A Biblical View of Money
If a crooked non-Christian knows enough to invest in the future, how much more should a Christian? Money–that’s what we’re talking about tonight. I thought it would be good to start off with a little money quiz. What is a credit score? What does APR stand for? How much cash savings should you keep in reserve? How many credit cards should you have? What is the age at which you receive full benefits from social security?
A credit score is a number that represents the risk a lender takes when you borrow money. APR is annual percentage rate. How much cash savings you should keep on hand—3 to 6 months. How many credit cards should you have–two at minimum, and as many as makes sense to you, so long as you keep a zero balance on all of them. You can receive a full Social Security benefit between ages 66 and 67, depending on when you were born (1955-1960). If you delay retirement until age 70, you can gain 124% of your Social Security benefit. How did you do?
Let me comfort you–you can handle your money biblically without knowing the answer to any of these. You do not need specialized financial knowledge to honor God with your money, which makes it all the more sad that there are so many professing Christians who ignore what God’s Word says about money. Money is something we all think about all the time. Little kids find money fascinating. You can trade coins and paper for food. You can stick a piece of plastic in a slot and then walk out of Costco with a cart full of stuff.
Every day you have to deal with money. Your phone notifies you of charges. Emails tell you of direct deposits. Text messages check to see if you really made the purchase. Every day you do something which costs money–even if you didn’t shop, you spent gas in your car and ate food you bought somewhere. And we’re coming up to Christmas! Black Friday launches the year-end shopping spree of our nation. According to surveys, this year the average American family plans to spend about $1,000 on gifts for Christmas–which means that most people are thinking, “How can I pay for what I want to buy?”
We think about money a lot. Would you look at the scale on the screen and consider how often you think about money? Studies have revealed that most people spend the majority of their time thinking about wealth. We think about how to acquire it, how to get more of it, how to spend it/save it/invest it. We borrow it, we count it, we loan it, we give it away. In fact, it’s said that if you hit 85, you will have spent almost 50 years of your waking life thinking about money and possessions. So it seems fitting to look tonight at what the Bible says about money.
This is not everything that the Bible says about money. Jesus taught a lot on money. Paul taught on money. The Proverbs teach a lot about money. This is just one part, but it’s a very important part. We’re going to hear from a master storyteller about how to make your money really count.
So often people get anxious as they think about managing money. People get depressed thinking about the past and mistakes they’re now living with. Today I want to help you think about money with joy. Forget the anxiety. Forget the acquisition. Forget the spending. Forget the saving. Forget the debts you have for a bit.
How do you view money with joy? Jesus answers that question in Luke 16 with a story that’s far better than The Christmas Carol or any other holiday moral. Luke 16 is smack in the middle of a bunch of parables that Jesus tells. If you’re unfamiliar with parables, they are essentially fictional stories that were made up to teach one main point (a bit like Aesop’s Fables). And Luke 16:1 to 13 is one of the most discussed parables in all the gospels. And the reason is that Jesus commends a guy who seems to be totally wicked. Let’s read Luke 16:1 to 13.
Now the rich man is very rich–the loans he was making were huge! This is not the local businessman we’re talking about. This man is the Bill Gates of ancient times. He’s so rich that he has to hear from other people that his manager is wasting his money. Back in Jesus’ day, it was not uncommon for wealthy men to hire managers/stewards. These were either slaves or freemen who oversaw all the business operations. This was a good job, even envied by others. It was so good that people would even sell themselves into slavery to get this job.
He had the right and power to act on behalf of this super-rich guy. He was living well and used to being around other people with lots of money. But it’s not just that he’s living well. He is squandering the wealthy man’s money. This is the same word used of the young prodigal son in Luke 15, who took his inheritance early and then moved away from home and squandered his father’s money on wine and women. He just wastes it and throws it away. And it’s not even his!
So when the steward hears, “You’re fired!”–he gets worried. He’s told to clean out his desk and bring a final accounting to the rich man. And the steward knows he’s guilty. There’s no argument, no debate, no defense on his part. In verses 2 to 3, Jesus tells us what the guy is thinking–he is in crisis mode. He’s seeing his whole life and lifestyle going down the toilet. He’s been living really well–the finest foods, the best entertainment, the nicest clothes. And it’s all going away.
In fact, he knows that he can’t get a job like this again. Nobody hires a money manager who’s fired for incompetence. Nobody’s gonna hire this guy again, except for manual labor–and he knows it. He’s in crisis and the only two options he sees are manual labor and begging. He’s too lazy to dig. He’s too proud to beg. What’s he gonna do? And as his mind whirls, he has an “aha” moment. He calls in the people who owe his master money and starts writing off part of their debt. Verse 5 says that he called in each one of his master’s debtors.
