Thanksgiving Sunday - How should we spend our money? - Luke 16:1-9
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
Theme: How the disciples of Jesus should spend their money in the light of eternity.
Aim: To challenge the congregation to give more money to gospel work.
We are a generation of spenders not a generation of savers. Perhaps this will come as no surprise to you but I discovered this week that four out of ten people working in Britain today have no pension provision whatsoever and will therefore have to rely on the state for an income in retirement. In previous generations our parents would often provide for us. After their death the children would regularly receive some sort of financial inheritance. But increasingly even this is becoming less and less likely. Whilst the concept of Ďspending the kids inheritanceí may be nothing new, it appears that many of those presently in their forties and fifties are prepared to spend their own retirement funds to finance their current lifestyles. And letís be honest the kids themselves often donít have a clue how to begin saving for their future? Did you know that around 15% of 18-24 year olds think an individual savings account or an ISA is an iPod accessory, and one in 10 think itís an energy drink! We are a generation of spenders not a generation of savers.
And boy do we love spending. Let me provide you with some alarming statistics. The average debt owed by every UK adult (including mortgages) is approximately £24,636. The average consumer borrowing via credit cards, motor and retail finance, overdrafts and unsecured personal loans, at the end of November 2005, stood at £4,121. Did you know that Britainís personal debt is increasing by £1 million every four minutes?
So what do we spend our money on? The average American sees 150,000 adverts on television alone during their lifetime. The situation is probably not so different in the UK. And one of the major reasons for all the adverts is because there is no shortage of products to buy. In our time we can get what we want, when we want it. And so with a huge amount of variety we need to be persuaded by the advertisers to buy their particular product.
So what about Christians? What do we spend our money on? Are you prepared for the most alarming statistic of all? Christian giving in the UK is currently about 1% of our incomes. One church worked out that if everyone in the church was made unemployed and then gave a tenth of their social security money the income of the church would actually go up by 60%! US Christians spend $8 billion a year on dieting and only $2 billion a year on mission. In many Western churches it is impossible to distinguish the expenditure of professing Christians from the non-Christians who surround them in their neighbourhoods.
During the crusades it is said that mercenaries were baptised holding their swords above the water Ė they did not want Christ to control their swords. And for many Christians who currently live in the affluent West the same can be said about our wallets. So yes we might give Jesus the control over many areas of our behaviour. We do allow him to have the last word over many decisions that we take. But frequently Christians in the West refuse to give Jesus control over the accelerator pedal in our cars and the account number for our bank. We love to hold the wallet above the water and pretend that our godliness has no connection with our direct debits. But as we will discover from Luke 16, how we give is a big clue that reveals how much we truly understood the gospel.
Have a look at verse 9. Jesus says, "I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings."
One of the reasons I love living in Yorkshire is because people say it as it is. They will tell you what they think even if the truth is going to hurt. And I love people who are brave enough to be honest. Now when it comes to discussing money Christian leaders frequently get very embarrassed. But just compare the coyness of contemporary vicars with the directness of what Jesus says in verse 9. "I tell you" he says. Not "I ask you" or "I think it would be wise if you did so and so" but "I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings." Can there be any doubt about it? If Jesus Christ was an Englishman he would have been born in Yorkshire.
The parable of the shrewd manager is all about how Christians are to spend their money in the light of eternity. Now I know at first sight it doesnít seem like a Jesus parable. We typically expect Jesus to talk about farming or hidden treasure or lost sons but here in the parable of the shrewd manager he apparently commends the behaviour of a financial fraudster.
So what is going on? Was Jesus having a bad day? Or have we, perhaps, misunderstood what he was talking about. Letís find out. Have a look at verses 1 and 2.
"Jesus told his disciples: "There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, ĎWhat is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.í"
Here was judgement day for this dodgy accountant. The scoundrel has, at last, been revealed to be the self-interested shark that he really is. His employer has been listening to the rumours on the grapevine and is now convinced that his portfolio manager has been wasting his possessions. As we discover from the rest of the parable this manager was not a stupid man and so we must assume that his financial mismanagement was deliberate self-interested fraud.
So what does the rich man do? He summons the manager into his office to sack him from his job. This is no dressing down. This is the big push. The manager is to explain what he has done and then he is to prepare to leave the company. At this point the rich man makes a mistake. I donít know what itís like in your business but just suppose that during a normal working day the person who sits next to you in the office is revealed to be a financial fraudster. For years and years they have been siphoning off money from various customer accounts and have been redirecting the cash to fatten their own bank balance. Now when someone like this is discovered how long would they be allowed to remain at their desk before they are asked to leave the premises? Surely they would be removed as soon as possible. They would be asked to clear their desk, collect their box of possessions and then would be frog marched through the front doors by two large security guards. They would not be allowed to sit at their desk for a few hours knowing that their career was over.
And yet thatís exactly what the manager in the parable was allowed to do. He left his employerís office and went back to his desk to think about the future. Which is where he had his big idea. Have a look at verses 3 and 4. "The manager said to himself, ĎWhat shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. Iím not strong enough to dig, and Iím ashamed to beg ó 4 I know what Iíll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.í"
This guy was a wimp. He says to himself, "Look at my hands! For years and years they have been protected by Mild Green Fairy Liquid. So thereís no chance that I could survive a job that involved any serious manual labour." But what is he to do? Heís too embarrassed to sell the Big Issue on the street and the Welfare State hasnít been invented yet so he cannot claim his jobseekers allowance. What is this guy to do? He has an idea. He knows that the only thing he is good at is dodgy financial dealings. So in the last few hours of his career he decides to prepare for his future.
