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. Luke 16:9
We’re enjoying the Gospel of John. But I’m going to depart from it at points along the way. For example, I want to talk about suffering, human sexuality, and other important things. I’m taking this Sunday to talk about money – what money is really for. Our Immanuel deacons, who handle our church finances, have asked me to preach on money more often, because we here today are the core group of the new Immanuel God wants to grow. He brought us to this place on Charlotte Avenue because he wants more people to experience a gospel culture. A relational environment of gospel + safety + time, where no one is cornered or pressured but given space – that gospel culture makes the gospel doctrine seem real to people and beautiful, and beauty draws more people to Jesus. That’s why God gave us more space – for more people. But a growing ministry grows in costs too. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t. David said, “I will not offer to the Lord what cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24).
This past week I put a post on my blog about tithing. I didn’t think it was a big deal. It was from one verse in Matthew 23 where Jesus says that tithing is a good thing to do, but it’s also a small thing to do compared with the big issues of justice and mercy and faithfulness. Jesus sees tithing as entry-level obedience. And to my surprise, my little post blew up. There were a lot of Facebook likes, but also negative comments. One of our fine young leaders here at Immanuel was tracking with this and sent me a thoughtful email about it:
It is hard for us to part with our money, but that’s the tip of the iceberg. If I’m not willing to give of my money, then I’m surely not willing to give of my life. I will most certainly neglect the weightier aspects of Christian discipleship, if I’m unwilling to give of my money to fund the mission of the church.[My wife] and I read through the book of James last night. There are 108 verses. Half of those verses are commands. In the New Testament! Commands! My generation, me included, is so ready to push back against the commands of Christ in the name of grace. But if we aren’t careful, we are going to find ourselves quickly outside of Christianity and place ourselves into a false gospel that says it doesn’t matter how we live.
We are seeing in these reactions to your post an unwillingness to part with something that they so willingly part with for far less glorious purposes. I wonder if many in my generation realize the spendthrift ways in which we relinquish our money that would shock our grandparents. We spend four dollars a day on coffee without batting an eye. We freely spend our paychecks on the latest technology or at the newest restaurant. We gladly give our money away to Apple, but our church gets a year-end gift perhaps if something is left over after the new Xbox is purchased. We are pursuing a God that doesn’t command anything of us, but we are willing to lock in to a two-year contract for unlimited texting. That may be a bit harsh and too broad, but I know these types of people. They are me, and I am them.
What we find here in Luke 16 is a command of Jesus about our money. Do you see the command? It’s in verse 9: “And I tell you” – so here it comes, this crushing burden of command, throwing us into existential crisis and spiritual anxiety, so let’s brace ourselves, but here’s the command: “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves.” Truly, his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Here is the command our King lays upon us: “Make friends for yourselves.” That’s what money is really for. What Jesus commands is that we be wise enough, shrewd enough, to make more friends. Why wouldn’t we obey that command? Isn’t growing gospel community our desire? It certainly is God’s desire. Where is God taking history? What is he accomplishing in it all? The Bible says, “Behold, a great multitude, that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9). That new and eternal community is appearing in the world today in gospel-centered churches. We here at Immanuel are the model home of the new neighborhood God is building, so that people can come in and check it out and make their commitment before the day of everlasting and final judgment, when the doors will close forever.
How then does Jesus help us realign our lives, including our money, for his community-enlarging, friendship-spreading purpose, while this brief day of grace lasts? He shows us three things here. One, an unfair boss (1-2). Two, a dishonest employee (verses 3-7). Three, some smart disciples (verses 8-9).
An unfair boss
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. 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.’” Luke 16:1-2
Wait a minute. That can’t be right. Everybody knows there’s a difference between an accusation and a fact. Making an accusation is easy. Establishing it as a fact is another matter. That’s why we should be so cautious about accusing anyone of anything. If we make an accusation, but can’t back it up as a fact, our accusation itself is the injustice. But this boss doesn’t bother to get to the bottom of it. Look what he says in verse 2: “What is this that I hear about you?” He doesn’t say, “What is this that I know about you?” He hears something about his employee, and fires him. What if you were treated that way? Would you say, “Oh, I’m so satisfied. I hope this way of doing business takes over the whole world”? No. You’d say, “This is unfair.” And you’d be right.