And then Jesus gives us two examples of what happened. A guy who owed 100 measures of oil gets his debt reduced in half. Now this is not a small amount–100 measures of oil equals 875 gallons, or 150 olive trees, which is 1000 denarii or 3+ years’ wages. So he’s knocking off about a year and a half’s income from this debt!
The next guy owed 100 measures of wheat and it’s reduced to 80. Again, this is not a small reduction–100 measures of wheat is 1100 bushels or 100 acres. This is 2,500 to 3,000 denarii, or roughly nine years’ wages. And he knocks off around two years’ income from the debt! This is not a guy who’s buying lunch–this is a guy who’s offering to knock five years off your home loan. The fact that his master made this sort of loans show that he was a very rich man. These were not loans to tenant farmers, but to other well-to-do businessmen. And the steward is making friends left and right.
There’s no indication in the story that the debtors knew this was wrong. They didn’t know that he had gone rogue. Back then, debt would sometimes be written off due to bad weather, drought, etc. It’s somewhat similar to how our government subsidizes farmers in bad years and provides relief during disasters. So the steward has turned from wasting the master’s money to embezzling it. He’s now using the master’s money to pave the way for his future. He’s out of a job and he’s making friends who are going to receive him with joy when he leaves.
And this is where the story seems to go wrong. What we expect is for this guy to be punished. We expect him to be beaten publicly or cast in jail. We do not expect the story to turn out this way. Because when the master finds out, he praises the unrighteous steward for acting shrewdly. What? If you have any sort of justice quotient, this just seems wrong. He is praised by the rich man? Why? Well, some people have tried to make him not-so-bad and argued that he was giving away his own commission. Others have said that he was reducing ridiculous interest rates to something manageable, saving his master from usury.
But there’s nothing in the story that would’ve helped the original hearers to know that. In fact, the description of the steward gets worse over time. At the beginning of the story, he’s merely incompetent. But by verse 8, he’s unrighteous.
There’s really no denying that this unrighteous man is getting praise from his past employer. Why?Because he was shrewd/sharp/clever. He took careful advantage of his opportunity. He worked the situation to his advantage. He made others indebted to him by doing them a great help. He did it to a variety of wealthy people so that his future options were fairly unlimited.
The debtors are praising the steward and the master for their generosity. And the master is stuck–he looks like a really bad guy if he goes and tries to tack on additional interest again. So he’s stuck. And he applauds the steward’s cunning. He’s not praised for being dishonest, but for how cleverly he acted.
And this is where Jesus makes his point. This is the central point of the whole story. We say, “The story seems wrong.” Jesus says, “My people think wrongly.” Look at how Jesus concludes in the second half of verse 8. “The sons of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than the sons of light.” In other words, if a crooked non-Christian knows enough to invest in the future, how much more should a Christian? This is God’s lesson for us about money.
Children of the world understand how the world works and use it to their benefit. Why do children of light (Christians) not understand the ways of the kingdom of God? He’s arguing from the lesser to the greater. This is like when Jesus says in Luke 18 that an unrighteous judge will give in to a bothersome widow, so how much more will God answer the cries of those He loves. Or in Matthew 7, when He says that sinful parents won’t give their kids live snakes when they ask for cooked fish, so how much more will God give what is good to those who ask Him.
Here Jesus is saying, “Take this unrighteous man whom everybody thinks is wicked. He knows enough to plan ahead for the future.” He’s using somebody else’s money to win friends who will joyfully receive him later. Now if this self-seeking, lazy, proud man knows enough to plan for his future, how is it that children of God don’t plan for their future in Heaven? If this crooked non-Christian knows enough to invest in the future, how much more should a Christian?
Now if He were speaking to the Pharisees, He might let them sit in condemnation. But He’s not. Verse 1 says that He’s talking to the disciples. And to them, He gives three applications of this principle so that they would plan ahead. Those three applications are fleshed out in verses 9 to 12, and marked out by the words, “And I say to you…” That’s a saying that He uses to stress the importance of the application. Jesus is saying, “Let me tell you how to use your money in a way that will pay off in the future.” Every day on television, there are ads that promise a happy future if you buy their product.
