by Rev C Bouwman
Scripture: St. Luke 16: 9 -18
Text: Luke 16:9 "And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home."
Scripture Reading: Luke 16
The fact that today is set aside as Thanksgiving Day directs our attention to the financial blessings God has given us in the course of the past twelve months. We note, with gratitude to the Lord, that He has given us considerable financial blessing; on the whole we are well off – a fact attested by our growing girths, our spacious homes, our comfortable cars, our state-of-the-art computer systems, etc. These abundant financial blessings upon us makes gratitude so very fitting.
Gratitude. We show that today by saying Thank you to the Lord in a thanksgiving prayer and in a Thanksgiving collection. Yet we well understand that saying thank you isn’t quite enough, and neither is a one-time extra contribution in the collection. We realise that all we have is to be used always for God and His glory.
There’s where the questions arise for us. How, concretely, do you do that? In Luke 16 the Lord Himself gives us an answer to that question. He teaches us to take seriously the fact that we shall all die, and that we can carry no title deeds or credit cards with us into the next world. Because of that sobering reality, the Lord would have us use our financial wealth today with an eye on tomorrow. No, not in the sense of: we may as well enjoy our financial comforts as much as possible because we can’t after we die. Rather, the Lord would have us use our wealth today to prepare ourselves well to meet God tomorrow.
I summarize the sermon with this theme:
THE LORD WANTS US USE OUR MONEY TODAY TO MAKE FRIENDS FOR ETERNITY.
1. Why make friends for eternity
2. How to make friends for eternity
1. Why make friends for eternity
Our text begins with Jesus saying, "And I say to you." To appreciate what Jesus says we need to understand to whom Jesus is speaking, need to understand too the context in which Jesus speaks.
The context is described in chap 15. As you will recall from last week, Jesus had been addressing an audience consisting of two parties. Here were a group of Pharisees and scribes, and over there a group of tax collectors and sinners. The Pharisees had complained about the fact that Jesus had "received" collectors and sinners (15:2), and so Jesus had told the parable of the forgiving father. That is, the father hadn’t waited for his returning son to apologise for wrongs done, nor kept him at arm’s length till repentance was obvious; no, he embraced his son eagerly, whole-heartedly, and re-instated him into the family. Jesus set this picture of God before the Pharisees so that they might learn the need to receive the tax collectors and sinners coming to Jesus. After all, if God receives sinners on the basis of grace and not of works, it’s for sinners to receive each other on the same basis. For our part, we’re thankful that it is so for if God would wait for us to produce perfect repentance we’d remain unforgiven forever.
Luke would have us know, now, that after Jesus finished His parable He continued His instruction. The Pharisees and scribes remain standing over here, and the tax collectors and sinners over there. But instead now of addressing one or both of these two groups, Jesus directs His eyes to the disciples standing yonder. That’s verse 1: "He also said to His disciples." Yet that the Pharisees continued to listen to Jesus’ instruction is clear from vs 14, for Luke tells us that they responded to this instruction with derision.
This context is important. With the parable of the forgiving father, the Lord had taught that the gospel is of grace and not of works. Well now, the thought that automatically comes to mind next is this: if it’s all grace, I need not do anything; salvation will flow my way freely. That’s the point that Jesus addresses in chap 16. He turns to His disciples –persons already received by God in grace, and who will in turn need to teach others- and sets out to instruct them that the gospel of grace does not imply a free ride into heaven.
How He teaches that? He tells the parable of the rich man who complimented his unjust steward. The picture is of an absentee landowner who had entrusted his estate to a manager. But the day came when this well-to-do owner received word that his steward was a swindler. So the owner did the obvious; he sacked his steward – which meant that the steward had to hand in his accounts. The steward looked into the future, saw unemployment and poverty in front of him, and so - crafty swindler that he was- hatched a plan to make tomorrow more comfortable for himself. Since his master’s debtors didn’t yet know he was sacked, he called them into his office and authorised a reduction of what they owed his master. That way, when he was on the street, he’d have persons he could turn to for help. For a good turn, is it not, deserves a good turn. When the master got to hear of his steward’s dealings, he "commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly" (vs 8).
For our part, this parable raises difficult questions. Specifically, how can you compliment someone for his fraud? Should Jesus not have placed in the master’s mouth some words of criticism on his steward? Is Jesus, by telling this parable, not condoning fraudulent behaviour??
So many commentators stumble over questions as these. The reason they do that, congregation, is because they have swallowed the theory of Bible critics that Jesus’ comments in vss 9-13 don’t belong to this parable. So they look at the parable apart from Jesus’ comments, and then run stuck. For in truth, then the parable leaves so very many questions. As it is, though, there is a reason why the Holy Spirit has placed Jesus’ words in vss 9-13 directly after the parable of vss 1-8. The Holy Spirit would have us know that Jesus’ words of vss 9-13 are His explanation of His parable. That is the significance of the first words of vs 9. He’s told His disciples this parable, and now seeks to apply it and does so with these words, "And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home." So our text is addressed first of all to the disciples, in an effort to explain to them the lesson of the parable. And the parable was told in order to knock on the head any thought that the gospel of grace means that receiving heaven is automatic for the children of God.
