The Gospel or Your Money (On the Way to the Cross - Part 17) Back to all sermons

Date: February 2, 2014

Speaker: Micah Mercer

Series: On the Way to the Cross

Category: Cross

Scripture: Luke 16:1–16:31

Tags: headship, worship, marriage, women, men

Synopsis: Show me your checkbook, and I will show you your priorities. What you spend your money on can reveal a lot about what you love and what matters most to you. Too often as Christians we avoid the topic of how God would have us spend our money because we are afraid we might have to modify our priorities. In Luke 16, Jesus taught that you cannot serve both God and money, but you must serve God with your money.

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Money and wealth can be very good things. In fact, the Bible can give us a lot of good wisdom in terms of gaining and using wealth. But the Bible also teaches that what you do with your money exposes what is important to you, your desires and even what you love the most. Maybe you have heard the phrase, “Show me your checkbook and I’ll show you your priorities.” I think there is a lot of truth in that statement.

So I ask you, what is the purpose of money for you? What do you use it for?

I used to live in a sub-divided villa in Khalifa A mainly because it was far less expensive than an apartment in the city. One thing I found very interesting was that some of my neighbors, living in the same budget range as myself for housing, had very luxurious cars. It reminds me of some ladies I know who also live in very small apartments and buy only the very cheapest food and appliances, and yet carry handbags worth more than the combined value of everything else in their home. I have also known people who actually had a lot of money, and made sure everyone knew it with their large houses, luxury cars, high fashion, etc.  The way they spend their money has exposed that looking wealthy is a high priority for these people.

So think for a moment, what do you use your money for? Do you use it for luxuries and comforts? Do you use it to make yourself look wealthy? Do you save it to accomplish your goals? Do you use it to bless other people? What does the way you spend your money say about what you love?

A lot of people think that the gospel of Luke was written to a wealthy Greek individual because the topic of money comes up again and again throughout the text. This is actually a good thing because most of us do not use our money as God intended us to do. I would go even further and say that a lot of Christians don’t really want to know what God says about your money. We have already decided what we want to do with it and tend to be afraid that God might command us to use it in some other way.

Well guess what? Our text today does just that. Now before you run away with your hands over your ears, let me mention that using your money God’s way is not just another thing that Christians should do but can get away with ignoring. On the contrary, using money God’s way is a direct consequence of the gospel in your life.

Luke 16 was especially difficult for me to transform into a sermon. It is so nuanced that you can read it from at least two different perspectives: Is it about the gospel or about your money? It is structured in a way that was very difficult for me to process, and the moral of Jesus’ first story is “Use unrighteous wealth to make friends.” What do you do with that? Well let’s start with our first point and then see how we get there.

1. You can’t serve both God and money, but you can serve God with your money.

13 No servant can serve two masters, for 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 God and money.”

We have the clear statement: You cannot serve both God and money. If you try, in the end you will either love God and hate money, or you will love money and hate God. There is no middle ground here. The only way to serve God and keep money is for your money to be brought under submission to God. What I mean by that is that getting money and using money must not be your goal. Instead, serving God must be the controlling factor such that we gain and use money God’s way for God’s purposes. Then question then is, how can we use our money to serve God? The first answer is found in a very difficult parable. Serve God with our money by shrewdly using worldly wealth to gain eternal friends.

1 He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions.  2 And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’  3 And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.  4 I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’  5 So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’  6 He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’  7 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.’  8 The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.  9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

What do we do with this parable? The chapter heading calls it the parable of the dishonest manager, but it should be called the dishonest everybody. First we are told that the manager is wasting his master’s property. In other words, he was embezzling. Then we are told that he conspired in secret with his master’s debtors to falsify their ledgers. To top it off, the master commends the manager’s shrewdness, apparently to save face.

The way to understand this parable is to look at the way the dishonest manager used money when he saw the impending end of his employment. He used it to gain friends whom he could stay with and possibly work for. This was a shrewd use of his master’s resources. Notice the fact that Jesus did not commend dishonesty, but shrewdness in getting what you need.

It is also important to bear in mind what shrewdness should yield for ‘sons of light.” Verse 9 says that we should use unrighteous wealth to make friends who will welcome into eternal dwellings. This is not permission to get wealth through immoral means. Notice, Jesus did not say get unrighteous wealth, but use unrighteous wealth. I think this simply means that wealth gained in the world will always be tainted in some way and that the best thing to do with it is to secure eternal dwellings.

