Money is a useful tool, but it can also be a deadly temptation. Jesus teaches us that it is only when we use money wisely as good stewards of God that it produces benefits of eternal value.
Somebody once said the most sensitive nerve in your body is the one that runs from your heart to your wallet. I believe it.
The truth is, Jesus wants us to become more sensitive stewards—better money managers—with what He has given to us in life. Here in Luke chapter 16, Jesus tells a parable in which all the participants are going about it the wrong way. He begins in verse 1:
“There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management [stewardship], for you can no longer be manager.” (verses 1-2)
“Wasting [the rich man’s] possessions” meant squandering them through neglect of duty. He just didn’t care. Once the business owner finds out, he immediately demands an audit—a written statement of financial accounts.
Jesus continues in verse 3:
“And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.’”
It appears that ditch digging and begging are his only two options. He says here in verse 4, “I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.”
Evidently his management position provided him with a housing benefit, so he is going to lose both his paycheck and a place to live. He comes up with a clever little plan that Jesus describes for us:
Summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ 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?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’” (verses 5-7)
The first man owes a hundred measures of oil—that was 800 gallons of olive oil and worth about three years of the average person’s annual salary. The second man owes 100 measures of wheat, which was worth about seven years of the average person’s annual salary. Judging from the size of these debts, the men are more than likely wealthy merchants in oil and wheat.
So, this manager knows that by allowing them to reduce their debt, they are going to owe him some big favors in the future. He is being generous, but the rich man’s money is not his to give. He’s applying what we call the first rule of politics: always be generous with other people’s money.
Now don’t miss this: this plan is not going to work unless these clients are willing to write fake invoices in their own hand. They have to be just as deceitful as the manager is—and they are.
What about the rich man? He finally shows up, and what does he do? “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness” (verse 8).
He should have arrested him, not commended him; and he should have arrested the clients who cheated his business out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. But instead, he turns a blind eye and says to this manager, “You are one clever manager.”
Why doesn’t he call for an investigation? Well, for him, what could have been a total loss of unpaid debts is now going to be a gain of at least half the amount. Hey, he can write off the rest as company losses and then pay less on his corporate taxes—he likes this plan!
Now many people read this parable and assume it is teaching that God is unjust. Beloved, nowhere in this parable is this rich man a picture of God. He is a picture of the sons of this world—he is equally shrewd, equally devoted to money, equally willing to compromise his character for a little more currency.
And with that, Jesus makes an application. Let me put it in the form of three principles that will make us as believers better money managers with what God has given to us.
Here is the first principle: Be strategic with the opportunities you have. In the latter part of verse 8, Jesus says, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.”
Jesus is not commending them to us; He is comparing them to us. Here is what He is telling us:
- Look at the way people of the world think up clever ways to advance their agenda.
- Look at the way they market their propaganda.
What are we doing, as sons of light—a phrase used in the New Testament for believers? What if we were as clever and creative in advancing the gospel as the unsaved are in getting more money?
Beloved, our urgency is not for the sake of currency; our urgency is for the sake of eternity. Be strategic with the opportunities you have.
The second principle is this: Be intentional with the money you have. Jesus puts it this way in verse 9:
“Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails [when you die] they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”
“Unrighteous wealth” is simply a reference to worldly wealth. This is the currency of your country—it’s the money you get paid at your job; it’s of this world. One day it is going to go out of style. It will be worthless. Gold will become stuff that God uses to pave the streets of heaven; it will be ordinary asphalt.
Jesus is effectively saying, “Use your wealth intentionally; use it to make friends for eternity—that is, reach people with it so that people will be in heaven because of your investment.”
Have you ever thought that some of your best friends are people you have not met yet? You will meet them in heaven because you allowed your sacrifice, your talent, your treasure to be invested in their eternal future.
Now principle number 3: Be faithful no matter how much you have. Jesus says here in verses 10-11:
“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous [worldly] wealth, who will entrust to you the true [eternal] riches?”
It’s easy to think we could really manage things if we had a lot of money. Jesus says here that what matters is whether you can handle a little bit of money. That is a true test of faithful stewardship.
It has often been told that when Peter Marshall served as chaplain of the United States Senate, a senator approached Peter and asked him to pray for him that God would help him begin giving again at least 10 percent of his income to the Lord’s work. He told the chaplain, “I was making $20,000 a year, and I could afford to give $2,000. But, you see, Peter, I’m now making $500,000 a year, and there’s just no way I can afford a tithe of $50,000.”
So, they bowed their heads, and Peter prayed, “Lord would you please reduce this man’s salary so he can afford to give once again.”
Money is not the problem; devotion to money is. The problem is not what you possess; it is what possesses you. So, what is mastering you today?
Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and money” (verse 13). You cannot be mastered by money and by God at the same time.
Money can be a tyrant, and it can be a trap; but it can also be a tool. Let’s become better money managers—investing in the lives of people who will become our friends forever when we meet them one day in heaven.