What does being a good steward of God’s possessions involve? How should we invest in eternity?
v5-7 “So he called every one of his master’s debtors to him, and said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 And he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ So he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ So he said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’”
v9 “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”
This steward invests in his future by making friends for himself by basically giving his master’s stuff away for free. Is that a good example for us to follow in the way we steward God’s possessions? Is that really what Jesus means when he talks in v10-12 about “being faithful with that which is another’s” (i.e. faithful with that which is God’s)?
Well, Yes! Remember that we don’t have any of our own possessions, we are only stewards of God’s possessions, so when God gives us commands about what to do with our possessions, he’s actually saying “this is what I want you to do with my possessions.” Now look at what Jesus tells his disciples to do in Luke 6v35: “lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High”. “Lend, expecting nothing in return” – that’s a lot like what the steward did in Luke 16. Jesus is not saying lend your own money expecting nothing in return; we don’t have any of our own money. All the money and possessions we have are what God has given us to manage for him, and Jesus tells us to lend it expecting nothing in return!
This is not commending stealing. We’re not meant to apply this to the way we treat our earthly bosses’ stuff. If I was to give my employers’ resources away for free without their permission, that would be stealing. But God specifically tells us to give his resources away: “lend, expecting nothing in return”. If we’re doing exactly what God’s told us to do with his stuff, that’s not stealing; it’s obedience.
And that’s not just a one-off verse…
I already mentioned Luke 12 with the man who’d laid up many goods for many years but was not rich toward God, and then in v33-34 Jesus says “Sell your possessions (i.e. God’s possessions) and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with money bags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail,”
Luke 14:12-14 “When you give a dinner or a banquet (remember all the food is God’s food), do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
Luke 18:22 “Sell all that you have (i.e. all that God has given you to steward) and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven…”
Do you get the impression Jesus may have been trying to tell us something? Could he have made it much clearer? It’s crazy how we can read our Bible regularly and still think it’s a good idea to collect earthly possessions. I mean really, it’s insane! And did you notice that all of these passages reiterate the promise that, if we give God’s possessions away to those in need, we will be rewarded in heaven? So this is where the shrewdness comes in: it’s shrewd for us to give our things away to the poor because we’ll be rewarded later.
Notice also from the 2nd part of v9 that the aim is to make friends who will be able to receive us into eternal dwellings. Our new friends won’t be able to do that if they’re not in heaven themselves, so while we help people with material needs, we’ll also need to explain the gospel to them.
Of course the gospel by itself is more valuable than any earthly possession. Knowing the kind of teaching we’ve had at this church, you probably don’t need me to tell you that, but we do need to keep it in mind. Sometimes it’s easy to help people materially but then not do anything to help them spiritually. But then perhaps there’s also the opposite tendency, thinking that because the gospel is more important than helping people with material needs, it’s ok to hold onto our possessions as long as we preach to people. The Bible is clear that we’re to do both, share the gospel AND share our material wealth with those who need it.
Do we actually take what Jesus says about giving to the poor seriously? How many of us have recently invited someone to eat with us who was poor enough that they won’t be able to repay us in this life? I’m convicted, but please don’t use my hypocrisy as an excuse for you to do the same, let’s stir each other up to actually live this out.
I have another quote from Francis Chan. This is not a Francis Chan study. I didn’t expect to be quoting him when I chose this passage, but I think what he says is really relevant to what this passage is saying. And this quote could really apply to anything that Jesus commands us to do, but I find it particularly convicting in relation to this type of command that Jesus gives to use our money, time and possessions for the benefit of other people.
Let’s not mess about, trying to invest the minimum amount we can get away with in the kingdom of God while also trying to enjoy a nice comfortable life here on Earth, let’s invest everything God’s given us in laying up treasure in heaven that will never fail.
2 Cor 9v6: “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”
Some people would say I’ve gone too far in applying the steward’s actions to the way we’re to steward God’s possessions; that this is just a parable about shrewdness. In some ways I might say it doesn’t matter because other passages clearly teach that we are to give to the poor and that we’ll be rewarded in heaven for doing so, but to me it does matter, because although what I’ve said may not be wrong, I wasn’t aiming to give an inspiring message about giving to the poor, I was aiming to explain this passage. That would be the difference between exposition and just using the text to say what I wanted to say.
I guess one day I’ll find out for sure whether I was right or not, but for now, I’ll make do with saying that, if I have got it wrong, I’m in pretty good company, because while I followed some of David Murray’s advice in preparing this, in that I left looking at commentaries until the end of my preparation, I was pleased when I got to that stage to find that John Calvin said of this passage: “The leading object of this parable is, to show that we ought to deal kindly and generously with our neighbours; that, when we come to the judgement seat of God, we may reap the fruit of our liberality.”