Seeing Through His Eyes
Before we dig into today’s text, I want to preface it by mentioning a different one. We’re not going to read the whole thing, but in the letter to the Hebrews, from 5.11 to 6.3, the author criticizes the people to whom he’s writing, saying that they have been Christians long enough to be further along in their faith; they should be “grown-ups” in their faith, but they’re still acting like children. They’re going around in circles, talking nonstop about the things they talked about at the very beginning of their Christian walk: what it means to repent, what it means to have faith, and so on.
He’s not saying these things are unimportant; he’s saying that they’re basic—these are the first things these Christians would have learned as Christians, and they’re still hashing all these things out as if they were still young in their faith.
The author is telling them, “There’s more to the gospel than the basics of the gospel. Don’t forget these things—especially things like repentance and faith—but don’t stop at those things either. Grow up.”
That’s what he says in chapter 6, verse 1: Leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity.
The reason I mention this today is because our church, as you know, is filled mostly with young Christians. Most of you don’t have more than ten or fifteen years of solid faith under your belt, because fifteen years ago you were little kids. (And that’s assuming you met Christ as a child!) Fifteen years isn’t a long time. And the temptation when you’re a young Christian will be to go back and rehash all of the things you learned at the beginning, things you learned when you were children, or when you were brand new Christians.
If you want to really grow in your faith, really grow to Christian maturity, you’ll need to go further. And “going further” usually doesn’t mean reading more books or doing more intense studies, or learning Greek and Hebrew. “Going further” in your faith means letting what you know shape who you are, and how you see the world, and how you make decisions.
And that is what Luke 16 is all about.
Fair warning: this is a text that’s going to make a lot of people uncomfortable, because Jesus is going to talk about money. A lot. That’s not all he’s going to talk about (or even, I’ll argue, the main thing he’s talking about), but it is the example he’s going to use to hammer these truths home to us.
And he’s going to start with what is (for me) one of his most surprising parables.
Use Your Wealth for the Kingdom (v. 1-9)
1 He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2 And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3 And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’
The context of this story isn’t uncommon, even today. Very rich people will employ a household manager, someone to manage everything they own, and who runs it. If they find out that person isn’t doing a good job, but is being wasteful with their employer’s resources, they’ll be fired.
Which is exactly what happens to the manager. He’s wasteful, so the master tells him he’s losing his job.
The manager knows he’s in trouble. So in order to protect himself for the day when his job is over, he decides to try to get in good with the people who owe money to his master. He calls them all up and tells them that the debt they owe his master is being reduced.
It’s a sneaky thing to do—his master never approved these reductions. But he’s doing it so that when his job comes to an end, these people will remember him, and the discounts he gave them, and let him work for them.
What’s surprising here isn’t what the manager does—that’s actually pretty smart. (Sneaky, but smart.)
The surprising thing is his master’s reaction to what he does. V. 8:
8 The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.
Now, you need to know that commentators are all over the place about this. No one seems to know exactly what the master is commending.
There are three main theories.
1) Some say that these reductions amount to the manager cutting out his own commission. That would be praiseworthy, but it’s seriously doubtful his commission was that high (he gives massive discounts here).
2) Some say that because debts are notoriously hard to collect, by giving these reductions the manager provides his master with a sudden influx of cash (which may be true).
3) Others say that the master isn’t happy with the manager for what he’s done, but rather simply admitting that it was a smart way for the manager to protect himself.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter. The point is that the master can see that when faced with a potential financial challenge, the manager thought about how he would meet that challenge, and he thought about it well. He knew his revenue would be cut off soon, so he found a creative solution to make friends with wealthy people, in order to not go poor. It was a smart move, an intelligent way to protect himself.
That’s Jesus’s point. He says in the second half of v. 8:
For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.
My dad used to say something a lot—he’d say that Christians are sometimes “so heavenly-minded that they’re no earthly good.” Some Christians think so much about the kingdom of God, and about heaven (as well they should), that if they’re not careful they fall into the trap of neglecting the things going on in the rest of their lives.
