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Biblical Christian Stewardship (website) Faithful Stewarship as a Mark of Grace

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Nov 7, 1999

Luke 16:1-13

Luke 16:1-13
Biblical Christian Stewardship

Our Lord and our God, we bow before You and we acknowledge You as the one eternal God, Father, and Holy Spirit. As You were in the beginning, are now and ever shall be, world without end. We praise You, O God. We come into Your presence, we come with thanksgiving in our hearts. We hardly can conceive the number and the weight of the blessings You have showered upon us, and we don't simply mean the temporal blessings that You have given, so many to us as a congregation, both individually and collectively. We also mean, we especially mean, the spiritual blessings that You have heaped upon us. For years and years You have given us Christian company, You've given us Christian family. You've given so many of us Christian business colleagues. You have given us a congregation of people who love You and love Your word, and faithful officers, teachers, ministers. You've blessed us, O God, and we are thankful for this. We ask that You would cause the fruit of that blessing to reap even greater benefits in our lives for Your sake and for the sake of the gospel. We pray that we will be transformed by the spiritual blessings that You have heaped on us and in us, those fruits of the spirit: love, and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and gentleness and faithfulness and self-control. May those gifts for which we are thankful, those gifts of the spirit, may those things multiply our witness in this community. May those things multiply our effectiveness in loving one another as brothers and sisters. Make us a family supremely thankful to our heavenly Father and supremely determined to love one another as You have loved us. We come to You, O Lord, this day, confessing our sins because we know that we have not loved You or our neighbor as we ought, and even though You have transformed us and brought us from the kingdom of darkness into Your marvelous light, we yet know those corners of our hearts where darkness seems to dwell. We ask, O Lord, that You would make us aware of those sins wherein we have offended You, and cause us to have a holy indignation against our sin, to learn to hate it and to learn to love that which is right. We would become, as it were, O Lord, possessed, addicted to becoming what You have made us in Christ. We would desire it above all else, and we would desire not to be that which You have saved us from. And so we pray that You would help us to search our own hearts to look for those thoughts, those words, and to see those deeds which flow from those thoughts which are displeasing to You. We pray that by the grace of the Holy Spirit we would wage war against sin in our own lives, always taking our own sin more seriously than we focus upon the sins of others. It's so easy to see the shortcomings, the weaknesses, and the mistakes and the sins of others and to ignore our own. Help us to be zealous in the prosecution of our own sins and then, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, work in us new life. Fill us with the Spirit. Help us, we pray, to be ever expressing the fruit of the Spirit's work in our hearts and lives by our actions and our thoughts and our attitudes. We pray, heavenly Father, for the work of the gospel this day as it goes forth from pulpits across this city, and this land, and indeed around the world. We pray that You would prosper the gospel, that You would build up the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that You would hold back the gates of hell as they advance upon unsuspecting mankind. And we ask, O Lord, that the gospel would prevail, that many would be brought into the kingdom, that a multitude which no man can number would gather around the Lord Jesus Christ to praise him forever. And we pray, O Lord, that You would impress upon us the importance of our faithfulness in that fight. We pray that it would become one of the true desires of our lives, to see the kingdom of the Lord, Jesus Christ, expanded here and there, both in our land and in foreign places. We pray, O Lord, for those this day who come to the service with heavy hearts, anxious for various reasons. Some will come this day struggling with financial difficulties, others will come dealing with a stressful family situation. Many will come this day because of loved ones who have illnesses and diseases. They'll come this day with heavy hearts and we ask that You would lift them up and You would unburden them and You would grant them the peace which passes understanding and that You would help us as a congregation, as a family of faith, to minister to one another and to bear one another's burdens and to weep with one another and to help where we can so that our friends would see the love of God in Christ through us, expressed as we practically help one another. And we pray, O God, that You would meet us in worship this day and do business with our hearts, transforming us by Your word and Spirit. And all these prayers we lift up in Jesus' name, amen.

If You have Your Bibles, I'd invite You to turn with me to Luke, chapter 16. The stewardship committee has asked me to speak on the subject of Biblical Christian Stewardship today, and so we're going to take a break from our series in Matthew, and look at the passage surrounding our theme verse for stewardship season - Luke 16:11. I was talking with Mark Baird about this several weeks ago. He had said that he was looking at the context with the story around Luke 16:11, and thought it so intriguing and interesting, but he said, "But you know, that's a hard passage." And he's right. It is. It's a hard, hard passage. It's difficult to know exactly when this parable ends. Jesus sort of phases into His application, so You have to pay attention to see where the parable, the story, ends and when the application begins.

