In this episode, we explore two more New Testament parables about money: the unjust steward and the rich man and lazarus. Much of these parables deal with the issue of time, immediate gratification versus delayed gratification. Giving without expectation does not pay now, but it will pay later. There are four ways to bless others using money: creating jobs, experiences, partnerships, and hospitality. The Bible implores us to serve God, not money. When we serve God, money is downgraded to a resource that can be used toward greater ends.
Parable four: The unjust steward
He turns to the disciples who’ve been listening to all this, to make a point to them. He does the parable of the unrighteous steward, which I’ve gone on here numerous times; but it’s so out of our paradigm, it’s always worth going over again.
16:1. He also said to His disciples: “There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods.
So he called him and said to him, “Your stewardship is over if I find out this is true.” The steward knows it’s true. “Then the steward said within himself, ‘What shall I do? For my master is taking the stewardship away from me. I know I’m going to get caught in this audit. I cannot dig; too weak. I am ashamed to beg.
I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.’ This is the key phrase in the parable. They will receive me into their houses.
He’s concerned about having a livelihood because he’s going to get fired from his job. Once he’s been fired from the job for being a thief, he’s not going to get another steward job, at least in that culture. In our culture it seems to be not that unusual.
He says I’m going to do something that is going to make people invite me into their houses.
Here’s what he does. “So he called every one of his master’s debtors to him, and said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’
And he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ So 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?’ So he said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’
So the master found out about this and he commended the unjust steward, who he’s going to fire, because of his shrewdness because that was really shrewd. It was a shrewd thing to take my money and ingratiate yourself so that the people who you’ve benefited are going to invite you into their homes.
Middle Eastern culture, if you do something for someone, they’re indebted to pay you back. And he has done something amazing for people, and he’s fully expecting he’s going to be cared for the rest of his life as a result.
The master says, “Well that scoundrel! That was pretty sharp. He is a shrewd cat.” That’s the end of the parable.
Jesus turns to these disciples who just heard the Pharisees complain about the sinners, and he heard, well, one percent of your assets you lose, you’re going to care about them; but I care about the people more. Ten percent of your assets you lose them, you’re going to care about; but I care about the people more. Your enterprise, you have it divided and threatened, you’re going to care about that; I care about the people more.
He turns to the disciples and he says I’m going to teach you something about how to be shrewd because this guy was commended for being shrewd. He’s a crook; but he’s a shrewd one.
How do you be shrewd?
Verse 8. So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. Then Jesus has a comment: For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.
You can take a lesson from the world, these sordid, worldly people about shrewdness. Let’s learn something from them.
“And I say to you,” Jesus says to the disciples, make friends for yourselves with money that when you fail in your stewardship, they may receive you into an everlasting home.
He just got through making the point that I care for these sinners more than you care for you one percent of your assets; I care for these sinners more than you care for ten percent of your assets. I care for these sinners more and the relationship with the people more than losing a big percent of your enterprise.
He tells the disciples I want you to pilfer my money because, who owns all the money in the world? God. God’s clearly the master in this parable. Who are the stewards? Anyone he’s given it to.
He says the sons of this generation understand reciprocity. They understand you grease my palm, I’ll grease yours. They understand you give me a campaign donation, you get the bill that gives you a monopoly. They understand you give me a campaign donation, I’ll give you a casino license. They understand, you take me out to an expensive hunting trip, and I’ll give you the ticket for the job. They understand that if you give, you expect to receive. They understand that. They understand reciprocity. They understand if I give you a little piece of cheese at Sam’s, you may buy the cheese. Right? Everybody understands this in this generation. But you guys don’t. You don’t get it. If you’ll use my money to pilfer it to benefit other people, it’ll actually pay big, but not now.
Christ heals ten lepers
Why doesn’t it pay big now? Let’s just skip ahead a little. After we get through the money passages, the very next parable that Jesus tells in Chapter 17 is about ten lepers. Ten lepers. He cleanses the lepers.
In verse 14, So when He saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed. They went and verified that they had been healed.
And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God,
and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.
So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine?
Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?”
And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.”
I have a good friend who does an immense amount of ministry stuff, and he told me one time I found this is about right. About one in ten people that you do something for is grateful. The other nine are entitled. The only thing they have to say to you is, why didn’t I get more? What are you going to do for me now?
If you do something for somebody, it’s unlikely that they’ll invite you into their home now. If they’re in the world they might because this cycle of give/get, give/get, give/get goes until somebody kills the other one, or somebody goes to jail, or you lose your ability to do something for somebody, in which case you’re out of the cycle now.
When you give without requiring anything in return, most of the time, you just get dumped on.
What Jesus is telling us here is we need to see beyond just this generation because we want to be shrewd. When our stewardship is over, we want to see benefit from the stewardship. Because money is a means to an end, and people matter more than money.
Jesus says at the end of the unrighteous steward parable in 16:9, then he says “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home.
