Trinity 9| Investing in God’s Kingdom| Luke 16:1-13| Pastor James Preus| Trinity Lutheran Church| August 6, 2023
“The master commended the unrighteous steward for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” These words of Jesus have puzzled many, so much that it is probably the most skipped over Gospel lesson in the entire church year. How can the master commend the unrighteous steward, who was a thief and a liar? What does He mean that the sons of this world are more shrewd than the sons of light? How are we supposed to make friends with unrighteous mammon? And who are these friends, who will receive us into our eternal dwellings?
In fact, these words of Jesus are not puzzling at all. People think they are puzzling, because they don’t want to accept what Jesus is saying. Jesus is saying that the unbelievers, who worship the things of this world are more devoted to their god than Christians are to their God. Jesus shames Christians for their laziness and stinginess by commending the unrighteous steward for his diligence to steal. And then He tells us Christians to use our unrighteous wealth to make friends here on earth, so that when our wealth fails, which it will, these friends will welcome us into our eternal dwellings. These friends are sitting next to you right now in church. Little Levi, who was just baptized into Christ is such a friend. And you have friends like these all around the world, who are baptized and believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who gladly hear His Word and worship Him. And these Christian friends will welcome you into heaven, your eternal dwelling. It is these friends Jesus calls you to help with your mammon. So, Jesus is telling you to be generous to His Church, so that the Gospel may be proclaimed in all the world and so that souls may be instructed and cared for by God’s Word and Sacraments.
Yet, why is it that the sons of this world are more diligent than we in serving their master? Simple. They only have one master. Jesus says, “No servant can serve two masters, for 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 God and mammon.” Mammon is earthly wealth, often translated as money. The sons of this world worship mammon with all their hearts. They do not divide their loyalty with the true God. They use their cunning and devote their time and invest their money to get more wealth and pleasure in this life. And doing so, they make more friends after their own hearts, who will help them in their pursuits. This is basic economics. (They’re called business partners).
Yet, we children of light have divided our loyalty. We’ve served a second master than the one who bought us with His own blood and has won for us an eternal kingdom. So, the mammon worshipers show greater diligence to their false god than we do to the one true God. And for this, we must repent. Every idol must be cast from the throne of our hearts, for Christ will not share your adoration with any other god, whether made of money, metal, wood, or plastic.
This doesn’t mean that Christians shouldn’t have money or possessions. Rather, Jesus charges us to use our money, time, and possessions for His kingdom. Don’t be a slave of money and wealth, serving it like it is your master. Rather, you be the master over wealth and make it serve your Master for the sake of His kingdom.
But why do Christians find it so difficult to do this? Why do they struggle to make friends with unrighteous wealth? It comes down to a lack of faith. They fear the risk. I’ve listened to a commercial on the radio, which promotes an investment group, boasting double digit returns. Yet, it ends the commercial with the warning, “All investment involves risk. Do not invest what you are not prepared to lose.” And it depends on how risky people feel the investment opportunity is, whether they will invest or not. If people fear they might lose their investment, they are unlikely to invest.
And that is how Christians often behave. They think they’ll waste their time hearing and learning God’s Word. They fear they’ll lose their money supporting the mission of the Church. Yet, investing your time and money in the kingdom of God is never a losing investment. Jesus says in Mark chapter 10, “There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” Jesus promises a hundredfold return on your investment plus eternal life. It is never a waste of time to learn God’s Word, to go to church and take advantage of the Sacraments. It is never a waste of money to support the mission of the church. Now this is not to say that you can purchase eternal life with money. Rather, Christ Jesus has purchased your eternal salvation with His own blood, which is why any investment you make in time, sweat, or money cannot fail. The investment you make is a fruit of faith, which God puts to good use.
The master commended the unrighteous steward for his shrewdness. The Greek word for shrewdness has the sense of prudence or foresight, someone who can look ahead and plan for the future. People live off less than they make and invest their money, because they have foresight. They know there will come a day when they will no longer be able to earn as much money, but the money they invest, even if it is a little bit at a time, will grow, so that they will have more money to live off later. And even when the stock market is volatile, we know from history that over time investments will increase in value. So, people are rightly called prudent, who invest for the future.