Buy this car and you’ll never want to leave it. Drink this beer and you’ll be surrounded by beautiful people. Take this drug and all your medical problems will disappear. Wear our clothes and you’ll get noticed. Ads pop up on websites telling you how to invest your money. Earn enough so that you’re a millionaire before you’re 50. Save and invest wisely and you’ll vacation in Europe once you’re 70. The point is to take care of your future. Save it all up so that you can spend during the last 5 or 10 or 15 years you’re alive.
Great car? They don’t mention how your reaction speed decreases and motion sickness increases. Long vacations? They don’t talk about how inconvenient walkers are on planes and in Europe. Pricey dining? They don’t tell you that your taste buds and eye sight will begin to fail so that you can’t enjoy what you were saving for.
The world has plenty of advice on how to spend your money and how to save your money. And Jesus uses this parable to challenge His disciples to do better than the world. How wise are you in using your wealth for your future? Jesus says, “You don’t want ‘Your Best Life Now’–you should want it later.” So how do you that? That is what verses 9 to 13 tell us. Jesus gives us three lessons on money from this parable. Three applications. One relates to others, one toward ourselves, and one toward God.
1. Be Generous to Others Luke 16:9
“Make friends for yourselves by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that when it fails, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” In other words, use your money to make friends–not earthly friends though, but heavenly ones. Mammon is an Aramaic term for wealth and possessions. Jesus is not talking about your tithing. He’s talking about all your wealth. He says, “Be generous with it.” It is easy to become attached to what you own. It is easy to love your stuff and want to acquire more stuff.
Money ensures comfort. It can make us feel self-sufficient. It can keep you focused on this life and how to get a little bit more. As Zig Ziglar once said, “Money isn’t the most important thing in life, but it’s reasonably close to oxygen on the ‘gotta have it’ scale.” Because of that common feeling and the fact that wealth only lasts during this life, Jesus labels it “unrighteous”–it won’t go into eternity with you. The Egyptian pharaohs would bury stuff with them for the afterlife. We know that doesn’t work, because we dug it all up. And because it will fail, it will not last–it will burn up. Jesus exhorts us to use our wealth now to make friends for eternity.
Do you want to know what this means? It means, “Buy a welcome committee!” Don’t save it all for retirement. Don’t build bigger barns and rent storage units to keep your stuff. Yes, keep enough so that you won’t be a drain on others. But once you’re out of debt, don’t spend it all on yourself. Instead, invest the rest into eternity. Spend it in such a way that a great big team of people are standing at the gates of heaven to meet and welcome you there.
Somehow, in the last hundred plus years, we’ve lost the truth of rewards. Most Christians think that we’ll enter into Heaven all on equal footing. But that’s not biblically accurate. We’re all going to Heaven if you know the Lord, but we’re not all going to have the same welcome. Will you read the verses in your notes out loud with me? Matthew 6:19 to 20, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth…, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moss nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
Luke 12:33, “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail.” First Thessalonians 2:19 to 20, “For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? 20 For you are our glory and joy.”
First Corinthians 3:13 to 15, “For each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”
Revelation 11:18, “The time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to give their reward to your bond-servants, the prophets, and to the saints and to those who fear your name, the small and the great.” In Christ, the salvation of every Christian is secure and locked. But the eternal rewards that each Christian will receive do vary according to how you’ve invested. And here in Luke 16, Jesus is calling you to use all your available resources to have the best possible future you can.
In 2010, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett started a campaign called, “The Giving Pledge.” It calls on wealthy people (mainly billionaires) to give at least half of their wealth towards the public good. They are not saved and they know enough to recognize that their money is not just for them to hoard and spend on themselves.
That is Jesus’ point. If even the unrighteous steward knew enough to do that, how much more should you and I be shrewd and savvy in our eternal investments? Now let’s be clear on this–Jesus is not saying, “Give more to FBC. Stick a little more in the offering basket and then don’t feel so guilty.” That is not what’s in view here. Jesus is talking about using all the resources you have access to so that the largest possible number of people will welcome you into Heaven. Don’t buy earthly friends, but invest into Gospel ministries that create heavenly friends! Don’t buy heirlooms for your family, but buy things that you can give away to others in need.
Jesus is not just challenging us to save our money. It’s really not that hard to skip Starbucks as you’re driving by. The hard part is to keep that $4 from just going back to your savings account. Let me challenge you–if you choose to not spend money on yourself, then tuck that money somewhere separate so it doesn’t go back into the main account. When you choose to skip Starbucks and save the $4, pull the money out of your wallet anyway and stick it in the glove box or transfer it to a separate bank account. Then designate it to some greater cause than your savings account.
