Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
How should we view worldly wealth? Do you recognize the names Andrew Carnegie, J. D. Rockefeller, J. P. Morgan, Leland Stanford, and Cornelius Vanderbilt? These were the titans of steel, oil, finance, timber, and rail in the 19th century. They also left a legacy of philanthropy with foundations, institutions, libraries, and schools named after them. Yet we might rightly question some of their business practices as unethical, illegal; even immoral.
Some would say these powerful leaders brought order to the chaos of the industrial revolution and helped turn America into a 20th century powerhouse. Others call them robber barons, getting ahead in this world any way they could and then buying a legacy with their ill-gotten gains.
Whichever way you want to spin their biographies, it’s hard to say they were anything but shrewd business men. They knew the ways of this world and how to use them for their advantage.
So was the dishonest manager in Jesus’ parable. He knew the ways of the world. He knew how to focus his resources to make his way through this life, no matter what the obstacles. When faced with losing his position as manager, he gets a flash of insight. He’s too weak to do manual labor and too proud to beg, but came up with another plan to secure his future. While he’s still in control of his employer’s books, he has each of the debtors come in to meet with him. He tells them to write out a new IOU for a smaller amount.
It may not sound ethical to us, but it was common within their business system. After the steward is fired, these debtors feel an obligation of gratitude to help him out. In fact, his boss even commends him for his shrewdness. He wasn’t necessarily approving the actions as right, but he could see the logic and wisdom of it.
So what’s Jesus teaching us here? He can’t be saying, “Cook the books to get ahead in this world.” That would go against everything the Bible says about stealing. Listen to how Jesus himself applies the lesson. “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9 NIV).
The dishonest manager did all he could with the worldly wealth he controlled in order to ease his earthly situation. He viewed his master’s wealth as a tool for his benefit. How much more so should we—who are children of the light—view worldly wealth simply as a tool, not a goal?
We can do this because instead of being fixated on earthly goals, we have eternal objectives. We no longer live in the darkness but have been brought into the light of Jesus Christ, radiating with His forgiving love. And so we manage the earthly with our eyes on eternity.
So, then, how do we gain friends for eternity, as Jesus describes? How are we to use earthly wealth as merely a tool, keeping our eyes on eternity? “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into the eternal dwellings.” (Luke 16:9 NIV). Is Jesus telling us to buy friends? Not in the normal way those words are used. He does not mean to buy friends like the prodigal son did in Luke 15. In that story, the son used his inheritance to party hard. But, when the money was gone, his fellow partiers proved to be fair-weather friends, leaving him to feed pigs. He had his eyes set on how much fun he could get out of this life and bought temporary friends.
That’s not what Jesus means here. With our eyes set on eternity, we have a totally different mindset of what it means to use earthly wealth to gain friends. For we’re not looking for friends with whom to spend a little bit of time on earth. Rather, we’re looking for friends for eternity. Always manage the earthly with your eyes on eternity.
Maybe the first thing that ought to come to mind is using our earthly wealth to support the mission Jesus assigned to His Church. As the Gospel of Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins and for the granting of eternal life is proclaimed, the Holy Spirit changes hearts. Newly baptized Christians in our congregation and all over the world become our brothers and sisters in Christ. As long as we continue in the faith, they will be our friends for eternity, even if we do not personally meet them in this life.
But there’s more here as well. All that we have belongs to the Lord—our money, our belongings, our time, our work, our play, our talents—all of it. We are only the managers, the stewards, not the owners. It’s not only the relatively paltry amounts we put in the offering plate that He wants us to manage faithfully. We are to properly care for all He’s entrusted to us.
But that does not mean putting 100 percent into the offering plate, either. God has given us vocations to care for our families and to fulfill our obligations in this world. The question which should be asked as you spend your money or save it is this: Do you have eternity in your sights? Doing that changes your attitude, motives, and goals! We still spend our money for the necessities of life, like food and clothing. We still spend some of it for a few of the many luxuries and conveniences available, and some for some fun and recreation. We save for retirement as well. But look at the change that takes place inside of us as we manage the earthly with our eyes set on eternity.
