Introduction: I read today about a 64-year-old man in San Francisco who has just been arrested. He was an ATM repairman. He evidently decided to take off and have a change of scenery, so he took $20 bills and photocopied them and substituted them for the real things in the ATMs he was repairing. He filled ATMs with his homemade counterfeits. The real money went into his duffle bag. Well, he’s going to get a change of scenery all right—in the state pen. It’s amazing how money can make people crazy. In Luke 15, Jesus told three stories about possessions – a poor woman with ten coins, a shepherd with 100 head of sheep, and a wealthy man with two sons, one of which squandered his property in reckless living (v.13) and devoured his property with prostitutes (v. 30). The point of the whole chapter as we saw last time is that we ought to rejoice when people come to Christ. Now in chapter 16, Jesus is going to make a related point. Not only should we rejoice when people come to Christ, but we should manage our money in such a way to promote that result. With the exception of one verse (v. 18, about divorce), every verse in Luke 16 has to do with money, wealth, and materialism. The passage divides into three progressions.
1. Use Money with Eternal Shrewdness: Make sure you support God’s work (v. 1-13). Jesus told of a money-manager who, because of laziness and dishonesty (v. 8), lost his job. Before his final day at work, he made a series of special deals with his boss’ creditors. As a result he was in their good graces and thus better able to draw on favors to find another position. A parable only has one point, and it’s never wise to stretch a parable beyond its primary meaning. Jesus obviously wasn’t telling us to be dishonest or lazy. He Himself gave us the interpretation of this parable—invest your money so that you’ll have friends in heaven. Use your money to populate heaven with souls who will be your friends when you get there (v. 9). Invest in God’s kingdom so there will be a welcoming party waiting for you when you get to heaven. Even if you only have a little bit of money, be faithful with it (v. 10). If you are faithful with your little bit of wealth now, God will entrust you with eternal riches later (v. 12). Don’t let money be your God, but serve God with your money (v. 13).
2. Avoid a Materialistic Mind: Pray about major purchases (v. 14-18). The Pharisees were unhappy with the tone of our Lord’s teaching because they were lovers of money. Jesus warned them that the Gospel reverses our values, that what the world abhors is precious to God and vice versa (v. 15). Though Jesus didn’t say this, I think for me one of the implications is praying about purchases. We should learn to pray about major purchases, and even about smaller ones. Make all your financial (and spending) decisions prayerfully. I rarely do something impulsively; and I hope when I do, it is at the prompting of the Lord. The safest route is to think and pray things through, making sure we are true to the Scriptures. (Jesus also adds in verse 18 that this is true of divorce).
3. Keep Possessions in Perspective: Think about eternal values (v. 19-31). We don’t know if this is a parable or an actual story. The fact that one of the characters is given a name (Lazarus) probably indicates the later. This story gives us our Lord’s most descriptive explanation of hell. His point is that it’s better to be poor on earth and go to heaven than to have great riches on earth and go to hell.
Conclusion: John Wesley, the great 18th-century evangelist, summed up the Christian approach to money by saying: “Make all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.” In the late 1800s there was a popular success and self-help book written a man named William Makepeace Thayer. Here is what Thayer said about Wesley’s advice:
John Wesley put all that can be said truthfully about money into the following maxim: Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can. This rule is so brief, exhaustive, and scriptural, that it would not be out of place in the Bible. Wesley himself never made a happier statement of truth this this. He crowded the whole subject into a nutshell.
Wesley’s three maxims summarize the spirit of Luke 16: Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can. Be a shrewd and a spiritual steward of what God entrusts to you.
PS – Here is Wesley’s fuller quote: “Get all you can, save all you can, give all you can. Permit me to speak of myself as freely as I would of any other man. I gain all I can without hurting my body or soul. I save all I can; not wasting anything, not a sheet of paper, nor a cup of water. I do not lay out anything, not a shilling, unless a sacrifice for God; yet by giving all I can I am effectually secured from laying up treasure upon earth. Yea, and that I do this I call upon both friends and foes to testify.”