Use your money for eternal purposes. Give it to people who you’re reaching out to, churches you trust, ministries and missionaries who are making an eternal impact. You have a way better filter than Bill Gates and Warren Buffett on what to give towards. Invest your money into others. Don’t be an adult version of the 3-year-old who says, “Mine!” If you hear that little voice in your head and have learned to hide it on the outside, Jesus exhorts you—be generous to others. Create some eternal friends!
2. Be Faithful in the Little Things Luke 16:10 to 12
“He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. 11 If therefore you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous mammon, who will entrust the true riches to you? 12 And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?”
What Jesus says here is fairly self-evident–if you are faithful with something little, you will be faithful with bigger things. If you are prone to stealing or lying or cheating on little things, you will do it with greater issues. All the activities of life matter, because they reveal your character. Somebody who doesn’t follow through on small things is not going to be entrusted with great things.
Many of us think that we are servants. We care for others. We give up our time and energy for those we love. But are you only a servant when you want to be? Do you say, “I’ll let somebody else clean up the mess on the floor–I’ve got more important things to do than to help with that.” And in the Church, we spiritualize it and say, “That’s not really my gift.” Jesus asks, “Do you want to be trusted with great things? Then be faithful in a very little thing–not just something small, but a very little thing.”
Do you show up on time? Do you always keep your word? Do you go back to the store when you weren’t charged enough? Are you trustworthy? Are you reliable? Are you faithful? Your faithfulness is connected to your money. If you are unfaithful in other areas, it is very likely that you will struggle with how you handle God’s money. That’s the principle here–and Jesus’ specific point is that eternal reward comes to those who are faithful.
Verses 11 to 12 ask, “Do you think God is going to give you great eternal rewards if you have squandered your tiny little stewardship on earth?” And verse 12 highlights that we are in the same position as the steward. “If you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?” It’s not that 10% of what you have is God’s. I used to have the mindset that I gave God His money and the rest was mine to spend. The reality is that everything you own, from the cash in your wallet to the socks on your feet, is God’s.
Haggai 2:8, “’The silver [of the nations] is Mine, and the gold is Mine,’ declares the Lord of hosts.” Psalm 50:6, “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.”
Psalm 104:24, “The earth is full of your possessions.” Deuteronomy 10:14, “To the Lord your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it.” Jesus wants us to understand that we are simply stewards of everything we have. It’s not your money, your house, your bank account, your cars, or your food–it’s all His!
So we should not squander it. Culturally, it’s tempting to be like the unrighteous steward here. We serve a very rich master. He has entrusted a great deal to every one of you. What kind of steward are you? Many professing Christians view God’s money as their own. They spend His money on themselves, because it seems like the Master is away. But you have daily opportunity to invest His money into things that are going to pay off later. What kind of steward are you?
For a friend of mine, this meant that he needed to change his priorities at home. There was marital tension and bouts of conflict. The root issue was that he was not being faithful in little things. There was a car in the driveway that needed to be hauled off. There was stuff in the yard that was being neglected. He wasn’t dialed in on where they were financially.
Now he was busy doing ministry–teaching the Bible, shepherding people. But he was not stewarding the funds God had entrusted to Him. He was thinking about the future with people, but not with possessions. A good steward thinks about both. Because just like the unrighteous steward, the time will come upon us suddenly when we’ll be called to give an account.
Nebuchadnezzar learned this lesson the hard way. Daniel 4:30, “Is this Babylon not great, which I built myself by my power and for my glory?” He was driven to eat grass and live in the wild until he repented and acknowledged God’s ownership and authority of all things. And today may be a warning from your Creator. Are you being faithful with what He has entrusted to you? Are you managing his stuff in a way that He’ll be pleased? It’s all to be used for His glory. And if you’re failing in that area, who is going to entrust you with true riches? That’s the question Jesus asks.
It’s kinda tragic. The more you spend on pleasure now, the less you have later. Think of it–you can drop $25 just for you and your spouse to go see a movie. Throw in dinner and coffee and you’ve hit at least $60. And it may be that it’s a wise investment for your marriage at times. But other times, it’s a good chunk of money you just spent to entertain yourself for two hours.
Maybe you make a decision to put in a pool for $40,000 or you spend $10,000 a year to upgrade your car. Maybe you’re thinking about stepping up from the 55” TV to the 82” $4,000 TV. Let me appeal to your reason. If eternity is real and this life is only eighty years or so, why would you want to spend it in such a way that you have less for longer?
