|Photo courtesy of McGoo84|
Unless you're talking about making more of it very few people like to talk about money, especially in a church setting. To be sure, giving is a private matter between a person and God and we will see more of that later. However, the issue of how we view and handle our earthly resources is not only a matter of discipleship it is also something that Jesus addressed frequently during His earthly ministry. Some have estimated that about 1/3 of Jesus' parables dealt with material wealth and possessions in some form or fashion. That should tell us that money matters, and it matters to God. Why? Because how we deal with our earthly resources tells God an awful lot about where our hearts really are and that is one of the most important lessons of the parable of the unrighteous steward of Luke 16.
This parable, found in the first 8 verses of Luke 16 is quite remarkable. A steward is found to have been squandering his master's wealth. How, we do not know. What we do know is that word got back to the master and the steward was fired from his position. This puts the steward in a precarious position because, as he says, "I am not strong enough to dig; I am ashamed to beg." Clearly this was a man who was ill-suited to manual labor and had too much pride to beg for money. With his future at stake the man decides on a course of action that will secure his financial future and "stick it to the man." He calls his master's debtors together and gives them each a hefty discount on their debts. By all accounts this is not the godly thing to do. However, when the master finds out about it he praises the unrighteous steward, not for his actions, but for his shrewdness. What Jesus is about to do, no doubt to the surprise of his listeners, is use a really poor example to teach a good lesson.
The application for discipleship purposes begins in the second half of verse 8;
for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.
Jesus then goes on to tell His followers that they/we should be using earthly resources to invest in eternity (see the verse at the top). Most of us can look around at the world and see countless businessmen and women who are extraordinarily deft at making business transactions work for their benefit. Many of these people have no thought or concern about eternal things but their goal and desire is more of something (money, possessions, etc.) and so they wisely handle their resources to achieve those ends. Jesus looks to us and asks why we, who have eternity stamped on our hearts, are not equally as shrewd (wise) in our handling of earthly resources to achieve heavenly gain. If our heart's desire is to see more and more people come into the kingdom of God then we should even be making temporary things like money, time and our gifts and talents work towards that desire.
There is a catch to all of this and it is this, God not only cares what we invest in eternity, He also cares how we invest it. That is, it is not only important that we give, it is important how we give it. So, how to we give appropriately to God's kingdom? Let me offer a few suggestions.
1. First and foremost, we need to reprogram our concept of ownership. As Christians we often get caught up in the 10% tithe that we are supposed to give. That is all well and good until we begin to think that only 10% of what we have belongs to God. The truth is God owns 100% of what we think we own. Like the steward in the parable we are only managers of what God has given us stewardship over. To give in the right spirit we need to "sign" a transfer of ownership letter of everything we have and hand it over to God. This doesn't mean that we put our car title and house deed into the offering plate. It simply means that we admit in our hearts that it all belongs to Him anyway and we are putting our earthly resources under the Lordship of God.
2. The second thing we need to do is spend some time with the Lord and ask Him how, and what, He wants us to invest in eternal things. 2 Corinthians 9:7 tells us this; Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart. You don't need to sit down with your preacher and go over your budget and have them tell you how much to give. This is not the job of the pastor and, quite frankly, he or she probably doesn't care about your personal finances in that way. What you do need to do is sit down with your family and God and work it out through prayer. Here is the beautiful thing, if you look at verse 8 of 2 Corinthians 9 you will find this; And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed. If you have determined, with God, what and how you are supposed to invest in eternity He will make sure you are able to do it. Look at that last phrase, you may have an abundance for every good deed. It doesn't say you'll have an abundance for every selfish greed, this isn't the prosperity Gospel where you have everything you need to do everything you want. It is God telling you that you will have enough to do what He wants you to do.
3. The third point is also found in 2 Corinthians 9 this time in the remainder of verse 7; not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. We should be overjoyed that we have the opportunity and ability to give to God's kingdom. We don't need to give out of obligation or legalism but with the joy that comes with knowing that our wise investment will pay major dividends in eternity. Consider these verses;
Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 2 Corinthians 9:6.
So that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings. Luke 16:9b.
At this point we must weight for ourselves which reward is more important, the earthly or the eternal. Is some temporary pleasure more appealing than arriving in heaven to be greeted by people who are there because of your investment? Which will bring you greater joy? We will give with gladness to the one which will bring us more joy.
4. Finally, we must give secretly. Christ told the people in Matthew 6:1-4;
Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
If we're giving just to be thought of highly then we're doing it wrong. If we're giving just to receive a tax break, we're doing it with the wrong motivation and heart. Yes, your church treasurer will know what you give if you write a check but the only person who really need to know and care is God. There is absolutely no need to make a big deal about it because if you're only after earthly recognition then that is the only recognition you are going to get.
Jesus closes this teaching moment with two very powerful truths that help wrap it up with a nice little bow. In verses 10-12 He tells us that if we are faithful to wisely handle our earthly resources, which will one day pass away, then we will can be entrusted with the greater, heavenly reward. This takes us back to question of which reward we desire more. The things of this world are the small, temporary things and how we view them and manage them tells God much about where our heart is.
The closing remark in this passage is directed right at our hearts. If how we handle material things tells God what He needs to know about our hearts then this statement is God telling us exactly what we need to know.
No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
God makes it plain; either we will love Him and make our earthly resources subservient to Him or we will serve material possessions and not love Him. The line has been drawn in the sand and we must choose. If money/possessions is our goal then heaven isn't, and if money/possessions is our god the Christ isn't. It is that simple. Will you shrewdly handle your earthly resources so that you can invest bountifully in eternity? Money matters.