Verse 5. "He called in each one of his masterís debtors. He asked the first, ĎHow much do you owe my master?í 6 "ĎEight hundred gallons of olive oil,í he replied. "The manager told him, ĎTake your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.í 7 "Then he asked the second, ĎAnd how much do you owe?í "ĎA thousand bushels of wheat,í he replied. "He told him, ĎTake your bill and make it eight hundred.í"
The manager may have been a crook but he wasnít stupid. He knew his career in the financial industry was over. He would never get another job in finance again. But as he waited at his desk he thought of a very cunning plan. He decided to get in touch with all his masterís debtors. "Hiya Bill, how are you doing? Good thanks. Busy but you know how the boss is a slave driver. Have you got a few minutes to spare this afternoon? Great, come round to the office, I have a pleasant surprise for you." One by one they all pop round to see the manager and one by one they are told of the generosity of the master and the manger. Business has been so good that the debtors donít have to pay back all they owe. All they have to do is agree to the new figure, change the paper work themselves, which is all part of the cunning plan of the manager, and then seal the deal by completing the customary handshake.
It was an excellent plan. The debtors had no idea that anything dodgy was going on. They were simply under the impression that the rich man and his portfolio manager had suddenly become generous. And in those days there was no way the rich man could ask for his money back without losing his new reputation as Mr Charitable. The manager was in a win-win situation.
His employer would have to keep his mouth shut but when he got the sack his new friends would remember his generosity and make sure he was looked after. It was an excellent plan.
And I think thatís why the master commended him. Have a look at verse 8. "The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly." Not because he was a crook but because he was smart. So we are not to make the mistake and think that the ethical behaviour of this dodgy geezer is an example for everyone to follow. We mustnít ignore the fact that in verse 8 the manager is still called the dishonest manager. There is no doubt about his wicked actions. But even his boss cannot fail to admire how this deceitful man has prepared for his future. He is like so many people who are not Christians. They may not be saved but they are not stupid. They are often very shrewd when it comes to dealing with other people. Or to quote the words of the Lord Jesus from verse 8b, "The people of this world (non-Christians) are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light (Christians)." So what is Jesusí conclusion? Verse 9. If you are a Christian be wise with your money. Be shrewd in your dealings with other people. "I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings."
Jesus Christ says to us this morning let me tell you how to spend your money. He says, "Think about the manager in the parable. He knew the future that was coming his way and so what did he do? He used his resources to gain friends for that future." And Jesus says to us, will you spend your money in the same way? Do we believe in eternity? Do we believe in heaven and hell? Do we believe that our money can make the difference to someoneís salvation? The money that helps a gospel worker to be funded. The money that allows a website to be maintained. The money that feeds a stomach and then wins a soul. Jesus says to us, "Use your money so that the gospel can change the lives of as many people as possible."
I came across a story this week about a preacher in America who was given the task of preaching on the subject of giving. As the preacher began his message the congregation were very enthusiastic. "Brethren", he said, "the church is on the move. She will walk to victory." "Amen, brother, preach it" came the reply. "Brethren, the church is on the move. She will run to victory." "Yeah, let her run." "Brethren, the church is on the move. She will fly to victory." "Yeah, let her fly." "Brethren, if the church is to fly she must have money to fly." "Yeah, let her walk" came the reply.
I donít know if you ever imagine the welcoming party that will greet you at the gates of heaven. Who do you think you will be in the crowd? Perhaps the work colleague who you witnessed to over many years. Perhaps that friend you prayed for until they finally accepted Christ as Saviour. But what if I told you that if you give your money to further the advancement of gospel preaching many other people will be waiting to greet you when you enter into heaven? Jesus says, "I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings."
It was John Paul Getty II who said, "I find all this money a considerable burden." But for the Christian, money doesnít have to be a burden. Instead it can provide a brilliant opportunity to advance the gospel. How will the work of the gospel be continued in this parish and around the world? Only if Christians like you and me generously give away much of the money that God has graciously given to us in the first place.
A number of months ago I had the responsibility of raising £90,000 so that I could come and work at this church for 3 years. The figure seemed massive to begin with and sometimes, in the early days, I did wonder if it was going to be possible to raise the full amount. But time and again, as I met with Christians face to face, I was humbled and amazed at their generosity.
Let me give you one example of what I experienced. I was having lunch with a family I knew from a previous church that I had worked at. After lunch I explained what I was hoping to do in the future at St John Newland. And this is what the husband said to me. "Lee, you always knew that we would help. But let me tell you something you didnít know. A few years ago my wife and I started up a separate bank account, which we wanted to use exclusively for gospel ministry. There is currently £9000 in the account and we want to give it all to you so that you can preach the gospel in the city of Hull."
My friends, you may not have £9000 but from what God has given you what are you giving back so that the Kingdom of God can keep on growing?
It was the Puritan Thomas Adams who once said, "To part with what we cannot keep, that we may get what we cannot lose, is a good bargain." Christian preachers often teach that we cannot take our money with us. We tell our listeners that there are no pockets in a shroud. And thatís true! But, according to the Lord Jesus Christ, there is a way of making our money count for eternity. We may not be able to take it with us but we can invest it wisely in gospel ministry so that in eternity people will be there because of the generosity of our direct debits. My friends, if the church is to fly she needs our money.
So let me ask you a few personal questions as I finish. The same questions I have asked myself all week. What do you spend your money on? Are you squandering the cash or are you investing for eternity? Do we believe what Jesus says about the future? And if we do, have we told our bank manager to set up the relevant transfers? Letís pray.
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