What God Sees
We can say with complete confidence that when God looks at us he does not look at the size and impressive appearance of our homes. He does not look at the kind of car we drive. He does not look at the cut, style, and costliness of the clothes we wear. He does not look at our bank accounts, our stocks and bonds, or our pension funds. To God, Jesus says, this is all detestable when it becomes a measure of our worth.
God looks at the inside of a person, not the outside. He looks at the heart to see the nature of our inner commitments, and to find in them the reality of love, graciousness, mercy, justice, self-sacrifice, faith, and hope. Perhaps it is this evaluation of money that causes the passage [about the shrewd manager in Luke 16–17] to be so rarely preached today. Will we have the wisdom, the courage, and above all the faith to be prepared to believe and teach Jesus’s evaluation of money? Will we make this known to our children, in our churches, and in our communication of the gospel of Christ to the world?
Money Belongs to God
Will we be obedient and tell people that their money actually belongs not to them, but to God? This is very difficult in our cultural setting, because we are all taught from infancy to think of our money and possessions as “ours.” However, in contrast to this, Jesus declares that all our possessions and savings are not our own, but God’s. Not even my person, or my own life, belongs to me; rather, I belong to God.
We are stewards and managers of everything we possess, no more and no less. Will we encourage people to ask themselves to reflect on what does truly belong to them—love, mercy, justice, kindness, service, generosity, and self-sacrifice?
Laying up Treasures in Heaven
Are we prepared to teach people that money (in and of itself) is worthless to them, unless it is used as a means of laying up treasures in heaven? This is an extraordinarily challenging message, but if it were proclaimed clearly in our churches, we might find that people’s priorities would change, and that some members of our churches who are idolaters of their money and property might be profoundly and truly converted. We need to teach much more clearly and with far greater boldness the biblical message that we will have to give an account to God, and that the choices we make today have eternal consequences.
Are we calling people to make friends for themselves in the eternal habitations? I think I have rarely heard such a message. Yet this is a central thrust of Jesus’s words on this occasion. He does not appear to be afraid that saying such things will run the risk of causing people to think that they can earn their way into God’s favor by giving to the needy. He makes no qualifications to undercut the power of his words, or the convicting nature of his message. This is because his words are not about a call to give a tenth of what we have to the church or to the needy. That is not such a hard thing to do, even if we sometimes struggle with it. Jesus’s words strike much more deeply than this. He focuses on the idolatry of money, on the false security of money, on the need to be truly wise in our giving, and on our calling to be so generous with what we have that we will make many friends who will be delighted to welcome us in the kingdom to come.
We are stewards and managers of everything we possess, no more and no less.
At the very end of his words about money [in Luke 16–17], Jesus speaks directly in condemnation to some of those who are listening to him. He only speaks with this frank condemnation because they expose the motivations of their hearts toward their money and possessions by ridiculing what Jesus has been saying. It is in response to their scorn that Jesus accuses them plainly of trying to justify themselves before God, and of valuing highly what is detestable in God’s sight. Some of the Pharisees were provoked to disdain by Jesus’s penetrating words about the idolatrous hold money can have on our hearts. They were unwilling to hear such a challenge to their personal greed. They would not come to the light to confess it as sin.
We can think of the response of the wealthy young man (Matthew 19). On that occasion as well, Jesus sought to expose the motives of his heart and the idolatry of money that lurked there. The young man’s response, while not yet one of repentance and faith in Jesus, is very different from the response of the Pharisees on this present occasion. He does not ridicule Jesus’s message about money; rather, he goes away sorrowful because of his sin that is now exposed. This sorrow would eventually lead to repentance and to his becoming a true follower of Christ. He came to the light and heard Jesus’s challenge.
On that occasion the disciples found Jesus’s message about money difficult, for their response was, “How can anyone be saved?” On this occasion as well, the disciples must have found Jesus’s words to be very disturbing and convicting. But one of the marks of a disciple is the readiness to have one’s sin exposed, no matter how painful the process may be. Jesus’s words concerning wealth certainly produce pain if we allow his message to settle in our hearts and ask the Spirit to use that message to reveal the selfish and materialistic passions that are lurking there.
Money, Money, Money—Jesus’s Challenges for Us
Jesus leaves his disciples with a series of questions to ponder about money and possessions, questions with which we can measure our progress in understanding and obedience. These are for private prayer and reflection rather than for public discussion.
- Is my heart and mind set on God or on money, on how to serve him or on how to save and spend what I think I possess?
- Am I committed to daily reflection on planning my life and the way I use my money to live for eternity, or to ensuring that I (and my family) will be comfortable and financially secure in this life? What proportion of each day is spent on these two different goals?
- Do I truly recognize that all I have is God’s and not my own, that I am his steward, or manager, and do I acknowledge that this is why he will call me to give an account of how I have managed his property?
- Am I using what I have to bless others in need, whether I have little worldly wealth or whether I am relatively prosperous?
- Do I truly realize that possessions are far less important than relationships, and that my attitude to my possessions is a kind of proving ground to prepare me for more significant responsibilities in serving others?
- What do I have that I can truly call my own? Who are the people who are becoming my spiritual siblings, parents, children, friends—people whom I have given myself to in service and love, in kindness and mercy, and in self-sacrifice?
This article is adapted from Learning Evangelism from Jesus by Jerram Barrs.
We come into this world as a danger to ourselves. We are naturally more discontented than contented.
We keep telling ourselves that the next thing will be what satisfies us, but it never does.
Few people acknowledge the narratives that drive the assumptions that provide our framework for how we relate to money.