With that context in mind, brothers and sisters, we can look with greater detail at our text. At first reading, we find the text difficult, unclear. Jesus tells the disciples to "make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon," and we find this a confusing instruction. What, we wonder, is "unrighteous mammon"? And how can you make friends by using something unrighteous? Further, we’re not sure what we have to understand by the phrase "when you fail." And we certainly don’t see a connection between making friends by unrighteous mammon and being received "into an everlasting home."
Let me begin, then, congregation, with the words "when you fail." Jesus’ point here is that life does not go on and on. Whether we like it or not, death has entered the world and so we all, like the steward, will one day "fail", be relieved of our post on this earth. The big question is: then what? What one wishes is to be received into heaven after death; that’s the point of the reference to the "everlasting home" at the end of our text. Well now, may the disciples assume –and we with them- that "when we fail" we shall automatically be received by God into the "everlasting home" of heaven? Let’s be honest. It’s human either to refuse to accept the fact that death comes (and so refuse to look past death to what is beyond) or to make light of what comes after death (as in, take for granted today that death for us will certainly mean entrance into God’s eternal home – after all, God is compassionate; witness the father’s embrace of the prodigal son). Jesus impresses on His disciples that neither of these reactions is acceptable because neither are adequately realistic. Yes, one day every person shall fail; death shall claim us. Then what?!
Here Jesus holds up the example of the steward. This man saw his livelihood terminated –"he failed"- but he didn’t look only at today and consider that today he was still OK, so why worry about tomorrow, and neither did this sacked steward assume that tomorrow would solve its own problems. No, this steward looked into tomorrow and saw need to make preparations today for the needs of tomorrow. The man thought ahead, made plans, and carried out those plans today with a view to tomorrow’s security. Was the particular plan he hatched to care today for his tomorrows an upright plan, one pleasing to the Lord? Not at all, beloved, it was fraud, no doubt about it. Jesus says as much by describing the steward in vs 8 as "unjust". But Jesus’ point by having the master compliment the steward is not to approve the details of the steward’s plan (and that’s why we shouldn’t get bogged in his ethics either); Jesus’ point in having the master compliment the steward is the fact that the steward had a plan and acted on it. That, says Jesus through the mouth of the master, is "shrewd", is wise.
Herein the steward was unique, for this is the way all people operate in matters of this life. True, the one may prepare differently for tomorrow than his neighbour. The one lays the accent on developing today a good nest egg for tomorrow’s retirement, the other freely helps other people today in the expectation that tomorrow they will help him. Different people, different cultures, different ways of preparing for tomorrow. But everybody prepares in some way for tomorrow. That some federal Liberal MP’s are now talking with One Nation about preference votes underlines the truth of Jesus’ words; the sons of this world deal shrewdly.
That habit, Jesus says in vs 8, needs to be picked up by the "sons of light." I quote the Lord: "the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light." That is: there is a way in which the "sons of light" (these are the children of God, cf Eph 5:8f) take their future for granted, but do so wrongly; they need to learn from the "sons of this world". How the "sons of light" take their future for granted, and so make inadequate preparations? They know the gospel of free grace, and so are tempted to think in terms of the future being automatic, being guaranteed. As if the grace that the forgiving father showed his prodigal son would mean that the son has no responsibilities tomorrow; he can now take his place in the family for granted…. Be warned, says Jesus in Luke 16, for even "sons of light" need today to prepare for tomorrow! Even the fact that the Father in heaven is as forgiving as the father of the parable does not mean that you can take entrance into the eternal home for granted. God has given to the human race He once created a measure of responsibility. And even the doctrine of free grace does not undo the reality of that responsibility. So "sons of light" need to learn a lesson from the "sons of this world". Tomorrow you will fail, tomorrow you will die, tomorrow you will be relieved of your earthly post. Then what?! For you can’t take God’s grace for granted to the point of assuming that you have no responsibility left yourself.
That brings us to our second point:
2. How to make friends for eternity.
Jesus answers the question of ‘how’ to prepare by telling His disciples to "make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon." The term "mammon" describes wealth, money – something we’ve all received in the year gone by.
The Lord places the word "unrighteous" beside the word "mammon". That comes back in our translation as "unrighteous mammon", a term we understand to mean that in the Lord’s judgment there is something evil about money and wealth. How we are to make friends today through this evil money, so that tomorrow we can enter heaven, strikes us very much as a riddle.
Jesus’ point, though, brothers and sisters, is not that money is evil of itself. We need to note that the term translated for us as "unrighteous" mammon is the same word used to describe the steward in vs 8. That steward is "unjust", and then the point is that this steward acted in a very ‘this-worldly’ fashion as he prepared himself for tomorrow. That he prepared himself was OK, but the manner in which he did it was –when all is said and done- still shortsighted, for he too will one day die and need to face the Judge of all men. In that sense he was very this-worldly, and acted according to this-worldly standards. Mammon is also of ‘this world’; nowhere does the Bible say that today’s money will have a place on the new earth. Scripture is emphatic that you can’t take your wealth with you when you pass through the gates of death (cf Ps 49). Well, says the Lord to His disciples (and to us all), since you will not be able to take your money with you when you die, use it today and use it to prepare for tomorrow. It, like everything else touched by the fall into sin, is unrighteous and so will be burned on the Day of Judgment. So: use it today, and use it well.
