“YOU’RE RICHER THAN YOU THINK”
“You’re richer thank you think.” Or that’s what Scotia Bank would like you to think. This is a bit of a deceiving commercial, but duh, that’s advertising for you. If you come to Scotia Bank they will look at your investments and show you what the other institution is not doing for you and how you can make more money with them. Perhaps you need a loan – this is where the deception really kicks in – a loan from Scotia will get you what you really want.
It’s not altogether false what Scotia is telling us. I was watching with interest the rise and fall of the Canadian dollar this week. I’m no financial wizard but I understood the principle behind the rise of the dollar: our dollar gains on the Yankee greenback when we as Canadian consumers spend our money. If we fear a weak economy and high interest rates on loans we tend to save our money and further weaken our economy. If we feel secure in our national economy we freely spend and secure loans, buy cars, cottages, boats and what have you thereby driving up the value of our dollar. It really is quite fascinating.
How we spend our money is of great interest to our national health. How we Christians spend our money is of great interest to Jesus too.
In a bizarre parable where a crook is the character commended for his wisdom, Jesus tells us how he thinks money should be used. The story is told that a manager, a steward of another man’s money and property, is somehow cheating his employer. He is about to be fired so he decides to make some friends among his employer’s clients. With some curious authority, the crook cuts huge chunks out of the bills that these clients owe to his master. And he is commended for it…a very difficult thing to understand.
It is the example of this crook that Jesus holds up to teach us in verses 9-13 what he expects of us and our money. He makes four comments that I will introduce with questions.
1. How wisely do you spend money?
Jesus’ first comment on this parable answers the question “How wisely do you spend your money?” Reflecting upon the shrewd manager who made friends with his master’s money, Jesus said, “…use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (v. 9).
Gary told us last Sunday that it was good to save a little money and then added that we could help others with that stash. This leads nicely into what Jesus is commanding here.
Money is not moral or immoral, it is amoral. That means that it is not inherently evil. Money is a tool that can be used for good or evil. Just like guns don’t kill people, people kill people, money is only as useful or dangerous as the person spending it.
What Jesus says is ominously and prophetically true, someday your money will be gone. I have been to three countries now, Paraguay, Brazil and Turkey, where governments had to chop several zeroes off of their currency to make it useable. A million Brazilian Cruzados sounds impressive but was worthless. Imagine having a fat bank account that in a short period was suddenly worthless. It can happen because it happens all over the world. And only 80 years ago it happened here. Money does not retain its value forever.
So the question is: What are you doing with it now that will reap an eternal dividend? Jesus’ command is to spend it in such a way that it helps other people.
The Shrewd manager may have made Enron execs proud but Jesus highlights this: he thought of the future and prepared for it. He anticipated what was coming and got ready. That’s why Jesus commends him. What Jesus wants us to learn is that we Christians need to take seriously that this life is a preparation for a far greater life to come, and what we learn here is what prepares us for living there. If we took that seriously it would make a huge difference in how we spend our money here and now. If money is a tool then it is a tool we can use to bless others and make friends. This has eternal benefits.
2. What does your spending say about you?
Use money while it still has value. Don’t avoid it. Don’t pretend you don’t need it or want it. But do not save it up as though it were an end in itself. Use this temporary vehicle to accomplish a permanent good.
Jesus implies that this will make a great statement about your character. What does your spending say about you? Jesus said, “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” (v. 10).
I read a frightening little statement some time ago. It said that one can learn a lot about another’s theology by the way the person prays. Here’s another frightening thought: One can learn a lot about our characters by reading our cheque books. Look down the list of your friend’s cheques if she or he lets you, or look at our Visa or Master Card statements. There you will see what our priorities are. It is a look into our souls. Does that make you uncomfortable? It ought to.
Would it be true that if a person is faithless in little things that person will also be faithless in important things? In spiritual matters? If a person is slow in paying debts, will that person also be slow in obeying spiritual principles? If a person is careless about money, will that person be careless about truth, love or other great things in life?
When the Apostle Paul instructs Timothy on the choosing of elders and deacons in the church he points out that these people need to have a good financial reputation in the community. Not lovers of money and not pursuing dishonest gain. Our financial affairs must match our spiritual persona. Ultimately it is God who sees our hearts and decides whether we can be trusted with spiritual responsibilities. How we handle our money is no exception to this principle. It truly indicates our real character.
3. Are you a Steward or an Owner?
This leads into our next question: Are you a steward or an owner? What is indicated by your answer determines your attitude towards money overall. How we handle our money can explain the lack of spiritual power in our lives.
“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?” (vv. 11-12).
