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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10.30 am service, 2000-09-17

Text: Luke 16:1-14

This morning we are going to look at a parable on the subject of stewardship - a term which means the management the things we have. Of the over 40 parables that Jesus told, at least three of them deal with stewardship.

I. The Business Setting of the Parable (vv.1-7)

The parable itself reads like a typical situation in the business world: A manager in a business firm was mismanaging his company's funds. He apparently used the money freely for his own pleasure and expenses. All of a sudden the boss gets wind of his mismanagement of funds, and calls for an auditing of the books. The manager realizes that his days of work in the office are numbered, and so he schemes a way to guarantee himself a good and comfortable future - by cheating his boss.

Today, we may hear of similar cases of managers involved in dishonest dealing, unethical practices, kickbacks, and under-the-table favours. Some people who do these are caught by the law and prosecuted, but many get away with them. Some are able to find legal loopholes to get what they want. These practices have all been going on since time immemorial, and will probably keep going on as long as there is greed and sin in this world.

Now the first thing we need to understand is that Christ is in no way excusing or endorsing such practices by using them in this parable. It is important to understand that our Lord was not commending the steward for his unjust and unethical actions. In fact, what He mentioned at the end of the parable confirms that He was discouraging His disciples from following the covetous attitude of the steward. In v.13 He said, 'No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.' And v.14 tells us that this very much offended the Pharisees who heard this, because they were covetous. They were serving mammon, which is actually monetary wealth, personified by Christ as a god.

II. The Danger of Covetousness (vv.13,14)

The Bible tells us that covetousness is actually a form of idolatry (Colossians 3:5). And covetousness is a root sin that often leads to many other sins as well. In the case of the steward in the parable, it led him to cheat his boss by colluding with his boss's debtors to falsify the financial accounts in their favour. Besides this, covetousness has also led people to steal, to kill and to hurt and destroy the lives of innocent people. We hear of covetous building contractors who cut corners in construction work in order to cut costs, and in countries where there is no proper building control, they can easily get away with it. What is the result of this? Over 4000 lives lost in an earthquake! The desire for money causes many to fall into sin.

You may have noticed that in vv.9 and 11 the adjective 'unrighteous' is added to describe mammon (making it 'mammon of unrighteousness' or 'unrighteous mammon'). This adjective does not mean that we may use money obtained by illegal or sinful means. We should have nothing to do with any money or goods that were obtained by theft, gambling or cheating. But what 'mammon of unrighteousness' means that in this world, the desire for money is often the primary cause of unrighteousness, because people covet more and more of it.

This is why the scriptures tell us that 'the love of money is the root of all evil� (1 Timothy 6:10). Let us see the sin of covetousness the way that God sees it. God views it as a terrible evil; but society on the other hand, views it as the least of human problems and in fact encourages it as the route to all kinds of personal fulfillment. It is a deep-rooted problem in Singapore -- we call it materialism or kiasu-ism. These are just milder terms for covetousness and greed. The list of things that a household simply must have, increases year by year. This can become a very frustrating way of life because one can never be satisfied in it. There is really no end to it! The more you get, the more you want. John D. Rockefeller was asked how much money it takes to satisfy a man. The reply of one of the world's wealthiest men was, 'A little more!' 

That was what motivated the steward in the parable to cheat his master: he coveted more and more for himself. He did not care at all about his master and had no qualms about robbing him, so long as his own future was secure. And the amounts he deprived his master of were not small amounts. In v.6 he gave a 50% discount to one of his master's debtors. Fifty measures of oil in those days amounted to about ten months' labour. In v.7 he reduced another person's debt by 20%. 

Twenty measures of wheat is worth about 13 months' labour. By giving such great discounts, this manager made many friends, and there is no doubt that he would easily find employment from one of them after his dismissal. But actually the discounts were not his right to give at all. He used His master's money for his own personal ends - to feather his own nest. Such sinful attitudes and actions are clearly condemned by God in the Scriptures. And so when we read this parable, we should be careful not to emulate the covetous attitude and sinful practices of this unjust steward. Christ was not commending him for these things at all. 

III. The Right Attitude to Material Wealth (vv.11,12) 

What kind of attitudes should we then have toward our possessions? Well, God does not want us to regard our possessions as being ours, but as things that He has entrusted to us or loaned to us. Do you know that although you may possess many things on earth, you do not own them at all? God owns them, and hence you will have to return them all back to Him one day.

Even the body you have does not belong to you but to God (1 Cor 6:19). He gives you the privilege of using His vast wealth. He has made you a steward or manager of these things, but only for a very short time of 70 or 80 years. Therefore you need to exercise great care and wisdom in your stewardship as there will be an auditing of accounts one day. So use your resources wisely.

Dearly beloved, is this the way that you have been regarding the things you have? Have you been wise in managing the things you possess? Or have you been more like the steward of the parable, who according to v.1, was careless and wasted his master's goods, as if they were all his own to spend on himself? Now, how should you handle your life and possessions if you considered them as being on temporary loan to you from God? You must not waste them but make good use of them. You must seek to invest these possessions as wisely as possible, and that means investing them with good foresight, or in the light of what you know will happen in the future.

