The USE and abUSE of money
In Luke 16 Jesus told two stories about money. Both begin with these words: “There was a rich man.” The first one shows that money can be used for gain, while the second shows that it can lead to ruin.
The Shrewd Manager
In the first, the parable of the shrewd manager, Jesus gave a lesson about money (Lk. 16:1-13). It is clear that this is the purpose of this message, because afterwards “the Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus” (Lk. 16:14). Jesus had more to say about money and possessions than about any other subject. It was a theme in almost half of His parables. Since Jesus had so much to say about it, we’d better pay attention.
A rich man employed a manager to look after his business (Lk. 16:1-8). After he heard that his manager was wasting his wealth, he called him in to explain his wastefulness and dishonesty, and then to dismiss him. Maybe the manager was making money on the side and had a high expense account.
Knowing that he would lose his job, the manager then thought of a scheme to help him when he was unemployed. He went to people who owed money to the rich man and offered them a substantial discount so they’d favor him in future. The debtors were farmers who owed the master rent, which in those days was paid in goods. These debts would have been a significant portion of the annual production of a farm. When the master found out, instead of being angry about the 20-50% cut in his profit, he commended the clever manager. The rich man admired him for planning for his future by providing friends for himself. Even though the manager had been wasteful and dishonest, he was shrewd in planning for his future. Jesus commended his use of money, not his dishonest business practices. Jesus drew three lessons from this story.
Lesson 1: The Best Investment
The first lesson is: “The people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Lk. 16:8-9). He compared two groups of people: those without a personal relationship with God are “the people of this world”; those with one are “the people of light” (Eph. 5:8; 1 Th. 5:5).
Jesus used this story to teach a lesson that Christians can learn from non-Christians. He said that unbelievers provided for their physical future in this world better than Christians provided for their spiritual future in heaven. People generally use more creativity and effort to make money than Christians do to advance the gospel. Like the shrewd manager, unbelievers are usually smart when it comes to money; he prepared for his future and so do they. Likewise, Christians should prepare for their eternity in heaven. Let’s look at how.
Believers are to use money while they can. Notice that He says “when it is gone” (16:9), meaning that it won’t last forever. The manager only had a short time to act, but he used the opportunity. Facing a deadline, he made a plan and acted before the opportunity was gone. We are also facing a deadline when our material resources will be gone, or we will be gone from this life. Do we have a plan to influence our world before that deadline, or are we letting opportunities pass by? We should be using our money and resources so others will benefit spiritually and welcome us into heaven when we die. This means making friendships that will last forever by helping people accept the Savior by such means as hospitality, giving to missionary work, helping the needy.
Here’s a way to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Mt. 6:20), a way of transforming material things into spiritual things that will last forever. It’s investing in eternity – spending our money on things that will last forever. Let’s invest our material possessions that don’t last forever so people will obtain spiritual blessings that are eternal. As Christians have a future in heaven, the lesson is that we should use the resources that God has given us to ensure that we have friends in heaven. God wants us to be wise managers.
Paul also wrote that those with material resources are to use them in a way that reaps eternal dividends. He said to the rich: “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Tim. 6:18-19).
The Bible says that we brought nothing into this world and will take nothing out (Job 1:21; Eccl. 5:15-16). But this passage says we can take friends with us! Spiritual friendships survive death. When Paul wrote that we take nothing out of this world, he meant physical things (1 Tim. 6:7). Jesus said we should invest our money in people because they have eternal souls and can go to heaven. Our best investment is in people we’ll see in heaven. There are only two eternal things in this world – people and God’s Word. So they are the best investment.
Lesson 2: The Way To True Riches
The second lesson is: “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?” (Lk. 16:10-12). Each of the three sentences in this passage points out a similarity between two things: “little” and “much”; “worldly wealth” and “true riches”; and “someone else’s property” and “property of your own.” Jesus used these three illustrations to show the way to true riches. Let’s look at each one.
Why did the master dismiss the dishonest manager? Because he had been unfaithful with “very little” the master couldn’t trust him with anything. Here we see a similarity in behavior with what is “very little,” and what is “much.” In this story, the “very little” is the physical realm of money and wealth, while the “much” is the spiritual realm to which the physical is compared. If you are trustworthy with a little, God knows you can be trusted with a lot. The principle is that one who is trustworthy in managing money can be trusted with true riches of spiritual life – like peace, security and a sense of God’s presence. How we manage money, including our faithfulness in giving, is a measure of our spiritual life. How one uses money is a measure of inner character. There is a parallel between our behavior in the physical and spiritual realms.
The “who” in Luke 16:11-12 is God and the “true riches” are spiritual blessings that are certain and eternal, not uncertain and temporary, like money and wealth. So God repeats the message: if you are not trustworthy with money, God will not trust you with spiritual blessings.
