Invest With Your Return In Mind

Selected highlights from this sermon.

Jesus told a story about a dishonest, yet shrewd manager.  Before being dismissed from his job, he wisely gave away some of his master’s money. 

In a similar manner, Jesus leads us to view money as a test.  We must invest what we have been given.  When we give money for the furtherance of the gospel, we are transferring God’s money into eternal riches.  How we spend our resources betrays our loyalties; we cannot serve both God and money.

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Many years ago I read a book entitled The Day the Dollar Died. Actually the book was misnamed. It should have been The Day the Mark Died. It was the story of what happened in Germany after World War II when the Mark was devalued. I remember in chapter 1 there was an interesting story about a dear Christian woman who saved all of her German Marks. Because she didn’t trust the banks, she put them into a bag and she kept them at home, and then one day she took a walk to a Bible school to give it to the school that was training students for ministry that was trying to start up after a terrible war. And the heart of the president of the school broke, as he had to tell her that her Marks were worthless. The German government had actually cancelled the mark just the day before, and so the best thing that could be done with this bundle of money was to burn it.

Well we don’t live in a day and age when the dollar actually has been devalued, but we do live in a day and age when obviously we do not have enough dollars, don’t we? All over the country today ministries are suffering. You find that families are having their difficult time and the reason is very obvious. Some of you are those who have lost your jobs. Some of you are underemployed. Some of you who have your jobs may fear for the future, and so we’re all in the same boat. What does the Bible have to say about money?

Today we’re going to look at a very fascinating parable that Jesus told. It’s a parable that some people have had a problem with because it appears, if you read it wrongly, as if Jesus was justifying dishonesty. But if you read it more carefully obviously Jesus would never justify dishonesty. What Jesus is doing is pointing out the need for wise use of money and shrewdness. It’s found in the sixteenth chapter of the gospel of Luke. In Luke 16 Jesus tells the story of a wealthy man who had a manager who mismanaged the money. It doesn’t say exactly what the manager did, but we can probably fill in the blanks. He perhaps had a scheme of some sort and maybe he embezzled some of the funds. At any rate, the rich man needed to fire this guy and get rid of him, but in those days it was a little different than it is today. You were able to stay on, I’m sure, an extra day even though the word had been given that you were through.

I heard a man being interviewed this week on television and he said that he was on the subway in New York, and suddenly all of these people appeared around noon dressed in suits, all very attractively decked out, and he didn’t know what had happened. And then he learned that a major firm in New York had just fired several thousand people and they all went home at the same time. I’m sure they all turned in their keys, and maybe the reason that they did is that somebody was smart enough to read this parable that Jesus told, because this man didn’t have to turn in his keys immediately. So, knowing that he had to be going and on his way, he decided to use some of his master’s money by taking some of the creditors that the master had and actually reducing their debt.

Well you’ll notice in chapter 16 that it says, “He said to the disciples, ‘There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be a manager.” And the manager said to himself, “What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? (My resume isn’t impressive.) I’m not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.” So summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, “How much do you owe my master?” He said, “A hundred measures of oil.” And the manager said to him, “Take your bill (and let’s say that it’s 50).” Then he said to another, “And how much do you owe?” He said, “A hundred measures of wheat.” He said, “Well, take your bill, and write eighty.”‘“

Obviously these two men, and there may have been others, were going to be very careful in blessing this man once he was without a job. I mean, “I’ve done something good for you. I expect you to receive me into your house, and you do something good for me.”

Now notice. What does the manager do? Well, the manager we know was dishonest, but you’ll notice it says in verse 8, “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.” Now you see if he had stolen it, the man would have been arrested and thrown into jail, but he didn’t do that with the master’s money. At least he didn’t in this instance. What he did is he took it and he gave it away, and so the master (the rich man) had to think this through and said, “There was something shrewd about using money this way.” Jesus himself agrees. You’ll notice that he says, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” Jesus is speaking there in verse 8, and then in verse 9 he says, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” Let’s read just that far for now.

Jesus obviously is not commending this man for his dishonesty, but he is saying, “This is really shrewd. This man knew how to use money to make friends that were going to help him.” And then Jesus said, “Use your money this way so that you will have friends when you get to heaven and they will welcome you into the eternal dwellings.” Wow! What a story! And it even gets better as it progresses.

What I’d like to do today is to give you four Biblical principles of money management, and these five principles apply to you whether you have a job, whether you’ve lost a job, whether you’ve got lots of money, or whether you’ve got no money. These are universal principles that come from this parable that help us to get some insight as to what we should do also during this time when we have a financial downturn. We’ll comment on that as well. As always, the Bible is relevant no matter what era in which it is preached. Are you ready for the four principles?