A dishonest employee
“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. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 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.’ 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.’” Luke 16:3-7
He’s cooking the books. But reducing debts is something everyone appreciates. This crook is smart enough to know that. He’s about to get thrown out on the street, so he makes friends while he can. There isn’t much time left, just one final inventory, and this man wisely takes full advantage of it. What is he hoping for? Verse 4: “… so that… people may receive me into their houses.” That sounds like fun to me. So this man thought about his future, and not in a dreamy or vague way but with utter realism. He knew exactly what to do, and he got busy doing it.
The smart disciples
“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. 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.” Luke 16:8-9
If I were to retell this story my own way, I’d put it in the context of a pirate ship. And the pirate captain hears that a member of the crew has been cheating him. But he also sees the smart way this guy lands on his feet. So he throws his head back and laughs and says to him, “You’re my kind of guy!” He doesn’t care about the money. There’s more where that came from! What he likes to see is cunning. The captain looks at other members of the crew and thinks, “I always have to do all the thinking for them. But this guy gets it. He knows an opportunity when he sees it!”
Jesus is saying to us, “Unbelievers tend to be smarter than believers in one way. They know what money is for. The sons of light love me. But when it comes to money, I wish they would look around and see what actually works. Sneaky business people know. Corrupt politicians know. Pirates know. But my people don’t know. So I’m going to make the point really clear: I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth!” That’s what money is for.
But wait a minute. How does that make sense? The Lord himself calls money “unrighteous wealth” here in verse 9. And he wants us to get involved in that? Here is a twenty-dollar bill. I’m told that paper currency lasts about six months. So this hasn’t been in circulation for long. But I read somewhere that a twenty is the most common paper currency. So this one has probably been busy. It came into my possession yesterday. I wonder how this twenty has been used before yesterday. I wonder where it’s been, what it’s done. Probably legitimate things – buying groceries, gas for the car. Maybe even noble things – generosity, advancing the gospel. But in this world, I can easily see this twenty used for wicked purposes too. There are reasons why Jesus put the adjective “unrighteous” in front of the noun “wealth”! When my imagination runs with what this twenty might have been used form even this past week, it starts feeling dirty in my hand. Maybe we’d all be better off withdrawing into a monastery for the rest of our lives. But then, someone has to finance the monastery. There’s no escaping money in this world. J. Gresham Machen, the Presbyterian leader, said we can either run from our culture, or we can give in to our culture, or we can consecrate our culture, including our unrighteous wealth, bringing it under the redeeming power of Jesus.
What Jesus understands, what nearly everyone understands, but what we Christians tend not to understand, is the shrewd and wise and smart use of money – to win friends, to earn people’s good will, to serve them and help them and gain influence among them. Does that embarrass you? Does it seem like an ulterior motive? It isn’t wrong, as long as there are two other motives that the Bible also alerts us to. Our ultimate motive with money, as with all things, is to honor God – that is, to make his presence wonderfully obvious here in this God-denying and God-insulting world. Our next motive, beneath God, is to love others, to show them that they matter to God, because they don’t believe that, not enough to be set free by it. So we owe them living proof that God is love. But here in Luke 16 the Lord himself calls us to a third motive as well. Smart Christians use their money to increase their circle of friends – for the glory of God, for the benefit of others, but also this: “… make friends for yourselves.”
When we think about it, it does make sense. Don’t you want to live now in such a way that, at your funeral, people will weep? Of course you do. Well, extend your thinking one step further, beyond the grave. When you walk into heaven, fully qualified by the righteousness of Christ alone, wouldn’t it be wonderful to be greeted by friends and rejoiced over and thanked? Here in verse 9, Jesus is talking about heaven in a very concrete way – “… they may receive you into eternal dwellings.” Do not think of heaven in a mystical way. Eternity in heaven is very connected with this life on earth. People you know, people you influence for Jesus in this life, will recognize you. They will welcome you. They will say to you, “Thank you for caring about me, opening your home to me, providing a church for me. You rearranged your life to move over and make room for me. Thank you for sending that missionary to my Godforsaken part of the world. You made the difference for me and my people. What you did was how God got through to me.” So, how can we live right now such that ripples of impact flow out into people’s lives for eternity? Are we thinking about that? Are we budgeting for that? Isn’t this clear biblical reality enough to start a new revolution of gospel generosity sweeping over our wealthy city today, starting with us?