All that we have – our money, time and talents – belong to the Lord and we are to use them for Him. These are “someone else’s property” that only belong to us for a while. “Property of your own” is a reward in this life and the life to come for faithful service for Christ (1 Cor. 3:8-14). The message is repeated once again: if we are disobedient with regard to the use of money and wealth and other material things, then we will not have spiritual power in our lives. This could be a significant reason for spiritual weakness among believers today.
Lesson 3: Money – Master or Servant?
The third lesson is: “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” (Lk. 16:13). This verse raises the issue of whom we serve. Bob Dylan wrote this refrain in his song, “Gotta Serve Somebody”: “But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed/You’re gonna have to serve somebody/Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord/But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” Here he’s saying that the only choice is whom you serve.
The conclusion that Jesus drew from this parable is that we have a choice – either love God or money. Money is either our master or our servant. Jesus said we cannot live to make money and serve God at the same time. If the reason we are living and working is to make money for the things that money can buy, then that is our god, and we cannot serve the living and true God. We can’t serve God while using our money to continually raise our standard of living.
To love God is to love people, but to love money is to be selfish. If we succeed in our pursuit of wealth and a higher standard of living, we become increasingly self-centered. If we fail in our pursuit of wealth this leads to self-pity, bitterness and jealousy. Money is not given only for our benefit, but also so we will use it to help those in need. If God blesses us with money, possessions and abilities, let’s use them to invest in eternity. Let’s look now at those who abused money – the Pharisees and a rich man.
The Greedy Pharisees
“The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, ‘You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight’” (Lk. 16:14-15). When the Pharisees heard these lessons about money, they sneered because they didn’t accept that there was a link between one’s use of money and their spirituality. Although they were religious leaders who professed to serve God, they loved money. They were greedy – they wanted to build up wealth in this life, not the life to come.
Paul warned that the love of money leads to all kinds of evil, sadness, ruin, destruction and backsliding (1 Tim. 6:10). Jesus also said the Pharisees were hypocrites. Outwardly they behaved like spiritual men, but inwardly they were detestable and sinful. They had a good reputation, but a rotten character. They were unfaithful to the God they claimed to serve. The biggest factor in handling our three main resources of money, time and energy is our attitude.
Jesus condemned the Pharisees from their own Scriptures (Lk. 16:16-18). The New Covenant began when John the Baptist preached about the kingdom of God. Until that time the Old Covenant teaching of the Law and the prophets applied. Many responded to the message brought by Jesus and the early Church. But while Jesus was proclaiming the kingdom of God, the Pharisees were teaching the Law. Paul wrote, “All who sin under the Law will be judged by the Law” (Rom. 2:12). Jesus knew that they were breaking the commandment against coveting by loving money (Ex. 20:17). He judged them guilty of a sin as bad as adultery – unfaithfulness to God.
The Rich Man
Next Jesus recalled the life and destiny of two men (Lk. 16:19-31) on the opposite ends of the social spectrum. One was a rich man who lived in great luxury, the other a beggar named Lazarus who begged for food at the rich man’s gate. Clearly, the rich man felt no need to help Lazarus.
But death changed everything. When Lazarus died his body was most likely carted away to the dump and burned with the rubbish. The rich man also died and was given the finest funeral money could buy. Yet when they died an amazing reversal occurred. Lazarus’ spirit went to “comfort” in heaven, while the rich man’s spirit went to “agony” in hades. They had different eternal destinies because Lazarus had trusted God while the rich man had trusted in his wealth.
There was a great chasm between hades and heaven. Their choice on earth determined their eternal destiny and there were no second chances. It’s too late to help someone after death. The rich man was conscious after death. He was tormented in hades and communicated with Abraham who was in heaven. He even became concerned about the welfare of others, something he neglected while on earth.
Jesus also said that the desire for wealth is a barrier to following Him: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Mt. 16:26). The rich man lived for money, but he went to hell. He had no time for God. The size of his bank account didn’t impress God. In this passage we see that hell can be avoided if a person listens to God and repents (Lk. 16:29-30).
Constructive And Destructive Aspects Of Money
Luke 16 teaches us about the use and abuse of money. The parable of the shrewd manager teaches that we should use money for eternal purposes – to further the kingdom of God. The best investment is in people that we’ll see in heaven. Don’t just pray for the unsaved; “pay” for them as well. This is a long term investment that brings the dividend of friends in heaven. It is a way to transform our money into the spiritual realm. This brings spiritual blessings into our lives and rewards in heaven. Our management of God’s money determines if He can trust us with spiritual blessings. In fact, how we use money is a measure of our spiritual life. For each of us, money is either our master or servant.
