Serve your real master
Luke 16:1 Jesus told his disciples: "There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 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.' 3 "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-- 4 I know what I'll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.' 5 "So he called in each one of his master's debtors. He asked the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' 6 "'Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,' he replied. "The manager told him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.' 7 "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.' 8 "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. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. 10 "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. 11 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? 13 "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."
In Texas, June 19th is a holiday called Juneteenth. In many places the date is also referred to as Emancipation Day or Freedom Day. The day is a reminder that on June 19, 1865, the slaves in Texas learned of their emancipation. Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas, with news the war had ended and that the slaves were now free.
Understand, the war was already over and it had been three years since the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed by President Lincoln. Unbelievably, these people had remained in the bondage of slavery until they heard the major general’s message. Understandably, with the hearing of the good news, a great many of them believed, rejoiced, and began to live in their newly given freedom.
Sadly, there were those who refused the news and chose to remain with their old masters. How sad it must be for someone to be free and still live in slavery.
Jesus summarizes his parable by talking about slavery and masters: “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.”
As Christians, we have been set free from the master of money. Our new master is God. He is a good, kind, and loving master that takes care of every one of our needs. We gladly serve Him in His Kingdom. The only problem is, that we keep yearning to go back to our old master of Money.
Jesus explains the way Christians are to view their money with a parable about a shrewd business manager: Mr. Richards was a rich man and Jasper was his chief financial officer. But Jasper wasn’t doing a good job so his boss gave him his two-week notice. Jasper then calls in all the people who owe Mr. Richard’s company money. He cuts the Italian restaurant’s olive oil bill in half. He cuts the bakery’s wheat receipt by a quarter. Maybe Jasper will get hired on in the restaurant or bakery after he’s fired by Mr. Richard’s. Or maybe he’ll at least get some free meals out of the deal. Very smart. Not honest, but shrewd.
What’s the lesson here? Jesus wants to show His hearers how shrewd the man was. The master commends his manager – not for his dishonesty, but for his intelligence. Jesus explains: “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”
A time is coming when God will take all your possessions away, every last nickel and knick-knack. That’s when you die. As that day approaches, be like Jasper, the shrewd financial officer. Jesus is certainly not telling you to be dishonest, but to use your money wisely. He’s teaching you to use worldly wealth to gain eternal friends, people who will welcome you into eternal dwellings.
All of us know people who are good with their money. Often times, they are unbelievers – people who are concerned about their earthly future, who take advantage of a situation, and know how to work everything out for their benefit. They are often more shrewd than the “people of the light” (i.e. Christians). That’s because they only have this world and life to look forward to.
Jesus is teaching us that we can learn from these people. As they plan for this life, so we plan for the life to come. As they are wise in saving up for this world, so we are wise in saving up for the world to come. As they use their money to support themselves and their lifestyles, because they are gods unto themselves, so we use our money to support the missions and kingdom work of the one true God.
But the unbeliever in all of us balks at this idea. We don’t want to save for the future. We don’t want to give to God. We don’t want to support His ministries. We work. We earn. We buy. We collect. We hoard. And we want to spend – on ourselves. Like the seagulls in Finding Nemo, we cry “Mine! Mine!” Our selfish flesh wants everything all to ourselves. We are like little children. We don’t want to share. Or even worse – give up. Whatever we have is not enough. We always crave more. More work; more money, more possessions. We worship wealth.
That’s why Jesus warns, “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.” But that’s exactly what we try to do, isn’t it? Love God. And love Money. We run between two masters. They both demand our time. They both lay a claim to our energy. They both expect our service.
But Jesus says that serving two masters doesn’t work. It’s either or. Not both and. You cannot serve both. If serving two masters is in itself impossible, how much more so will this be true of two masters as opposite as God and money? The One has true power. The other has deceptive power. Service to God is a blessed privilege. Service to money is a hopeless slavery. Still, our sinful nature will set up an altar in our heart to the god of Mammon (money) and crowd God and His Word into the background.
