Trinity Nine Sermon 2004| St. Luke 16:1-9
The essence of idolatry is the worship of the creation instead of the Creator. True worship consists in the life lived in fellowship with the One to whom this world belongs. Only a Christian can live this life because this life comes only from Christ. The Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, is the Lord and giver of life. In our baptism, He joins us to Christ’s death and resurrection. Then, when we know Christ as He took away our sin and rose in victory from the grave, we know His Father as our Father and we are children of God. When you are a child of God you are wealthy. It doesn’t matter how many things of this world you personally own and have in your possession. What difference does it make when you know the One who owns it all? When you know Christ, you understand that God doesn’t need anything that you have. You need what God has. And God promises that you will receive everything that God has to give. St. Paul writes: “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)
Christians don’t have to worry about their material needs. Jesus Himself guarantees us that the same heavenly Father who clothes the field with beautiful flowers and feeds the birds of the air loves us more than anything else He has created. Surely, He will take care of us. If we seek out before all else the righteousness that God freely gives us in Christ and cling to Him for dear life God will not forsake us in any material need we have.
The story of the unjust steward is sandwiched between two other stories Jesus tells about material wealth. It comes after the story of the prodigal son who went out and wasted his father’s wealth on sinful living, repented of his sin, returned to his father, and was received with joy and celebration. The clear message is that the repentance of one individual Christian is worth much more than any amount of money. Our text comes right before the story of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man put his confidence in his wealth. He died and went to hell and nothing could help him there. He couldn’t take the money in which he trusted with him. Lazarus, who in his lifetime did not have any material wealth, was really the wealthy man. The rich man was really the poor man. Those who enjoy fellowship with God through faith in Christ are wealthy and own the whole world even if they don’t actually take possession of it. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)
The parable before us this morning teaches us about material wealth. Jesus uses the expression “unrighteous mammon” to describe material wealth that is used in service to sin. He tells us a story about a steward who showed great ingenuity in how he used unrighteous mammon for his own benefit. If those to whom this world does not belong can use worldly wealth shrewdly, shouldn’t Christians, who are heirs of everything good God has to give, be just as shrewd? This is, after all, our Father’s world.
The unjust steward had wasted his master’s money and so was about to lose his job. The rich man of this parable is a merciful man who could have tossed the unjust manager into jail, but he did not. He could have fired him immediately, but he did not. He gave him an opportunity to provide for his future elsewhere. The man could not do manual labor and he wouldn’t stoop to beg but he figured out how to capitalize on his master’s goodwill in the short time he had left. He still had his master’s authority to settle accounts with debtors. He did so, to the great advantage of the debtors. The man who owed a hundred measures of oil now owed only fifty. The man who owed a hundred measures of wheat now owed only eighty. The master could have revoked these decisions, but after the debtors had been treated so generously he wouldn’t have wanted to deprive them of that generosity. The steward had counted on that. He depended on his master’s basic decency in order to rip him off and buy favor with others in the process. The master was impressed with the man’s shrewdness, if not his honesty.
The point of the parable is simple. If those to whom this world does not belong are clever in their use of material wealth, should not Christians to whom this world does belong be just as clever? If sinners expend great energy and ingenuity in sinning, should not Christians spend as much energy and ingenuity in doing what is right?
Jesus concludes the story by saying: “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home.” The unjust steward made friends for himself and was received into the homes of those he helped. He helped them by doing what was dishonest. His reward was only temporary. Jesus tells us of an eternal reward. Instead of making friends by dishonest means so that we can get a temporal gain, we should use in an honorable way what others use in a dishonest way. We should make friends who will be friends forever instead of friends who will only be friends for a short while.
The giving of alms or charity is not the payment of a debt. Christ has paid our debt. The only debt that remains outstanding for a Christian is to love his neighbor. God loves us by giving us what we cannot repay. We love as we have been taught. There is no greater act of love than to tell the gospel to those who do not know Christ. This is giving without being repaid. Telling others the gospel is done not only by confessing the faith and inviting people to church, but also by supporting the preaching of the gospel in our own congregation and elsewhere. A life without Christ is a live of poverty, even if you have everything that money can buy. A life lived knowing Christ is a life of wealth because when you know Christ you know God and when you know God you know that you are the crown of God’s creation. You know that everything that exists exists for your benefit. Everything God does in this world, to this world, and for this world, He does for the sake of His elect. The children of God are hidden from view. Their acts of charity are seldom acknowledged or even noticed. But God knows those whom He has chosen. He knows those who wear the white robes that have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. He knows every act of kindness and generosity that they do in Jesus’ name, and He graciously rewards them.
The doctrine of salvation by grace alone does not teach that God does not reward the good works of His saints. He most certainly does. Even as God, for Jesus’ sake, forgives us of all our sins and regards us as saints, just so, God regards our Christian acts of love as holy too. God justifies us through faith in Christ. He imputes Christ’s perfect righteousness to us so that we are really and truly righteous. He also declares our deeds done in faith to be righteous deeds. Even as we are righteous on account of Christ, so our deeds are righteous on account of Christ.
The Christian cannot look at his good deeds and see how good they are. This is because the true virtue of our good deeds is the virtue they receive by God’s grace. When God forgives, He does a very thorough job of it. He not only forgives sinners; He forgives sins. When your sins are forgiven this means that everything that remains is good and pure and holy. The sin is what is taken away. What remains is truly virtuous because that which is sinful is washed away.
So we Christians can do good with our money. There have always been extreme and unbiblical views advanced in the church on the proper use of money. Some have taught that poverty itself is a virtue and that the only way to secure eternal treasures is to give away all your material wealth. But vice is surely as common among the poor as it is among the rich. Others have taught that God wants to prosper every Christian financially. But Jesus Himself said, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (Matthew 8:20) Proponents of the prosperity gospel divert faith away from the crucifixion of Jesus where sinners are saved to the acquisition of wealth that will perish with the world. The prosperity gospel – sometimes called “name it and claim it” – teaches that God wants Christians to prosper financially and that if you are not prospering it is because there is something lacking in your faith. Such television personalities as Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, and many others preach this false gospel. They live in material luxury and they insist that all pious and God-fearing Christians should become wealthy, too. They criticize traditional preachers who preach Christ crucified for sinners as the central teaching of the faith because we allegedly limit God’s power and are promoting defeatism.
But the Christian is the eternal optimist. The Christian can give his money to support the work of the gospel and rest confident that God will always bless the preaching of the gospel even when that blessing remains hidden from our sight. We don’t support the preaching of the gospel around the world because we think that God will materially bless us for our efforts. We do so because we know that the gospel is the word of God by which sinners are turned into saints. The best investment of capital we can make is the investment in the proclamation of the pure gospel of Christ. The gospel will make us new friends, eternal friends, friends of God and friends of the church who, with all God’s saints, will welcome us into heaven some day.
St. Paul writes to Timothy:
Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (1 Timothy 6:6-10)
When you know the One who owns the whole world you don’t need to worry about whether or not He’ll give you the things of this world that you need. He will. You can work for poor pay without resentment. You can face bills piling up without worry. You can give to charity and church without regretting the loss. You have all the riches you need. God has seen you in your poverty and has given His Son so that you by His poverty might be made rich. This world doesn’t belong to those who worship it and serve unrighteous mammon. It belongs to our Father in heaven who has made us heirs of eternal riches by the merits and mediation of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.