How? Use this "unrighteous mammon", this "worldly money" to "make friends for yourselves." How do you do that? We have to go back to the parable. The steward set to work to make friends for himself by means of his master’s property. That is, before he turned in his accounts he doctored them in such a way that his master’s debtors had their debts substantially reduced. The debtors can only thank the steward for his actions, and so, when all is said and done, end up in his debt; it is he who put them an a much more favourable position vis a vis their master. That puts the steward in their good books so that –as Jesus says in vs 3- they "receive [the steward] into their houses."
Are we to make friends for ourselves by using wealth fraudulently? Definitely not. Are we to make friends for ourselves by using our wealth correctly? Yes, distinctly yes. What kind of friends are we to make? Friends that will receive us – no, not into their homes of brick and tile; that’s not so important since every home of brick and tile will perish. Instead, says Jesus in vs 9, we’re to make friends for ourselves who will "receive [us] into an everlasting home," into heaven, the New Jerusalem.
Question. How can you use this-worldly money to make friends who will receive you into an everlasting home? That’s a question Jesus doesn’t answer in so many words in the parable about the shrewd steward. But it is a point Jesus picks up again in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. That rich man didn’t bother to care for the beggar that was laid at his gate. That rich man lived for today, and failed to take into account that there is a tomorrow that follows his death, a tomorrow that he has to prepare for. Sure, he was a child of Abraham (vs 24), a covenant child entitled to all the grace of the heavenly Father. But in this life he didn’t prepare himself for tomorrow, and so did not receive the grace of God in Jesus Christ either when he died; he woke up in the torment of Hades. How he should have prepared in this life for tomorrow? He should have shown mercy to Lazarus, even as the God of the covenant showed mercy to him in adopting him to be his son. But he presumed upon the grace of God, did not use his wealth to show grace to others as God had shown grace to him. So no one was there to welcome him into the everlasting home of God, and so there was no place for him….
How can you use your this-worldly money to make friends who will receive you into heaven? How can you prepare today for tomorrow? You can do so, beloved, by giving freely – just as you have freely received. To keep your wealth today so that you can enjoy comfort for the tomorrows that this life brings is not good stewardship; that’s instead being very shortsighted. For after the tomorrows of this life comes another tomorrow, the Day of Judgment, the day you die. Then your wealth will help you nothing. And to the degree that we kept our wealth for ourselves in this life, to the degree that we insisted on living at a high standard ourselves while others had to content themselves with the crumbs that fell from our tables – to that degree it will be testified against us that we are not worthy to enter the kingdom of heaven. For –vs 10- "he who is faithful in what is least" (things like money, it’s not so important for it will perish) "is faithful also in much" – faithful in the important principles of the kingdom of heaven. Equally, "he who is unjust is what is least" (like using your money in a this-worldly fashion, as if this world is all that’s important) "is unjust also in much" – he’ll not take seriously the important first principles of God’s kingdom. Again, vs 11: "if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?" That is: if you can’t even treat money according to its inherent value (here today, but gone tomorrow; shortly to be burned on the day of judgment), how in the world can you look after matters of the kingdom of heaven – which last forever?! Once more, vs 12: "if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s who will give you what is your own?" That is: money is not yours; it belongs to God, and you –like the steward of the parable- may look after it for the Master. But if you abuse for selfish purposes what God has entrusted to you, what are you going to do with what’s really yours – namely, the kingdom of heaven and its wealth that God promises in the covenant of grace? Heirs of God you are, and fellow-heirs with Christ; how shall God give you all the world if you can’t use responsibly the income God gave you in the past twelve months? It all boils down to the pointed words of vs 13: "No servant can serve two masters…; you cannot serve God and mammon." To let the wealth God gave become your master so that you need at all costs to hold onto it, and you can’t be happy without the security of your money, is at bottom to deny that God is your Lord and Saviour. Then what shall you say when you die? For your money will not save you….
Have you understood, beloved, the instruction of the Saviour in Luke 16? The Pharisees standing in front of Jesus understood it well. I read in vs 14 that these Pharisees, "lovers of money" as they were, "heard all these things, and they derided Him." Or, as the original has it, they "turned up their nose at Him." What will we do with a message like this? Remember: one can deride the chief Prophet and Teacher by literally pulling up one’s nose. One can also deride the chief Prophet and Teacher by ignoring His Word, or by calling it interesting and just carrying on without changing any habits.
That is why I need to warn you, brothers and sisters. At stake is not your wallet or your bank account, your title deeds or your credit card; they all will perish anyway in the great fire that will sweep the earth when the Lord comes back. At stake is your soul! Are you using the money God gave you this past year in such a way that you are developing for yourself friends –no, not for this life- but friends who will vouch for you at heaven’s gates that the Holy Spirit has changed your heart?
The gospel of grace, you see, does not undo your responsibility to prepare for tomorrow. Learn from the shrewdness of the sons of this world! Amen.
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