The precise meaning of this story has been debated, and of course, the issue has been raised, "What in the world is Jesus doing praising an embezzler? Why would You want to hold up an embezzler, a guy who ripped off of his boss' profits as your great example for stewardship?" All those questions come to mind when You look at this passage. And so today, we're going to try to "unpack" some of those things here in Luke 16, the first 13 verses. Let's look, beginning in verse one. This is God's word. Hear it:

Now He was also saying to the disciples, "There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and this steward was reported to him as squandering his possessions. And he called him and said to him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.' And the steward said to himself, 'What shall I do since my master is taking the stewardship away from me? I am not strong enough to dig; I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do, so that when I am removed from the stewardship, they will receive me into their homes.' And he summoned each one of his master's debtors, and he began saying to the first, "How much do you owe my master?" And he said, "A hundred measures of oil." And he said to him, "Take Your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty." Then he said to another, "And how much do You owe?" And he said, "A hundred measures of wheat." And he said to him, "Take your bill and write eighty." And his master praised the unrighteous steward because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that when it fails, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. If therefore you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous mammon, who will entrust the true riches to you? And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other, or else he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

Thus ends this reading of God's holy and inerrant word. May He add His blessings to it. Let's pray:

Father, we ask that You would speak to our own hearts by this truth and You would teach us the truths through stewardship and we ask this in Jesus' name, amen.

The purpose of our addressing the issue of stewardship in the Scriptures today is not to raise money. This is a worship service, and this is a sermon, not a telethon. We're not going to appeal to your emotions to try and twist you into raising the amount that you're going to pledge today, although the stewardship committee would love that. Actually, the stewardship committee wanted me to address the issue of stewardship for a profounder reason, a reason they have stated over and over. That is, they want us to look at the issue of stewardship not simply in terms of what we give to the church and to the Lord's work, but stewardship as a matter of all of life.

Stewardship is not just about what is entrusted to the Lord directly, but about everything else we have; not just about our ten per cent plus contributions and offerings, but about the rest of the 80 or 90 per cent; and not just about material wealth, but about all the resources that we have. Stewardship is not just about the time and talent and money that we give to the church and to the Lord's work. It is more expansive than that, and our purpose in addressing this text today will be to enable you to see just how expansive Christian stewardship is.

Christian stewardship is about all of life. Fundamental to healthy Christianity is an understanding that we are stewards. If I could put that another way, fundamental to healthy Christian living is an understanding that all that we are and have comes from, and belongs to, the Lord. Fundamental to healthy Christian living is an understanding that all that we are and have comes from, and belongs to, the Lord.

Now, that's just the issue of stewardship right there and it takes up everything, doesn't it? That is why that Christian said, "stewardship is what You do after You say, I believe." we could even modify that and say, "Stewardship is what you are after you say, 'I believe.'" Once you say, "Jesus Christ is Lord", everything after that is the practical expression of His lordship. Once you say, "Yes, I believe that Jesus Christ is Lord", everything that follows is your expression of His lordship in Your life. And so, faithful stewardship means practically acknowledging Jesus' lordship, and that means knowing that He is Lord of everything, the owner of everything, the source of everything; believing that and then acting accordingly.

Now, this parable is speaking of that issue. That's exactly what Jesus is getting at. He speaks in very provocative terms here, and the story is notoriously tough, but some close study, I think, will yield results. If you will look at the first 8 verses, I believe that there is the nub of the story, and I believe in verse 9 Jesus begins giving his application. And in fact, Jesus doesn't even leave you to draw your own applications to the story. He gives five specific applications beginning in verse 9, then in 10, 11 and 12, then in 13.

I. The parable
So look with me first at verses 1 through 8. This is the story of a dishonest business manager. The word 'steward' is how it is translated in some passages, in other translations it will read 'manager'. But its about a man who manages a large estate on behalf of a wealthy landowner. His job is to manage the accounts, to deal with those who are customers, to deal with those who are clients, to sell, to receive the payments, to keep track of the accounts, to audit, etc. And this man is dishonest.