Number one, it is very clear that the money that we have is loaned. It is not owned. We don’t own it. God lends it to us and says, “Be good stewards.” We here are the manager of the rich man’s money. Visualize for a moment as if the entire world was God’s habitation. God inhabits the world. Of course he does. He inhabits the whole universe, but this world is like a house in which we have varying responsibilities, and we are the managers of that which God has given to us, and we own nothing. The money that this manager gave away belonged to the rich man. The money that he kept, the money that he was honest with, the money that he was dishonest with, it all belonged to the rich man, his master.

Everything that you and I have belongs to God. You’ll notice in verse 12 as Jesus continues the story (and I should pick it up in verse 10), he says, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?” What Jesus is saying is that, “When you are invited to be entrusted with money, it is not yours. It is another’s,” and isn’t that true? The minute we get our pay stub we know that a lot of it is another’s because we see on there federal income tax, and state income tax. We see social security. Right from the get-go a lot of it is another’s, and then once it’s put into the bank, it suddenly becomes another’s very obviously. It becomes the electric company’s, and the gas company’s, and the mortgage company’s, and the clothing store’s, and the grocery store’s, and suddenly it belongs to another.

But there’s a much greater principle here and that is that we must acknowledge the fact that even that which may or may not be left over after we have paid our bills, that also belongs to God, and our bank accounts belong to God, and our savings accounts. And the money that we have in the market, and the money that we have out of the market all is God’s. This is the most fundamental principle of finance in all the Scriptures.

Now it’s easy for us to hurry over this point and say, “All right! Yeah, it all belongs to God. Now get on with point number two.” I’m going to stay here just a little longer because, you see, when we really believe that it all is God’s, we’re not going to be as concerned about it because we realize then that it is God’s money that was devalued forty percent late last year. That’s God’s money. It immediately takes a lot of weight from your shoulders. It is God’s money that grows at an interest rate of 2% or that falls at an interest rate of 10%. It is God’s money, and once you acknowledge that it belongs to God you look at it differently.

I speak very hesitantly here because it may not be universally applicable, but I believe that one of the reasons that so many are going through terrible financial times is because, like this manager, some of us have been mismanaging God’s money, and this is a parenthesis, but one way that we can do that is no longer asking God how we should spend our money. And no longer trusting God for what we need, but immediately bypassing all of that by using the credit card. It used to be that when people needed clothes or a new refrigerator, they would pray and say, “Oh God, you know my needs,” and maybe a neighbor had a second-hand one that they could use for a few years until they had enough money, but they asked God. Today we don’t ask God because what we can do is to use those credit cards, and we can bypass dependence on God. Whether he’s there for us or not, we can have what we want, and we mismanage God’s money.

Are you willing to say sincerely, “What I have belongs to God”? We can’t go to the other principles until you’ve said that and meant it. Some of you are going to struggle. Some of you are going to argue about it. Are you willing to say, “It all is God’s”? Oh you say, “But I earned it,” or like the commercial says, “I earned it.” My friend, it is God who gives you the ability to beget wealth. It is all his.

Would you bow with me right now in prayer before we go on to the next principle, and would you pray with me as we finally end the ownership of our money and recognize that it is God’s?

Father, you know how covetousness builds a nest in our hearts. Would you help us in this moment, whether we have little or much, or nothing? Whatever we may have, Father, it is yours. The money we gained, the money we lost, the money we earned, the money we inherited, we give to you and pray, Father, that you will always help us to seek your face and your wisdom as to how it is to be used, and may we be faithful managers of your gifts. For those who struggle, for those for whom this prayer is just words, work in their lives until they can say, “It is yours.” Amen

Well, that’s the first principle. Let’s go on to a second. Money must be wisely transmuted. What does that word transmute mean? It means to change the essence of something. You know when a child is sick you don’t say, “Well here, eat this $20 bill.” Then you know for sure that you are on your way to the E.R. What you do is you go to Walgreens and you buy some medicine. You transmute that $20 or $50 or $100 into medicine.

