By Angie Benjamin
The use of wealth is the major topic of Luke 16. Wealth can be a blessing or a curse, depending on whether it is used as a means to exercise power, a tool of self-indulgence or a resource to serve others.
In this chapter Jesus tells two parables—the unrighteous steward and rich man and Lazarus—to show that God’s perspective on riches and our perspective are often very opposed. If we want to be truly rich, we need God’s perspective on money.
Wealth's danger is that it can turn our focus toward our own enjoyment, as the rich fool showed in 12:13-21 and as the rich man of 16:19-31 will show. Money is a tool. It is an excellent resource when put to the right use. It can help to build many things of use to others. But to possess money is also to hold a sacred stewardship. Our resources are not to be privately held and consumed but are to be used as a means of generosity, as a way of showing care for our neighbor, as the good Samaritan showed in 10:25-37 and as a restored Zacchaeus will show in 19:1-10.
Jesus' applications extend in various directions. First he notes that people of the world are more shrewd than the people of the light (the disciples) are. People of this world think about how they use their resources. Even if they misuse them, they still give it thought. They think about the long-term benefits of what they acquire. Disciples should apply themselves to honor and serve God by their use of resources. They should think through their actions, both short and long term.
Money cannot come with us to heaven. Its value is limited when it comes to everlasting life. So recognize its limits and use it for others, not selfishly. To gain friends by means of mammon is to use money in such a way that others appreciate you for your exercise of stewardship, your kindness and generosity.
Jesus calls mammon "unrighteous." The NIV is too soft here, calling it simply worldly wealth (NRSV has "dishonest wealth," which is not quite right either). Mammon is called unrighteous not because it is inherently evil but because of the unrighteous attitudes the pursuit of money can produce. If money were inherently unrighteous, then all uses of it would be evil. But that is not Jesus' view (see 19:1-10). The attitude reflected here may be similar to that of 1 Timothy 6:10, where Paul says that the love of money is the root of all evil. Money itself is not evil because of how it brings out distorted values in people.The attitude towards it can be evil. Pursuing money can make people selfish, leading them to take advantage of others, to treat other people as objects and to be unfaithful to God. It tends to reflect an excessive attachment to the world. So it is better not to be attached to the pursuit of wealth.
Possessions are a responsibility, call it time, skills and talents...their use is a test of character, values and stewardship. The one who is faithful in little is also faithful in much. So also the other way around--to be dishonest in little things is to be dishonest in much. Faithfulness with the "little thing" of money indicates how faithful we are with the big things, the true riches of our relationships to God and to others. So if we have not been trustworthy in handling possessions that produce unrighteousness, who will trust us with true riches? The true riches in this passage seem to involve future kingdom service--that is, service for God and to others. True wealth is faithfulness in serving him.
The theme of responsibility continues as Jesus raises the question about being faithful with something that belongs to another so that later one can receive reward for oneself. If someone is unfaithful as a steward, why should that person be entrusted with ownership? Handling wealth is a preparatory lesson for other responsibilities before God.
The entire chapter should make us all stop and think carefully about our attitude toward money...how can you tell if you're slave to money?
Ask yourself... Do I think and worry about money frequently? Do I give up doing what I should do or would like to do in order to make more money? Do I spend a lot of time caring for my possessions? Is it hard for me to give money away? Am I in debt?
Our use of money is a goo test of the lordship of Christ.
- Money belongs to God, not us; so let us use it for good.
- Money can be used for good or eveil; let us use ours for good.
- Money has a lot of power; let us use our material goods in a way that will show and inspire others to faith and obedience.