Now, its very important for you to understand the story, and that you understand the audience to whom Jesus is addressing Himself. If you look at verse one, you see specifically that Jesus is speaking to His disciples. So He is wanting to talk to His disciples about how they view wealth. Now, in fact, I'm going to argue today that Jesus wants His disciples to be radically challenged in three areas: their view of God, their view of wealth, and their view of their own stewardship. He wants them to be challenged in all three of those areas. So, He's addressing His disciples here. He wants to talk to them about their attitude about God, about wealth and towards their own stewardship - their responsibility to be stewards before God.

But, in the background as He's addressing His disciples - and that means you and me directly and primarily - He also has the Pharisees. You remember the Pharisees were lovers of money. Jesus challenges them on that point all the time. Now, notice in Luke, that the three previous stories were all addressed to the Pharisees. Then, Jesus addresses this to His disciples, and then from 14 to the end of Luke chapter 16, He is addressing the Pharisees again. And in fact, if you look at verse 14, when Jesus finishes telling the disciples the story, when Jesus finishes telling the disciples the application to this story, the Pharisees scoff. They scoff at Jesus' teaching. So they are within ear shot and Jesus has them in His sight as well as the disciples. And this helps to explain the shocking nature of the story.

You wonder how in the world could Jesus use stories like this to illustrate good stewardship? Because He's tweaking the noses of the Pharisees. He's telling the Pharisees, "Let Me tell you of somebody who's righteous, who's wise in his use of worldly wealth. There was this guy who was embezzling funds from his boss" - and then the story goes on. And the Pharisees are saying, "What are You saying?" And Jesus is saying, "Well, he is much wiser in the way that he is using money than you are." Jesus is thinking of the most offensive thing that he can possibly say in the presence of the Pharisees, and then He is praising this dishonest man, as if to say, "He is far wiser in his use of money than you Pharisees." You Pharisees have confused values. You ought to treasure heavenly riches. Instead, you treasure earthly riches. And if you really believe what you say you believe, You would act totally differently. And this man is actually far more consistent than you are. So Jesus, in telling this story, is trying to offend the Pharisees so that they will see their own sin and turn from it and follow the way of life. So this explains the shocking nature of this story.

The point is not to praise dishonesty. Of course, Jesus is not praising the dishonesty of men. Jesus' point is to show that worldly people are wiser and more consistent than the Pharisees were in their approach to wealth.

But Jesus wants to say more than that because Jesus is speaking to his disciples, and that means us directly. Jesus wants us to consider the possibility that worldly people are wiser and shrewder than we are in the way we approach wealth - in our attitudes toward God, towards wealth, towards our own stewardship. And so He tells the story. Let's just walk through the story very briefly.

There is a man who is a steward. He is a manager. He is a factor. His job was to manage his owner's estate, but he was skimming. He was embezzling. We're not told exactly how it was. It seems to be implied later on. We'll talk about that in just a moment, but whatever the case is, his unfaithfulness became known to his master. Somehow. Maybe a client told his master, "You know, that wheat that you sold me? The price was sky high!" And he starts inquiring and he finds out and then he calls in this man, and he tells him, "Let me tell you something. You give me a final accounting and then, you're fired. I want to see just how much you've stolen from me." Maybe he was preparing to prosecute. So he calls him in and he lets him know that the game is up and that he's going to be out a job. And the man says, "You know, I can't dig, my back's not very good and I don't want to go out on the streets and beg, so I've got to come up with a plan." This man is afraid that he's going to be prosecuted and he's already losing his job and now he's facing having to live in a community with these people who he's been cheating all these years. Now what's he going to do? So he thinks. "I've got it! I know what to do! All of that usurious interest that I've been charging - and I have been charging some of these people 50% more than my master's price, 100% more than my master's price - I know what I'll do. I'll call them in. They've owed for months, and I'll say "Cut that bill in half", and they’ll think that's a very generous thing. They will never know that was extra that I was charging them and never telling my master about. But they'll like me when I cut that price in half, and of course my master will be pleased that he's gotten his money and perhaps he'll go easy on me.” And so he begins to call in the clients of his master, and he allows them to pay off their debt without that exorbitant interest that he was attaching. So when he settled accounts with all those clients and he goes back and he gives the final audit sheet to his master, his master is pleasantly surprised. "Well, things don't look as bad as they were, and you've gotten some folks to pay who I've been waiting on for a long time. You've done pretty well! You've acted shrewdly." So his master praises him for his shrewdness. Castor says, "This parable presents us with a steward who is faced with the loss of his employment and he protected his future by calling in the bonds and getting the debtors to rewrite them so they no longer carried interest."

