Getting Investments RightErwin W. Lutzer | August 14, 2011
Selected highlights from this sermon
During a time of financial uncertainty, we need a safe investment with a high rate of return. And there’s no better investment than an investment in lives.
In this message, Pastor Lutzer will show us how to lay up treasures in heaven. He also reminds us that our money is not owned by us, and what we do with it will be commensurate with the kind of rewards Jesus will give us in heaven.
This morning’s sermon is actually about money. I can imagine that you maybe brought a friend here today and you thought, “Oh no – not money!” because after all churches are sometimes known for always asking for money. And then T.V. preachers come along and make it even more difficult for the rest of us because they promise you that if you send money to them you are going to have all kinds of blessings that come into your life. But I talk to you about money because today is a day of financial uncertainty. I can’t think of any topic more relevant because people today in the fluctuating stock market are wondering where they should park their cash, and Jesus is very interested in where you park your cash – very interested. And what Jesus teaches us about money is this, that what you want to do is to have a safe investment at a high rate of return. What could be more relevant – whether we have lots of money or whether we have a little bit of money – than to know where we can put it in a time of financial turbulence?
Jesus, however, tells a story in Luke 16 and he sometimes surprises us, doesn’t he? He tells a parable that you and I might not have told. Interestingly he actually uses a bad example to teach a good lesson. He said to his 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 that that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? (In other words, I’m being fired.) I am 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.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For 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, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”
Wow! We wouldn’t have expected that from Jesus. You know the situation is that the man gets fired from his management because he’s mismanaging, not necessarily feathering his own nest. But he’s mismanaging and so he gets fired. But the owner says, “Okay, at the end of this day, you’re done,” and so the guy said, “Hey, I have a couple of hours,” and so what he does is he asks people who owed money to the wealthy man how much they owed, and then he wrote down less, because he said, “You know, when I’m out of here I’m going to need some friends to do me a good turn and so I’m going to use the money to build friendships so that when I am finished maybe they’ll have me in their home.”
Jesus is not commending the dishonesty or the morals of this manager, and we know that because Jesus also goes on to say that he is the son of this world, as opposed to the sons of light. But what Jesus is doing is he is taking this bad example and from it drawing a very important lesson, namely that we should be using our money to make friends who are going to welcome us into everlasting habitations or eternal dwellings. So what Jesus is saying is, “We can’t agree with the morals of this manager but we can agree with the principal of using money well for the purpose of future benefits to others and indirectly to ourselves.”
So what I’d like to do now is to give you four lessons that we learn about money from this parable, and I might say that these lessons are utterly transforming. If we took them seriously we would never look at our money the same way again, and we’d always be making better investments. So join me on this brief journey as we look at this passage.
The first lesson obviously is this. Money is loaned to us and it is not owned by us. It is loaned and not owned. This manager was a steward. He was given responsibility to manage the money but he didn’t own the money. You know, on Friday I actually went to the bank. I am still that kind of a guy. I had a small transaction to make and then I took some money out of the bank. I know all of you use ATMs and all those things. Put me in a museum somewhere but I like to go to a bank. The thing that I’m noticing is that when I go nobody else is there because everybody else is using modern technology. But I saw the teller go into the till and she pulled out a bundle of cash, and rolled off a few bills for me. How much of that did she own? None! She’s a manager, and if she were a dishonest manager she wouldn’t be there very long, but she doesn’t own any of the money there.
Jesus is saying that this man didn’t own any. In fact, later on you’ll notice what Jesus says in verse 9. “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,” and he goes on to say in verse 12, “If you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, how will you get the true riches?”
Our wealth is God’s and we are managers. Now we are reminded of that every two weeks when we get paid because we get this pay stub, and of course, money is put into our account electronically. It’s put in electronically but in my case it isn’t necessarily withdrawn electronically, but it’s there. But already we are reminded that it isn’t ours because on the pay stub it says state tax and federal tax. I know we used to pay money to FICA. It used to say on the thing FICA. I heard somebody say, “I don’t know. I’m paying money to FICA and I’ve never even met her,” but there’s FICA, there is the state tax, there is the income tax. I am sure there is also the fun tax, and if you are a teacher I’m sure there will be syntax, and you have all of these different taxes that we pay to the IRS. All of us have felt like writing to the IRS and saying, “You know, I can’t afford your services anymore.” (laughter) Don’t you want to write that to the IRS? So it’s already built into it. Our money isn’t there. It’s another’s, but all of the money that we do take home belongs to God, and if it is not taken away from us we will be taken away from it because the day is going to come when we will die and we take nothing with us to the grave that is useful to us in that form. And one of the points of the parable is that the money is given to you. It is loaned. It is not owned, and no matter how stingy you are, it is not yours to keep. It will be taken away from you.