The result of serving God with your money is found in verses 10-12.

Be faithful to God with worldly wealth so that He will entrust you with true riches.

10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own? 

In the Army, I served for several years as a satellite communications system crew chief. I was responsible for operation and maintenance of several million dollars worth of technical equipment and dangerous weapons, as well as the training, discipline and well being of the three other soldiers on my team. It was a job that I took very seriously and I carried a lot of responsibility. Did I start my career in the army with all that responsibility? Of course not! I started like everyone else. No rank, little responsibility, making lots of mistakes. Over time, as I learned more and demonstrated trustworthiness and proficiency, I was given more and more responsibility.

This is what Jesus was talking about in these verses. If you are not trustworthy with a little, you will never see more. If you are not faithful to God with unrighteous, worldly wealth, how can you expect Him to bless you with true riches? Note here that the goal is not more worldly wealth. The goal is ‘true riches.’ True riches’ I think can be interchanged with ‘eternal dwellings’ and even’ treasures in heaven.’

We are given no direct description of what rewards in heaven actually are, but they do always seem to be tied up with caring for and discipling other people. What I understand this to mean then is that being faithful to God with your money by serving His Kingdom with it shows that you will also be faithful with more important things. This could mean more finances to care for people in need, but it could also mean being trusted to disciple other believers, or to lead people to the Lord. God will recognize when you are trustworthy with small things and then entrust you with more things that have eternal consequences.

You can’t serve God and money, but you can serve God with your money by using it to care for the needs of others, entrusting it to the expansion of God’s Kingdom, securing eternal dwellings through generosity. Essentially, as Christians we get money to give it away. When you have proved yourself faithful in these small things, God will give you greater responsibilities that lead to true riches in heaven

In v.14-15 enter the Pharisees. They play the role in our text today of those who only look faithful on the outside.

 2. People may not see past your wealth, but God sees to your heart.

14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him.  15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

The first thing we should know about Pharisees is that they really looked good. In the first century Jewish context they were the super spiritual, the ultra holy, and were highly respected. They looked righteous in their strict observance of the most minute laws. They were wealthy and almost everyone saw their wealth as God’s endorsement of their character. They were also well educated after the manner of those times.

If we could take the category of Pharisee and import it to the 21st century, I think we could best compare the category to our evangelical heroes. The guys who pack every venue they speak in and who write all the famous Christian books that we read. I am not saying they carry the negative traits of the Pharisees, but they are often revered by us in the same way Pharisees were in Jesus’ time.

What a shock it was that they are labeled lovers of money in today’s text and Jesus even went so far as to call them abominations before God. He called them this because even though they looked so good on the outside, on the inside they were money loving, self-serving, elitists. They could fool people but they could not fool God.

When we read a passage like this, it is important for us to identify ourselves with the correct group. Either we belong to the group of Jesus’ disciples and the sinners who responded in faith, drawing near to hear him, or we belong to the group of the Pharisees who heard Jesus and ridiculed him. We can answer this question by looking at our own hearts. Is our faithfulness to God just a show? Do we, like the Pharisees, use our worldly wealth, status, education, or strict rule following to cover up hearts that are full of idolatry, love of money, and selfish ambition? You might be able to fool me and everyone else, even I might look righteous to you, but we can’t fool God because He sees our hearts.

On this note of condemning the heroes of Judaism, and by extension anyone who hides a dark heart under a fine exterior, Jesus dropped the gospel right in the middle of everything in v.16:

16 “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. 

What the first part of this essentially means is that John the Baptist was the final prophet before the gospel came. This was not a matter of God scrapping the old plan for the new plan, but something much more profound. The law and the prophets had served their purpose. Romans 3:19-20 says

19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.  20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

The purpose of God’s law in the Old Testament was to teach what sin and righteousness are. The prophets most often proclaimed God’s coming judgment on all who were unfaithful. The inevitable conclusion for anyone who seriously studied the letter and the heart of all this should have been, “I don’t measure up. I need God to have mercy on me.”

Now that these have served their purpose, Jesus said that the good news of the Kingdom is preached. The good news that we can understand so far from the gospel of Luke is that If anyone (even sinners and tax collectors, prostitutes and Romans) respond in faith to Jesus and repent of their sin, Jesus will pronounce them forgiven and they will enter the Kingdom of God.

But look at what Jesus said in verses 17-18.

17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.

18 “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.

