By Dr. Roger Barrier, Crosswalk.com
I am not surprised when I see so many people in our world grasping for riches and money. What breaks my heart is to see Christians doing the same. These Christians are stretching out their hands for material things.
I once heard a Christian man say, “How we spend money is the story of our lives.” Am I right in my thinking? What do you think?
I believe that you’re 100% right on target! How we handle our money reveals more about our values and priorities than anything else about us.
That is why God invests so many verses in the Bible talking about money.
Pastor Larry Burkett illustrated this principle in a story about Alan and Jean Hitchcock who had decided to end their marriage after 24 years:
In anticipation of the divorce settlement, Alan reviewed their financial records. As he sorted through the files, he came across a faded old check made out to the hotel where he and Jean stayed on their honeymoon. (Once upon a time banks returned copies of canceled checks to help people reconcile their accounts each month. Nothing was electronic.) Another check was an installment payment for their first car.
He picked up another check and remembered with fatherly pride how he wrote it out to the hospital when their daughter was born. And there was the $5,000 down payment on their first home.
After several hours of sorting through the old, canceled checks, Alan realized how much he and his wife had invested in the marriage. He paused in deep thought for several moments. Then he closed the files and dialed his wife’s phone number. After an awkward exchange he blurted out the reason for his call: “Would you work with me to rebuild this marriage?”
The Parable of the Unjust Steward
One of Jesus’ most powerful parables regarding money is found in Luke 16.
Let me explain the parable, and then I will draw some lessons and principles that will help us understand how to better handle our money in a manner that honors God.
Jesus told his disciples:
Once there was a rich man whose manager was accused of stealing his possessions. The rich man said to him, “I am going to have a complete audit of the books. If what I hear is true, then I am going to fire you.”
The manager said to himself, “What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I'm not strong enough to dig, and I'm ashamed to beg.” (my paraphrase of verses 1-3)
The dishonest manager faced a crisis—the sudden and unexpected loss of his job. He knew that he was guilty and that the audit would only confirm it. He frantically searched for a way out of his dilemma.
Jesus was setting up an analogy. We Christians have a management contract with God to handle His resources on earth just as this manager had a contract to manage his landlord’s estate.
First, note that the sudden dismissal of the manager is analogous to the death of the Christian.
When we die, our management contract of God’s assets expires. There will be a complete audit of our management at the Judgment Seat of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15).
In order to secure his financial future, the dishonest manager hit upon an ingenious plan.
Rapidly and secretly, he approached each one of the men who owed his master money and offered them the opportunity to settle their debts for a sharply reduced amount.
“I know what I'll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.”
So he called in each one of his master's debtors. He asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?”
“Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,” he replied.
The manager told him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.”
Then he asked the second, “And how much do you owe?”
"A thousand bushels of wheat,” he replied.
He told him, “Take your bill and make it eight hundred.” (Luke 16:4-7)
His plan was to gain the good will of these men so that when he lost his job, they would invite him into their homes out of gratitude and give him food, clothing, and shelter.
Here is the key to the entire parable: “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly” (Luke 16:8).
The rich man said to his manager: “You clever rascal. I’ve got to hand it to you. What a slick plan!”
He didn’t commend him for his management or for his honesty, but he did commend him for his clever ability to work out a plan to secure his future.
At this point, Jesus pronounces a sweeping condemnation of His followers:
For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. (Luke 16:9)
The people of the world are more shrewd at securing their financial future on earth than Christians are at securing their future assets in eternity.
Jesus drew several conclusions from this parable (see Luke 16:9-13).
I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” (Luke 16:9)
Photo Credit: Unsplash/Micheile Henderson
1. Use worldly wealth to gain friends.
Who are the friends? Most likely, “friends” refers to people here on earth with whom we share our material wealth. These are people who precede us in death. “Friends” also refers to those grateful people that we led to Christ before they died. They will welcome us into eternity.
Jesus doesn’t say: “Give X percent to church… or give money to the poor or… find a missionary or pastor to support financially… or you rich folks set up charitable foundations for the cause of Christ.” He tells us to use financial assets to build healthy relationships.
2. We must stop thinking like owners and start thinking like managers.
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. (Luke 16:10)
We are so prone to reason, “If I just had a little more money, if I just had a little higher income, I’d be a better manager. If I could just get these debts paid off, if I could just get the kids through college, I could finally tithe; I’d be a better manager for the Lord.”
Don’t you believe it! Jesus said that that is false reasoning. It will not happen that way.
Imagine that we have nine dollars. We say, “I had another dollar, if I had $10, then I could give it to God.”
No. It will never happen. If we are not managing wisely with the $9 that we do have, we will not change our pattern with another dollar more. We will spend it on ourselves, too.
A Barna Research Group Survey revealed that the average American adult believes that he or she needs an additional 15-20 thousand dollars more per year to live comfortably. However, tracking studies show that even when adults reach or exceed the income levels to which they aspired, they still claim that they need another 15 to 20 thousand.
If you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? (Luke 16:11)
“True riches” as Jesus speaks it here means rewards and treasures in heaven—that is all it can mean.
3. Jesus teaches that we do not own anything in this life.
We are just managing God’s assets for Him.
And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own? (Luke 16:12)
“Property of your own” is fascinating because according to the Scriptures, we do not own anything in this life. We are just managing God’s assets for Him.
4. As we begin to think like managers, we actually become owners.
We know this because we know that we will take nothing with us when we die.
For example, a miserly millionaire told his wife, “I am placing a briefcase full of money in the attic. When I die, I intend to grab it on my way up to heaven. See to it that no one touches it until it is my time to go.”
She respected his wishes. Soon after he died his wife could hardly wait to run up in the attic and see if it were still there. Sure enough, there it was right where he’d placed it. She said, “I knew he should have put it in the basement.”
Some people think, “Well, I don’t particularly care how much treasure I have in Heaven. I just want to get there.”
I want to say, “No, don’t you ever think like that!”
At the Judgment Seat of Christ, those who lived like owners will have no rewards. Fortunately, they are saved through the fire, but they will suffer a loss (1 Corinthians 15).
On the other hand, those who manage God’s assets well while here on earth will be owners in heaven of all sorts of rewards.
Whole bodies of Scripture teach that Heaven is not a classless society. Jesus said that the first shall be last. How we manage our finances here on earth makes a big difference in Heaven.
5. Materialism is a rival god. Avoid it all costs.
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 noney. (Luke 16:13)
One of my friends and I were talking about the many stories we had heard about angels and demons appearing to Christians in third-world countries.
One pastor from Mexico overheard us and said, “the reason that you don’t see this type of activity in the United States is because Satan does not need to bring out the big guns of demonism and overt spiritual warfare. He has you American Christians so enmeshed with materialism that he doesn’t need his big spiritual guns.”
Well, Paul, I hope you find this helpful. Feel free to ask other questions when you like!
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Sharon McCutcheon
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his 35-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.
Editor's Note: This Ask Roger article features insights from Roger's daughter, Brie Barrier Wetherbee, a sought-after Bible teacher and conference speaker, author, analyst, and Christian theologian.
Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at [email protected].