On the other hand, loving money is a barrier to loving God; it leads to spiritual weakness. This is a short term investment that we can’t take with us after death. Unfortunately, anyone, whether religious or not, can abuse money. The Pharisees were greedy and hypocritical in their love of money, and the rich man lived for it. So if money is our master we are in danger of missing out on heaven like the rich man, and it’s too late to find this out after we die.
See the first article in this series:
– Does God Want Us To Be Rich? Part 1
What Should Be Our Attitude Toward Money And Wealth?
Recently I read an article entitled, “Wisdom Of A Wealthy Achiever.” The subtitle was, “Smash The Myths Of Wealth.” It said that Proverbs promotes wealth as a benefit of wisdom, and that God was referring to wealth when He told Abraham, “I will bless you” (Gen. 12:2 NIV). From these references, the writer concluded that wealth is to be desired. Some religious figures say that God will bless those who pursue material wealth. But where do they get these attitudes about money and wealth? Let’s see what the Bible says.
Indeed, Abraham was blessed with wealth (Gen. 24:35), and Psalms and Proverbs say this of the man who reverences God: “Whatever he does prospers” (Ps. 1:3); “Blessings and prosperity will be yours” (Ps. 128:2); “The blessing of the Lord brings wealth” (Prov. 10:22).
In the Old Testament, riches were often a mark of God’s favor – for example, Job and Solomon were rich. But not all rich men were good – for example, Nabal and the King of Tyre. David wrote, “Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked” (Ps. 37:16). In the Old Testament God promised earthly material blessings – Abraham was promised the land of Canaan and many descendants; and obedient Jews were rewarded with long life, a large family, abundant crops and protection from their enemies (Dt. 6:2; 28:1-8).
In the New Testament, the Church is promised heavenly blessings (Eph. 1:3), such as: election, adoption, redemption, forgiveness of sins, sealing by the Holy Spirit, an inheritance (Eph. 1:4-14), grace (1 Cor. 16:23), peace (Phil. 4:7), and eternal life with God (Phil. 3:20-21; 1 Pet. 1:4). These blessings are imperishable. In the New Testament wealthy men are often seen as godless – for example, the rich farmer who planned to build more barns and enjoy life, and the rich man with Lazarus (Lk. 12:16-21; 16:19-31). Jesus said, “It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 19:23). But not all rich men were ungodly – for example, Joseph of Arimathea, Zacchaeus and Nicodemus.
Let’s look at passages written to the Church on this topic. In this series we will look at the positives of money and wealth and then we will look at the negatives. We will begin by looking at three key passages.
Commands For The Rich
God’s instruction to those who are already rich is: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Tim. 6:17-19). God is the source of enjoyment, not riches (6:17). He gives us money to use for good works and to help the needy (6:18). This wise use of money has eternal benefits (6:19).
Christianity doesn’t guarantee wealth (2 Cor. 8:1-15). The Macedonian churches experienced poverty, but still shared with believers in need (8:2). We don’t need to be rich to be generous. The order of giving is first, give yourself to God (8:5), then He will take care of your needs. “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt. 6:33). He will provide the necessities of life.
Jesus was the most generous person ever: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (8:9). He gave up heavenly riches to bring us spiritual wealth. Likewise, we should be willing to give up our money to help those in need.
Three principles are given: give willingly (8:12; 9:5); the size of the gift is irrelevant (8:12); the gift is to gain equality among Christians (8:13-15). Like the manna in the desert, those who had too much shared with those who didn’t have enough (Ex. 16:18). Manna couldn’t be hoarded; neither should money.
The Benefits Of Generosity
“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Cor. 9:6-8). Generosity brings spiritual blessings (9:6). We are to give cheerfully (9:7). God will supply us with the resources to share with others (9:8,10). Generosity also results in thanks and praise to God (9:11-14). Of course, God is the greatest giver and Jesus was the greatest gift (9:15). “God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).
Work For Your Food
Now let’s look at some New Testament principles related to money and wealth. Paul worked hard to support himself while preaching and teaching; even though he had the right to the support of other believers (1 Cor. 4:12, 9:6, 11-14). He warned believers in Thessalonica not to be idle. And he set an example by working night and day so he would not be a financial burden but a model for them to follow (2 Th. 3:8-9). He wrote, “While we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘Whoever does not work, should not eat.’ Yet we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and wasting time meddling in other people’s business. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we appeal to such people … get to work. Earn your own living” (2 Th. 3:10-12 nlt).
Paul also said, “Work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” (1 Th. 4:11-12). As the world judges Christ by how we behave, we should support ourselves and not rely on others for the necessities of life.
