Handling Money

Explore the Bible Series

December 26, 2004

 

Background Passage: Luke 16:1-31

Lesson Passage: Luke 16:1-13

 

Introduction: In the Parable of the Sower, as recorded in Matthew 13, Jesus referred to “…the deceitfulness of riches.”  Those who give their affections to the mistress of riches, find that she is a deceitful cheat.  The heart can only accommodate one supreme love.  Either the love of Christ or the love of “Mammon” will rule the heart; the two cannot rule as co-monarchs of the soul’s throne.  Perhaps no snare catches more men than the love of money.  Again and again, the Scriptures warn us of the grave danger.  Here we discover the masterful deception of riches because many of us flatter ourselves that these passages do not address us; or, more likely, we may cut the nerve of such texts by rationalizing away their pointed message.  Surely the Lord must be addressing, we may reason, some miserly misfit who resembles Ebenezer Scrooge. 

 

How could one begin to calculate the damage done by the love of riches?  Men lose their souls over this issue (See vv. 19-31).  Furthermore, families and churches can be consumed by the twin predators of materialism and consumerism.  Let us give attentive ears to the Master’s teaching on the theme of the danger of the love of money.

 

 

I.                   The Parable of the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1-13)

Note: I find this a very difficult parable to interpret.  The commentators seem to struggle with this passage as well.  Obviously, the Lord did not intend that this story promote dishonesty, laziness, or devious business practices.  Wise Bible students must interpret this parable with great care.

A.     The steward’s misuse of his master’s resources (vv. 1-2): Notice that Jesus redirected this part of his discourse.  The previous parables were addressed to the Scribes and Pharisees, but the Lord directs this teaching to his disciples (See v.1).  Jesus used a word to describe the steward’s shortcomings that denotes carelessness and irresponsibility, rather than fraud or theft.  The context seems to demand this view as well.  If the steward had committed a crime, surely the master would have charged him before the authorities. Also, it seems clear that Jesus did not portray this man as a slave.  Slaves, of course, would not get “fired” for this kind of malfeasance.

B.     The master’s response (v. 2): Someone brought an accusation, against the steward, to the master, and, additional investigation proved the accuser right.  The master fired the steward and required of him that the accounts be reconciled.  This, of course, placed the steward in a very precarious position.

C.     The steward’s shrewdness (vv. 3-7): This unrighteous man did not care about setting the master’s accounts right or making restitution for his mismanagement of resources.  Clearly, his conscience gave way to his sense of self-preservation.  He did not want to really work (“I cannot dig.”), nor did he want to face the disgrace of begging for his bread; so, he decided to endear himself to his master’s debtors by cutting an unethical deal with each of them. He reduced their indebtedness to the master (altered the promissory agreements between the lender and borrower); thus, he anticipated they might treat him favorably when he lost his job.  This man compounded his wrong by striking dishonest deals with his master’s debtors to increase his economic security and advantage.

D.     The master’s admiration of the steward’s shrewdness (v. 8): The Scriptures do not record the master’s approval or commendation of the unjust steward; rather, he was impressed with the ingenuity and craftiness of his clever servant. Worldly businessmen may, at some level, actually admire the craftiness of a business rival who gets the best of them.  That seems to reflect the circumstance in this passage. 

                   Application: The later part of verse eight crowns the parable with great significance.  Jesus commended the unjust steward for his persistence, ingenuity, and resolve, to protect his future (worldly) interests.  Often, the Lord observed, the children of light do not demonstrate the kind of resolve that one finds in unethical businessmen.  Believers too have future interests and must take advantage of every situation to lay up treasure in heaven.  The steward had only temporal comforts in mind, but children of light have an expanded view of what the future holds; therefore, they should give the same diligence to address the future as the unjust steward did.

 

 

II. The Lord’s Interpretation of the Parable (Luke 16:9-13): Jesus pointed out several important principles regarding the believer’s understanding of material possessions.

A.      (v. 9) Again, this is a difficult verse, but it seems to call the believer to use material wealth as a means of helping others; thus, the beneficent and generous giver will receive blessing in heaven. The word “receive” seems to denote a warm and celebratory welcome for the believer when he reaches heaven.