If you’re faithful to me, the master, in what is least, which is all money. All money’s not much to God. If our government prints money, it dilutes the value of it. God can make money all he wants to. It doesn’t mean anything to him. It’s just a means of teaching. It’s a means to an end, teaching.
If you’re faithful in a little, you’re going to be faithful in a lot.
We know in the parable of the talents that the guys who were faithful in a little got cities to rule over. What Jesus is looking for is people that can understand how to manage his stuff.
I was talking to a business professor at a Christian college recently in an email exchange, and she said something really cool. She said I tell my students we will not need preachers or missionaries in heaven; but we’ll need lots of business people. I like that a lot. I just said it’s the new earth, though. It’s the new earth.
There’s going to be a lot of enterprise in the new earth, and a lot of stewardship that needs to happen. God is looking for, who are my stewards going to be? He’s going to find out who’s faithful with a little.
Verse 11. Therefore if you have not been faithful in just plain, old unrighteous money—money’s money. If you can’t be faithful with just stinky little money, who’s going to commit you true riches?
He doesn’t say directly what the true riches are, but the inference to me seems to be to care for his people. To care for people. And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own?
“No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, these four parables, and they derided Him. Because they’re lovers of money! They understand what he’s saying. He’s saying I care about people more than money. I care about people more than money. I care about people more than money. Use money to serve people who can’t pay you back now because they’ll pay you back later. They said, “You’re nuts. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Why do most people want money?
He turns to the Pharisees now, And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men—Why is it most people want a lot of money? What is it most people want to do with the money? Show off, mainly, isn’t it? To show off. You want to build a hundred-thousand-square-foot house.
Have you been to giant houses? I’ve known a few people that have giant houses. Compared to people in the rest of the world, all of us have giant houses, right? All of us do. But I’ve been to houses I consider—you know, a giant house is one that’s twice as big as mine, right? Isn’t that the way that works?
I’ve been to people that have giant houses, and usually they spend most of their time in some little corner room someplace where they can all cozy up, right? Because most of it’s just empty space, and you don’t even like to be there. But it shows well. You know, you can show it off great.
Or the car. You can only drive one car at a time, so why do you need 50? The car is going to get you from point A to point B. Why do you have to have a car that you need three parking spaces for so you won’t get scratched? What is it that we really do? We want to show off. We want to justify ourselves. Look at me! I have made it! I’ve arrived. That’s what most of us want to do.
They justify themselves before men but God knows your hearts, Jesus says. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God. Whoops!
He wants us to use money wisely. God’s not saying here get rid of money. He’s saying here money’s a means to an end. It’s a means for me to find out if you’re willing to be faithful in a little thing.
If you use or if I use money to justify myself before men, that is an abomination to God.
What’s it doing when I justify myself before men with money? What am I doing? I’m substituting approval from God with approval from men that I control; and I’m actually putting myself in God’s place. It’s idolatry; that’s what it is.
The law doesn’t change
Then he goes on. When he starts beating on the Pharisees, he usually just keeps pounding. Remember the Pharisees are the religious people. He doesn’t talk to sinners like this.
“The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached—You have heard the kingdom of God preached since John the Baptist showed on the scenes here, Pharisees—and everyone is pressing into it.
This term pressingintoit is imposing upon it, even doing violence to it.
And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail.
This is kind of a difficult passage, but here’s what I think it’s saying. The kingdom has been preached, but you’re taking your own thoughts and views and cramming it into the kingdom and perverting it.
Then he gives them an example of how they did it.
“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery.
Why does he say that? I think it’s because the Pharisees had invented this rule that if your wife displeased you in any way, like burned your meal or something, you could just say, “You’re divorced, you’re divorced, you’re divorced,” and she’s gone, and now you’re free to marry again.
What they had done is taken this principle from the scripture of oneness and just done violence to it. Busted it up. Why would they do that? So they could get a prettier wife, a wife that makes them better in the world, a wife that suits their pleasure better. Because they are slaves of money and pleasure.
They’ve done violence to the kingdom of God. They’re not listening to what it’s really saying.
Jesus is saying you’re not going to be able to change even one little crossed T or dotted I of the law. It’s going to stand.
Rich man and Lazarus
Then, he tells the fifth sermon. I think he particularly has the Pharisees in mind. This is a tough one because this is about a rich man who dies.
“There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.
But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate,
How would you like to be the Pharisees hearing this for the first time? He’s talking directly to you. Can you see why it ticked them off?
desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.
Abraham’s bosom was a common term of understanding for where you would go when you died; and the Pharisees believe in a resurrection.
The rich man also died and was buried.
And being in torments in Hades—
Now Hades is a well understood concept from the Greeks, and apparently is close enough to Sheol that the Jews just took it in and used it. It has two compartments, a compartment for the evil and a compartment for the good, divided between. Here you’ve got the compartment, and he’s in Hades in torment; he lifted up his eyes and looks across the divide and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
Here’s the picture of the evil and the good.
“Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’
But Abraham said, ‘Son—
This son here is a very interesting word. It’s the word teknon. Teknon is the word for a child. When the innocents were slaughtered in Bethlehem, it quotes a verse and says “Rachel was mourning for her children.” It’s teknon. It’s a term of endearment here, child. So Abraham is acknowledging, you’re my child.
—remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.
And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’
“Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him, Lazarus, to my father’s house,
for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’
Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’
And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’
But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’”
Of course, the one who’s rising from the dead is the one telling the story to the people here who are the rich man that are treating the poor, who they complained about, remember the sinners? Why are you complaining? He’s saying your disinterest in these poor people who are spiritually impoverished, and you’re not giving them even the crumbs from your table, you’re this rich man. You’re doing violence to the kingdom, and you’re not even listening to Moses yourself.
The disciples hear all this, and in 17,
Then He said to the disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come,”
I read this same verse last week in Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address.
but woe to him through whom they come!
It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.
See again, it’s the people that matter, how you treat people. That’s what really matters.
Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.
Now they just heard all this whole thing about the steward and shrewdness and how they should treat others, and now they’ve heard about the rich man and Lazarus, and now they’re being told directly that they could have a millstone tied around their neck, and do you think they understood the point? Because the apostles say to the Lord in verse 5, Lord, “Increase our faith.”
I imagine it was like “Lord, increase our faith!” because the way the Jews are hearing this story, this is all available to them. Now, we can reinterpret this in light of what we know today if we care to. I’m just telling you, historically, this is a purgatory-type of picture here.
Purgatory was the accepted way that afterlife happened, until the 1500s. You have 1500 years—and the Jews today still think of it this way, that there’s this time when evil on earth is purged.
It’s interesting that the 99 Theses was mainly about the sale of indulgences, which was a way to get out of purgatory. They developed this whole elaborate, kooky system where you could avoid being the rich man in this picture by your relatives paying money to the priests, to the church. A lot of big cathedrals got built off of that scheme, which was a scam.
The Reformers appropriately said this is corrupt. It has to stop.
It was so corrupt that one of the 99 Theses points is you should not teach people to give their money to free their relatives from purgatory if it causes you to not have enough money to feed your children. There were actually people impoverishing themselves in order to do this. That’s how strongly people believed this.
It’s interesting in modern evangelical Christianity, we still have a version of this, the Judgment Seat of Christ. We have all these same words: Fire and burning and wood, hay, and stubble and gold, silver, precious stones; but somehow we make it where, oh, but it doesn’t hurt, and there’s no pain, and it just lasts for a second.
I’m just telling you, work through it yourself, but there’s no guarantee of that. What he’s talking about in this passage is repentance.
Now, what the apostles come up and say, “Increase our faith!” The Lord says you don’t need your faith increased. You only need enough faith as big as a mustard seed, which is a tiny little thing. What you need to do is exercise the faith you have.
Then he tells one more parable to drive the point home. He says the servants who do what they’re told to do, at the end of the day should say, verse 10, So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, you don’t need more faith. You need more obedience. When you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. Unprofitable. So We can’t get away from money, here, can we?
We’re unprofitable servants because we’ve only done our duty. We’ve only done our duty.
The picture that emerges from all this is true happiness comes from obedience, and obedience goes beyond just what we’re told. It goes to a complete and total commitment to do what God’s asked us to do, that goes beyond just mere adherence.
That’s where true happiness and true riches come. The means to true riches is learning how to use whatever we have to bless others.
It is a hard thing to do to bless people with money. Why? Most people are not grateful, and if you give them money, it makes their life worse, not better.
There’s a requirement of shrewdness here, to know how to use money in a way that blesses others.
How to use money to bless others
I’ll tell you some ways that I have tried to use money to bless others.
Number one, create jobs. There’s nothing that teaches people about money better than a really good job where there’s cause and effect and consequences. When people just get given money, it usually hurts them.
Number two, experiences. Experiences can be small or big. Trips. It can be a trip. It can be a meal. It can be an excursion.
Partnerships. There’s all kinds of ways to associate with people. Sports leagues, schools, classes, church activities, charitable activities, enterprises, mission trips, specific enterprises that address some kind of evil and try to make something that’s bad good. This can be government. It could include that.
Hospitality. Hospitality is a great way to share your stuff. If you open up your premises to other people, they’ll take advantage of it. Some are grateful; some are not. Some are careful with your stuff; some are not.
All of it is a way to train our hearts to care about other people.
Materialism is that which defines happiness on acquiring something you don’t already have. If we allow that to be our definition of happiness, we will never be happy because happiness then, by definition, is based on what I don’t have. It means I can’t enjoy what I do have.
If we understand true riches and use our money to do things that bless other people, whether they look at it that way or not, and we’re looking at how can I navigate myself where I’m actually helping and blessing other people, then what we’re actually doing is embracing Jesus’s point here, that true riches comes from being faithful from the little thing that God has given us to bless other people. When we bless other people, they may not view it that way. But it doesn’t matter.
What matters is what they’re going to see in the eternal home. What matters is, are we being faithful to the commands that God has given us? What matters is, who are we serving, God or money? Because that’s our two choices.