I’m going to ask you to pray a prayer, not right now, but I dare you to pray this prayer. I dare you to acknowledge the fact that everything you have is not yours, and it is God’s. Now it’s easy to say that. You can say that verbally but every once in a while I give the money to God. Well, I know that it is his but my heart wants to take ownership of it. I want to say, “This is mine,” and to keep myself from saying that, every so often I need to pray and say, “God, it is yours. It isn’t mine. It’s loaned. It is not owned by me. Help me to manage it well.” What a transformation that would make in your heart if you sincerely prayed it! Talk is cheap, but to make that transfer in your heart and to understand that it is God’s, whether you have much or little, will also free you of a lot of worry and a lot of concern because you are not going to worry about that which belongs to God. We worry primarily about that which belongs to us. So make the transfer. That’s lesson number one.
Lesson number two is that money should be transmuted into better profitable safe investments. Now notice how Jesus explains all that. You’ll notice that he says in verse 9, “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.” I’ll read the rest also. “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 (There’s the statement. It doesn’t belong to us.), who will give you that which is your own? 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 cannot serve God and money.” Wow! So what Jesus is saying is what we should do is transfer our money to a safe eternal investment.
Now you know that during a financial upheaval everybody is buying gold. That’s why the price of gold is increasing. I have a friend who gives advice to people and he said, “Don’t get gold because it can’t be used for anything. Silver can be. It can be used industrially.” I said to him, “You know, you are a wise man but I think you’ve said something very foolish.” I don’t care whether or not gold can be used for anything. All that I know is that from the earliest time, gold has been precious and everybody has agreed that it is precious, and all of us wish (Do we not?) that we had bought it when it was a lot cheaper. That’s all that I can say.
So gold is a good investment, but it’s not the best investment and the reason is because it is not eternal. It rusts, figuratively speaking. James said in chapter 5, “You rich men, your gold and your silver is becoming corroded and the reason is because you gained your riches by exploiting the poor,” and he said, “God is listening and watching, and your gold is rusting and your silver is corroding.” And even if it is a benefit in this life, and I am sure you agree it would be, the fact is that in the life to come you can’t take it with you. Oh, you can be buried with some jewelry I am sure, and some gold put into the coffin, but of what value is it? I mean what use is it? It will be taken away from you.
So Jesus said, “If you are interested in safety, if you are interested in a high rate of return, if you really are serious about that, use your wealth to make friends who will welcome you into everlasting dwelling places.” What he is saying is, “Use your wealth to spread the Gospel so that when you get to heaven there will be people there who will be ready to welcome you because you had a part in their salvation, because you made friends with your money, and you used it to the glory and the honor of God. And it’s an eternal investment.
You say, “Well, how do we do that?” The Apostle Paul in Philippians 4 said something very interesting. People were sending him some money in prison, and he said, “You know, I’m not asking for any money, but I do know this. My desire for you is that fruit may accrue to your account.” Let me read it directly. He said that fruit increases directly to your credit. Paul says that it is as if when you give you are actually receiving dividends.
We mean this sincerely. Giving is not just to fund ministries, however important that will be. Giving is, as Jesus said, laying up treasures not on earth where moth and rust corrupt and where thieves break through and steal, but rather it is putting treasure in heaven where neither moth nor rust corrupt and thieves cannot break through and steal. It is a secure investment. It is an investment for all of eternity, and you are receiving dividends through your generosity, Paul says, that will be given to you by God.
You ask me if I am preaching prosperity Gospel? Absolutely not! I am not telling you that if you are generous in this life, and if you give money to one cause or another that God is going to bless you and multiply you and heal you. I am saying that God in all of eternity will reward you, and people will be there to welcome you because you used your money to get the Gospel to them so that they could be saved, and God will take note of that in eternal everlasting dwellings.
Now think about this for a moment. Who funded William Carey? He is known as the father of modern missions. He went to India, and wasn’t that successful necessarily but was a plotter and had all kinds of problems, but he opened India for the Gospel. Who funded him? I have no idea. I’ve read a biography of William Carey, but I don’t know who in the world supported him, but I do know this. God knows, and William Carey (who is already in heaven) and all of his supporters will be welcomed by people from India who will say, “You had a part in my salvation because of your faithfulness, and I welcome you into an everlasting habitation.”