There’s a good example of what happens when you can’t transmute wealth. This is a true story. Up in the north a number of years ago a hut was found. And in the hut there were two miners who had been mining gold, and they starved to death. In fact, they wrote a diary and said they were starving because there was nothing around them. There was a snowstorm and they couldn’t get out. They had no food, and there they were. Their bodies, of course, had deteriorated, but they were surrounded by gold. Now isn’t gold the very thing that people want? Well, yes, but it could not be transmuted into something that they could use. That’s what we mean. When you write that check to the electric company, when you buy that coat, when you buy shoes for your children, you are transmuting your wealth into something that is necessary in order to live, and it is a good transmutation.

But notice the text. Jesus is talking about a different kind. We have to look back at it here. It says, “He complimented the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.” In verse 9 he said, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth.” He doesn’t mean wealth that was gotten unrighteously. This is the way in which Jesus characterizes money. We’ll see that Jesus has a very negative view of it because remember it always competes with God in our hearts. So he says, “Make wise use of unrighteous wealth so that when it fails they may receive you into eternal dwellings. What Jesus said was, “What you should be doing is investing in such a way that you know that your rate of investment and your rate of return is going to be overwhelming. It is going to be people who will welcome you into heaven, so that when you die there’s a cheering section there thanking you for your investment in lives that are also there.” What a statement Jesus made. In Philippians 4:17, Paul gave thanks for the money that was sent to him, and says “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.”

I love to use that story of the princess in Europe who had a crown, and she said to her husband, “I want to sell the jewels of the crown to begin an orphanage,” and he objected to it but eventually she prevailed and she won the argument. So they sold the jewels, and she built an orphanage and when she visited the orphanage one day and heard these children singing songs (and she was a fervent Christian so the children were instructed in the ways of godliness), she came back and said to her husband, “I have found my jewels. I found them in the lives of these children.” She was a wise woman. You can’t take jewels with you to heaven, but if you transmute them and you invest them in somebody’s life, now there’s something that enables your investment to get to the other side. You can take it with you after all if you transmute it into lasting wealth. What do you think Jesus meant when he said, “Lay up for yourself treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not corrupt and where thieves cannot break through and steal”? He was talking about the very same principle.

Who is it that supported the ministry of a missionary like William Carey, for example, who we honor as one of the first missionaries of the modern era? I don’t know who gave him money to go to India, but I do know that somebody is going to be rewarded someday for an investment made in lives that will be there in heaven, thanking them for their investment and the shrewd use of their money with friends that have been impacted by their gifts.

When the offering baskets are passed at Moody Church I like to think it’s like investing in a mutual fund, because you know that when you are giving you are investing in children’s ministries, and in family ministries. You are investing in the lives of young people, singles, college students, and professional people. You are investing in the lives of missionaries around the world and in that sense, we are all committed together and we are seeing lives changed, lives that will meet us in everlasting habitations. I’m sure that this is true of you, too, but in addition to giving to Moody Church, Rebecca and I support other missionaries as well. I’d like to think that when I get to heaven there would be at least one person who will rejoice and say thank you for your gift and the impact that it had in my life. We’re talking about your return on investment – your ROI. You invest in eternity when you give to the transformation of lives.

There’s a third principle. The first is that we don’t own it; the second is we must transmute it. The third principle is that money is a basis for testing.

First of all, let’s look at how Jesus viewed money. We already commented on the fact that he referred to it as wealth. You’ll notice he said, “dishonest wealth.” He says, “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth.”

You know the old King James Bible - God bless it! It had a different kind of language but here the King James translation is filthy lucre. We may not know the meaning of that exactly today, though we should. I just read a week ago that 95% of all the bills in circulation in the United States have a drug residue on them. The money that you kept back from the offering plate today probably at some time was drug money. Now what’s wrong with calling it filthy lucre? What Jesus is doing is reminding us of the deception of wealth, and then he calls it something else. He calls it a little thing. You’ll notice verse 10 says, “one who is faithful in a very little.” I have to smile. Money is, to Jesus, very little. What do you mean it is very little? To the world it is huge. You live for it. You die for it. You scheme for it. Get it legally if you can, and illegally if you must, but above all things, get it. It is huge. Jesus said, “It’s a little thing,” and then he makes this statement. He says how we should use it.

Dr. Haddon Robinson who preached a message on this passage that I heard many, many years ago talked about the deception of our heart regarding money, and we are all deceived and want to be deceived. You know the Bible says that there’s nothing wrong with money. It’s the love of money – right? So we say to ourselves, “Well, you know I have money, but I don’t love money. Mind you, I date it; I kiss it; I think about it all the time; I’m always wondering about it, but I don’t love it. Oh no, not me.” We deceive ourselves, don’t we?

