A Lesson On Stewardship
As we look at the subject of Stewardship we must recognize that the importance of this goes far deeper than a question of finance, for when we understand the root principle of stewardship, there is no problem concerning the right use of money.
To learn these things from our Lord we turn to a very unusual story which He Himself told. To read this story superficially it might appear that the Saviour is condoning fraud and dishonesty, but that could never be. We need to look at it prayerfully and carefully, and be so alert to the teaching of the Spirit of God that we may not only understand the immense significance of this story which Christ told, but that the Spirit of God may give us grace to apply it to our own life.
If we would see this little story in its context we would realize that the Lord is continuing His ministry on a Sabbath day. He had been speaking about a wedding feast, people who were indifferent to the invitation, and urging that those in the highways and byways should be compelled to come in. He had been speaking about discipleship, taking up the Cross and following Him and all that this would mean. He had spoken in that lovely fifteenth chapter of Luke’s Gospel of things that were lost: a piece of money, a sheep, and two sons. He spoke all these things to answer the criticism of the Pharisees concerning His ministry, and He said them in the presence of those who were called publicans and sinners.
Now without any break, His ministry continues in chapter sixteen and as He spoke also to his disciples, He was coming closer to grips with His people moment by moment in His ministry at this point. There was the tremendous invitation to the sinner at the wedding feast, “Supper is ready, all prepared, come.” There was a stupendous significance in the value that Jesus put upon those who were lost. He said all this in order that we might recognize the tremendous importance of relationship to Him and devotion to Him. Now He is especially speaking to those who are His disciples.
But not entirely—for the 14th verse tells us that the Pharisees heard all these things. They were listening, too, and they scoffed and jeered at Him, for as Luke writes, “They were lovers of money.” This was behind their reaction: not money but the love of it. He had been speaking of spiritual things, and now He applies all these tremendous spiritual parables to the material things of life in order that He might illustrate the right use of money. He spoke of it to His disciples in the presence of men who were mastered by their love for it, and that, as Scripture says, is “the root of all evil.”
Christ is illustrating here the right use of material things against the background of a vital relationship to Himself—against the background of the cry of the heart of God, the Lord Jesus, who sought after the sheep until He found it; the woman who looked for her coin until she found it; the father who prayed for his son until the son said, “I have been a fool! I will go back home and say I am no longer worthy.” Against something of the throb of the heart of God for a perishing world Jesus preaches and teaches a lesson about money. That is the only way you can understand how to use material things, for the way in which a Christian uses his money is a devastating revelation of his real grip upon the things of God.
In order to understand His message and His teaching let us look at the illustration He employs in this chapter. Our subject: the right use of material things against the context or relationship with God. The illustration: the figure employed.
The story tells us about two men, a master and a servant—a rich man and a steward—and both of them were rogues. The steward defrauded his master, but the master condoned the sin, and was therefore as much a rogue as his servant. If you condone sin in someone else you are a partner to it, and especially if you recommend it. Now, do not be confused in your thinking at this point: it is not the Lord Jesus who commended this man, for the 8th verse says, “his lord commendeth the unrighteous steward.” His lord, the master, commends the steward, not the Lord Jesus.
But why should this master commend his steward? He commended him simply because he was smart! The steward was discovered defrauding his master, and when he was called to give an account of his stewardship with the warning that he was going to be fired anyway, he said to himself, “Now what shall I do?” He thought about it for a moment and said, “I cannot dig.” He was just a lazy rascal. “I cannot go out begging.” He was too proud to do that. “I know what I will do! I will cheat my master still more and do it so that other people will benefit, so that when he puts me out they will take me in. I must prepare, for I am going to be fired from my job and I must not have all my eggs in one basket.”
So he called all the debtors together and said to the first one, “How much do you owe my master?”
He replied, “A hundred measures of oil.”
“Okay, we will settle for fifty.”
Then he called the next one and said, “How much do you owe my master?”
“A hundred measures of wheat.”
“Okay, we will settle for eighty.”