Jesus stated this principle in v.9 'Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.' 

This verse is admittedly not easy to interpret, but in context what it means is that the way to get best returns out of your monetary investments, is to invest as much of them as possible in the things of God. The friends we are to make (as mentioned in this verse) are not earthly friends, but heavenly friends, since the latter part says that these friends can actually receive us into everlasting habitations. And so the 'friends' must then be a reference to God Himself. 

This does not mean however, that money can buy God's favour or buy us a place in heaven. It would be utterly wrong for anyone to think that by giving large amounts of money to the Lord, He will be rewarded with a place in heaven! God's favours cannot be purchased at all with money or with any good works. They are bestowed entirely by grace alone. 

What v.9 teaches then, is this: That we who have already been saved by God's grace, should be spending our money wisely in the things of the Lord rather than in the things of this world. And when we do that, we gain the wonderful assurance that even if we should become totally broke one day through no fault of our own, God will take good care of us and receive us joyfully into His home. God is our faithful friend and when everything else in life fails us, He alone never fails. And therefore we should be investing our time, effort and money in doing the will of God. Let us therefore live all the time with eternity's values in view. Exercise good stewardship now of all that you have, and all that you spend will be spent well.

IV. The Blessings of Good Stewardship (vv.11,12)

And you can be even more encouraged to do all this by looking at two wonderful blessings that are yours if you exercise good stewardship: Firstly the scriptures tell us that the person who is faithful in his stewardship has the assurance of God that all his needs will be provided in full. In Matthew 6, Jesus assures us that as long as we seek God's kingdom first God will take care of all our material needs 'But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.' In Philippians 4:19 when the apostle Paul was praising the Philippian Christians for their good stewardship, he added, 'But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.' This certainly is a wonderful assurance.

Secondly, God promises to reward us for good stewardship. He treats us as if these possessions were our own and we were doing something worthy of praise in investing in His purposes in the world. A month ago, the Parable of the Talents was studied at our 8 am service, and there we saw the glorious rewards that were given to the profitable servants. They were told, 'Well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord!' (Matthew 25:21)

Coming back to our parable, we see the wonderful prospect of receiving heavenly rewards described in vv.11. as 'true riches'. That description at once implies that our earthly wealth are not true riches. People who have great material wealth deceive themselves if they think that they have true riches. What they have, has value only in the eyes of men, and not in God's eyes. Obviously then, we should be striving for the true riches which are found in heaven.

In addition to that, our heavenly rewards are described in v.12 as being our very own. Earlier on I mentioned that all the things we now have on earth are not our own, but God's. Now we see that through faithful stewardship of these things which are not our own, we may one day be given things that will be our very own. They will be ours to own forever, and not on temporary loan. So let us be truly motivated by these two blessings to work towards the exercise good stewardship of our possessions.

V. The Key to Good Stewardship (v.8a)

Now this parable is designed to teach us something quite specific about our stewardship: Its purpose is to teach us about the key characteristic that we must have in order to exercise good stewardship: That is the characteristic of shrewdness. Shrewdness can be defined as the astuteness or the ability to make the most of every opportunity. A shrewd businessman is able to size up any situation and make wise profitable choices. They have the skill of exploiting the full potential of their resources. When it comes to making money, business people often know how to be very enterprising and to seize every profit-making opportunity that comes along. They will travel far and wide, make contact with key people, keep late nights, and drive themselves to the very limits of endurance, in their business. They will invest in high-risk investments that promise high gains. They will closely monitor the stock and money market, and determine exactly when they should buy and when they should sell. They are clearly devoted to doing well in their business.

If believers could only be just as shrewd as most businessmen are - but with the right motives, and for the right purpose - they would be able to accomplish far more for God's kingdom. In v.8 of the parable when the master found out what the unjust steward had done, although he may have been very angry with him for having cheated him, he could not help but to admire his shrewdness -so 'he commended the unjust steward because he had done wisely.' And then the Lord added this sobering comment: 'for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.' What did He mean by this?

VI. The Lamentable Lack of Shrewdness in the Lord's Business

The words 'wisely' and 'wiser' in this verse must be understood correctly. This is not referring to wisdom in spiritual matters. In spiritual matters like salvation, and the knowledge of God, God's children are definitely wiser than the world's children. But oftentimes, God's children cannot excel their worldly contemporaries in the wisdom on how to be shrewd in work and service. There is a lamentable lack of astuteness among God's children, in matters of the Lord's business! Jesus Himself said this in v.8 'for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.' 

Now, how wise are the children of this world in business matters? Some of them have actually developed business dealing into an art. Step into any bookstore today and you will probably find one whole section of books written on business success. Recently I saw one book in a bookstore that teaches how to apply the principles of the Chinese classic, Sun Tzu's Art of War, to business situations. There are many books that detail elaborate strategies to ensure that entrepreneurs will make the quickest and greatest profits. 