We don’t see these things as ends in themselves. We don’t work only to have food on the table or only to have fun on the weekend. We don’t save for retirement only because we want to live it up after our working years, or because we’re fearful of being a burden to family. When our eyes are on eternity, we see all of our life as service to our Savior by serving our neighbor. It becomes a daily opportunity to share His love. Money and “stuff” are simply tools.
As we provide for our families or help a fellow Christian in need, we see our Savior’s face in them. “Whatever you do for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40 NIV). As we interact with the world or have fun with our friends, we see them as fellow souls for whom Jesus died. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28 NIV).
As we make our pilgrimage through this earthly life using our worldly wealth, we can keep our eyes open for those around us who still need to be invited to join us on our journey heavenward. As we use our money, we come into contact with the people of this age who are lost in darkness, and can let them see the light of Christ. Remember that “the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:10). With our eyes on eternity we manage our earthly wealth in ways so that others may share eternity with us. That’s not buying friends; that’s winning friends for Christ, friends for eternity. Manage the earthly with your eyes on the eternal.
But we’re not always faithful managers, are we? How we fall short here! Ask yourself, “Have I been a faithful manager in all things?” When you have used the resources entrusted to you, is it always with Christ firmly in your heart? Do you always have eternity in your eyes? Or do you often get caught up in trying to find joy in the things of this life?
Do you not consider God’s creation of, provision of, and rightful claim on everything? Do you give any regular thought to why and how much you should be returning to Him to further His kingdom? Or do you avoid contemplating that, because it makes you fearful, uncomfortable, and embarrassed?
And don’t try to excuse yourself thinking, “If I have the wrong attitude with my money, what’s the big deal. It’s only money. It’s all passing away. I’ll be more careful with more important things.” But Jesus says, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?” (Luke 16:10-12 NIV)
God sees this in the way we handle the earthly wealth, which really belongs to Him. Our attitudes and behavior in this regard shows who our true master is. Either we are serving God with it, or we are serving Money and the things money can buy. Either we are trusting God for all He has done and has promised, or we are trusting what money can do for us. Either we are loving God or we love what money can get us. We can’t have it both ways: “No servant can serve two masters,” Jesus said. “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 both God and Money.” (Luke 16:13 NIV).
What a difference Jesus makes for us!. How much we need Him! Our unfaithfulness condemns; but Jesus justifies. He has broken the tyranny of sin and temptation that had enslaved us. In His blood you have forgiveness, and with that forgiveness, you have freedom. Freedom from the tyranny of fear, obsession, and love of worldly wealth. Freedom to serve your God and the neighbors He has given you. All because Jesus has redeemed you.
You are children of the light, for you know the love of the only true God; the God that gave His only-begotten Son. You know God’s love that shines from the cross of Christ. Live as children of the light. Manage earthly things with your eyes on eternity.
The eternal God gave His Son into death for you. The eternal God died for you. Such love and sacrifice He showed to us while you and I still serve Money as our master! Yet how could His love fail you, His baptized child of the light? He has secured eternal treasure for you, conquering death and rising from the dead. Having won such great, heavenly treasures for you, will He not also provide you all the lesser things of this earth as you need them?
This good news enables us to faithfully manage the earthly things our Lord has entrusted to us! Rather than being mastered by money, we use it for Him. With our confidence in His care for time and for eternity, we can use our earthly things to serve His glory, to bring others to honor His name, to be our friends for eternity.
Your name may never be engraved on libraries or universities, but in the suffering and death of Jesus, you have been given an eternal legacy that will last long after this world is in ashes. Serve your true Lord, Jesus Christ, for you are His blood-bought people. Manage the earthly with your eyes on eternity.
In the name of our priceless treasure, Jesus Christ. Amen.