Trinity 9| Luke 16:1-9| Pastor James Preus| Trinity Lutheran Church| August 1, 2021
What is the unjust steward’s god? It’s obvious; isn’t it? Mammon. Earthly wealth. Whatever you fear, love, and trust in most is your god. And this unjust steward fears money. He revere’s its power to feed one’s belly and he is terrified of running out of it. He loves wealth. He desires to have it more than anything else. And he trusts in it. He trusts that if he can get money, he will be provided for. The next question is: Does he serve his god well? And we must answer, yes. He serves his god very well. This is why the master commends the unjust steward for his shrewdness.
Now, who is your God? If you are to call yourself a Christian, it must be the one true God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirt; the God, who sent his Son to die for our sins and who sends his Holy Spirit into our hearts through the Gospel. Now, we must ask. Do you serve your God well? Do you love him with all your heart, soul, and mind? Do you fear him and trust in him? Here we get a sharp rebuke from our God, Jesus Christ, “The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their generation than the sons of light.” This infidel steward, this dishonest thief is more shrewd than we are. He serves his false god with greater diligence than we serve the one true God.
So, what does Jesus exhort us to do in light of this revelation? Our true Master Jesus says, “Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” Jesus tells us to make use of unrighteous wealth, that is, unrighteous mammon. Why is it called unrighteous mammon? Because it will fail. It gets destroyed by rust and eaten by moths and stolen by thieves. And even if you can protect it from the rust, moths, and thieves, you will lose it when you die. God said to the rich fool, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Luke 12:20) And even if you have a slightly more noble goal for your wealth, to leave it to your children, it will remain unrighteous mammon for them. It will most certainly fail them too.
Yet, Jesus does not say that we should then throw away all earthly wealth and live as hermits as we pilgrim here on earth. The unrighteous, destined to fail wealth is given to us by our most generous heavenly Father. And he intends for us to use it for the good of his kingdom. Now, you might ask, what is the difference between a Christian using unrighteous wealth and an unbeliever using unrighteous wealth? It is the difference between being a master and being a slave. If mammon is your god, you are its bondservant. And you will serve earthly wealth until the day you die, when it will leave you to go to hell, so that it can enslave another victim. But if God is your God, that is, if you have faith in Christ Jesus who purchased you with his own blood, then mammon is your servant. And you must never be its slave.
Mammon can be used for good or evil. Gold can adorn the ears and arms of a harlot. Or it can be formed into a chalice to carry the very blood of Christ Jesus and to feed it to his Christians for forgiveness and salvation. A website can be used to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the forms of sermons, Bible studies, and other writings. Or it can be used to share the most perverse filth intended to draw victims to the slaughter. Money can be spent on excessive luxury, drinking, partying, and vacationing, and it can be spent to take care of the poor, support the preaching of the Gospel, to build churches, fund missions, and establish Lutheran Schools, so that future generations can be encouraged in the saving faith.
The Christian is in possession of greater wisdom than that of the shrewd steward. The Christian has the knowledge of an eternal dwelling stored up in heaven for all who believe in Christ Jesus, bought and paid for by the priceless blood of Jesus and his innocent suffering and death. Yet, Jesus warns that one cannot serve two masters; one cannot serve God and mammon (Luke 16:13). This means that the Christian must make everything in his life, including all his earthly wealth serve the aim of that final goal of obtaining that eternal heavenly dwelling. This is not to suggest that anyone can purchase the kingdom of heaven with unrighteous mammon, but rather, to warn that becoming a slave to unrighteous mammon can cause you to forfeit your eternal heavenly dwelling.
This is why Jesus instructs us not to use unrighteous mammon for our own pleasure, but rather, being content with what we need, to make friends with it, who will welcome us into our eternal dwelling. Now, who are these friends? This lesson is from Luke chapter sixteen. At the end of this same chapter, Jesus tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus. As you know, Lazarus was poor, died and went to heaven. Did Lazarus welcome the rich man into his eternal dwelling? No. The rich man died and went to hell. He didn’t make Lazarus his friend with his mammon. Rather, he only pleasured himself in obedient servitude to his unrighteous god. Had he had faith in Christ, he would have made his mammon serve him. He would have helped his brother in Christ, Lazarus. Lazarus would have welcomed him to Abraham’s side.