Martin Luther wrote in his Large Catechism on the First Commandment some very powerful, soul-piercing words: “Many a person thinks that he has money and possessions. He trusts in them and boasts about them with such firmness and assurance as to care for no one. Such a person has a god by the name of “Mammon” (i.e., money and possessions); (Matthew ), on which he sets all his heart. This is the most common idol on earth. He who has money and possessions feels secure (Luke -21) and is joyful and undismayed as though he were sitting in the midst of Paradise. On the other hand, he who has no money doubts and is despondent, as though he knew of no God. For very few people can be found who are of good cheer and who neither mourn nor complain if they lack Mammon. This care and desire for money sticks and clings to our nature, right up to the grave.” (Luther’s Large Catechism, The First Commandment, Paragraphs 5-9).
How can you tell whom you are serving? If you serve Money, you will find justification for honoring it, hoarding it, and flaunting it. If you serve God, you will acknowledge that it all belongs to God. You will see yourself only as a temporary manager who is accountable to the great King. You will find greater joy in using money to accomplish God’s agenda than in acquiring possessions or experiences for yourself.
God speaks time and time again in His Scriptures about the danger of money to ourselves. But He also speaks time and time again about the benefit of money in the care for others. We are to use our money wisely – to gain friends for the Kingdom. We use our money to care for them, provide for them, love and minister to them.
We know there are many who still are enslaved by sin and Satan. They cling to their Master of Money. There are those who have not heard the Good News; others who have refused to believe, and there are some who prefer to remain with their old masters. It is these people to whom we must use our money to reach. That means giving your money to the Lord’s Kingdom work in offerings, special gifts, or new outreach projects in the church and synod. But it also means using your money to reach people on a personal level. Purchase extra groceries or give away some gently used clothing for friends who are going through a rough time.
We do not give to God because He is broke and in need of our contributions. He says through the Psalmist: “I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. … The world is mine, and all that is in it” (Psalm 50:9,10,12).
Rather, we give our money back to God in our offerings and elsewhere, so that we may attest to the world, to God – and even to ourselves – that we are thrilled to be allowed to be managers of money that actually doesn’t belong to us. We love to give gifts back to God because He first loved us so much.
The Bible tells us the marvelous story of how God’s Son, the Lord of the Universe is the perfect Steward – always giving, always investing in what’s important to Him – you. He is a God of gifts, not wages; of grace, not works; of promises, not demands; of empty crosses and open graves, not closets of clothes and pantries of groceries. He gives and we receive. That is the only way with our God.
Jesus is teaching us to give a little of ourselves back to Him, only because He became the ultimate Gift for you. While He was about to be arrested in Gethsemane, He prayed to His heavenly Father to give protection for all His believers. While He was being murdered, He gave forgiveness to those who cursed Him and to those who pounded the nails into His flesh. While He was being mocked, He gave eternal salvation to the thief who had become a new believer. While He lay dead on the cross and in the tomb, He gave His Father the justice He demanded. And when He rose from the dead, He gave eternal salvation to all who believe in His name.
Our God is a giving God. He gives us our health. He gives us our wealth. He gives us our family, our nation and our occupation. He gives us His Son. His Son to take our sins. His Son to die our death. His Son to grant us life. His Son to win our salvation. He gives us His Spirit. His Spirit to wash our sins in baptismal waters. His Spirit to feed our faith at the Lord’s Table. His Spirit to forgive our transgression in the absolution.
Our Triune God works together to turn our ingratitude into gratefulness; to change our self-centeredness into care for others; to transform our lostness and loneliness into a blood-bought fellowship in the family of faith.
Christ has given an Emancipation Proclamation to free us from the slavery to sin. He has cut the cord of greed and materialism. He has rescued us from the false master called money. So don’t run back to it. Christ has instead made us servants of our real Master, our loving Savior God.
As you listen to Jesus’ teaching on the wise use of God’s money, use your time for God’s purposes, not just your own. See your paycheck isn’t yours to pay bills, but is God’s way of supporting His Gospel ministries. Understand that your workday isn’t a way of finding fulfillment, but a way to fill the lives of others with God’s blessings. And your new eternal friends can’t wait to say “thank you.” For they are joining you in serving a new Master. Amen.