Who is it that funded our Vacation Bible School so that 445 children could hear the Gospel? Well, I don’t think that there is one individual. It’s spread among us. I like to think of giving to Moody Church as sort of a mutual fund, and that fund has various funds within it. You give to the mutual fund, and there’s a music fund, and there’s a children’s fund, and there’s a family fund, and there’s our various other ministries – men’s ministries and women’s ministries. We have equipping ministries, evangelism ministries, and what we are doing actually is funding together in this mutual fund. And then we have the worldwide missionary task that we are involved in - all of our missionaries who are leading people to saving faith in Christ in countries that we will never visit, but someday those people in other countries arriving in heaven will also welcome us into everlasting dwelling places because they’ll say, “You used your money to promote the Gospel.”
I think of our media ministry. Many of you may not realize that thanks to the media ministry, tens of thousands of people listen everyday, and even all through Southeast Asia because of Transworld Radio. Your contributions and your investments help people. It explains the Gospel to them that there may be people on the other side to welcome us into everlasting dwelling places who will say, “Thank you.” You used your money to make friends who will be there waiting for you. That is what Jesus here is teaching.
And I think, for example, of a ministry birthed here called, “By the Hand Club for Kids.” We know it was begun by Donita Travis, who also is its executive director, but I think today of all of the people who have supported this great ministry to children here in the city of Chicago, and many of them have believed on Jesus. Can you imagine being welcomed into heaven by children who are now adults, and they are saying, “Thank you for supporting that because we are your friends because you invested in our lives.” That’s what Jesus is teaching about the way in which money should be used.
And then there’s a third lesson, and it is that money is a test of our future reward. Listen to what Jesus said there in verses 10-12. “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 you then have not been faithful in 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 if you aren’t faithful in the realm of money (which he calls very little), who will entrust true riches to you? Can you imagine Jesus saying it is little? I’ll tell you, in the world money isn’t little. Money is big. It is everything. Get it honestly if you can, and get it deceptively if you must, but at all counts, get it.
In USA Today there was an article years ago (I’m not sure of the exact date but I wrote this down) that said that 48% of Americans said that they would be willing to cheat and to lie to get money if they were absolutely assured that they would not get caught. In other words, they are willing to sacrifice all that they are just to get money. And I’ve been to Colorado a number of times and if you drive through the back woods of Colorado you notice all of these places now abandoned because of the Gold Rush that was there. You read stories. I saw this on television one time – a special on the Gold Rush. I mean people sacrificed their families. They sacrificed their children. They sacrificed their lives. They took risks all to get the gold. And Jesus said, “You know, it is a very little thing.” If you contrast it with the true riches that await us in heaven it is a little thing.
So Jesus is saying, “If you aren’t faithful in a little thing, who is going to give you the big thing? Who is going to give you the true riches? Who is going to be there to welcome you? Who is there going to be to affirm you so that you can rule with Jesus in the kingdom?
And then Jesus calls it unrighteous wealth. I think that it was the King James that said filthy lucre. Now Jesus knew that money is neutral. You can use fifty dollars to buy a Bible or you can use fifty dollars to buy cocaine, and it depends on how you use it, but because it is so sought after and makes all the promises that God makes, and because it has so much power over us, Jesus calls it unrighteous wealth. Imagine Jesus calling it that.
Are you surprised at the fact that the Pharisees ridiculed him? Look what it says in verse 14. Your eyes need to see this in the text. “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard these things and they ridiculed him.” “Why, somebody calling money a little thing! Are you serious? We’re lovers of it.” The Bible says the love of money is the root of all evil. We say to ourselves, “Well, you know I don’t love it. I just think about it all the time. I date it. I hug it to my bosom. I’m willing to do anything to get it. Oh me? No, I don’t love it.” No wonder the Pharisees ridiculed him, the Bible says, because they were lovers of money. If you are a money lover you might not like this message.
But Jesus is saying that the way in which you use it is going to be commensurate with the kind of reward that he will give you in heaven. Now think about this. Think of how wise it is to invest in God’s word. Number one, it is safe. Number two, the rewards and the dividends are eternal. If you are interested during a financial downturn as to where you should park your money, give it to Christian ministry. Give it for the advance of the Gospel because Jesus said that if you do that it won’t rust. It won’t wear away. It’s an eternal investment. How in the world can you beat that?
And then Jesus says finally that you can’t serve God and money. I read it there in verse 13. I’ll read it again. “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.” This really needs a separate sermon sometime because it is here where we deceive ourselves. We are absolutely confident that we can serve both God and money. We serve God on Sunday. On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday we serve money and we can do both. Jesus said you can’t. It would be like trying to dance to two different tunes at the same time. Now in my case I wouldn’t be able to dance to one tune, so two, very clearly, would be a bit much.
