Ninth Sunday after Trinity
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 16:1-9
July 24, 2016
Wise Stewardship: Using Money to “Make Friends”
“Be a good steward.” I don’t know how much people outside the church say that. But we do say it inside the church. “Be a good steward.” What does that mean? Usually when a person says, “Be a good steward,” they mean you shouldn’t waste money. If you leave the lights on all day, that would be being a bad steward.
In the Bible that is definitely part of what a steward does—ensure that money is not wasted. A steward is an officer or employee who oversees or administers a large estate. Probably no one in our congregation is wealthy enough to need a steward; but if you were a rich man in biblical times who owned a lot of land, had a lot of servants or slaves, you would have a steward. The steward’s job would be to manage your estate. He would keep track of the finances, buy the things needed for the household—food, drink, clothing. He would probably decide what the servants got to eat, pay them, supervise them; and he would be responsible for the upkeep of the property.
So a good steward would be one who minimized waste. He would make sure the servants were doing their jobs. But there is something even more important that this for a steward—that he faithfully represents his master. The steward carried out this job of managing household affairs for the master. The money belongs to the master, not him. So it might seem to the steward like the best use of money to have the servants only drink water at dinner. But if he knows the master wants them to also have wine, a good steward gives them wine. Good stewardship is faithfully handling the master’s property for the master’s benefit; but even more importantly it is knowing the master’s will and carrying it out.
Our Lord tells a story about a steward in today’s Gospel, but this isn’t a good steward. The Lord calls him an “unrighteous” or “unjust” steward. He’s unrighteous because he wastes the master’s possessions; then, when he gets caught, he gives more of his master’s wealth away in order to make friends who will help him when he gets fired.
The first thing to take away from this story is to think about what it would be like to be in the steward’s shoes after he talked to his boss. Now his master could have had him put in prison or whipped; for all he knows that may still happen. Imagine the shame he would have felt. As a steward for this man, he was higher on the social ladder than most people—than all the people who owed his master money. Now he’s about to be put out. He’ll be known as a thief and a cheat, because that’s what a person is who wastes or mismanages what doesn’t belong to him. He’ll be put to shame.
On top of that he has no way to provide for himself. He can’t start doing manual labor in middle or old age after pushing a pen his whole life He’s ashamed to be, which would be his only other option. Where is he going to go? Who will take him in?
In the chapter right before this one we have the story of the prodigal son, who was in a similar position. His father gave him his inheritance and he wasted it on women and booze. After that he tried to work, but his boss treated his pigs better than him. He was starving. He was at the end of himself. That’s where the steward is when the master removes him from being steward.
Maybe you can relate with his situation. You were living in a way that wasn’t right and one day, it caught up with you and there seemed to be no way out without your life or reputation being destroyed. Or maybe you can’t really relate—not that you never did anything wrong—but you never did anything where the cost of getting found out was so great—personal shame, the loss of your livelihood.
Yet Jesus tells this parable not to the Pharisees or the tax collectors and sinners, but to His disciples. He told it to the people 2000 years ago, but He also tells it to His disciples today, to us; and at the end He applies it to us: “I tell you, make yourself friends with unrighteous mammon, that when it fails, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” (Luke 16:9) By saying this Jesus puts us in the position of the unrighteous steward. He tells us to follow the example of the unrighteous steward and act wisely so that we may enter the eternal dwellings of His Father’s house.
Yes, you are the unrighteous steward, and just like him, your stewardship is about to be taken away from you. In the Small Catechism, which all of us have sworn on oath that we believe it to be a faithful and true witness of the doctrine of God’s Word and that we would suffer death rather than fall away from it, we say in the first article that “God has given me…everything I need to support this body and life…”; “clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have…” Since God has given us all our created goods and earthly possessions, it is our duty to “thank and praise, serve and obey Him.” He gave us, and still gives us, our earthly possessions, not to do with as we please, but to manage for Him, to steward for Him. Just like Adam didn’t own the garden of Eden; His job was to be a steward of it in the stead of God.
But you haven’t faithfully managed the earthly possessions God has entrusted to you, just like Adam your father was not a faithful steward of the Garden of Paradise. As a result your stewardship will soon be taken away from you. You will soon be separated from money, clothes, house, home, cars, electronics, gadgets, and toys; from your family, your wife and children and grandchildren, your friends—even from your own body.
