Stewardship 4 – 2016 LSB #851, 787, 785
Text – Luke 16:13
No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one & love the other, or he will be devoted to the one & despise the other. You cannot serve God & money.
MANAGING GOD’S GIFT OF MONEY
Let’s get it out in the open, up-front, & in the clear: this is the dreaded ‘money’ sermon! We have to do it. Not only is money something we as individuals & as a society hold in very high regard, but money is also one of God’s gifts to us. Like ALL His other gifts, He wants us to manage it with wisdom & faithfulness.
You see, God actually does have something to say about how we use & manage this means of exchange, not only to provide for our own needs, but to serve our neighbor & to promote His Good News of salvation in Christ Jesus. In fact, you could say, “It’s really God Himself who preaches the ‘money’ sermon.”
We’ve considered God’s gift of the created order, His gift of other people, & His gift of time. God showers us with these gifts to manage for His glory & for the service of our neighbor. So, yes, in this final installment of Managing God’s Gifts, we look at God’s gift of money. Our gracious God is & always will be the “lord of the manor.”
We are & always will be His “stewards,” or “managers.” He owns the entire estate. We are simply the butlers, the maids, the cooks, the grounds keepers, & so forth. The whole estate belongs to our Creator. Honestly & truthfully, nothing belongs to us. That even includes money.
Luke 16 plunges us into the heart & soul of stewardship in general & management of money in particular. Jesus tells this perplexing parable about a manager who had mismanaged his master’s possessions. Charges were brought against the manager, so he had to scramble & figure out how to support himself. Suffice it to say, the manager was smart. He was cunning. He was shrewd. He put his MBA-like skills to good use, as far as he was concerned, which was only for himself. As Jesus tells the tale, “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.” (Luke 16:8) No, his dishonesty did not win the acclaim, but his shrewd management did. Then Jesus gives us His punch line & purpose for the parable:
“I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” (Luke 16:9) If you are not faithful in managing “unrighteous wealth,” how can you expect to be entrusted with God’s true riches?
Jesus also says, “You cannot serve God & money.” (Luke 10:13) He’s not teaching us to avoid money. Rather, He’s teaching us not to idolize money, bow down to it, or serve it. St. Paul said it this way: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith & pierced themselves with many pangs.”
Notice, not money itself, but the love of money – is the root of all kinds of evils. It’s a 1st Commandment issue. Luther said, “To put it very briefly, God does not want us to serve money & possessions. Nor does He want us to worry. But He does want us to work & leave the worry to Him.” (WLS § 3075)
Money is just a means of exchange, a tool for carrying out commerce, a convenient instrument we use for purchasing clothing & shoes, food & drink, house & home, & so on. Having more money does not make you a better person, & having less money does not make you a lesser person.
Contrary to common notions in our culture today, being wealthy does not make you evil, nor does being poor somehow make you more virtuous. Money is merely a means of exchange. How you manage money & what you do with it reveals who you are, what your priorities are, & what kind of manager you are. What priorities does God give for managing His gift of money? We can sum them up in three categories: 1st, for ourselves; 2nd, for our neighbor; & 3rd, for His Church. The 1st priority is pretty obvious. We know we need to eat & drink, wear clothing, have a place to live, have transportation, & so on. God provides our “daily bread” – the support & needs of the body.
The same Lord Jesus who said, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on” (Matthew 6:25), also provides us with work & wages to provide for ourselves. God gives us His gift of money to provide, 1st, for our families & ourselves.
The 2nd priority is for our neighbor. In our Western culture, especially here in the United States, we do enjoy a pretty high standard of living. Even the poorest among us are often better off compared to the poor in other parts of the world. Once we provide for our families & ourselves, we’re free to help our neighbor in need.
Many are the Bible’s exhortations to help the poor & those less well off than we are. Who can forget Jesus’ words that He promised to speak on the Last Day: “For I was hungry & you gave Me food, I was thirsty & you gave Me drink, I was a stranger & you welcomed Me”? Yes, as we are able, our Lord gives His gift of money so that we will help & serve our neighbor.
Martin Luther said that God does not want us to serve possessions & money. Instead, God wants our money to be our servant, to do what we tell it to do, not the other way around. Luther paints this lively picture of a Christian using money as his servant to help his neighbor:
“He, then, may use the possessions, as Abraham, David, Job & other wealthy people did... When he sees a man who has no coat, he says to his money: Come out, young Mr. Gulden! There is a poor naked man who has no coat; you must serve him. Over there lies a sick man who has no refreshment. Come forth, Sir Dollars! You must be on your way; go & help him.” (WLS §
3075) Luther helps us see how to manage our money according to God’s will, & he summarizes by saying: “People who handle their possessions in this way are masters of their possessions. And, surely, all honest Christians will do this.” (WLS § 3075) Psalm 112 says of God: “He has distributed freely; He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever.” (Psalm 112:9)
The 3rd priority God gives for managing His gift of money is for His Church. The Good News itself is free. Christ’s atoning death on the cross is absolutely free. Our salvation & forgiveness from Jesus, crucified & risen, is absolutely free – no strings attached, no works required, no down payment needed.