But Jesus said, “Examine your heart on this because you can’t serve both.” I recognize that we need money to live. Saving money is wise. We have here at the Moody Church instruction on money during these financial downturns. Continue to check your bulletin those of you who are in debt and looking for work because all of us can benefit from wise financial investments, but at the end of the day what you really want to do is to make sure that your money is working for the cause of the Gospel.
Here are two true stories very quickly. It’s the end of the Second World War in Berlin. Now all of us know about the hyperinflation in Germany that led actually to the rise of Adolph Hitler, but this is after World War II. Germany, again, has huge financial problems and rapid growing inflation. In a book entitled “The Day the Dollar Died,” there’s a story of a German woman who came with a bag of money to a Bible school in Berlin. She had carefully saved her German Marks, and she brought this bag and she gave it to the head of the school, and was so gratified that she’d be able to make an investment really that would pay dividends eternally. He was very sad because he had to tell her something. She had not been listening to the news and the day before the Mark had been cancelled, and Germany was beginning again by printing brand new money. The money was entirely worthless. What happened to this dear lady (God bless her and God knows her intentions and she’ll be rewarded for her intentions) was she waited too long to transmute her money into an eternal investment.
I remember talking to a man when we had a downturn here a couple of years ago who I suspect has a great deal of wealth. He actually lives in a different state – the state of Michigan. But he told me that in light of what has happened he wished he had given more to the Church and more to missionaries because he was losing so much anyway. How much better it is to transmute it into an eternal investment. Jesus would have said, “There’s a place to put your money.”
Here’s another true story about Princess Eugenie. Now I know there is a present Princess Eugenie. I checked that on the Internet, but this is one who lived some time ago and I actually wasn’t able to track her down because there are a whole series of Princess Eugenies. But she’s the Christian lady who was given a crown because she was a princess and a queen, and she said to her husband, “I want to build an orphanage for children,” and she said, “I’d like to sell my jewels so that I could use the money to build an orphanage,” because she was wearing her crown with plenty of jewels. He was against it. You know, the crown is important, keep all your wealth, etc. etc., but she insisted. So he let her sell the jewels in her crown. She took the money and she built an orphanage and when she heard the children sing songs about Jesus she came home one day and said, “I found my jewels. I found my jewels. I found them in the lives of these children singing about the Lord Jesus Christ.” What a wise woman! She couldn’t take her crown with her - those jewels and all the gold and everything like that. I mean of what value is that? What she was saying is, “People say you can’t take it with you but you absolutely can take it with you.” But you have to put it in a form that will actually overcome the gap called death so that it gets to the other side, so that on the other side there are children and adults there who welcome you into eternal dwellings and say, “Thank you for your sacrifice.” Do you think that woman in heaven today regrets what she did? It’s what she did that will last eternally. All the jewels, while they are encased today in the museums throughout Germany, do not save souls.
There’s a closing comment I want to make. Maybe you are here today and you say, “Pastor Lutzer, how much does it cost to become a Christian?” Well, that’s a really good question. I am glad you are asking it. I hope that many of you were asking it, because I would really not be fair to you if I didn’t explain something with as much clarity as God can give me.
Receiving Christ as your savior is entirely a free gift based on what Jesus has already accomplished. It is recognizing our sinfulness and that we can make no contribution. You can give all your jewels and all your money to the Gospel. You can do all that and still be lost because what you need is a savior, and his righteousness and his gift comes to you freely. It has to be free because you and I can make no contribution whatever toward it. It is entirely of God. So if you have come here today with a troubled conscience, seeking God, come to Jesus, the Bible says. Participate in taking from the water of life freely. It is free. And after you have received the free gift of salvation then you begin to say, “Okay, my place in heaven is secure but now how do I live in such a way that when I arrive there I’ll have something to show for my lifestyle? And that’s when you begin to ask yourself, “What investments can I make, whether financial, volunteering, doing whatever I can so that others will be there in heaven and say, ‘You know what? In part I am here because of you.’”
I am going to pray. There are some of you who never have received Christ as savior. You can pray along with me. Those of you who know him, can you actually say, “I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold?” Are your investments secure eternally, everlastingly and very safe?
Join me as we pray.
Father, we thank you for these words from Jesus, a parable about investments. We pray today, Father, that those of us who know you may be very faithful, and those who don’t, may they know that they can come without money and without price. They come freely to receive a gift that has already been made available to them, if only they believe. May they believe right now in their hearts both in this sanctuary and around the world - those who are watching and listening by way of the Internet. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.