And if God is the one taking this stewardship of possessions and life and all created things away from you, who is going to take you in? Who is going to help you?
That’s the dire situation you are in, along with the whole world, according to the law. That is the just punishment of being an unrighteous steward of the possessions over which God has given you authority.
You may not feel like this is true. You’ve done your best, been a respectable manager of your finances. You’ve donated to church and to charities. And you may be financially responsible—not a spendthrift, not wasteful. But being a faithful steward of God’s gifts is more than being prudent with money or having a good head for business.
It’s true; squandering what God gives you is also unfaithful stewardship. Not watching your money, buying luxuries you can’t afford or don’t need (as so many do)—that’s not faithful stewardship either. Spendthrifts are certainly also unrighteous stewards. But being a faithful steward is not just a matter of saving money or making money. It’s using what you Lord gives you the way He wants it used.
If you are a Christian you know how God wants you to use the money and possessions He gives you, because it flows from His Law. He has commanded you, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart”, mind, soul, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself. First God commands you to love Him and your neighbor from the heart, in truth. From this love will flow action. Love that does not act when it can is not love. If you love God and your neighbor you show it not by spending money on yourself and living in luxury and comfort beyond what you need. If you love God and your neighbor you use your money to honor God. And since God doesn’t need money, you honor Him by helping your neighbor with it.
But you haven’t done this; you’ve mismanaged what God put under your authority. We use our body, senses, and mind to sin against God often. But just as often people use the wealth He has entrusted against Him. People think of their possessions as their own instead of gifts from the One who created them. Then they think, idolatrously, that it was their own intelligence or work that earned them instead of seeing that God gave them to us without our deserving them. Then they use those possessions for themselves and their family alone and ignore the needs of people who aren’t immediately related to them. Worse, some don’t even help their own parents, brothers and sisters, or provide for their children. They spend money to please themselves and let their family go without. And some don’t even do that; they simply let others pay for them. Instead of working to provide for themselves and have something to give to those who truly have nothing, they are glad to take what others work for. And still others do work, put money away; but then they put their trust in that money to keep them safe and provide for them. They make an idol of their money and look to it for salvation instead of God.
Whichever misuse of possessions describes you, the result is the same; you are an unrighteous steward. And the righteous God has served notice that you will be removed from your stewardship. All created gifts He has given to you will soon no longer be yours to manage. He will strip them all from you at death; and then you are to be sent to prison to await your final sentence on judgment day.
This is the sentence that we all face for not rightly stewarding what God has put under our charge, for seeing it as our own instead of using it for our neighbor’s blessing. You ought to know about this from the Bible and the Catechism. But even those outside the Church know this; their conscience tells them that it’s true. Even apart from God’s law unbelieving people show them that they have not been faithful with what has given to them. You can see it in politics. Some people deal with the nagging sense that they have been unrighteous stewards by pushing for government spending to provide for every kind of need, not regarding that there are problems that money can’t fix and that many times dependency on the government to provide for you is worse than the problems it’s supposed to solve. Others insist on the right of private property (which is mandated by God’s law) and claim that higher taxes make everyone poorer by hurting the economy. But behind the argument on both sides there is the testimony of the conscience that God requires us to love our neighbor and to help the poor and helpless, and that our own selfishness has often kept us from doing so.
Now when the prodigal son had wasted his father’s money and was doomed to die he returned to his father. The unjust steward, however, did not go to his master and ask for forgiveness. Instead, Jesus tells us, he acted shrewdly or wisely with the little time he had left as steward. He made himself “friends” with his master’s money. And strangely, at the end of the story his master, whom he cheated, praised him for behaving “wisely” or “shrewdly”.
So Jesus tells unrighteous stewards—that is, us—to also behave “shrewdly” or “wisely” with the little time we have left as stewards of money and possessions. He tells us to “make friends with unrighteous mammon” (v. 9) so that when we no longer have it, these friends will receive us into the eternal mansions of heaven.
This is a strange thing for Jesus to say, isn’t it? If God is the One taking away our stewardship because we have been unrighteous in it, are we supposed to think we can enter heaven by making friends with other people? How does befriending other people change the fact that God has found us unfaithful in what He’s given us to do?
Besides, the unrighteous steward’s actions were selfish from top to bottom. When he is fired, he has no remorse about robbing his master, no shame at his thieving and treachery. He’s only worried about the punishment he’s going to receive as a result. There’s not a whiff of repentance in his thinking over the wrong he did his master.