Are you a steward or an owner of worldly wealth? Look at the crook in our story, the shrewd manager, and you will see that he was a manager of someone else’s money. He cooked the books for his own gain but he was playing with another man’s money.
If we consider money as our own possession, and other property as belonging to us, then we have a worldly attitude and we will lack spiritual power and blessing. For the fact of the matter is that we own nothing. God is the owner and we are the stewards, the managers of his property.
Moses taught the children of Israel to tithe. He said, “Bring this tithe to the designated place of worship…” and then added some specifics. He concluded with this awesome statement: “Doing this will teach you always to fear the LORD your God” (Deut. 14:23).
Some say that tithing is an OT practice and that the NT never teaches us to tithe as Christians. Yet I think we can see clearly in this verse a principle that transcends into the NT. If we understand that God is the giver of all we have then tithing is a symbol of that understanding and a show of respect to the true owner of our possessions. It’s a constant reminder that God is number one in our lives. I wouldn’t have any of this if it weren’t for God. I wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for God.
Richard Foster made a very poignant comment on this truth, he said: “When we let go of money, we are letting go of part of ourselves and part of our security. But this is precisely why it is important to do it. It is one way to obey Jesus’ command to deny ourselves.… When we give money, we are releasing a little more of our egocentric selves and a little more of our false security.… Giving frees us to care. It produces an air of expectancy as we anticipate what God will lead us to give. It makes life with God an adventure in the world, and that is worth living for and giving for.”
(Richard J. Foster, quoted in "Reflections," Christianity Today (6-12-00))
And the LORD himself said through the prophet Malachi: “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse…(and) I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!” (Malachi 3:10). What a challenge. But God is the owner and if we, his stewards act faithfully he will give us even more. Which would you rather be then, a steward or an owner? Being an owner…you lose.
4. Does your stuff own you?
It is okay to use money. It is okay to have money. Use it, yes, but do not love it, and do not serve it. This is why Jesus said, “No one 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” (v. 13). You cannot live to make money and live to serve God at the same time. It just doesn’t work.
A tell-tale sign of being owned by our stuff and thus living as a servant to Money is when we are caught in the commercial craze of our culture. We buy something and get a high out of it followed by a downer of feelings. A person can get addicted to having and attaining more stuff. If you feel this way, like you need to buy something to feel better, it’s possible you have this malady. Does your stuff own you? Or do you have a proper attitude for God’s stuff?
I read Kent Dueck’s editorial in the Inner City Youth Alive newsletter this week. It was not just a good read, it was challenging. This is some of what he wrote:
“In God’s economy, ownership is very different. The Bible tells us that we are here for but a moment, that our lives are a puff of smoke. I have never seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul. Mother Theresa is merciless on this theme. She said that “if you have two jackets, one belongs to the poor.” This idea is radically different from what we are told today: What’s mine is mine, what is yours, I wish was mine.
I believe there is a happy little dance we can do to exercise authority over stuff and in the process, reclaim our souls. I learned that little dance from Randy. Randy, a good friend of mine who was surviving by collecting recycled cans in the community, told me he was living miracle to miracle. He could make about $ 25 a day collecting pop cans. One time when he really needed a miracle, he found someone’s cell phone in the back lane. When he returned it to the owner, they gave him twenty dollars. He was happy. He helps me redefine the term ‘enough’.
With barely enough to survive on and having lost a lot of weight in 2 months, he told me about another find. He found a diamond ring set in white gold on one of his dumpster diving ventures. He said, “It had five diamonds on it – worth about $ 500 bucks minimum.”
I knew where this story was going – obviously he pawned it and was now eating like a king. He corrected me on my assumption. He said, “No Kent, I gave it to my niece (who is more like a daughter to him), it looks beautiful on her.” I was surprised how little power that ring held. You see, Randy hadn’t let stuff take control of his life. He has learned to laugh at the stuff we take so seriously – a gut laugh, deep from his empty stomach.” (News Flash – Inner City Youth Alive – summer 2007)
Our Lord’s command about money is obviously disturbing. It is a wake up call. And he continues to wake us up with other stories as well. The key is to understand that it is not wrong to have money but that it is wrong to worship it and to hoard it when there are needy people in our world.
I would like us to consider Jesus’ challenge this morning, to personalize it if we could. Paul wrote to Timothy about wealth in one of his letters. I have taken this passage and personalized it for us. I will read it once and then I want you to consider seriously whether you can make this pledge. Then we will say it together.
I choose not to be arrogant nor to put my hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put my hope in God, who richly provides me with everything for my enjoyment. I choose to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. I choose to lay up treasures in heaven that are a firm foundation for the coming age, so that I may take hold of life that is truly life.
(taken from 1 Timothy 6:17-19)