14).
In the New Testament, the apostles in Jerusalem asked Paul and Barnabas to “continue to remember the poor” (Gal. 2:10). James particularly stressed in his epistle that Christians meet the needs of poor Christians.
If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that (Jas. 2:15-16)?
How much should we give?
Giving is a matter of the heart. This is an Old Testament concept as well as a New Testament teaching: “Tell the sons of Israel to raise a contribution for Me; from every man whose heart moves him” (Ex. 25:2).
And Paul wrote,
Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7).
As you can see, the Scriptures make the matter of how much to give an issue of individual decision and conscience.
“Yes, of course,” you may say, “but how much specifically should I think of giving?” Consider these verses and let your heart respond to them:
There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more, and there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want. The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered (Prov. 11:24-25).
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously (2 Cor. 9:6).
Paul gave a better guide in 2 Corinthians 8:12.
For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.
Paul was echoing God’s instructions to Israel through Moses: “Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the Lord your God has blessed you” (Deut. 16:17).
How has God blessed you? Let this be the measure of your giving.
But it is at just this point that many fail in giving because of poor financial management resulting in indebtedness. They have been blessed materially, but they can give little. They have learned the harsh truth of Proverbs 22:7 – “The borrower is servant to the lender.”
Of course, some are in debt because of circumstances beyond their control. But a great majority are in debt by choice. Years ago, Paul’s words in Romans 13:8 penetrated my heart: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.” I resolved to clear all my indebtedness as soon as possible and to weigh very carefully any future commitments. One benefit of such a decision is that the debt-free man is free to give.
Have a plan
Every good manager knows that budget planning is essential for running an effective business. This need is no less for a family or individual. A wise steward will plan his expenditures and will have some form of systematic giving.
Paul provided a pattern for regular giving in his instructions to the Corinthians regarding a collection for the poor: “On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper” (1 Cor. 16:2). Regular saving for the purpose of giving will allow you to meet your goals.
God has granted us the high privilege of involvement in His work in this world. Giving to the support of His ministers and workers and to the relief of the poor is one way we can share in His work.
Our gracious Lord lays no burdensome obligation on us. He awaits the response of a forgiven, glad, and generous heart.
Roger Fleming, Discipleship Journal