And when he thinks up his plan, he doesn’t care anything about his master’s debtors either. They’re just tools to him. He reduces their debts—robbing his master again—but he has no love for them. He just wants to stay off the street when he’s no longer steward. Surely Jesus isn’t saying you can enter eternal life this way—with no sorrow for robbing God, with no love for your neighbor—only showing him kindness because you are looking out for yourself, trying to avoid hell.
Of course not. We don’t enter eternal life by giving to the poor, or making friends, or by any work of ours. The praise of the Father in heaven comes to us when we believe in His Son, who bore our guilt, suffered God’s wrath for our sins, and fulfilled His Law. You receive God’s praise and He regards you as righteous without your works, solely through faith in Jesus, the righteous One, as a gift.
So then why does Jesus say to make friends by means of unrighteous mammon, and that these friends will receive you into the eternal dwellings? He is exhorting those who believe in Him to demonstrate their faith in Him by their actions. Real faith in Jesus is not just inert knowledge that floats in our hearts like a soap bubble floats on water in the sink. Faith in Jesus is living and active and it proves its existence by what it does. Original sin isn’t dead and motionless either. It shows itself and its unbelief in God, its idolatry, by worshipping created things like money, trusting in them, and being unwilling to give them up even when your neighbor needs them. Just like this, real faith in Christ shows itself by using whatever we have—our body and our possessions—in service to our neighbors.
Think about Jesus. He was equal to the Father. He had no reason, for Himself, to become a human being and to become subject to the Law. He had nothing to gain for Himself by doing this. He was the eternal Son of the Father, equal to Him. Yet He laid this aside and made Himself our slave. He subjected Himself to the Law’s demands and fulfilled it so that His obedience would be credited to us, who cannot fulfill it. Then He took on Himself the guilt of our unrighteousness—our misuse of the things God created and put under our authority. He presented Himself to God with this guilt. He was crucified and lifted up on the cross. He received God’s eternal wrath against our sin to take it away so that it would no longer be on us. Jesus did all of this for no other reason than to benefit and save us. You could say He did it to make us His friends and friends of God through faith in Him.
Now if a person believes this—not merely understands it, but actually trusts it and relies on it, trusts in this Jesus, does it make sense that that person would remain selfish, cold toward God and other people? That would be impossible. Believing this, a person begins to love God who so loved him (even if he remains selfish.) Believing this, a person is sure that he has eternal life (even if unbelief is still present with him); and being sure of eternal life as a gift from Christ he can’t set his heart on money and earthly possessions, since he already has the highest good. Instead a person is willing to give those things to help his neighbor as His Savior did for him. And even if his flesh drags him back and makes him want to live for himself, a Christian is constantly told by the Scripture that the faith in his heart needs to be shown in action. That faith is always followed by love. If there is no love, there is no faith in Jesus.
“Make friends with the mammon of unrighteousness” is what a Christian already wants to do. He wants to “make friends” by loving his neighbor so that his neighbor can hear the good news and be saved. He lays down his life for his neighbor because Christ has done so for him.
That’s what Christ regards as good stewardship—putting our whole lives—particularly money—to work in service to our neighbor, for his well-being on earth and in eternity. A good steward doesn’t waste money—but to worldly eyes it might look like it, like a Christian is just giving money away, spending it on something with no tangible return. Well, that’s what Christ did. He spend His whole life serving people who were by nature His enemies. Most of them were ungrateful and still are; many others tried to take advantage of His generosity. Others used it against Him to kill Him or blaspheme Him. He seems to have gotten no return on His investment. What was His reward? Simply to see those who received Him at His Father’s right hand, experiencing life and joy instead of death. When we invest in those things for others, that is when we are good stewards. And those who believe cannot help being good stewards. Ephesians 2:10 says: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared in beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
When we “make friends” by our use of money because of faith in Christ, those who have become Christians as a result of our giving will welcome us into heaven. Along with Jesus they will testify that we belong to His Church. And it will be our joy for eternity that God worked through us to lead someone to salvation. But even on earth, the good works arising from faith in Christ cause people to praise God for us. Jesus says elsewhere, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matth. 5:16) On judgment day even unbelievers will glorify God and testify to the good works He did through us in this world: “Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that in case they speak against you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (1 Peter 2:12) And when Jesus judges, He doesn’t talk about our faith but our works. At the beginning of the book of Revelation, He dictates letters to seven churches, and He begins five of those letters by saying “I know your works.” In none of them does He say, “I know your faith.” Faith is made manifest by works. When good works are missing or weak in a congregation, so is faith.