When you’re having dinner, do you ever save room for dessert? The less you eat now, the better the dessert later. I do this all…the…time. We were at the Levises’ having pizza and it was delicious. But as soon as Natalie said that there was homemade ice cream for dessert, I determined to be done with pizza. In a very simple way, I chose to live for the future.
Jesus is calling you to examine your faithfulness with God’s money. And He’s appealing to you in a practical way. He says, “If you are not faithful with what you have now, you’ll forfeit what could really be great in eternity.” What you really want to own is the treasure God gives to those who are His faithful stewards.
It feels like some full-color brochures would be helpful. Maybe an online catalog you can browse to see what awaits. But that’s what Revelation 21 to 22 is. That’s what Matthew 24 to 25 is. That’s what all those reward passages are–be faithful. Examine how you’re using your money. Be generous. Use His money to buy some friends for eternity. And last, Jesus exhorts us . . .
3. Trust God’s Promises Luke 16:13
Jesus makes a promise here that we need to believe, but it’s even bigger than that. Let’s start with His promise, “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other, or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
Most of you remember Bob Dylan, “They may call you doctor or they may call you chief, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” He’s stealing from Jesus here. Nobody can serve two masters. The pursuit of one will eventually require denying the other.
There will be a time when a choice for God becomes a decision to not have quite so much money. Maybe it means you choose to skip the promotion, because the job would begin to consume your life. Maybe it means that you choose not to move to the higher paying job, because there’s no church there. Maybe it means that you choose to buy less for your family so that you can give away more.
I know people in our church who have done each of these things. How this looks in every family is different, but Jesus encourages us to prioritize God as first. The implication of verse 13 is to be sure to serve God rather than money. Many of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day taught that God and money could coexist perfectly. Many people today think the same thing. But here, Jesus is saying something completely different. It’s kinda radical–you ready for it?
Wealth can own you. You can become its slave. It can make you do things that you don’t want to do. There is nothing wrong with being rich, or poor, or middle class. The love of money is a danger for all of them equally. If you’ve got $100 in the bank, or $100,000, the danger is still there for you. So often we think, “If I only made another $10,000/year. If only we made $60,000 or $200,000, then it’d be so much easier. If only my lotto numbers would hit, I’d love to help other people.” When you say things like that, you’re flirting with the god of wealth. You’re saying that what God gave you is inadequate and that He is unwise.
When our hearts crave more stuff, you are saying that the god of prosperity is more able to satisfy your wants and needs than the God of the Bible. And this is the greater promise you need to trust. God has promised to provide you with all that you need in life (Matthew 6:31 to 33, Philippians 4:19, 2 Corinthians 9:8). Do you believe that? Can you spend your master’s money on His desires and trust that He will still take care of you? If all that you own is a stewardship, then you’re gonna live in a way that shows God is your master.
Paul describes what that looks like really well. He answers the question of what it means to serve God when you are rich. First Timothy 6:17 to 19, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. 18 Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.”
So who will you serve? You gotta serve somebody. Nobody can serve two masters. It’s almost a question of payoff–do you want a little reward now or a big payoff later? The parable of the unrighteous steward shows us that this life is brief and that we are foolish if we choose to live for money now and take no thought of our future.
Do you trust God’s promises? If the crooked steward knows enough to invest in the future, how much more should we as Christians be investing in eternity? How do we do that? You trust God’s promises, you prove yourself faithful and you be generous to others. You don’t have to understand Roth IRAs and 529 plans. You don’t need to pick up a bunch of finance books. Just make decisions based on the reality that God owns what the world says is yours. Now most people, when they hear this, react like the Pharisees.
Verse 14 and 15, “Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things, and they were scoffing at Him. 15 And He said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.’”
The great danger is that you respond like them. The worst thing you could do is think you can have both. The Pharisees were people who tried to serve God outwardly and money inwardly. Jesus says that such people justify themselves to others, but that God knows your heart. Please don’t rationalize why you’re okay and God will accept you despite your spending habits. Don’t be a Pharisee. Don’t justify yourself. Don’t be a lover of money. Don’t love and think about your stuff more than the God you claim to serve.
One day, not too far from now, all your money will be gone. All your stuff will be gone. The boat, the TV, the bank account, the iPhone, the books, the car, the bike, the cash–all gone. And you’ll stand before God and then enter into eternity. What will eternity be like for you? In the next parable (verses 19 to 31), Jesus shows the end of such men. Rich men who live for this world will experience great pain in the next one. But men who’ve hoped for the future will find great joy awaiting them. That’s for another day. Let’s pray.