To make friends with unrighteous mammon who will welcome you into your eternal dwelling when the mammon fails means to use your unrighteous wealth to help Christians here on earth, who will be your friends forever in heaven. This means that you should be generous to the poor and use your unrighteous wealth to do God’s work to provide for every living thing. This especially applies to those of the household of God. St. John writes, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3:17) Whatever you have, you have received from the Lord. It is not right for Christians to go hungry while their brothers and sisters in Christ get fat.
To make eternal friends with unrighteous wealth also means to support the mission of the church. Under the Law of Moses, the children of Israel were required to give ten percent of their earnings to the Lord (Numbers 18:21ff). Christ Jesus has set us free from the requirements of Moses’ Law. Yet, both Abraham and Jacob freely gave one tenth of their wealth to God before Moses ever gave such a command (Genesis 14:20b; 28:22). And we Christians, who live by the Law of the Spirit of Life and not under the Law of Death certainly should be as generous with our first-fruits.
But in fact, not a tenth of what we have belongs to the Lord, but all of it. And we owe it all to him. If we truly recognized that all our earthly wealth will fail us, and that our faithful God promises to provide our daily bread each and every day, and even more, that he promises to give us an eternal dwelling as a free inheritance, we would seek to use our unrighteous wealth for the greatest good of furthering Christ’s kingdom by supporting Lutheran churches and schools, so that friends may testify of us on that final day that when they were hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, and in prison, we helped them (Matthew 25:31ff). Christ tells us that we can actually use our worthless money and vanishing time and talents to do something that will last for eternity! We can make friends in future generations, who will thank us, just as we will give thanks for those before us who built this church and sweat and bled, so that we could have the Gospel today.
Our English Standard Version Bible translates it, “dishonest manager.” I like the translation, “unjust steward” better. A steward is one who manages that which does not belong to him. We are all stewards. Everything we have doesn’t actually belong to us. We have it for a time, on loan from God. And, just as with the steward in Jesus’ parable, our stewardship will be taken away from us. When we die, we will no longer be able to be managers of what God has entrusted to us. And also, like the steward in our parable, we will have to turn in the account of our management, as St. Paul also says in Romans 14, “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” And as Jesus’ parable about the talents also teaches us (Matthew 25:14-30), our Master will ask for an account of what we’ve done with the little that was entrusted to us; how we spent the unrighteous wealth God gave us; what we did with the talent and time God gave us.
Yet, unlike that unjust steward in Jesus’ parable, we will not need to weasel ourselves into someone else’s home. And indeed, we cannot trick, cheat, or steal our way into heaven. Rather, the debt we have incurred against our Master has been paid in full by the innocent suffering and death and precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has taken all our sins away. Our Lord Jesus intercedes for us now in heaven, showing our heavenly Father the marks of the nails in his hands and feet and the scar of the spear in his side. We do not need to cheat our way into our eternal dwellings. Our way has been rightfully bought and paid for. Christ Jesus holds in his hands the receipts. And in the Book of Life, written in Jesus’ blood, are the names of all who repent of their sins and trust in Christ Jesus for forgiveness and salvation.
Only an unbelieving scoundrel would then conclude that we need not care then how we spend our earthly wealth, time, and talents. Having been set free from slavery to sin and from hell, we cannot then turn in servitude to the false god Mammon. We must not obey it. Rather, being confident of both our eternal dwelling and our daily bread by the generosity of our God, we seek to put our mammon to work in the service of Christ’s kingdom. We ought to work as if it depends on us, but thank God that it doesn’t. Unbelief causes one to neglect making eternal friends with the mammon God gives him. It comes from not trusting that God will provide for you today and tomorrow. It comes from doubting that God has an eternal dwelling prepared for you (John 14:1-3). So, in order to have a generous heart and to seek to use our mammon to God’s glory, we must believe that Christ has won an eternal dwelling for us. Then God will be your God. And you will be his servant. And He will store up eternal friends for you. Amen.