They’re great on theology, but they waste insane amounts of time and money—not because they’re frivolous, but simply because they’re not paying attention.
Jesus doesn’t want his followers to be like that. Yes, he wants them to keep their eyes focused on the kingdom of God, on God’s glory, on his work…but not to the detriment of everything else. He wants his followers to be smart about the way they deal with the world around them—in this case, about the way they spend their money.
To that end, he makes this very surprising statement in v. 9:
9 And 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.
We need to do some work here, because that is a very strange thing to say.
Firstly, what does he mean by “unrighteous wealth”?
We can be sure that he’s not saying we should go about amassing wealth for ourselves in ways that are underhanded or dishonest (Jesus knew his Ten Commandments).
So more than likely, he’s referring to two aspects of wealth. Firstly, most of the wealth people can amass is worldly wealth (i.e. wealth we earn in this world). That wealth is “unrighteous” in that it wasn’t made by doing anything related to the kingdom (at least not directly).
Secondly, wealth in this world can lead to unrighteousness, if we’re not careful. One can gain wealth by taking advantage of others. One can gain wealth to satisfy their own selfish desires. One can use wealth as a crutch, a way to take care of ourselves just in case God doesn’t provide. One can make wealth an idol which takes the place of God in our hearts and minds.
Wealth isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but it can be dangerous. It’s a hard thing to be wealthy and faithful to Christ. It’s not impossible, but it is difficult, because having great wealth tends to make you want more wealth; wealthy people always face the temptation of putting their ultimate trust in their wealth, whereas Jesus’s disciples are called to place their ultimate trust in him.
Jesus wants us to be aware of that danger; but at the same time, he knows how the world works. He knows we can’t live in this world without money for very long.
So he wants us to be aware of the danger of wealth, so that we might not hold onto it at all costs, but rather that we might put it to wise use, for his glory.
What does he want us to do with our wealth? He tells us (v. 9): make friends with your wealth—why? so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.
What does that look like? I’ve heard a million true stories like this one:
Lydia can’t catch a break—her husband has left her for another woman; she has just lost her job; she has three children whom she still has to feed and clothe; and now, her car won’t start. She’s in the driveway in the morning, trying to start the car; she pops the hood, seeing if she can figure out what’s wrong, and finally in her frustration she begins to cry.
Her neighbor Peter comes out to go to work, and sees her there crying. So he asks if he can help. Peter takes a look at the engine, has no idea what’s wrong, so he offers to drive Lydia’s children to school, then to take her to a garage to get her car looked at. He drives the kids to school with her, the car goes to the garage, and they see the transmission is shot—three hundred dollars to fix it. Lydia, obviously, can’t pay it.
So Peter thinks for a minute. He takes out his phone and looks at his family’s budget. His family is not at all rich; but he looks at things they can cut out, things he can move around. He considers the problem, and finds a way to pay the bill for her.
And after that, he brings Lydia and her kids home to meet his family, and they have dinner together. Over dinner, Lydia asks why on earth they would do something like that—pay three hundred dollars to fix the car of a woman they don’t know.
Peter and his wife answer, “Because that’s what Jesus did for us.” They share the gospel with her; explain how Christ, though he was rich, became poor for us (2 Cor. 8.9); how Jesus, though we were his enemies, lived our life and died our death, so that we might be reconciled to God. Lydia is overwhelmed by their generosity, and of course she suddenly wants to know more about this gospel that made these people this generous. And after a while, she comes to know Christ.
Brothers and sisters, that is “making friends by means of unrighteous wealth.” That is using earthly resources for God’s glory. Some would say that’s an unwise way to use their money (since Peter’s family didn’t have a lot to begin with). But it’s not.
That car will break down again one day—the money will eventually fail. But if Lydia happens to arrive in heaven before her neighbors, she will be there to welcome them in, and they will celebrate Christ together.
That’s just one example of a million possible examples; the point of the parable isn’t only to incite us to generosity, but rather to use our wealth wisely, for the glory of God. What we have isn’t ours, but God’s, and he has given it to us to use for his glory. That is how we should think of everything we own.
