Luke: Wholly Devoted

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on January 2, 2011

Luke 16:1-13

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The Lord’s Day Morning


January 2, 2011



“Wholly Devoted”


Luke 16:1-13


The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 16 as we
continue our way through the gospel of Luke.
This is a hard parable. The
commentators sometimes wrestle with this to understand what Jesus is speaking
about. It’s hard for a number of
reasons. One is, in this parable,
Jesus commends a dishonest squandering manager as the example to His disciples,
and this causes people to ponder.
And then it’s not quite clear exactly what the manager is doing to extract
himself from the situation that he’s gotten himself into in this parable.
Let me outline it for you and then I want to tell you a few things about
it so that you can appreciate the story as we read it.

First of all you will see Jesus’ description of the circumstances of this story
in verses 1 and 2. Then you will see
the manager, this shrewd but dishonest and squandering manager, thinking to
himself in verses 3 and 4 how he’s going to get himself out of this mess.
Then in verses 5 to 7 you’ll see what he actually does.
And then in verse 8, Jesus shows you what the master says about what the
manager does and Jesus Himself makes an application of the master’s comments and
the manager’s actions to His disciples.
And then in verses 9 to 13, Jesus makes a series of further applications
to His disciples. In fact, if you
were to count them up, I think you would find Jesus making at least five
applications of this story to His own disciples.

Now it’s important to note, as we look at this story, who the audience is.
Jesus is clearly concerned to speak to His disciples.
You see that in the very first words of verse 1 — “He also said to the
disciples.” So Jesus’ concern is to
speak to His own followers, those who He is edifying and equipping to minister
to the church. And His purpose is to
instruct them. He clearly has
something that He wants them to learn from this story, but the Pharisees are
here in the background. You will
remember, as we’ve worked our way through Luke 15, each of the previous three
stories are aimed at the Pharisees and this story is too.
And the way you know that is, if you’ll sneak a peek down in verse 14 —
we’re not going to read that verse today; we’ll stop at verse 13 — but verse 14
tells you what the Pharisees thought about this story that Jesus told.
They did what? They scoffed
at Jesus when He told this story. So
He’s got them in His sights because, and Luke tells you in verse 14, because
why? “The Pharisees were lovers of
money.” Jesus deliberately tells
this story trying to deal with one of the key heart sins of the Pharisees, but
not just to say something about the Pharisees, to say something very important
to His own disciples. We could all get
together and feel smug and condescending and beat up on Jewish leaders that
lived two thousand years ago, but Jesus has us in His sights too.
It’s not just the Pharisees.
He wants His disciples, He wants you and me, to understand the lesson of this
story.

Now this fact that He’s got the Pharisees in the background and He wants to
teach His own disciples something, explains the shocking nature of the story.
Jesus is deliberately tweaking the Pharisees’ noses by making a sinful
man the hero of His story. His point
is not to praise dishonesty. His
point is to show that sometimes worldly people are shrewder than people who
profess to be God’s people in the way that they approach their use of and
attitude towards wealth and resources and money.
Indeed, Jesus wants His disciples to consider the possibility that
worldly people are wiser and shrewder than they are in their use of wealth.

Now here’s the background to the story — you have a man who was a steward or a
manager or a factor. His job was to
take care of money and resources that did not belong to him, money and resources
that belonged to his master. His job
was to manage them and to deploy them well.
But it becomes known early in this story, to the master, that this
manager, this steward, is mismanaging his wealth.
He’s squandering it. And that
was considered a great crime in Jesus’ time, to misuse or mismanage someone
else’s wealth. He may even have been
misappropriating funds. Now the
owner in this context, when the news comes to him, he immediately fires him.
He calls him in and he says, “You’re fired.
You’re no longer going to be my manager, but before you go, the last
thing you’re going to do is you’re going to settle the accounts and you’re going
to show me how much I’ve lost. You’re going to show me how much you’ve lost me.
You’re going to show me the condition that I’m in financially.”

