“He also said to the disciples, ‘There was a rich man who had a steward, and charges were brought to him that the man was wasting his goods. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.’ And the steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do since my master is taking the stewardship away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that people may receive me into their houses when I am put out of the stewardship.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and write eighty.’ The master commended the dishonest steward for his prudence; for the sons of this world are wiser in their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations.” Luke 16:1-9
What would you do if you knew that in one month all your money and property were going to be taken away? Would you panic? Would you weep and beg? Would you take your own life?
In the text we meet a man faced with just such a problem. His master has told him to turn all his money in. He’s fired!
Indeed, our text for today is a parable of Jesus Christ. It’s one of his most unusual and hard to decipher illustrations. And it is a part of the table talk of our Lord recorded for us in and around Luke, Chapter 16. It was first told, a study of the context will reveal, in the home of a Jewish pharisee right before supper. So, our parable was first heard by the rich and religious. And Hey! That’s us today, isn’t it? So, let’s take a good look at what Jesus has to say here before our supper with Him.
God Makes Us Stewards
In the text we are told about a rich man who made a man his steward. The servant was given responsibility over the master’s land, his crops, and his bill collecting.
Certainly the “man” or “master” in the parable is God. The Scripture teaches in Psalm 24:1 that, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.”
And the “steward” or “servant” in the parable represents us. 1 Corinthians 4:1-2 says, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.”
Given life, health, and a little money from the Lord, it is easy to forget this master-steward relationship we have, isn’t it?
Did you hear the story of the country lawyer in Louisiana who was asked by the defense department to certify the title on a tract of land where a defense installation was to be built? The attorney ran the title back to the year 1803 and sent his report to the Pentagon. A few days later a defense department expert sent a request for proof of title prior to 1803. This is how the country lawyer responded. . .
I note your comment upon the fact that the record of title sent you as applying to the land under consideration dates only from the year 1803 and your request for an extension of the records prior to that date. Please be advised that the government of the United States acquired the territory, including the tract to which your inquiry applies, by purchase from the government of France in the year 1803, commonly known as the Louisiana Purchase. The government of France acquired title by conquest from the government of Spain. The government of Spain acquired title by discovery of one Christopher Columbus, a resident of Genoa, Italy, traveler and explorer, under the sponsorship of Isabella, the Queen of Spain. The Queen received her ‘sanction’ of reign by the consent of the Pope, a representative of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the Son and heir apparent of God Almighty; and God Almighty made the world, and Louisiana is a part of the world. I trust this complies with your request.”
And so it is. Run a title search on your wealth and you’ll find God is the owner and you are his steward.
Remember who you are!
A Sense of Independence!
Note further in the text how the servant forgot who he was. Once he had access to money, to property, to authority, he started throwing his weight around. He “wasted” his master’s wealth, most probably on himself.
Now, none of us would mind the meek inheriting the earth if we could be sure they would remain meek after they get it. Money can make you proud. It can give you a false sense of power and independence. Like the man in the text it can make you dishonest. You only look out for yourself. You don’t need others.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, made a sobering observation some 200 years ago when he said, “I fear wherever riches have increased, the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore, I do not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of true religion to continue long. For religion necessarily produces both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world.”
Isn’t it so? Nothing can make you forget who you are more than money! Why, a nation can endure most anything from plague to depression to war, but few nations have the strength of character to endure prolonged affluency. For, awallow in wealth, we, like the servant in the parable, forget our master and begin to act independently. And this is right where we as a nation are today. A missionary to the United States from Korea said to me recently, “One of the hardest places in the world to do mission work is the United States. You are so rich you feel independent. And you don’t feel you need anything!”
Do you remember who you are?
In the text the servant was given money to manage for his master. But the slave got hold of all that money and power and promptly forgot his duties. He “wasted” his master’s money, we are told. No doubt he thought of himself first, manipulated people, and acted in a generally haughty way!
Now the text tells us of judgement. Someone went to the steward’s master and reported the waste, the abuse, the haughtiness. So, the Lord called in his slave and said, “What is this I hear about you? Turn in the account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.”
For someone who had forgotten who he was, such a judgement must have come as a rather rude awakening! But be sure of the truth here for you and for me as well! There is a God who has given us of his riches. And there is accountability for how we manage it!
For instance, consider what God says in Exodus 22:21-27. There God talks about the use of money to burden widows and orphans. He talks about how we oppress strangers economically and even ensnare our own people with credit. And He ends his warning with a strong statement of our accountability. “And if he cries to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.”
Did you hear about the housewife who was asked by her husband how she managed to go through her monthly budget allowance so quickly? “Well,” she explained, “I guess I’ve been kind of oversupporting myself!” And that’s what many of us do with God’s wealth invested in our trust. And Jesus warns us that there is for each of us a day of accounting.
Did you know that one third of all the parables are about money? One sixth of all the verses in the gospels deal with money. Christ talked about money more than He talked about anything else. Why was this so? Did Jesus want to get money for himself? No. There is no record that the Lord ever even once received an offering. The only things He owned were the clothes on his back.