At St. Peter we have watched our attendance decline for forty years. We say, “Other churches were built and drew away members. Then the neighborhood turned bad, and that scared lots of people away. On top of this, now the country is abandoning Christianity. And the young people are no longer interested in church—at least not how we do it here.”
All these statements are largely true. But I ask you—what have our efforts been like to “make friends by means of unrighteous mammon”? I’m not saying we should hand out bribes to get people to come to church. But does reaching out to the lost cost nothing? Are the megachurches spending nothing in their effort to draw people by means of entertainment? I promise you, they are spending lots of money. But it costs money to have the word of God in a congregation at all. Christ ordained that ministers should receive their living from their labor in preaching God’s Word. And if we wanted to do more to spread the Gospel—call a youth worker or a Spanish-speaking missionary—wouldn’t it take money? And if we invested ourselves in getting to know the needs in our community and trying to help meet those needs, that also would cost money. How many of us give sacrificially at St. Peter, give freely enough of what God has given us to manage that we are forced to give up some pleasure or convenience we would otherwise have? That would be almost unheard of in America, but Jesus seems to expect that His disciples will do this.
But if we did this, it wouldn’t really be giving what is ours; what we think of as “ours” really belongs to our master, and we are only stewarding it for a very short while longer. And in giving away what belongs to God we also assure ourselves that our faith in Christ is real.
But what about as a congregation? How willing has our congregation been to give and risk what God has given to us for the well-being and salvation of our neighbors?
Where this fruit is missing in an individual, it shows that the person’s faith in Christ is missing. In congregations, God always retains a remnant of those with living faith, as long as His Word is preached faithfully. But it can happen that congregations largely ignore and reject that Word, and the Lord removes the congregation’s lampstand.
So what should be done? If you are convicted that you have not used your money and possessions to make friends and demonstrate your faith in Christ—what then? Or if you have, but not sufficiently, what then? Or if you’re not sure?
The answer is the same as it has always been. Believe the Gospel that has been preached to you. How Jesus the Son of God has given all He is to make you a friend of God. That apart from your works or your lack of works, God regards you as righteous and faithful only through His work and faithfulness.
And then grow in the knowledge of that word. Don’t let it be idle, so that you know less of it next year than you did last year. Don’t let it be stagnant. Grow in the knowledge of His Word. Regularly receive the sacrament with the desire to grow in faith and love. Knowledge of His Word doesn’t automatically result in growth in faith and good works; a person can have a dead knowledge of His Word. But where His Word is not learned, faith and love won’t grow either.
And then strive to ensure that your faith and knowledge is not barren.
Give generously to your own congregation. That means not simply what you have left over after everything else—but the first and the best. The church has always used 10 percent as a guideline.
Give generously to the churches where the Gospel is spreading and growing. In Africa and Asia and Latin America the Lutheran Church is growing. But those churches are truly poor. They don’t have money and their pastors don’t have access to education and theological training. Above what you give to your congregation, cause the Christians in distant lands to give thanks to God. Use your unrighteous mammon, which so easily becomes an idol, to benefit the Church there.
Finally use your wealth to benefit the truly needy and helpless. The founders of our synod believed that congregations should not allow their poor members to be cared for by the state. Truly needy members of the body of Christ should be provided for by the rest of the body. And helping those who are in need outside the church, when it is done in sincere love, gives glory to God and sometimes opens the door to proclaim the Gospel to those outside the Church.
Faithful stewardship isn’t limited to how we handle money; it also includes how we give our time and share our talents with the body of Christ. But we will return to that in the fall.
Those who sincerely believe the Gospel will also make that known by using their wealth not to enjoy this life only but to work for the salvation of their neighbor. A person not seeking to use his wealth this way is unwise, because he is giving evidence that his faith in Christ is dead, even though he is soon to give an account of his stewardship to his master and Lord. But those who use their wealth to seek their neighbor’s welfare are shrewd. They are investing in heavenly treasure, and giving evidence that they are not only friends of their fellow-men but also friends of God through faith in Jesus Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria
Authored By De Profundis Clamavi ad Te, Domine