He must have known the financial status of these men to allow one 50% and the other 20%. He was a very smart, shrewd steward, and that was exactly what his master said. But mind you, when he said that to him he did not offer to re-employ him in spite of it. He was fired for his fraud. Why, then, did this master commend him at all? Jesus tells us why, “The sons of this age are, for their own generation, wiser than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8). The thinking of these two men was purely material; it was bounded by the limits of time and had no reference at all to eternity.
“And I tell you,” said the Lord Jesus, “they are smarter, cleverer, more alert, and more resourceful than are even the sons of light.” Those who live for God with eternity in view cannot be compared in cleverness or astuteness to these people who are living shut up in the little prison of this life. What a rebuke!
But now He uses this illustration to reveal the tremendous principle that ought to govern Christian giving, “Make to yourselves friends, by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that when it shall fail they may receive you into eternal tabernacles,” (v. 9, RV). What had the steward done? Recognizing that he was about to be fired, he had made friends in order that they might take him in.
“Very well,” said the Lord Jesus, “that is wisdom as well as astuteness and cleverness. Therefore learn, as Christian people, to make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness, that when it fails they shall receive you into eternal tabernacles.”
The Master is telling us that money and material things are only an agent for good or evil, and everything depends upon how we use them. Nothing reveals more clearly what a man is in his heart than the use he makes of the money he possesses. If you want to know a man’s spiritual condition, watch what he does when he is alone with his checkbook! How is he using it? That is a clear revelation of the kind of Christian he really is. Jesus did not say, “Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness.” That is where the Authorized Version would lead us astray. What He did say was, “Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness.” In other words, you can use what you have to bless other people. Or you can use it to ruin yourself. Sixty seconds after you die you cannot sign a check; you leave it all behind.
Every day in the newspaper we read lists of that which has been left behind, for nobody is capable of signing a check thereafter from that moment. “So,” says the Lord, “you must use these things that you possess now, and use them for the spread of the Gospel.” Now while you have it, make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they, the friends you have made and perhaps never even seen—the people who have heard the Gospel through the lips of a missionary whom you have sent by the means of the mammon of unrighteousness—your unknown friends will one day welcome you into eternal tabernacles. Then they will bless you with all their heart because you released your bank balance, and sent out a swarm of missionaries to the uttermost parts of the earth, and now they are in heaven. That is the teaching of this parable.
I believe with all my heart that if all the resources of every Christian were consecrated on that level to the Lord Jesus Christ, there would be no shortage in Christian work; there would be no lack of missionary support, nor would there be only a pathetic few going to the mission field. There would be the pressure of the release of finance that would liberate hundreds in this desperate, urgent moment in world history to proclaim the Gospel of the Lord Jesus. Let me ask you this question personally as if the Holy Spirit was asking it of you: will there be any friends in heaven who will bless and welcome you because you have helped in the evangelism of the world and in the preaching of the Gospel? Has the Gospel been taken to the ends of the earth because of what you have done? Will you meet red and yellow, black and white in heaven who have been redeemed by blood and indwelt by the Holy Ghost because some missionary has gone out backed by your help?
A very wealthy father was praying at family prayers with his wife and three children around the table. He was praying very eloquently and earnestly for missionaries. They had a prayer list, and he was going down the list one by one. “Lord, meet the needs of this one; answer the affliction of that one; Lord, send all that is needed for this and this.” When it was all over, the eldest of the three, a boy of about ten said, “Dad, I do love to hear you pray for missionaries.” His father felt so good to get that commendation, and patted the boy affectionately and said, “Good, son, I am so glad you do.” Then the boy said, “But do you know, Dad, I was thinking as you were praying that if I had your checkbook I would answer all your prayers for you today!”
There are two motives for living: 1) The love of money, which means love of self and forgetfulness of other people. 2) The love of other people, behind which is the love of Christ constraining, and therefore a forgetfulness of self and a release of resources. The root of this matter is found in verse 10, “He that is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much, and he that is unrighteous in a very little is unrighteous also in much.”
Does that mean that if we are faithful in the little things—that is, money—we shall be trusted with great things—that is, heaven? Oh, no! Jesus did not say, “He that is faithful in little will be faithful in much.” He did say, “He that is faithful in little is faithful in much.”