Let me show you how opposite our Lord’s thinking is to our typical thinking. Do you see what he says here? Verse 9: “… so that when it fails.” Not “if it fails,” but “when it fails.” Money will fail us. We know this. Everyone is worried about the economy. Watch the news. Read the internet. Everybody’s wondering, “When is the economy going to fail? When will the stock market go through its next ‘correction’? Is it time to buy gold? Is the national debt going to sink us all?” People are worried. And we look at the delicacy of our economy, and our typical response is to start hoarding and pulling in and getting hyper-conservative. That is what seems shrewd to us. And the Bible does tell us to save. But if fear is what commands us, we will end up non-shrewd. Look how opposite to our thinking is the way the Lord thinks. What is he saying? “This unrighteous wealth is not sustainable. It’s too corrupt. It’s going down. It will fail you whatever you do with it, because God’s judgment is coming upon this whole unrighteous world. Shrewd people see that. And in the collapse of money, smart people see an opportunity! They see the one investment that cannot fail. All this money, however it’s used – all of it is going to fall away from our hands. But people last forever – in heaven or in hell. The implications are obvious,” Jesus is saying.
That’s why Immanuel Church is here. This church is not here just for us. It’s here for others too. This church is where people can see that the gospel is real and beautiful, and they can come to Jesus, and the circle of friendship will grow, for his glory. And if Immanuel isn’t the best platform for you to make more eternal friends for yourself, then you need to find another church you will help you. But either here or in another church, will you obey the Lord’s command while this moment of grace lingers?
Verse 12 calls our money “that which is another’s.” God is putting his money into our hands to build gospel community. That’s what money is for. Looking at the sharply clear categories in verse 13, it appears that when we use money in this wise way, God considers himself loved and served. If we use our money foolishly, then God considers himself hated and despised. Jesus had a strong way of saying things, and he never exaggerated.
It’s amazing how unwise churches can be. Here is one small example: coffee. In our world today, coffee matters. Is it smart for a church to skimp on some wretched coffee like Folgers, which no one likes, when you could pay a little more for Starbucks, the way we do at Immanuel, and people love it? Which approach is more productive in terms of morale and relationships and the vibe of a church? Our goal is not perfect efficiency. Our goal is more and more friends joyfully surrounding Jesus. And that is inevitably inefficient and costly – and glorious.
I am moved every time I read how Francis Schaeffer, at the L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland, dared to believe this. Here’s what he wrote:
It’s a costly business to have a sense of community. L’Abri cannot be explained merely by the clear doctrine that is preached; it cannot be explained by the fact that God has been giving intellectual answers to intellectual questions. I think those two things are important, but L’Abri cannot be explained if you remove the third. And that is, there has been some community here. And it has been costly.
In about the first three years of L’Abri all our wedding presents were wiped out. Our sheets were torn. Holes were burned in our rugs. Indeed once a whole curtain almost burned up from somebody smoking in our living room. All races came to our dinner table. Everybody came to our table. It couldn’t happen any other way. Drugs came to our place. People vomited in our rooms…. If you have been married for years and years and had a home or even a room and none of this has ever occurred, if you have been quiet especially as our culture is crumbling around us, if this is so – do you really believe that people are going to hell? We fight the liberals when they say there is no hell. But do we really believe people are going to hell?
Pastor Chuck Smith was serving a little church in Costa Mesa, California, in the late 1960’s, not far from the beach. God began to stir people’s hearts in that area. Crowds of young people started coming to church. But there was a problem. The oil deposits off the coast of California bubble up little globs of oil that land on the beach, about the size of a quarter. If you step on one, it sticks to the bottom of your foot, and then you mess up the carpet when you walk into your house. So these young people began coming into church right off the beach. They didn’t wear shoes. So the new carpets and the new pews in the church were getting stained. One Sunday morning Chuck arrived at church to find a sign posted out on the sidewalk: “Shirts and shoes please.” He took the sign down. After the service he met with the other leaders. They agreed that they would remove the carpet and the pews before they would hinder one kid from coming to Christ. And that wise decision – verse 4 says, “I have decided what to do” – their wise decision cleared the way for God to visit Calvary Chapel with power, and thousands of people were added to the Lord’s new community. I was there when they were holding services five nights a week, standing room only, because the people couldn’t get enough. The Lord was there. The breakthrough came when they started caring about what God cares about, and nothing else. That was wise. And God did give them what Jesus calls, in verse 11, “the true riches” – spiritual power that compelled the attention of their city, and far beyond.
The last thing I want to say is this. Jesus himself practiced what he preached. He paid a price to win our friendship. The Bible says, “You were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20). The cross shows us how God reassigns value. In this world, we’re looking in a storefront window, where all the price tags have been moved around. The cheap things are valued high, and the precious things are valued low. But at the cross, we see everything with new eyes. Now the Lord’s command makes so much sense: “I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into eternal dwellings.” Now we understand that better. The only question that remains is, What are we going to do about it?