Now the manager at this point is afraid of several things.
He’s first of all afraid that he’s going to be prosecuted once he’s — now
he’s been dismissed, he’s lost his job, he’s going to have to give a final
account. He’s afraid that what’s
coming next is he’s going to be hauled into court.
He’s also afraid because he’s made a lot of enemies in the village there.
He has clearly made a lot of money off of what he has been doing in terms
of managing his master’s funds and he’s not very popular in his own community.
He wouldn’t be welcomed into many homes for a meal and he’s thinking of
himself. And so he’s got to come up
with a plan to protect himself from prosecution by his owner and to deal with
the clients in such a way that he might find an employment opportunity or at
least a free meal in the community once he no longer has a job.

So the man called in all the master’s debtors and he allows them to pay off debt
at a reduced rate. Now whether he
does this by not charging them usury or interest or whether he does this in some
other way, I don’t know, but somehow he gives them a really good rate in
settling their debts, the debts they owe to the master.
And when he settles the accounts with the master, the master looks at the
bottom line, and having feared the worst, he’s pleasantly surprised at the
bottom line and he ends up commending this manager for his shrewdness, for the
shrewd way in which he operated. Now
the parable presents us with a steward who, faced with the loss of employment,
protects his future by calling in the bonds and getting the debtors to rewrite
them so that they perhaps no longer carried interest.

And Jesus’ point is to show us that even worldly people know how to employ their
money and their energy in order to secure their own interests.
Now He wants to do two things here.
He wants to say, “This shrewd manager understood the accounting that he
was about to face, he understood what his interests were, and he knew how to use
his resources in order to foster his best interest.”
And He’s saying to the Pharisees, “You don’t understand how to use wealth
in the right way. You claim to be
people who are concerned about eternal interests, but you don’t use money or
view money in such a way that says you really care about eternal interests.”
And He’s saying to His disciples, “Don’t be like the Pharisees.
Don’t be people who lose sight of eternal interests, eternal concerns,
eternal things. And don’t use your
resources like there isn’t an eternal accounting and eternal concerns in this
life.” And He’s pointing to the
shrewdness of pagans in how they pursue their interests in this life and saying
to His disciples, “We ought to be at least as shrewd as they are about things
that eternally matter.”

Now with that background, let’s read the Word of God together.
Let’s pray before we do.

Lord, this is Your Word. We ask that
You would open our eyes to behold wonderful truths in it.
And we pray that by the Holy Spirit You would apply it to our own hearts.
In Jesus’ name, amen.

“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.
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.’ 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. I have
decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may
receive me into their houses.’ So,
summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do
you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A
hundred measures of oil.’ 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?’
He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’
He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’
The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.
For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own
generation than the sons of light.
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.

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. If
then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to
you the true riches? And if you have
not been faithful in 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 he will be
devoted to the one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and money.’”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word.
May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

Jesus, in this story, shows us the shrewdness of a pagan in securing his own
interests by means of money. And
then He asks His disciples to ponder this question — Does my use of money, does
my attitude towards money and wealth and resources, comport with eternal
interests? Does what I say that I
believe about eternal life and the kingdom of God and living for His glory,
square up with the way that I look at wealth, the way that I think about wealth,
the way I use money, wealth, and resources?
Or, does my use of wealth and my attitude towards it, suggest that my
eyes is not on the ball, that I’m not thinking about eternal things, that I’m
not reckoning with the accounting that is going to come and I’m not thinking
about the interests of eternal life?
That’s what Jesus wants His disciples to be thinking about and He gives us
several lessons in this passage. I
just want to focus on three of them.
As I’ve already suggested, I think He’s got at least five applications, but I
want you to look at three in particular and you’ll see them in verses 9, 10 and
13.

First, Jesus wants us to look at our use of money in light of eternal interests.
You see that in verse 9.
Second, Jesus wants us to understand that our use of money may be a small thing
but it’s not a trivial thing. You
know there may be more important things in life than the way we use our money,
but it’s not trivial how we use our money.
And third, and you see this in verse 13, Jesus wants us to understand
that our attitude towards and use of money, resources, material benefits and
blessings, that our attitude and use of those things shows us who we worship.
Now the big points that Jesus is pressing home on His disciples in this
passage is that we are to be wholly devoted to the Lord.
But He wants to make sure that even the way His disciples use money
reflects that we are wholly devoted to the Lord and He wants to protect us from
the leaven of the Pharisees which is, in this case, a love of money.
And so let’s look at the three things that Jesus teaches us in this
passage.