B.       (vv. 10) A man who remains faithful in small things will be found faithful in greater things as well.  The “little things” in life count.  They count because “little thing” faithfulness reveals the content and disposition of the heart. Conversely, the man who is not found faithful in small things reveals the character his heart as well.

C.      (vv.11 and 12) These verses indicate that an unfaithful man, who has squandered the “small things” of life, will not be entrusted with the greater and weightier spiritual riches of God.

             Application: The Lord concludes this section with an epitome statement that distills this parable in matchless profundity and simplicity.  “No servant can serve two masters…”  “Mammon” is an Aramaic term that refers to money.  In time, the term was used to denote an evil spirit of false god.  Jesus used the word to describe an inordinate lust for wealth.  This sin does not afflict the wealthy only; indeed, the poor may covet the wealth of the rich and fall into the worship of “Mammon.” 

 

Conclusion: I trust you will consider the following observations.  For three years I preached through the Gospel of Matthew, and that experience profoundly reshaped the way I understand Christian discipleship.  In particular, I came to a new understanding of Christ’s demands regard material possessions.  Please know that I still have a long way to go in regard to implementing these principles in my life, and I try to exercise patience with those who see things differently. Frankly, I wonder if a person can be a disciple of Jesus Christ, and, at the same time retain the consumerism and materialism that characterizes our society.  Perhaps you might use these issues as a springboard for discussion in your Bible classes.

 

  1. Every good and perfect gift comes from above, and comes down from the Father lights…”  All the things we need, God gives.  Those material things that meet our daily needs and promote our dependence in God, these things, no doubt, come from the hand of God.
  2. Is it possible that many of the things we possess did not come to us by the hand of God at all?  Perhaps Satan has brought some things into our lives to tempt us to greed, selfishness, stinginess, pride, and self-indulgence.  In fact, some of the things we possess may severely hinder our loving dependence upon God and actually hinder our growth in holiness and faith.  Why do Christians assume that all things that come into their possession have come from the hand of God?  I realize this may seem controversial, but I think Christians should at least consider this idea.
  3. Why do you need all this “stuff”?  Excessive material possessions simply complicate life.  The more you have, the more you must attend and maintain.  Look at your garage and household closets, if you have the nerve!  Why do you have all this “stuff”?  In our area, one of the fastest growing business concerns is the building and maintaining of storage facilities.  A dear missionary lady who attended our church recently asked why Americans have so many of these storage facilities, and the Bible class had a hard time formulating an answer.  Finally, she mused that we build these units to store things that our kids will throw away when we die!  Jim Elliot summed it up well:

I have been musing lately on the extremely dangerous cumulative effects of earthly things.  One may have good reason, for example, to want a wife, and he may have one legitimately.  But with a wife comes Peter the Pumpkin Eater’s dilemma- he must find a place to keep her.  And most wives will not stay on such terms a Peter proposed.  So a wife demands a house; a house, in turn, requires curtains, rugs, washing machines, et cetera.  A house with these things must soon become a home, and children are the intended outcome.  The needs multiply as they are met- a car demands a garage; a garage, land; land, a garden; a garden, tools; and tools need sharpening.  Woe, woe to the man who would live a disentangled life in this century.  II Timothy is impossible in the United States… I learn from this that the wisest life is the simplest one, lived in only the fulfillment of only the basic requirements of life- shelter, food, covering, and a bed… Be on guard, my soul, of complicating your environment so that you have neither time nor room for growth.

4. Study simplicity and modesty. The Bible does not call Christians to ascetic austerity, but it does encourage modesty.  Also, we should avoid excessive “rule-making” when it comes to discussing these matters (See Proverbs 30:8-9). We need to learn the difference between our needs and our lusts; necessity and luxury; sufficiency and excess.

5. Give generously to those in need and to advance the Kingdom of God.  Give wisely but without hesitation or expectation of benefit or return.  Use caution when giving to the poor.  Avoid promoting a life of lazy irresponsibility on the part of those who will not work; however, avoid the sinful mistake of blaming all poor persons for their poverty.  The Bible has a great deal to say about mercy for the poor.  Furthermore, the concerns of the Kingdom of God should stand foremost in the minds of believers.  Find joy unspeakable in contributing to the advance of the gospel.