Now, there are of course important limitations to what God's people can learn out of this wisdom. Some Christians today popularize unscriptural market-driven practices for church ministries. They claim that churches will grow rapidly if the church first determines what are the felt needs of the community, and then designs user-friendly programmes to meet those needs. For example they say that we must have worship services where people will feel uplifted and entertained. Since people are generally not interested in listening to long speeches, the sermons should be kept to just 10 minutes and should always be very upbeat and positive. 

Since people enjoy contemporary music, such music should always be played in church. And since people like to use the whole of Sunday for recreation, the worship service should be moved to Saturday night to draw greater crowds. These methods or means are all very man-centred. 

Let us remember one important rule we need to apply here: The end does not justify the means. God has already given us the effective means to use in the Lord's business - the faithful and consistent preaching of the Gospel, prayer, and most of all, a God-centred emphasis in our ministry of worship and service. These things must be maintained at all times. 

In what way then, should God's children learn from the children of this world? Only in the area of their shrewdness, in their willingness to exercise good foresight, to take calculated risks, to seize every opportunity to do business and maximise each of them. This is the key to good stewardship, and sadly, it is often lacking among God's people. How sad it is that those who are in the Lord's business often lack foresight and prudence. How sad it is that they are often slow or unwilling to look for opportunities to promote the Lord's business, to use them well, and to take risks for the sake of God's kingdom. How sad it is that the children of light are not bolder and wiser than the children of this world in these things! 

Surely we have a nobler and more glorious cause to be shrewd for, than the children of this world. They have only their own selfish gains in view. But we have God's glory in view. They have only these world's goods to invest in - things that will eventually deteriorate and amount to nothing. But we have the eternal light of God's word to invest in, the precious lives of men and the message of salvation, which is the only hope for a world without hope. They have no guarantee at all of good success in their ventures - their fortunes will rise and fall with the region's economy. But we have the firm guarantee of God Himself, who has given the wonderful promise in Isaiah 55:11 'So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.' To sum it all up, there is no better business that you can invest in, than the Lord's business!

VII. How to Do Well in The Lord's Business

I trust that what we have learned from this parable today will give us the sense of urgency to act fully upon our stewardship. This assessment in v.8, given by our Lord Himself, of us who are children of light, must wake us up to our responsibility. God's people must not be content to remain less wise than children of this world, but must certainly strive to be just as shrewd if not more shrewd than them. 

The question that remains to be asked is how can we start to exercise good stewardship? Let us look at some steps: 

A. Choose to serve God, not Mammon

Your view of material wealth must change. You must not let it rule and dominate your life. You must not regard it as an end in itself, but rather, as a means to an end. Someone once said that 'Money is a marvelous servant, but a terrible master!' Let God rule your life, and let Him direct you to put your money to good use. Let Him be the lord of all your possessions. 

B. Get Your Priorities Right

Look at your budget and see what are the things that you are now spending most of your time and money on - that can provide an indication of your present priorities. People commonly think of stewardship as how a person should give tithes and offerings. But this is a mistaken idea. Stewardship has to do with how a Christian uses everything he possesses, and not just his money. We are to be good stewards in the way we use our car, our tools, our house, our clothing, our books - everything that we have. Stewardship does not mean giving only 10 percent to God and then keeping the remaining 90 percent for ourselves. It means using the 100 percent wholly for the Lord as He directs. 

And of course the Lord does direct us to use part of it to feed and clothe ourselves and the ones for whom we are responsible. The scriptures teach that 'the labourer is worthy of his hire� (Luke 10:7) and also 'if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.' (1 Timothy 5:8). But all the rest should be used for the Lord - to bless the needy, to encourage Christian brethren, and to provide for God's work.

C. Be Alert to see God's Opportunities

There are many needs all around, and all you need to do is to be alert to them. If you read the church weekly bulletin, and the Thanksgiving and Prayer Bulletin that is distributed with it, you will find out what needs for love, service and giving there are. Pray for them, and as you pray, the Lord may direct you to be part of His answer to that prayer. Now, you alone cannot possibly meet all of these needs by yourself. The question that you must ask yourself is: What are the specific needs that God wants you to meet? Where does God want you to invest His funds? Once you know what God's will for the funds He has entrusted to you is, you can go on to the fourth and final step: 

D. Make Full Use of Every Opportunity

Ecclesiastes 9:10 says 'Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might;' Enter into the opportunities for stewardship with the same intensity with which good businessmen use their business opportunities - they do so with all their might!

And thus we have seen four steps to be good stewards: if you keep on taking these steps, you will become a good and faithful steward of God, and will one day receive receive the commendation: 'Well done, good and faithful steward, you have been faithful in little things; Now you will be entrusted with greater things, with greater opportunities to bring glory to the Lord.' Dearly beloved, will you be receiving this commendation? It is my prayer that you will.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25