Fact is, Jesus Christ talked about money so much because He know it was his chief rival for our souls. And He wanted us to respect what it can do to us!
Hence this parable.
Do you remember who you are? A steward? Dependent? Accountable?
So, in the text a lord entrusts a servant with some of his land, crops and finances. He is to use the money to build up the estate and its people. But with all that power and money at his disposal, the slave forgets his duty and begins to act dishonestly. Money is wasted. People are demeaned. The man lives for himself. Until one day, someone reports his injustice to his boss. Now comes the accountability. The master calls the servant on the carpet, dismisses him from his duties, and takes all his money away from him.
Thus is this parable a sober reminder that our possession of wealth is only temporary. One day we shall find ourselves in the same predicament as this servant. God will call us to stand before Him. “Turn in an account of your stewardship,” He will demand. And it’ll all be over!
Last year I read about a rich man who died in Florida and was buried in his $59,000 travel trailer. His boat was connected behind, the gas tanks were full, there was a color television set on the table, Coors beer in the refrigerator, and a closet full of clothes. And as the huge crane lowered him into the ground, a bystander said, “Man, that’s really living!”
Who says you can’t take it with you? God says! In 1 Timothy 6:7 it says, “For we brought nothing into this world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. . . .”
Possession is only temporary.
Do you remember who you are?
The Right Use of Wealth
Now, back to the text. The servant has been caught in a selfish and dishonest stewardship. He’s been told to turn in his money accounts. He has about a month probably, before he is unemployed. “What am I going to do?” He worries. “I’m too old to dig ditches. And I’m too proud to beg!” Then he remembers the people of his master’s accounts. Where once he’d made them serve him, now he will serve them. Where once he had only thought of getting, now he thinks of giving. Where once he used his master’s money to make his own life comfortable, now he thinks of easing the burden on the shoulders of others.
“Quick! You owe my master 100. Write 10!”
Quite a change, eh? A steward brought before his master faced the facts of his monetary accountability and temporary possession and his whole lifestyle changed from one who would be served to one who served. From the cruel oppressive use of money to burden with debt, he turned to use money to aide people, to relieve burdens, to minister!
Has there been a change in your attitude about money like that?
Stewardship is the economic evidence that you have been redeemed. The compassionate use of wealth is the sure sign that you remember God’s trust, your temporary possession, and final accountability to God.
Note in the text, too, another principle here: how we use our wealth today determines our wealth tomorrow. The soon-to-be unemployed steward used money while he still had it to serve people whom he knew would take care of him after he was fired.
And that is true of the gospel. You can’t take it with you, but you can sent it on ahead. Jesus said, “Lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven” (Mt. 6:20). And every ministry we make with our money here and now will be accredited to our account in heaven there and then.
In the South Pacific there is a remote island group that elects a king for a four year term. During that four year period the king can have anything he wants. Food, drink, women, palaces, servants. But at the end of the four years the king is stripped of his office, must choose a small island, and is taken there to live in exile until his death.
This tradition was carried out for decades with its cycles of selection, kingly elegance for four years, and then exile and quick death due to exile on a deserted island.
Finally a young man who was very wise was elected king. And he planned ahead! He used his four year reign to send supplies, building materials, art, boats, and even a wife on ahead to the island he must inhabit after his four year reign!
Precisely what the man did in the parable. He couldn’t take it with him. But he did send it on ahead.
And this is what Jesus meant when He said, “Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations.
Do you remember now? Do you remember who you are?
A few years ago a Negro man who was enjoying a rapid rise in his opera career was invited to sing before the president at Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.. On his way there, he stopped off to visit his widowed mother who still lived in the small home he grew up in in rural Georgia. He told his mom all about his budding career, his enlarged salary, and his concert before the president. And as he was leaving his mother hugged him, looked him in the eyes and said, “You go sing, son! You enjoy your music and you go sing for Mr. President. But don’t you go forgetting who you are!” And that’s one way to understand this imaginative tale Jesus told at dinner one night in a rich man’s house. It’s your heavenly Father saying to us each, “Take the wealth I’ve given you and go serve people with it. It’s only temporary! And you will be held accountable. But take your money and go and remember.”
It’s interesting that in Luke 16:14 we are told of the pharisees response to this parable. “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this and they scoffed at him.”
And what of our response?
Will we remember or shall we forget?
As we prepare now to come before the Lord and eat of His bread and His wine, let us remember that God is our Master who has entrusted His wealth to our care. It is only a temporary arrangement, we are accountable, and money is for ministry not selfish waste. Then, too, how we use our money now determines our wealth later. And God wants us to be as wise and understanding in the use of wealth as this unemployed steward in the text. He wants us to serve Christ with the same energy and creativity with which the world serves money.
Remember this. Eat. Drink. AND remember. Remember who you are!
Lord, I have forgotten. Forgive me. Give me another chance to remember and serve others. For Christ’s sake. Amen.