8th Sunday after Pentecost July 30, 2017
1 Timothy 2:1-8
447, 425, 442, 430:4,8
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’
“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— 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.’
“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.’
“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
“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. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?
“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 Money.”
How much money do you think it takes to be wealthy? In a survey conducted a few years ago, those who had less than a million dollars said that between one and five million would make a person “wealthy.” What was interesting was that those who had over a million dollars answered that they would not consider five million to be wealthy. The lesson is obvious: For many people, when it comes to money, enough is never enough.
Money has a way of taking over a person’s life and crowding out all other things that are important, all other considerations. How many lives have been lived in search of worldly gain! It has driven people to the farthest and most foreboding places on earth. It has sent men streaming to the harshest corners of Alaska, and to the deepest mines of South America. Money has influenced people to ignore friends and family, even to turn away from Christ and His cross. The Apostle Paul was very serious when he wrote to Timothy saying (1 Tim 6:10): “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
You and I are not immune to the siren song of worldly wealth either. It does not matter if one has a lot or a little. How many times have you worried about money? Wished you had more? Been upset because you could not do what you wanted for lack of it? Or ignored other things you knew were important just to get a few more hours in and make some more?
Money is not sinful in and of itself, but it can easily lead to sin if it is not handled properly. The parable Jesus tells illustrates how to handle our earthly wealth. For the Bible does not teach that we must get rid of it all and live like the monks, but it does teach that wealth is not to rule our lives, nor let it have the upper hand. MONEY IS YOUR SERVANT—GOD IS YOUR MASTER.
“There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions,” so the parable began. You can picture it. It happens all the time today too. An owner realizes that a manager is handling things dishonestly, wasting resources, and draining away legitimate profits. So the owner must confront the manager and put an end to it. In Jesus’ story, that is exactly what happened, and the dishonest manager was fired. “You cannot be manager any longer,” the master said.
But what happens next is really the heart of the story, and is the lesson that Jesus wants to teach. Something very interesting happens: The manager who is about to be fired thinks immediately about his future job prospects. He does not want to dig or do hard manual labor. He does not want to beg either. So very quickly he comes up with a plan, and he sets the wheels in motion right away. He doesn’t have any time to waste, after all, because he is being fired.
So he calls the master’s debtors in one by one. And one by one he has them rewrite their bills. To the one who owed 800 gallons of olive oil, it is rewritten to 400. To the one who owed 1000 bushels of wheat, it is rewritten it to 800.
Can you believe this manager? What’s going on here? Is he trying to stick it to his boss one last time even as he is heading out the door? What is the point of lowering everyone these bills—there is no way he can collect the difference! What does he expect to gain by this?
But the master sees what his ex-manager has planned. The manager was thinking “when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.” He was securing his future! He was winning all those debtors over to his side so that later when he had no job and no money, he could go to them and they would remember how he had written off their bills, and they would gladly welcome him and support him.
Now, you would think the master might be angry at this, but he is filled instead with admiration. “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.” It really was a very clever plan, wasn’t it?
Did the manager have a right to lower those bills? Some of those who study the customs and culture of Bible times suggest that this act of rewriting the bills was not necessarily dishonest because often owners would try to charge far more for their goods than what they were actually worth. The manager was likely just returning the goods to their fair price.
So without spending a penny of his own, he made the financial system of his day serve his own purposes. He used it to secure his unemployment benefits! In doing so, even the master himself could not accuse him of wrongdoing in the matter! The manager forced worldly wealth to be his servant rather then letting it rule over him. He made it serve his purpose.
Jesus said, “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 money.” No, we are not to allow money to rule over us or to care about it more than we care about God—but we can instead use it cleverly to serve godly purposes. We learn from this parable that money can become our servant for good. If the unbelievers can use worldly wealth in clever ways to serve their purposes, can’t we Christians also make clever use of it to accomplish God’s goal?
What is God’s goal? It is what it has always been: God saw you and me for what we were, born in sin, trapped in disobedience, unable to do His will to the level of perfection required to gain eternal life. Yes, even in the matter of managing worldly wealth we have failed. We have too often allowed money to rule our thinking and actions.
But though we were dead in trespasses and sins, the Father sent Jesus Christ into the world. Not just as an ordinary man, but a man who was at the same time a person of the Godhead so that He was also able to do things that an ordinary man could not do—namely, offer Himself as a sacrifice for sin, to make up for and to be punished for the sins of the world.
This is what God saw: A dying world, trapped by greed and chained by a love of money, and He saw His Son Jesus Christ suffering, dying, enduring hell itself and then rising from the dead so that we could be called “forgiven.” Our sins were upon Him. That is what God saw.
God’s goal is that all would believe in Jesus and rejoice that He has forgiven sin, and trust that He will come again to take them to heaven. “He wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). “And that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).
Can worldly wealth, money, actually play a part in this? Can it actually be made to serve God’s goal? Interestingly enough, Jesus says that it can. After telling His disciples the parable of the clever manager He urged them to be just as clever in using their resources to advance God’s goal. “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” That is, use the money at your disposal—not dishonestly—but cleverly, skillfully, shrewdly, to serve God’s goal of leading souls (yours and others) to faith in Christ, so that others might believe and be saved to join you and to welcome you in the eternal dwellings. A Christian who has been given the true riches such as the forgiveness of sins, peace with God, and life after death—won’t such a person want to handle carefully his earthly riches in a way that will glorify and serve God?
Skillful and clever handling of wealth can indeed serve God and the Gospel of Christ. Think, for example, of the wealthy Joseph of Arimathea. Do you remember how he went and asked Pilate for the body of Jesus after the Lord had died. And Pilate gave it to him! Now Pilate was a political man and political people are usually impressed by money and position. Joseph had both. Would Pilate have even bothered to listen to Joseph’s request if he had been an ordinary citizen with ordinary wealth? It is unlikely that just anyone could have gotten the body from Pilate.
In the present day we might think of wealthy athletes or other well-known wealthy people who are Christians—and how they are sometimes able to speak up about the good news of Jesus to people and audiences that others could not so easily reach. Their wealth can get the world listening, and then they speak.
In our own everyday lives, even if we do not have millions of dollars, we can be careful, clever, and thoughtful in using our own money to serve the Lord. For instance, by handling our money with the same skill the world does: Carefully taking advantage of banks, interest rates, tax advantages, and so on, so that we can use more of our money in the service of bringing others to faith in Jesus. It can cost a lot to run churches, send missionaries, and do the work of the kingdom. Clever managers can put that skill to use for Christ.
The riches we have in Jesus are beyond price. When Christ turns to us and says, “I have died so that you can live,” or when He says, “I will come again and take you to myself,” these are priceless treasures that we gladly receive.
Now, let us not allow the wealth of the world to rule over us so that we lose the true riches, but let us instead cleverly manage the wealth of the world. Make it serve God and His goals, so that more people everywhere learn of the true riches. MONEY IS YOUR SERVANT—GOD IS THE MASTER. Serve your true Master with all your heart who served you by sending His Son. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.