And then Jesus made this amazing statement. “If you are faithful in very little, you are faithful in much. If you are dishonest in very little, you are dishonest in much.” Remember Stuart Briscoe? He worked at a bank in London and the bank manager wanted him to do some cheating, and Stuart said to him, “If I steal for you, what makes you think that I will not steal from you?” Right? You’re dishonest in that which is very little; you’re dishonest also in that which is very much. If you have not been faithful in unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? Jesus is saying that money is a test of the true riches, which has to do with ruling with Jesus Christ in the Kingdom, which are really what the rewards spoken of in Scripture are, and this business of money is a test as to where you will be slotted in the Kingdom.

Why is it that oftentimes we do experience downturns financially? Why is life so hard? Why is it that we don’t know where we are going to get enough money to pay our bills? One reason is this, that it is almost impossible to develop worshippers in an affluent society. It is poverty and financial need that keeps driving us toward God, but in the midst of it Jesus is saying, “You have to be faithful in that which is little, or else I’m not going to entrust true riches to you. How can you be faithful in one area (or unfaithful) and expect me to bless you in the other area?”

As providence would have it, this past week I spoke to someone who was the treasurer of a small church of 80 people out west. Because he was a CEO of a big company they asked him to be the treasurer, and as he began to look at the church’s policies, he discovered that some of them were wrong. For example, the pastor had a parsonage that was given to him by the church, and that was not considered to be income, when strictly speaking it should be, so that when he signed his income tax form and said that he was making this much money, actually it was a lot more. When the treasurer pointed this out to the people they just were irritated and their whole point was, “Why are you bothering about that? Obviously it’s not going to affect the IRS. The government’s got tons of money. It’s giving hundreds of billions of dollars away. It must have (I should say with a smile), but any rate, why are you just irritating us with these details? It is a little thing.”

So let’s all agree today that it’s just a little thing. All right, now let’s read the words of Jesus. “One who is faithful in a very little (ouch!) is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.” Well, maybe this little thing matters, and it does. What I would think is that that pastor is jeopardizing his opportunity of full rule in the coming kingdom. When he stands before Jesus, Jesus is going to say, “Now wait a moment. You know you had that little thing. You signed this statement that didn’t reflect your true income. It was a little thing, right?” “Yeah, it was a little thing.” “Well, how am I going to entrust to you the true riches? How am I going to have you rule over ten cities, because you’ve been dishonest in the little thing? I can’t entrust to you the bigger picture.”

Remember this. This life is like a college entrance exam so God will know where to slot us in the coming kingdom. Money is a test. It is a test of faithfulness or unfaithfulness. So that’s the third principle. Money is a test.

The fourth principle is that it reveals our loyalties. Notice what Jesus said in verse 13. “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You can’t serve God and money.” You say, “Oh yes, you can. I am.” I’m sorry, but Jesus said you can’t. Money reveals our hearts and our loyalties, and especially when we have lots of it, and when we have almost none of it. It is all consuming. We think about it when we don’t have enough and we think about it when we have a lot, and it reveals our loyalties, and the Bible says you can’t serve God and money. Jesus said that. It would be like dancing to two different tunes. You’ve got this band over here and this band over here and you are trying to dance to both of the sets of music. You just can’t do that.

Let me tell you candidly that if money becomes your God, it will eventually become your devil. That’s why the Bible warns about it so much. You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, this message is rather strong.” Yeah, I think it is, but it’s Jesus here that I’ve got to deal with. You know, that’s the problem. When you are committed to Jesus, you deal with him.

What do you think the people of Jesus’ day thought? Verse 14 says, “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him.” They were filled with scorn toward him. Do you think they liked what Jesus said? No, no, not if they were lovers of money. “And he said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves before men (I’m sure they had ten reasons why they thought Jesus was going overboard on this topic) but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men… (And what is exalted among men? Money! And what does Jesus say?) …is an abomination in the sight of God.”

Obviously (I don’t even have to say it, do I?) money is necessary. It’s necessary for us to live. It’s necessary for us to earn money to pay bills, to transmute it so that we might meet friends on the other side. It’s necessary for all of that. It’s to be put to good use, but the reason that Jesus makes such a strong statement is because he knows, as we learned in the last message, that money is always competing with God for our hearts, for our time and for our attention. And so Jesus makes this amazing statement. “It is an abomination to God.”

