Whenever the subject of money is brought up in many churches anyone would think that the devil himself had taken a seat in the pews! It’s an issue that many would prefer remained private, but Jesus certainly didn’t look at it that way.
In Luke 16:1-12 Jesus tells a parable (story) about a shrewd steward who got himself out of trouble by being dishonest. In the end his master commended him for his shrewdness. In the commercial practices of the day Jews were forbidden to charge interest on loans for fellow Jews. However they reasoned that anyone who had even a little something was not destitute and therefore not in need of being protected from exploitation. Surely the charging of interest was only another way of sharing profits? So whatever was borrowed was given a value in either oil or wheat. Stewards were the ones who usually carried out the business transactions, including loans, supposedly without the master’s knowledge. What the steward is doing here is protecting his future by calling in his masters debtors and getting them to rewrite the bonds so that they no longer carried any interest. The debtors were pleased and would have helped the steward in the future. The master couldn’t openly challenge the steward about his behaviour without running the risk of being seen as impious by being guilty of usury (charging interest). [thanks to Leon Morris for his commentary on Luke]
So that’s the background. But what is Jesus trying to say, and especially to us today for whom this story is so unfamiliar?
People outside the church are often much better managers of money than Christians. Why is this? I believe it is because we are actually afraid of money and wealth. It’s true that many people have an unhealthy regard for money with much emphasis placed on securing one’s financial future and having the latest and greatest. There is more to life than money.
However I believe that Christians have swung too far the other way. We say we’re not interested in earning money and often don’t manage it very well. We often cry poor too and live out of a poverty mentality. We can say we live by faith but I believe we’re actually afraid of money; more particularly we’re afraid that if we seem interested in earning money or being shrewd with it we’ll make money our god.
However Jesus appears to be exhorting his followers to use well the wealth and possessions they have on earth because how they use earthly things is an indicator of how they use spiritual things. (Vs. 11-12) Now that’s a new thought (or more precisely a very old thought that we need to revisit!) What if our attitude to money and the accumulation of wealth was actually an indicator of our attitude to true riches, spiritual riches? What if we took seriously the development of financial godliness? What if we saw money as a tool to be utilised well rather than an evil to be feared? (It’s the love of money rather than money itself that is the root of all evil – 1 Timothy 6:10)
Interesting to think that God may judge our ability to handle spiritual greatness and authority by how well we handle the money we have.
Now that’s a challenge!