Who is it that is faithful in the little thing of money? It is the man who is faithful in the much, the relationship with Christ. The little is the mammon of unrighteousness; the much is our relationship to God: love to the Lord and to the things of the Spirit. The man who is right with God will be right with money, and that is the whole principle of stewardship. A man in tune with God all the time is in touch with people and their need through every channel of his life, which is absolutely open for the Holy Spirit to use. He that is faithful in the little things of money is so because he is faithful in the big thing of his relationship with the Lord Jesus. Watch a man spending what he cannot afford, giving what he would dearly like to hold for himself, perhaps things that he really needs. The reason is that his heart has been enlarged in the presence of Christ. Because he is right with God and in tune with Jesus he is holding nothing back, because nothing that he has is his own.
Notice how solemnly the Lord Jesus enforces this principle, “If, therefore, ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust true riches?” (verses 11 and 12). In other words, to paraphrase, if we do not make the right use of material things, how can we expect God to trust us with spiritual grace? Not that faithfulness in the use of money means you merit favor with God, but the very fact that you are unfaithful in the use of money, and careless in the way you spend it reveals that you are absolutely destitute of the grace of God. I believe that God holds His grace away from covetous people for that very reason. A man who holds his goods lightly is unfaithful in dealing with God, unfaithful in his stewardship,…in his giving, miserly in what he does for the work of God, and though he professes to be a Christian he is absolutely bereft of a present day experience of God’s grace and His wonderful, loving and keeping power.
You just give the little that you think you can afford to give, and be…miserly in your dealing, and you will see your spiritual life shrivel up. The Book of Proverbs says, “There is that which scattereth and yet increaseth; there is that which witholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty.”
“Sow sparingly,” says Paul in writing to the Corinthian church, “and you will reap sparingly. Sow bountifully (just release and let it go), and you will reap bountifully.” That is the principle, repeated again in verse 12, “And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?” Material things, money, these things are not ours but God’s, and His title to everything that we possess is before ours. But spiritual things are our own. They become part of our very life and character, as the Lord is saying, “How do you expect Him to enrich you with spiritual plenty and spiritual grace if you are not faithful with that which is not even your own. You cannot love God and worship money, clothes and things.” How does this find you? Is your heart going out in worship? You cannot worship God and worship money—or worship dress or anything else. You cannot serve two masters because God says one thing, and mammon says another.
God says, “Lose yourself for my sake and the gospel’s.” Mammon says, “Save yourself, hold everything in case you get lost and cannot live.” Hold to one, says Christ, and you will lose the other. Hold to mammon and you will lose and despise God. But let a man love the Lord with all his heart, and he will despise things as such, and will turn all his business success and all the things that he possesses to the glory of God and to the service of the King of kings. The only way you and I can prove that we are truly servants of the Lord Jesus is that we have given ourselves up so entirely to Him that everything we possess is available for His use, all of the time.
On the basis of a spiritual relationship to the Lord Jesus that you are His servant and He is your Lord; on the basis that there may be in your heart the sound of the throb of the heart of God over men that are without Christ; on the basis of the value of one soul, and on that principle of relationship with God, I plead with you in the Master’s name for release of everything for Jesus.
You may talk to me about tithing and insist that it is the acme of Christian giving, but it most surely is not. May I say that it is good to tithe, and that if everybody in the church practiced tithing I do not think it would ever go into the red. But please think this out: If you say that tithing is the acme of giving, then I say you are insisting that your money belongs to you and you will give God one tenth. That is not true. The truth is that you are the steward of everything—of every penny—for everything you have belongs to Him. You are not the owner, but the steward, and the steward is an agent for the use of his Master’s goods. One day you will be called into the presence of the Lord to give an account of your stewardship, and all that God is asking from each one of us is faithfulness.
If you are prepared to be faithful in your responsibilities He is prepared to give you the power to do it: faithfulness in the stewardship of life; faithfulness in the stewardship of time; faithfulness in the stewardship of money; faithfulness in the stewardship of everything you possess. “Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness that when it fails they will receive you into eternal tabernacles.”