Now the point is, Jesus is saying that even this worldly man, this dishonest man, knew how to use the resources that he had in order to secure his own interest. If what he really cared about was wealth and security, then he acted very shrewdly. Now, he also acted very dishonestly, on both ends. That's not what Jesus is praising. He is saying "If his ultimate end were to be perceived by the people in the community, than he acted very shrewdly. If that was what he really wanted, then he acted very shrewdly." When even dishonest, worldly people know how and when to take decisive action, Jesus is saying, how much more should the people of God know how to act wisely with regard to worldly wealth? Jesus is saying to the disciples, "If You really care about eternal things, will you be captured by a preoccupation with a desire for worldly wealth, or will you see it merely as a means to a far greater end? Will you act wisely in your estimation and your attitude towards worldly wealth? Will you be a good steward?"

This story could be illustrated in modern terms this way: this steward has allowed these people to get off the hook for a lot of money they owed, and consequently, he's gotten in good with them and he's gotten in good with his master. Let's say a small business man gets in trouble with the IRS. There's a dispute about the amount of money that he owes in taxes. That dispute drags out over years, and of course, as the years drag on, so do the interest and the penalties, until his original amount disputed by the IRS of $25,000, now with interest and penalties rack up to about $125,000. And it's passed around from agent to agent and finally it gets up to one of the regional head honchos. He says, "Look, this thing's headed to court, and we don't want it to go to court, so why don't we do this? Why don't you just pay that original amount, and I will take off the interest and the penalties." And the man thinks, "You know, I am going to have to go to court and there's always the possibility that I'll lose and it's going to cost me a lot of money and time and energy to go there. I think I'm just going to cut and run. I'm going to pay the original amount. I won't have to pay the interest and the penalty." That is basically what this man has done and Jesus is saying, "He's acting shrewdly if those are his ultimate goals, to be received by the people in the community who were his master's debtors."

II. The application.
And then Jesus uses that illustration to make five points to his disciples. Let's look at those points very briefly. First, in verse 9, this is Jesus' first point, his first application. He teaches us here that the Christian steward uses his means for spiritual ends. Now this man wasn't using his worldly wealth for personal spiritual growth. This steward was using worldly wealth in order to keep from being prosecuted, in order to keep off the street begging, and in order to be received into people's homes that he'd actually been doing wrong for a period of time. And Jesus says to His disciples in contrast, "You make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, or worldly wealth" - however you want to translate that - "so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwelling."

Notice the contrast. The steward wanted to be received into the temporal dwelling. The disciples want to be received into the eternal dwelling. So He says, "Remember that worldly wealth won't get you the eternal dwelling." But your attitude towards worldly wealth may reveal a heart that doesn't really, ultimately, want the eternal dwelling. So, if you say you really want the eternal dwelling, you will use your worldly wealth in such a way that it shows that you care most about eternal things, and not temporal things.

Remember, the Pharisees were lovers of money. They used people to gain things. Jesus is saying to His disciples, "The Pharisees use people to gain things. You use things to bless people." He is saying "The Pharisees have it upside down. They use people in order to line their own pockets. They pretend like they are ministering to them, but they are actually lining their own pockets. They use people to gain things; you use things, wealth, resources on the other hand in a totally different way. You use it to bless people and to bless God." This is a rebuke to the Pharisees. He's saying to the disciples that they ought to use their resources for kingdom purposes in order to secure eternal wealth.

Every disciple of Jesus uses his resources with a view to the glory of God, and the good of others. Now, is that how we use our resources? That which has been entrusted to us, is that how we use it? Or do we have other goals in mind? Jesus is saying, "This man was shrewd because he knew how to use his resources in order to get his end." And He says, "You know, the funny thing is, believers say that they want this eternal reward, but they don't use their temporal wealth in a way that says that they really want the eternal reward. It looks kind of like they really want the temporal rewards more than anything else." He is saying, "You use your wealth in such a way that it shows that you really want the eternal reward."

The second point that Jesus makes is in verse 10. He says that the Christian steward knows that faithfulness in small things matters. "He who is faithful in little things is faithful in much." That, young folks, is by the way, why your parents often make big deal out of small things. You may think, "Mom and Dad, you're just blowing this all out of proportion. I really don't deserve that kind of punishment." They make big deals out of small things because faithfulness in little is connected with faithfulness in much. If you are dishonest in a very small matter, and you get by with it and you repeat it, you will develop a habit that will enable you to one day to steal a lot.