Provide For Your Family
When Paul was discussing the care of widows he wrote, “If a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God … If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:4,8). We should provide for our family and relatives when they are in need so they do not have to rely on the church for necessities. It is only the church’s responsibility when the needy have no family.
Pay What You Owe
Paul said that the governing authorities are established by God. “This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (Rom. 13:6-7). When Jesus was asked whether it was right to pay taxes to Caesar, He said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Mt. 22:21). So, we should pay our taxes, fees, fines and loans. This means being honest and reliable in financial matters. Remember, when Zacchaeus came to faith he repaid those he had cheated as a tax collector (Lk. 19:8-10).
Support Christian Work
In the parable of the shrewd manager, Jesus said we should use our money and possessions so others will have eternal blessing: “Use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Lk. 16:9). There are many instances in the New Testament of churches giving aid to needy churches (Acts 11:29-30; 24:17; Rom. 15:26-27; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8:1-5; 9:1-5). For example, the believers in Jerusalem were poor because of famine or persecution (Acts 8:1; 11:28). Also the church at Philippi supported Paul’s missionary work as a “partnership in the gospel” (Phil. 1:5; 4:14-18). Preachers, teachers and ministries need their needs met (1 Cor. 9:11-14). We should support Christian works and workers financially.
How Much Should We Give?
How much should we give? Ten percent? That was the taxation for Israelites in Old Testament times. The New Testament doesn’t say how much; just to be regular and generous in giving: “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made” (1 Cor. 16:2).
We are to give: according to need, so no one will be needy (Acts 2:44-45; Rom. 12:13); according to ability, “as much as they were able” (2 Cor. 8:3); and as planned, and not under compulsion (2 Cor. 9:7). Jesus is interested in our giving. He watched the crowd putting money in the temple treasury, and a widow gave “all she had to live on” (Mk. 12:41-44).That was sacrificial giving.
Attitudes Towards Money And Wealth
Thankfulness: Paul said God created certain things not to be denounced, but to be received with thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4:4-5). God gave money and possessions to be used thankfully. We should not denounce them as evil, but thank Him for them. We should worship Him, not our money and possessions.
Wisdom: If Christ is our Lord, we are His stewards. He provides our money and possessions, and we should use them wisely. In the parable of the talents, Jesus approved of a wise investment as a way to earn income (Mt. 25:27; Lk. 19:23). There is a link between the physical and spiritual, between money and heaven (Lk. 16:9). We are responsible to exercise wisdom in our use of money.
Contentment: Jesus told His disciples, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Lk. 6:20). That’s how the disciples were sent out – not wealthy. Otherwise, people would follow with the hope of becoming rich. Peter told a beggar, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Acts 3:6). Jesus and Paul were poor (2 Cor. 6:10; 8:9; 11:27). The kingdom belongs to those satisfied with having their needs met so that more money can go to God’s work.
The writer of Hebrews says, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’” (Heb. 13:5). When Paul warned about false teachers who were teaching because it paid well, he wrote, “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content” (1 Tim. 6:6-8). Paul also wrote, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Phil. 4:11-12). Because God will never abandon us, we should be content with the money and possessions we have, and the necessities of life – food, clothing and shelter.
Generosity: Jesus told His disciples to “sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Lk. 12:33-34). In 2 Corinthians 8-9 Paul encouraged generosity. Christians should share with God’s people in need, and practice hospitality (Rom. 12:13; Eph. 4:28). This means providing their daily necessities (Ti. 3:14). Also, the rich are to be generous (1 Tim. 6:18-19). This is investing in heaven. The Bible teaches that God will meet the needs of the generous (Phil. 4:19). We need to be generous with what we have. Our standard of giving is more important than our standard of living.
Spirituality: The early believers chose to be true to Jesus rather than keep their possessions: “You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions” (Heb. 10:34). Like Moses who forsook the treasures of Egypt, they valued spiritual possessions above material ones (Heb. 11:25-26). Also, they didn’t favor the rich: “As believers … don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (Jas. 2:1-4). There is no place in Christianity for this.
Constructive Aspects Of Money And Wealth
God does not want us to be rich or poor. He wants us to: work for our food; provide for our family; pay what we owe; support Christian work; and develop the attitudes of thankfulness, wisdom, contentment, generosity and spirituality with respect to money and possessions. Christ became poor and the apostles gave up money and possessions for the sake of the gospel. Jesus told His disciples to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him (Lk. 9:23). “You cannot serve both God and money” (Mt. 6:24).
So let’s be devoted to Jesus, and follow and serve Him in how we use our money and possessions.
Published, February 2007
See the next article in this series:
– Does God Want Us To Be Rich? Part 2