This kind of thinking may seem a little accessory to some people (particularly those who don’t like the idea of God telling them what to do with their money). These people may think this kind of financial thinking is one possible implication of the Christian life, an implication that you could take or leave, depending on your interpretation of Scripture.
But it’s not. The reality that all our life belongs not to us, but to God is not an implication of the Christian life; this kind of thinking is at the heart of the Christian life. The stakes here are very, very high.
The Stakes Are High (v. 10-13)
Firstly, the stakes are high for our service to the kingdom.
10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?
God does not save us simply for our own benefit. He does not save us simply for heaven. Everyone he saves, he saves for his glory. He saves people in order that they might take the grace they have received, and pour it out to others, that others may know Christ.
This is how God plants his kingdom; this is how he gathers his children home.
But if we aren’t faithful in the little, practical aspects of our lives—our own personal finances, for example—how can we expect God to trust us with something big, like working for someone else’s eternal salvation? If we aren’t faithful with things that don’t really matter (because they don’t last), how can we expect him to trust us with things that do matter?
Believe it or not, the way we spend our money says a lot about how much (or how little) we value the kingdom of God.
Most people learn fairly early on to set up a budget. They have lines in their budget for clothes, for food, for utilities, for savings, for insurance, for entertainment, for vacation… And most Christians will have an additional line for money they’ll use for the church, or other gospel-centered initiatives (giving to a foreign missionary, or to another gospel-related organization). Some Christians will even have a “hospitality budget”, money they keep aside so they can invite unbelievers over for dinner and show them the gospel.
How we spend our money shows how much—or how little—we value the kingdom of God.
But let’s think even bigger.
What if thinking through how I could be most effective for the gospel changed where I decided to live, and in what kind of home? What if it changed the career I decide to pursue? What if it changed the people I decide to spend my time with? the after-work activities I decide to enjoy? where I sent my kids to school?
Everyone’s context is different, so you’d know better than me exactly what that would look like for you. Jesus’s point is that this is how we should think, because God’s kingdom goes forward, not just through our own personal evangelism, but through the wise choices and investments of his children. God has given us all he has given us to use for his glory and for his kingdom.
So if we don’t take serious time and effort to think through how we’ll use those resources, how effective can we expect to be? How can we expect him to trust us with big things if we’re not faithful with little things?
Secondly, the stakes are high for our own hearts.
13 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 money.”
The simple truth of the matter is that there is always only one thing that rules our hearts.
This is why idolatry is such a big deal in the Bible: God is meant to be the one who has final sway over our priorities and affections.
And one of the biggest dangers to our affections for God is money—either in the wealth itself, or in what we do with it.
Wealth brings security: we see a comfortable sum in the bank account, and we feel safe.
And yet, in Christ, we have all the security we need: he lived our life and died our death to secure our place in the kingdom of God, where even death could not ultimately harm us.
Wealth brings status: fewer places exist where we can see that more clearly than in Paris. The disparity that exists between the rich and the poor in our city is visible, and staggering. Wealth brings pride, and the idea that those who don’t look like me or dress as well as me (presumably because they can’t afford it) are lesser, somehow. Wealth is far too often a marker of our identity—if we don’t have access to the toys we want and the clothes we wear, then who are we?
But in Christ, we are children of the Most High God—we are Sons and Daughters of the Creator and Lord of the universe. There is no higher status than to be adopted children of God, loved by the One who has every right to judge and reject us.
Wealth brings pleasure: the example I always think of (because it’s so far from the way I grew up) is vacation. The amount of money we spend on vacation in our country is insane. People save up all year—they save up their money and their emotional health—for those few weeks in the summer when they can get away and have fun.
But what would our lives be like if we really believed what David says in Psalm 16, that in your presence there is fullness of joy, at your right hand our pleasures forevermore? If we really found our truest pleasure in God, would we feel so compelled to seek our pleasure elsewhere?
The stakes are high for our hearts. We can serve God, or we can serve money (and what money gets us), but we can’t serve both.
So what is the alternative?
Seeing Through God’s Eyes (v. 14-17)
14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.
