What’s a wise use of money in these cash strapped times? Jesus’ advice in Luke 16 goes against the grain!
We mustn’t imagine that Jesus is telling people who are not yet his followers that they should use their money to buy their salvation. It doesn’t work like that. If it did then Jesus didn’t need to die painfully as our substitute on the cross! No, Jesus is telling those who are already his followers that they must demonstrate that they belong to him in the way they use money. He’s telling Christians how to use the financial resources they have been entrusted with, not instructing unbelievers how to enter the Kingdom of God.And he has two surprising things to say.
First, Jesus commended the shrewdness of the dishonest manager
Jesus’ fictitious tale unfolds in three stages.
The first event is that the dishonest manager was sacked. Jesus’ story concerns a rich man and a manager in charge of administering his affairs. His work seems to be that of debt collection. The rumour begins that he’s squandered his master’s resources and this soon turns into a full-blown accusation. The rich man believes what he hears, summons his manager, shows him the door and hands him his P45 on the way out.
The second event is that the dishonest manager was shrewd. Faced with unexpected redundancy the manager set about securing his long-term future. He didn’t fancy manual labour because he thought physical activity was beyond him and begging was beneath him. So he developed a plan in which his intention was to ingratiate himself to his master’s debtors. In time they’d then come to his aid. He cut the first bill by 50% and the second by 20%. It’s underhand but it’s clever in an unethical worldly sort of a way! We may be uncomfortable with Jesus using this man as a role model. But Jesus really does tell a story in which a crook is his hero. But the debtors couldn’t have cared less! They were quids in and minded to show this man some hospitality. What we see exemplified in his shrewdness is short-term financial activity to secure long term favour.
The third event was that the dishonest manager was praised. I take it that Jesus really wants to get under our skin. He does that by shocking us with the unexpected response from the employer. Reluctantly he admitted that though he’d been stitched up there was a certain shrewdness about the manager’s course of action. Jesus is not sanctioning repeat performances of this morally dubious activity he just thinks that there was a certain guile and cunning to what he did.
As soon as someone starts to talk about wealth, money, finance and giving we assume that this is something that everyone else needs to hear! Perhaps especially the wealthy! But Jesus meant to alert every single one of us, whatever our income to an important spiritual principle. Jesus wants us to think what we’re like with our cash. His take is that Christians are a little naïve in comparison to their unbelieving neighbours in the area of financial acumen. He thinks that the secular world has a thing or two to teach the spiritual world about short-term financial decision making for the sake of long term gain. So regardless of how much we earn we need to ask whether we’re careless, thoughtless and reckless or whether we’re we shrewd in teh use of our wealth? Are we prepared to make short term financial decisions for the sake of long term gain? I assume that many of us aren’t as shrewd as we should be. And that’s the admission that Jesus is after because he wants to instruct us about the wise way to use money.
Secondly, Jesus encouraged the shrewd use of worldly wealth
Luke records the implications of the parable. Jesus expands on what he means by shrewdness in three directions.
First, we need to be generous with wealth. Jesus said, ‘I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings’. He commands us to use our wealth in such a way that it’ll be of use to us in the far future. He envisages a situation where, after our death, we will one day be welcomed into our eternal dwellings. The welcoming committee in the New Creation will be the friends we’ve made through our generous use of money. Those friends will be Christian people who’ve benefited from our sacrificial generosity either in alleviating their poverty or from our contribution to gospel ministry. Jesus is not for a moment suggesting that we can buy our way into heaven. It’s not like restaurants where wealth ingratiates us and we can secure ourselves a seat at a fine table! But he is saying that there will be people in heaven grateful for the way in which we’ve used our cash. It’s thrilling to think that our regular financial contributions to our local church will be used to fund ministry and therefore serve God and others. Some of the money God has entrusted us with is wasted because we spend it on things of temporary and passing value. We mustn’t be ascetic because, as Paul warns in 1 Timothy 4, to deny the goodness of material things is the devil’s doctrine and teaching like that comes straight out of the theological colleges of hell. But though some of our spending is reckless nothing we ever contribute to the gospel is wasted. We need to ask one another what would we rather have? A house full of IKEA furniture and electronic gadgetry or a handful of people grateful for our generosity for all eternity. It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?
Secondly, we need to be trustworthy with wealth. Jesus said, ‘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?’ Jesus raises the stakes. He says that our use of worldly wealth is linked with our spiritual blessings. If we show that we can’t be trusted with a little bit of cash then the Lord’s not going to put us in charge of significant things. How we use the wealth he gives us is a test of character. It indicates what we’ll be like with things of ultimate value. Presumably this means that our usefulness to the Lord in the future kingdom will be limited by the faithfulness of our stewardship here and now.
Thirdly, we need to be wary of wealth. Jesus said, ‘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’. Jesus gives us a fundamental choice. There’s not a servant in the world that can serve two masters. It can’t be done. We can’t wholeheartedly give ourselves to two competing things. A moment will come when one master asks us to do one thing and the other master asks us to do something else. That moment will show up the impossibility of trying to give our allegiance in two directions. We’ll have to choose who we serve. So where does our allegiance lie? Jesus asks us to use our wealth in such a way that we demonstrate our love for Him and our love for others. Money, aided and abetted by our selfish desires, asks us to use our wealth in such a way to satisfy our own appetites. Much as we’d like to, we cannot have foot in the world and a foot in the Kingdom of God. We have to decide whose side we’re on. Since we’re Christians we serve the Lord not money. And so our use of money must be subject to his direction as he incorporates our money into his plans.
Jesus raises the issue of the shrewd use of finances. What constitutes shrewdness in Jesus’ interpretation is using worldly finances in this world with eternal benefits in mind. One obvious and immediate implication of this would be to use the money with which God has entrusted us to support gospel ministry in our local church. There are many things that churches could with a little more money. We may find that harder in the current economic climate. But Jesus’ words are therefore timely. Perhaps never more so than in times when cash is in short supply we need to heed Jesus’ words to invest in the far future. I’m not intending to ‘shake the tin’. I just want to remind people that it’s there and needs filling! We need to soften our hearts to the requests of our churches, our mission agencies and the other Christian organisations needing our money. And we need to respond in repentance and faith to Jesus’ wise advice.