First of all, look at what He says in verse 9.
He says, “I say to you, make friends for yourselves by the means of the
wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails they will receive you into the
eternal dwellings.” In other words,
Jesus is saying that your use of money in this life ought to have in view your
eternal interests. The way that you
use money ought to be an indicator of what you believe about eternal life, about
what you believe about the accounting to come in the final judgment.
And Jesus has in His sights at this point the Pharisees.
We’re told in verse 14 that the Pharisees were lovers of money, and Jesus
is warning His disciples against this.
The Pharisees, you see, used people to gain things and serve themselves.
And Jesus is saying to His disciples, “Don’t use money that way.”
He’s saying, “Use things to serve people and to glorify God.
Don’t use people to get things and to serve yourself.
Use things to serve people and to glorify God.”
The Pharisees were lovers of money and they used people to gain things,
even though they claimed to be spiritual, heavenly-minded, and this is a rebuke
to them.

And so Jesus is saying to His disciples and to you and me, “Instead of using
people to line your pockets, use your money for kingdom purposes in order to
secure eternal wealth. Let your use
of money show that you care about eternal things.”
Jesus’ point is that every one of His disciples ought to use his or her
resources with a view to the glory of God and the good of others.
Jesus, in this passage, is saying that our use of money, our use of our
resources, is an indicator as to whether we have lost focus on things of eternal
value.

Secondly, if you look at verse 10, Jesus makes this point, that your use of
money might be a small matter, but it’s not a trivial matter.

Look at what He says — “One who is faithful in a very little is also
faithful in much and one who is dishonest in very little is also dishonest in
much.” Jesus is telling us here that
our attitude towards and our use of money is an index of our hearts.
And so, though money may be in the great
scheme of things a relatively small thing, it’s not a trivial thing.
Why? Because it indicates
where our hearts really are.
Elsewhere you remember Jesus will say, “Where your treasure is, there your heart
will be also,” so that what you treasure reveals your heart.
And if you’re like the Pharisees and you use things or you use people to
gain things and to serve yourself, it shows where your heart really is no matter
what you claim to believe with regard to God and eternal things.
So Jesus is teaching us here the importance of faithfulness in little
things, including the way we use our resources.

I love what J.C. Ryle says — “He guards us against supposing that such conduct
about money, as that of the unjust steward, ought ever to be considered a light
and trifling thing among Christians.
He would have us know that little things are the best test of character and that
unfaithfulness about little things is the symptom of a bad state of heart.”

So what does your use of money say about you?
Does your use of money say, for instance, that you think that that money
is actually yours and that it’s to be used for your happiness in any way that
you please? Or, does your use of
money say that you understand that you are a steward, that the money doesn’t
belong to you, it belongs to God — God has entrusted you with that money to use
for His glory, your good, and the good of others — and do you understand that
you will give an account for how you use that money?
So have you lost sight of eternal things in the way that you’re using the
resources that God has given to you?
Jesus is teaching here that your use of money may be a small thing relatively,
but it’s not a trivial thing and it is an index of our hearts.

But then in verse 13 He tells us a third thing.
Notice what He says here. “No
servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the
other or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and wealth.”
Jesus is saying here that your
attitude towards and your use of wealth, resources, money, shows who you
worship.
In this passage, He
uses the term “mammon” or wealth.
What is that? Money, yes, but the
application is much broader than that.
It can refer to your stomach, your ease, your sleep, your time, your
sports, your pastimes, your worldly honors, your status, your influence, the
praise of men, pleasure — and notice that Jesus does not say that we should not
serve both God and mammon, but that we cannot serve both God and mammon.
The point is, you are always going to love and worship and serve
something or someone supremely and there will be no one who can vie with that
supreme treasure. And Jesus is
saying, “Where’s your treasure?
Where is your spiritual vision focused?
Who is your master? Who do
you care about the most? Who do you
love the most? Who do you treasure
the most? It must be God,” Jesus
says. And He turns to the Pharisees
and He says to His disciples, “They say that they love God, but what they really
love is money. Don’t be like that.
Love God more than stuff.”

