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Life of Christ (1996-1998)

Money and Hell

Luke 16

It is a curious fact, but true: the New Testament frequently speaks about money, and the pulpit speaks about it rarely. One can understand. To preach on the subject of money is somewhat akin to begging, and always susceptible to being misinterpreted as to motive! But such is not the case for the Sunday School teacher. We usually avoid the subject because we don’t like the results. Christ understands us both. Here is one of the premier lessons He gave on the subject.

Principle of Stewardship

(Luke 16:1-13 NIV) 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."

Our Lord had a gift for story telling. Here we see the shrewdness of a dishonest manager being praised for what it teaches us. We need to begin this lesson, therefore, by understanding the Biblical concept of stewardship. It is taught from the very beginnings of Scripture.

·         First, all that we have as we begin life, and all the opportunities along the way, are gifts from God. He gives us the wealth; he gives us the increase.

·         We, on the other hand, are responsible for the management of the things given to us. We will be called to account for these things.

·         The confusion for most of us is over “dominion” versus “stewardship.” Are we using these things in our own right, or are we caring for them on behalf of someone else?

This last point is important. Much ink has been wasted amongst Christians debating the current environmentalist movement. Some conservative scholars consider that man has absolute dominion of the planet, by gift of God. They cite this verse:

(Gen 1:26 NIV) Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."

The word “rule” in the verse above comes from the Hebrew word radah, which can also be translated “subjugate.” It clearly implies the dominion which some conservatives seek. But kindly note where this verse occurs: before the fall of man in the garden. When man was created, perfect, he was given dominion. But after the fall the verb changes:

(Gen 9:2 NIV) The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands.

Now the verb is “given.” It comes from the Hebrew nathan, which means “bestowed” or “given.” The point is clear, I submit. The perfect man (before the fall) is entitled to dominion. The corrupt man (after the fall) may only exercise stewardship. Dominion is given to the perfect; stewardship to the imperfect.

Carry this one step further. Who is perfect among men? Only our Lord Jesus Christ. Only he, then, is entitled to dominion; the rest of us are allowed only stewardship. The entire concept of how we handle the things of this world is tied to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Accountability

In this story many scholars have seen a parallel between death (for us) and getting fired (for the manager). The job is over (which for many Americans is worse than death). The desk must be cleaned out; the books closed and presented to the owner. So it is with us at death; we will soon be called to account for what we did with the good things God has entrusted to our care. In particular, Christ suggests in this story that we need to use those possessions to make ourselves welcome (by others!) in heaven. Many have speculated about life in heaven on this cause. I think the meaning is much simpler:

(Prov 19:17 NIV) He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done.

Let’s be certain we understand what Christ is praising. It is not the dishonesty of the manager. The word rendered “wiser” in some translations could better be rendered “more shrewd.” Double entry bookkeeping had not been invented (the Italians devised it in the late Middle Ages), so what the manager did was ethically dubious – but within his authority. (A parallel today might be the authority of a credit and collection manager.)

What Christ is praising is the effect produced. Remember how you eat in these days. If you want to eat meat, it’s usually at a feast. You need to get invited to the party – and in particular a party which you cannot repay – if you’re in this manager’s situation. So the manager has done a smart (shrewd) thing.

Christ then makes a telling point: do the children of light apply the same degree of thought to entering the kingdom of heaven? Do we pursue righteousness with the same intensity that this manager pursued his next meal?

The Principle of Character

On many occasions we have taught this: character counts. Being entrusted with big things does not so much build character as reveal it. Even the worldly use this principle: you are not promoted until you show yourself capable in what you have now.

The difference to the Christian is that wealth is a “little thing.” To the world it is a great thing; to us it is a small thing – in which we are commanded to be faithful. Indeed, if money is trivial, what is important? I know a young man whose style of life is “more money, more toys.” But (would he but listen) he who dies with the most toys, dies. Then the judgment.

Principle of Lordship (singular)

Christ expands the thought. We need to know what verse 13 is talking about. The old King James called it “mammon,” but that is just a transliteration of the Greek word, mammonas. It comes from Chaldean, and it means “confidence in money.” Christ states the simple fact that we cannot serve (recall that worship and service in the Greek are the same word) two masters: human beings are so constructed that only one master is allowed. So you have to pick. Which will it be: the confidence that your money will cover your rear end, or the worship and service of the Living God?