All of us who have to deal with expense accounts have to reckon with this regularly. "O, they will never know that dollar that we didn't return," and its the repetition of that over a period of time that enables you to take a lot more than that. Faithfulness in the little is connected with faithfulness in much. And so the Christian steward is faithful even in the small things.

This hits home. I was talking to a missionary after the service who runs a hospital in Tanzania. The price of a 'happy meal' will provide a day's hospital care for a needy child in Tanzania. How does that reorganize the way you prioritize your use of wealth? Faithfulness in small things -'happy meals' - is connected with faithfulness in much.

A third point. Jesus in verse 11 says, "The Christian steward knows that his use of wealth is a spiritual indicator." Jesus uses provocative language in verse 11: "Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth". Our theme verse translation is in the NIV and it says 'worldly wealth.' Jesus may actually be using that word in the pejorative, meaning unrighteous wealth there, just to tweak the Pharisees again. But again, His point is that the steward's use of wealth is an indicator as to whether that person really wants eternal riches. Does Your use of wealth say to those who look, "He really cares about eternal things"? Or does it say, "He lives for today. He lives for the now. He lives for the blessings now."

Fourthly, in verse 12, Jesus makes it clear that the Christian steward realizes that everything that he has comes from and belongs to God. I've told you about my first experience in St. Louis when I went to seminary. I sat down in church at Covenant Presbyterian Church on Ballast Road and I was waiting to hear someone stand up and pray in that Midwest, reporter accent. And one of the ruling elders was called upon to stand up and pray, and the first words that came out of his mouth were, "Our gracious heavenly Fathah, You are the King of Kings and Lawd of Lawds, You own the cattle on a thousand hills." Bobby Duff from lower Alabama. And it was so nice to hear an accent from lower Aabama. But every time I heard him pray, he worked in "Our gracious heavenly Fathah, King of Kings and Lawd of Lawds, who owns the cattle on a thousand hills." He loved those verses. I found out that he was the church treasurer. He loved to emphasize that the Lord owned the cattle on a thousand hills. He loved to remind us of that passage from the Old Testament. The Christian steward realizes that the Lord owns the cattle on a thousand hills, that everything that we have comes from God, from God, and it belongs to God.

Jesus is here indicating to us that our temporal wealth comes from God. Look what He's saying in the first part of verse 12: "If you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another's." What's His point? Your worldly wealth is what? It's that which is another's. Everything that you have is that which is another's. It belongs to somebody else, and He's saying here that if you have not rightly apprehended and mastered money, then you are not ready to receive the truly valuable inheritance. Our choices, our desires, our priorities all ought to reflect a kingdom agenda in which we have set our eternal values, the values we think are most important, on the heavenly riches, not on temporal riches. Our use of the Lord's wealth is an indicator of what we perceive to be the true wealth.

Finally, in verse 13, Jesus gives His fifth application. The Christian steward deliberately chooses God over wealth. The Christian decides that God is far more important to him than things, than wealth. What is mammon here? Wealth, yes, but much more. Your stomach, your ease, your sleep, your sports, your pastimes, your worldly riches, your honors, your status, your influence, Your play, Your pleasure. Jesus doesn't say that we shouldn't serve both God and things. Jesus says, “You can't serve both God and things.” Jesus says the steward has deliberately chosen God over things. God is not a means to an end. God is the end, everything else the means. One Puritan said, "Our problem is that we love the world, and we use the Lord." We've got it completely backwards. We need to love the Lord, and use the world. In other words, the worldly things, the temporal things, the resources that God has given to us, those are simply means to be used. The thing that we really love is the Lord.

Now, can we say that? Is that our priority? Have we so realized our stewardship, have we so realized that everything we have comes from God, have we so rightly valued worldly wealth that we can say that we love the Lord and we use the world? It is amazing how Christians want ease and blessing and they want the Lord to provide it, but they're not ready to commit themselves radically in stewardship with the Lord.

There was an advertisement in a London newspaper many years ago put in there by Sir Ernest Shackleford, who was an Antarctic explorer. Have you ever heard this quotation? Jim Kennedy quotes it from time to time. This is the ad. It says, "Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success." How many people do you think responded to that ad? Thousands! Thousands!

Have you realized the call of God to be a steward? Now, if men will respond to that ad, how can we not respond knowing the heavenly rewards that await? May God help us to be a steward.

Let us pray: Our Father, we can hardly do Your word justice. It is rich and we sit under its judgment. Change our hearts, by the Spirit. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.

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