The Pharisees interpreted the Law in such a way that of a man was not pleased with his wife, he could issue her a certificate of divorce and remarry. But Jesus said that the certificate of divorce was only a concession to people’s hardness of heart. In fact, Jesus said that in the eyes of God and the law, divorce plus remarriage equals adultery. This verse is here to demonstrate just how unyielding the law of God really is. Everyone is condemned under it.

Not only is the law terribly unyielding, it is more difficult for God to set aside this law that condemns all humanity than it would be to set aside all creation and start again. The Pharisees and disciples must have been puzzled at this. Remember, Jesus was on his way to the cross but he hadn’t gotten there yet. They didn’t have this category yet, so the question in their minds must have been, how can Jesus proclaim forgiveness based on faith in himself if it was that hard for the condemnation of the law to be set aside?

It would take an event unlike any other to undo the universal condemnation of humanity under the law. But this was all part of God’s plan. Jesus was on his way to the cross to do just that. The God of the universe who created the people who turned against Him, gave them a law that would show them the depths of their sin and the heights of His love. This same God became a man who fulfilled all the requirements of the law. Then he went to the cross and died in the place of all who would believe in Him. Jesus received our condemnation so we could receive his perfection and enter in to his kingdom. That is the gospel.

At this point you are probably wondering if we are still talking about money or if we are talking about the gospel. The answer to this question is yes. Most of us are strongly inclined to love and serve money. We don’t measure up to God’s command to love and serve Him exclusively. Even if we look wonderfully successful to the people around us, God knows the depths of our hearts.

The final portion of chapter 16, gives us an example of someone who loved and served money instead of God, who looked wonderfully successful on the outside but had no love or compassion inside. He faced dire consequences.

19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.  20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.  22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried,  23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.  24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’  25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.  26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’  27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house—  28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’  29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’  30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’  31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”

There is so much in this parable that we could discuss, but for our purposes this evening, we will focus on just three questions.

What did the rich man do?

The rich man lived in extreme luxury, feasting sumptuously, while a destitute, sick, starving man lay helplessly outside his gate. The frightening thing about this parable was that the rich man was not condemned for something he did as much as for something he did not do. He did not care for the poor man at his gate even though he had far more than he needed. This is a perfect example of our previous point. He was unfaithful with his wealth and was not entrusted with true riches.

What resulted from the rich man’s inaction?

Essentially, a reversal of fortunes has taken place in this parable.

We see that both men died. Lazarus died first and was carried on angels wings to heaven as if he were the most important person in the world. The rich man, on the other hand died, was buried in a common way, and found himself in hell. Now, instead of Lazarus desiring the scraps of the rich man’s table, the rich man begs for a drop of water to be sent by Lazarus.

We cannot take this to mean that all the poor go to heaven. Jesus meant for his audience to be surprised that the rich, apparently blessed, man ended up in hell, while the poor, apparently cursed, man ended up in heaven. It was an unexpected reversal that taught that wealth is not always an indication of God's favor.

What should the rich man have done?

First, he should have listened. The Law and Prophets reveal God’s heart, human sinfulness, the consequences of disobeying God, and even foreshadow the gospel. The warnings and the way were both clear there, but he ignored it all. Jesus even said 'If they do not believe the law and prophets they also will not believe if someone were to rise from the dead.' Isn’t it striking that Jesus would later do just that and still many people would not believe. He should have listened and sought forgiveness.

Secondly, the rich man should have been shrewd enough to use his wealth to gain true riches by loving and serving God instead of Himself. In this case, his opportunity to serve God with his money came in the form of poor Lazarus whom he should have comforted.

What you spend your money on reveals what you value and what you love.  If the way you use money reveals that God is not at the center of your heart, perhaps this is the warning for you to repent. The good news is, if you respond in faith to Jesus the law that condemns you will pass away and you will be free to love and serve God. You will know that true riches are not from this world, but from God. And you will focus your resources on things that advance God’s kingdom and serve those things God is concerned about.

The most natural application of the final parable is that we must not ignore the needs of people around us. In fact, that is the same application Jesus drew in the parable at the end of this chapter. A rich man ignored the plight of a poor man and so proved that he loved money more than God. I believe this also applies to ensuring that there are none among us in our local body of Christ who are in need.

You can’t serve both God and money, but you have plenty of opportunities all around you to serve God with your money. Don’t let them pass you by. Be faithful in this small thing in order that you might be entrusted with greater responsibilities, eternal dwellings, and true riches in heaven.