Yet, what good are these investments when you die, if you have not stored up treasure in heaven? What good is it if you leave your estate to your children, if they do not welcome you into your eternal dwelling in heaven? We understand that we should invest now, so that we may enjoy the benefits in our sunset years here on earth, yet we often forget of the investment God wants us to make that will well up into eternity. St. Paul admonishes us, “For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:8)
We should trust in the promise Christ gives us, that He goes to prepare a place for us, more than we believe in the promise of the stock market or housing market (John 14:1-3). We should believe that an eternity with Christ is infinitely more desirable than a few decades of luxury here on earth. We should desire our children to have a stronger faith in Christ Jesus and to hold fast to His Word, even through persecution, suffering, and loss infinitely more than we should desire our children to be rich and successful according to the world’s standards. Our Savior who bought us with His own blood reminds us, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36)
At the convention last week, we learned from the bishop of our sister Lutheran Church in Ukraine how he survived an explosion behind enemy lines. Why was a pastor behind enemy lines? So, he could preach and administer the sacraments to his eternal friends. We met representatives from churches suffering persecution around the world, but who are joyful to have the Gospel of Christ. They are witnesses to us that we should not lose the Gospel for the fleeting pleasures of this life.
And we should not be satisfied with simply making our budget, maintaining the church property, and providing for the pastor. We should support Lutheran schools such as Luther Classical College, support seminarians who will devote their lives to preaching the Gospel, support our missionaries in other lands, put our unrighteous mammon to work, so that our eternal friends may welcome us.
Was the unrighteous steward generous? The master’s debtors sure thought so! He forgave much of their debts! But wait, you may protest. He can’t be generous, because he only used his master’s money! He only gave what wasn’t his! And that is exactly the point we should learn. What do you have that you have not received? (1 Corinthians 4:6) Everything you own, all your money, all your property, all your time, health, all your talents, skills, (your children), wisdom, and learning were given to you by God. He has created you and all your members and continues to take care of them. When you are generous, you are simply being generous with what God has given you. A steward manages what does not belong to him. We are all stewards, because we own nothing that we possess. Death prevents us from owning it forever. Yet, it all belongs to our God and Master, who commends us for being generous with what is His. And he certainly won’t forget our needs.
There are many biblical examples of stewardship. Through faith Abraham gave ten percent of everything he had to Melchizedek, the priest of God (Genesis 14:20). His grandson Jacob, again out of his own volition, pledged to give back a tenth of all God would give him (Genesis 28:22). Hundreds of years later, God commanded through Moses that all Israel pay a tithe, that is, ten percent of all they received to the Lord (Leviticus 27:30-32). Yet, it was when the people gave freely according to their own hearts for the building of the sanctuary that Moses actually had to command the people of Israel to stop bringing their gifts, because they were giving too much (Exodus 36:4-6)! So, the example in the Old Testament is to give freely to the Lord from a generous heart, a tithe being the standard.
Even in the New Testament where the Mosaic Laws no longer apply, the Christians in the early church provided for the needs of Christ and His apostles as they traveled preaching the Gospel (Luke 8:3) and after Pentecost, the Christians shared all things in common with each other (Acts 2:44-45). St. Paul especially exhorted the churches in Corinth and Galatia to provide for their pastors (1 Corinthians 9; Galatians 6). These words of Scripture were written down for us to use them as examples. As parents teach their children how to balance a checkbook and invest their money in savings, so Christian parents should also teach their children how to tithe and volunteer their time for the sake of Christ’s Church as their brothers and sisters in Christ did before them.
Pastors don’t like talking about money. And the pastor doesn’t know who gives what to the church. Yet, a pastor fails to preach the whole council of God if he does not exhort God’s people to be good stewards for the Church (Philippians 4:17). The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. By being generous, you prove that money is not your God. Also, by being generous you confess your faith in Christ, who by His death paid all your debts and prepared for you an eternal dwelling place. We should work for Christ’s kingdom, because such work is never in vain. We should invest in Christ’s kingdom, because such investment is never lost. Christ Jesus has guaranteed us an eternal inheritance. And He promises to bless our work, time, and offerings for the sake of His kingdom. We should desire the eternal friends He promises us and not be cynical that our investment will fail.
Let us pray.
We give Thee but Thine own,
What-e’er the gift may be;
All that we have is Thine alone,
A trust, O Lord from Thee.
May we Thy bounties thus
As stewards true receive
And gladly, as Thou blessest us,
To Thee our first-fruits give. Amen. (LSB 781)