However, in this fallen world, driven by economic realities, it takes money to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Even Jesus & His disciples had a treasurer for their work. Buildings are built to proclaim this precious Good News. Pastors need to be paid in order to support their family & themselves.
Bread & wine must be purchased for receiving our Lord’s body & blood. Light & heating & cooling bills must be paid. Materials for outreach & publicity efforts must be purchased, printed & distributed. For those churches that operate parochial schools, teachers must be paid; supplies & books must be provided.
Yes, in this world of economic realities, it takes money to serve our neighbor & to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus. Remember, Jesus Himself spoke of using “unrighteous wealth” for eternal purposes, namely, proclaiming & spreading the Good News of His eternal salvation.
Today’s OT reading, from Exodus 35, gives a glorious picture of the joy of using “unrighteous wealth” for God’s holy purposes. The children of Israel had just fled from Egypt after over 400 years of slavery. I doubt they had the money or possessions we Americans have! Yet, these freed children of God joyously provided for the construction & use of the tabernacle, the very place where God Himself would dwell among them & shower them with His grace & blessing of salvation. Those who had blue, purple, or scarlet yarns gladly brought them. Those who had silver or bronze brought them. Those who could weave the cloth did so. Those who could build the frames or set the stones joyously did so.
“All the men & women, the people of Israel, whose heart moved them to bring anything for the work that the Lord had commanded by Moses to be done brought it as a freewill offering to the Lord.” (Exodus 35:29)
They were gladly & joyously managing God’s gifts for His glory! So much so that Exodus 36 records the abundant fruit of the freewill offerings. As Bezalel & Oholiab organized the work crews of craftsmen, they met with Moses & said, “The people bring much more than enough for doing the work that the Lord has commanded us to do.” (Exodus 36:5)
Moses actually had to stop the collection, because the people were giving so much! What generosity! What joy! What marvelous managing of God’s gifts of money & possessions for God’s purposes! In 1932, John H. C. Fritz gave this instruction to pastors:
“If the Christians of our day would give ten per cent. [sic] of their income, as the Jews did in the OT, or if the Christians of our day would support the Church to the extent of their power & even beyond their power, as did the poor Macedonian Christians... the treasuries of the churches would always be filled to overflowing, & there would no longer be the proverbial church deficit.” (p. 259–60)
Part of managing God’s gift of money is indeed using it to support the Church in her work of extending the reach of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which brings us to our 2nd reading. St. Paul used the example of the poor Macedonian Christians, & their cheerful giving, to inspire the wealthier Corinthian Christians.
Though poor, the Macedonian Christians found great joy in giving to Paul’s famine relief efforts for the Jerusalem Church. Paul sought to spur the Corinthians to show that their love too was genuine. He wrote, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich.” There’s the motivation for managing God’s gift of money with wisdom & faithfulness. Christ Jesus was rich – the Son of God, owning & ruling over all things in heaven & on earth.
Yet He became poor for you – humbling Himself in His incarnation & humbling Himself even more by going to the cross for you. Christ’s poverty makes you rich. Christ’s death makes you alive. Christ’s forgiveness frees you from slavery to self & to wealth. Christ’s generous giving makes you a generous giver.
St. Paul drives it home: “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, & whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Our God Himself is a cheerful giver. He gives us His world, He gives us other people, He gives us time, &, yes, He gives us money. He calls us to manage everything He gives, for His glory & to serve our neighbor. This is proper stewardship for all of life. This is Managing God’s Gifts. Amen.
At last [Jesus] brought His offering & laid it on a tree; there gave Himself, His life, His love for all humanity. Lord, help us all, with You, to yield whatever love demands & freely give, as You have given, with open hearts & hands. Amen.
Quotations marked WLS are from What Luther Says: A Practical In-Home Anthology for the Active Christian, copyright © 1959 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
The quotation from John H. C. Fritz is taken from Pastoral Theology: A Handbook of Scriptural Principles Written Especially for Pastors of the Lutheran Church, copyright © 1945 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
 1 Timothy 6:10
 Matthew 25:35 ESV
 2 Corinthians 8:9
 2 Corinthians 9:6–7
Pastor Dean R. Poellet