The Reaction

The Pharisees see this as ridiculous. The reaction has not entirely evaporated yet:

(Luke 16:14-18 NIV) The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. {15} He said to them, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight. {16} "The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. {17} It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law. {18} "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

The character of the worldly

There are two things to see in the character of these worldly Pharisees:

·         They are self justifying. They are their own righteousness. They know they are righteous, because they are the authorities on righteousness.

·         They have a distorted set of values (Satan cannot create, he can only twist). They know how important money should be.

The Reminder

It is sometimes said that Christ is entirely radical; other times that he is entirely conservative. He transcends all labels, for God is eternal. In these short sentences he reminds his sneering listeners of these truths:

·         God has not changed his mind. There is nothing in this teaching which would surprise a devout follower of the Old Testament.

·         They can see with their own eyes how the sinners of their time received the kingdom with gladness. If they really knew God’s heart, this would be overwhelming evidence of the kingdom at hand.

It is, by the way, quite literally true that it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for God to change his mind. We know[1] that Christ sustains the entire universe by his will. That universe will pass away at his coming; this we know. But even then, our God does not change.

The note about adultery

The verse concerning adultery seems out of place to us; like Luke had to get it in somewhere and hoped we wouldn’t notice it being here. This is not so. It is an example – a very pointed one – to the Pharisees. The common teaching of the time was such that enabled a man to divorce his wife with great ease. He needed to find “some uncleanness” in his wife. The most common teaching of this favored a wildly liberal interpretation of that phrase (including such things as burning the stew.) Christ is reminding them that no matter how much we twist the Scriptures to our own ends, His will is still the same.

Lazarus and Dives

There is a great speculation about this parable: perhaps it is no parable at all. In all the other parables of our Lord no names are mentioned. This is the only time that a name is assigned to one of the characters. It is not likely to be the Lazarus known elsewhere in the New Testament (who was raised from the dead), but was it someone known to the Pharisees?

We need to know a little background of the times to understand this story. First, purple is the Rolls-Royce of colors at this time. In Acts we encounter Lydia, the seller of purple. The dye for this color came from a shellfish, and was rare and expensive. To wear purple was to display your wealth.

The phrase, “fell from the table,” takes some explanation too. Lawrence of Arabia tells us that in his time it was customary, when feasting on meat, to take a small piece of the meat in one hand (the other kept clean). You dipped it into a common rice bowl, forming a greasy ball to eat. As the rich were stuffed, the leftovers were passed on to the slaves. In Lawrence’s time a towel was used to wipe your hand (at the end of the feast); in this time chunks of bread were used for the same purpose. It was these chunks of bread that Lazarus desired; they would be thrown on the floor for the lowliest to retrieve as their meal.

The rich man

(Note that the traditional name, Dives, is simply the Latin word for rich.) Tell me something: what harm did this rich man ever do? We are told nothing of how he obtained his wealth. For all we know, he toiled honestly for his money, and was living in retirement. Indeed, even in hell itself, he asks for help for his brothers, so he was not totally devoid of charity.

In fact, there is only one thing we really know about the man, morally: not what he did, but what he failed to do. So often we see this as the story of condemnation of the unjust rich. It is not. This is the condemnation of one who saw and did not care.

That is justification for hell? So it appears. Perhaps you think that unjust. After all, he didn’t kill anybody, did he? Perhaps that is the point Christ is making (and will make most explicitly in Matthew 25:31-46). The trip to hell is free, and the food is good along the way.

Lazarus

Lazarus too is briefly recounted. We know two things:

·         He had a lot of trouble in his life.

·         So will we. (John 16:33)

On Hell

It is a curious thing, but almost all the references to hell – and certainly all the detailed ones – come from our Lord. It is as if the subject was too awesome for anyone else to describe. Much might be said, but here there are three points to make:

·         Hell is final; it is irrevocable.

·         There is no second chance.

·         And for some, even someone who came back from the grave could not convince them to repent.

Our Lord is clear about it: the evidence of the Law and the Prophets – let alone His resurrection – should be sufficient. We have been warned.

I can think of know better way to close this lesson than with the words of Isaiah. I said earlier that nothing in this lesson was new to the believer in the Old Testament.

(Isa 58 NIV) "Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins. {2} For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. {3} 'Why have we fasted,' they say, 'and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?' "Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. {4} Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. {5} Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? {6} "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? {7} Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? {8} Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. {9} Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. "If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, {10} and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. {11} The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. {12} Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. {13} "If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord's holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, {14} then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob." The mouth of the LORD has spoken.

(Isa 59:1 NIV) Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.

I am a patriot, one who loves his country. May God turn the hearts of this nation to righteousness.


[1] Colossians 1:16-17

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