This seems like a change of subject, but it’s not—Luke is careful to tell us that the Pharisees to whom Jesus is speaking now were lovers of money. They ridiculed his pretty extreme statements on money, not because what Jesus was saying wasn’t true, but because they loved money too much to accept it.
The Pharisees touted their devotion to the Law and the Prophets, and yet their lives went in the opposite direction. They’d proclaim the necessity and the truth of the Law, and then turn around and conveniently ignore those parts of the Law which warned against their own vices. They talked about the Law, but they didn’t really care about what the Law actually said.
“…but God knows your hearts,” Jesus says. He knows what you really love. He knows what is really exalted in your affections. And these things you love are an abomination in the sight of God.
You see, he is trying to get them to see what God sees. To look at the world through God’s eyes. Because if they ever stopped to ask themselves, “What is exalted in the sight of God?”, they would remember the multitude of passages in the Law and the Prophets which called them to this same kind of wisdom in the way they use the resources God has given them.
7 “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor...you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, 8 but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.
The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein...
9 Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; 10 then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.
He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income...
The examples are endless.
The Pharisees ridicule Jesus for forgetting the law; but Jesus was the Law’s staunchest defender—which is his point in v. 16-17:
16 “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. 17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.
You see, the Law was God’s means of showing his people what he valued, what he exalted; and the gospel reflects precisely those values. The gospel calls us not just to outward behavior; it calls us to an inner change of the things we value. It calls us to look at everything differently—not just our sin, but the world around us, the world’s values, the things we have, the things we love, the things we hold dear. It calls us to find our security, not in wealth, but in Christ; to find our identity, not in our social status (and its various markers), but in Christ; to find our pleasure, not in the paltry pleasures of this world, but in Christ.
The Heart of the Matter
The heart of everything Jesus is saying in this text can be summed up in one very simple question: What do you love? What do you value? What do you desire?
Or, to say it in Jesus’s terms: What is most “exalted” in you?
God knows the answer to that question for each of us, but he knows it’s awfully hard for us to do that kind of deep self-examination. So Jesus helps us—he puts his finger right on the point which will hurt the most, the point which will give us perhaps the clearest evidence of what it is we love and value and exalt the most: the way we use our money. The way we use the resources God has given us tells us what we value the most.
So if Jesus helps us see what we value most, what do we do with that knowledge?
Well, what if we just flipped it around? Now that we can better see what we value the most, what if we asked what God values the most? What if we applied this same kind of logic to God himself?
What does God value the most? Scripture is abundantly clear that God most values his glory, manifested in the salvation of his children.
And what did he do with the infinite resources at his disposal to obtain that which he values most?
He gave his Son, who (as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 8.9) though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
God is motivated by a passion for his own glory, and he most supremely manifests his glory in his Son, who became a man, and who lived and died and was raised to reconcile us to God.
If a passion for God’s glory, manifested in his Son, is what motivates God, it should also be what motivates us. If we are truly seeing through God’s eyes, we will see the world in light of that supreme value.
And if we see the world in that way, then we will inevitably and necessarily think long and hard about how we use the resources God has given us. We won’t be flippant in the way we use the wealth he has given us, and neither will we pursue that wealth as our ultimate source of security, or status, or pleasure.
We are called to love what God loves, and to see the world through the lens of a passion for his glory and his kingdom.
So if that’s true of us—if we truly value, and love, and find our pleasure in a passion for God’s glory and his kingdom—then what will we do with what God has given us, in order to pursue that highest value?
What needs to change (in our habits, in our time, in our budgets) to show the world, and our own hearts, that we truly value God’s kingdom and his glory above all else?
If you’re not a Christian this morning, and you’re hearing these things I realize how extreme it may sound. But think about it like this: if knowing Christ produces such a change in our way of thinking, our priorities, our habits—and not out of obligation, but because we want to change these things now—who must this Jesus be? If Jesus is so good that the simple fact of knowing would make us want to change everything for him, how good must he be?
If you’d like to know Jesus, if you’d like to take a first step of faith toward him (or even simply ask him to convince you), you’ll be able to do just that in a few minutes, while we are taking Communion.