There’s a fourth principle, and that is that what we don’t use we will lose. Jesus pointed this out in another context in a parable about the man who was given a talent, and you remember - he hid it and refused to invest it because he wanted to pay it safe. In the end, Jesus said, “I’m taking the talent from you and I’m giving it to the person who is willing to risk it, and to give all of the money and invest it in God’s kingdom, and I’m willing to give it to him. Let’s take it from this servant who wanted to play it so safe that he refused to invest it for his master.” But also, in this chapter there is a remarkable story of money, and this is why Jesus told it. We have to see this in context. It says in chapter 16, verse 19, “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate there was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table.” You know the rest of the story. The rich man goes to Hades and is tormented, and the poor man, Lazarus, goes and is in Abraham’s bosom enjoying Paradise.

Why did Jesus tell this story here? What’s going on? We use the story to talk about the characteristics of Hades and Paradise. Jesus told it for another reason. He wanted to show how the fortunes of the rich and the poor might be reversed in the future, namely in eternity. And here was a man who excelled in bling, if you know what I mean. He excelled in all of the things that people grasped at and wanted. Yeah, there he is. He’s tormented forever. He’s left all of his money behind. Jesus is not teaching, of course, that the rich go to Hades, and the poor go to Paradise. That’s not the point of the story. The point is how money blinds you to the reality of what is on the other side, and how money can be so detrimental to your walk with God as it continues to encroach upon your heart and take the place of God. That’s the point.

When I was a boy in this small church in Canada I remember we had a missionary come and talk to us about Africa. And I remember he spoke about how they would catch monkeys in Africa. They would take a pumpkin and hollow it out and they would put inside the pumpkin whatever it is that monkeys like to eat – their favorite dessert. And then, of course, they’d close the top of the pumpkin, and they would drill a hole through the side of the pumpkin that was the size of a quarter. And the monkey would come along and put his paw through that small hole, and then he would grab the food that he wanted to eat, and they would come and get him and kill him. Now all that the monkey had to do, even though he saw them coming, and even though he knew that death awaited him, was to open up his paw and let that food go, and he’d be able to bring his paw back through the hole, but he wouldn’t. He hung on to it and hung on to it and they could always trust him to keep hanging on until they caught him.

Jack Benny, the comedian, said on one occasion that he had a gun shoved to his neck, and somebody said, “Your money or your life,” and he paused. The guy said, “Well, which is it going to be?” and Benny said, “Give me some time. I have to figure out what decision to make on this one.” So what you have is somebody being willing to risk the kingdom of God because of his love of money.

See, that’s why Jesus said, “It is easier… (and Jesus is saying this – don’t lay all of this on me today, all right? I’m just telling you what Jesus said). Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Now the disciples said, “Who then can be saved?” and Jesus said, “With men it’s not possible, but with God it is.” Of course, there have been many, many wealthy people who have come into the kingdom of heaven, but money is so deceptive in its power. It can get such a hold on your life. You may be saying, “I will not give in to Jesus Christ, because when I do, I’ll have to recognize that my money cannot save me. As a matter of fact, after I receive Christ as Savior, he may want me to be generous and I can’t do that.” You can hug it to your bosom and you can miss the kingdom of heaven just like this rich man did because you are so taken up with its seductive power.

At the end of the day, of course, as you know and as is evident, what we must recognize is that salvation does come, not because you’re rich or because you’re poor, but because you come in all humility and you receive the free gift of eternal life, recognizing that what you bring with you does not help in your relationship with God. You leave it all behind and you trust Christ as the only one who can save you. It is all God’s. Yes, we are going through a difficult time, but God is going to be with us to test us and to develop worshippers,

A pastor in Romania said these words. He said, “Ninety percent of the people in my congregation passed the test of persecution. When persecution came they passed the test. They were faithful to God. But he said, “Ninety percent of my people have failed the test of prosperity. The minute they are prosperous they no longer attend church, they are no longer involved in ministry. Now they don’t need God quite as much.”

God is testing us, and if we are faithful in that which is least, the text says, “I’ll give you the true riches; I’ll give you that which is your own.”

Would you join me as I pray?

Father, we do ask in Jesus’ name that you will help us. We pray, Father God, for those who are going through times of real economic adversity. Help us to know how to help them. We pray for those, Father God, who are in positions where they can help. Make all of us a generous people. Help us to delight in giving that we may have friends that welcome us into eternal dwelling places. Help us to think through how best to use it so that in the end we can be faithful with what you’ve given us. And for those who are here who have never trusted Christ as Savior, help them to know that these principles, though important, are really beside the point, and that they must come and realize their need of a Savior, and that ultimately they must be saved from themselves first. Open their lives to your truth, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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