Again, J.C. Ryle has a very searching series of questions that he asks about
this parable. Here’s what he says —
“The parable in this point of view is deeply instructive.
It may well raise within us great searchings of hearts.
The diligence of worldly men about the things of time should put to shame
the coldness of professing Christians about the things of eternity.
The zeal and tenacity of men in business, compassing sea and land to get
earthly treasures, may well reprove the slackness and indolence of believers
about treasures in heaven. The words
of our Lord are indeed weighty and solemn.
The children of this world are, in their generation, wiser than the
children of light. May these words
sink into our hearts and bear fruit in our lives.”

You see, Jesus is talking to His disciples about living in such a way that we
show that we are wholly devoted to the Lord, that we treasure Him above
everything. And He’s saying to His
disciples, “Your attitude and use of material possessions will give the lie to
whether you are wholly devoted to the Lord or not.”
We want to be wholly devoted to the Lord.
This year, that ought to be a goal, a spiritual aspiration of our hearts.
It’s a time of year when many people make resolutions.
Maybe you’ve already broken the ones that you’ve purposed, but here’s a
resolution, an aspiration, an aim, a goal, a purpose to strive for — let us be
wholly devoted to the Lord and let us be wholly devoted to the Lord in the way
we use our material resources.

And if I could give this congregation one challenge, it’s been very humbling for
me to watch you give sacrificially to the on-going ministry of this church even
through very hard economic times, but the one thing that has greatly suffered
over these last two and a half years that we’ve been going through this great
recession has been missions giving.
And it would, I think, be a great testimony of our devotion to the Lord if we
were to rectify that in this year to come and continue a great legacy and
tradition that our forbearers have passed on down to us here at First
Presbyterian Church of not failing to keep the Great Commission and the
spreading of the Gospel to the ends of the earth as a priority in our giving and
in our ministry in this congregation.
And that’s the challenge that I would give to you that flows out of what
Jesus says to us in this passage.

But the big picture, you see, is very clear.
It’s that we are to give the whole of ourselves in devotion to the Lord
and our use of material resources is an index to that, it’s a witness to that,
it’s an evidence of that. The main
thing is to be wholly devoted to the Lord.
You know, football coaches often speak, especially after they’ve won,
about their teams having “left it all on the field.”
What they mean by that is their players have given everything they had,
they couldn’t have given another ounce of effort, and they are completely spent.
Whatever they had to offer in that game, they have displayed it and put
it out on that field. That’s how we
ought to live the Christian life. We
ought to leave it all on the field.
We ought to be so focused on eternal interests and eternal things that we deploy
all that we have and all that we are in the interests of the kingdom.
That’s what Jesus is calling His disciples to do in this passage.
That’s what He’s calling you and me to do.

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, at the beginning of this year, we ask the grace of the Holy
Spirit that we would live in such a way that we are wholly devoted to the Lord.
We want to use the material, the possessions, the resources, the wealth,
the money that You’ve given us for Your glory and others’ good, not just our own
wellbeing. We want to use the
resources we have with an eye on eternity.
We want to be thinking about eternity the same way that worldly
businessmen might be thinking about an immediate return on their profits now or
shrewd business dealings. We want to
have a focus on the kingdom and the Gospel and things that will last forever and
we want to use our resources in light of that.
But above everything else, we want to live for You.
We want to be wholly devoted to you.
Whether in life or death, we want Christ to be glorified in our bodies.
Help us to do this by the grace of Your Holy Spirit for we are weak and
we have a short attention span and we’re so distracted by the world around us
and carried away by the cares of life.
By Your Spirit, help us as a people to be wholly devoted to the Lord
Jesus. We ask this in His name.
Amen.

Receive now God’s blessing. Grace,
mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Amen.

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