Dear God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Creator of all things, from whom come all that we are and all that we have, make us, your children, to be always thankful for your generosity to us. Fix our hearts on your kindness and so take away from us all stinginess and all greed and all worry about money. As you have given us all that we have, and have given up your greatest treasure, your beloved Son, to suffering and death for us, give us generous hearts to use what you provide us to care for our families and for your church. Make us so live life on this earth that we are constantly looking forward to that day when the saints will welcome us into our eternal dwellings. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
In the parable the rich man stands for God and the manager for us Christians. God is the owner of everything. The manager owns nothing. He only manages what God has. And so it is with us. Everything you have belongs to God. God gave it to you. If this were not the case, we would be lying when we prayed, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We pray that every day – and please pray it every day, it’s your heritage, your privilege as God’s children, baptized into the Son of God’s death and resurrection to pray to the only true God as your Father who loves you – we pray “give us this day our daily bread” every day to, among other things, remind ourselves that our daily food, our home, our health, our family, our reputation, our money, all of it is gift from God. But I worked hard for it, I earned it, you say. This is a curious objection. There have been many a man and many a woman who worked twice as hard as you and had nothing to show for it. It’s true. Many a farmer who worked night and day to plow and plant and irrigate and water, and at the end of the season lost all his wealth to locusts or raiders. Many a manager who did everything right and poured his life into his work, but at the end of the year his company went bankrupt and he lost everything. You can point to your hard work, but your hard work would give you nothing unless God gave the increase. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase, St. Paul says. And while Solomon says “the hand of the diligent makes rich,” he follows it up by saying that only the blessing of the Lord makes anyone rich in the end. Because even our work, our capacity to think, our faculty of self-control and discipline, our skills, the government that keeps anarchy from our doorstep, all of it comes from God’s generous hand. And if He takes that kind hand away, we would be left with nothing, like Job sitting in the dust. So away with the prideful thought that we have anything, anything at all, that belongs to us that has not also been given to us by God. What do you have that you did not receive? Paul says. Every cent in your bank account is God’s. Every inch of your house. Every dollar invested in retirement. It all belongs to God.
And this is why Christians have to deal differently with money and stuff than the heathen do. The heathen think they’re managing their own money and using their own stuff and so they do it all for themselves. We have to know we are managing money and using everything we have for God, as God’s managers, because in the end it all belongs to Him. He is Creator. He use His stuff. And we will have to give an account to Him. Just as the manager in the parable had to give an account, so will we. In the parable, the rich man has to have people tell him how the manager is wasting his money. But in reality, God needs no one to tell him how we’ve used the stuff he’s given us. He knows. He sees. As the Psalmist says, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. you search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.” So it’s not just on the last day that we will have to give an account to God. It’s every day. Because we live life before God every day of our lives.
So what does this mean for our lives? We’ll be focusing on three things today.
First, it means we need to be generous with our money and our stuff. It comes from God. And our God is not a stingy God. He’s a generous God; generosity itself. He is so good to us. We deserve His anger. We deserve His hand to be heavy on us, to drive us away from His presence, to make us pay for our many sins with eternal pain because we have offended against the eternal God and hated what we ought to have loved. We deserve nothing but punishment. But He not only gives good things to us, He gives us far more than we need. He provides for our bodies. And this He does because He has given far more than the riches of all the earth already in His Son. His generosity to our bodies now is only a tributary, a little rivulet, a stream, flowing from the river of His grace in Christ Jesus. This is what St. Paul tells us, “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not in Him freely give us all good things?” This generosity is overwhelming. It’s a flood. It’s God paying Himself the penalty that you owed. It’s God becoming a man, becoming one of us, joining us in our misery, instead of casting us forever away from Him. It’s the eternal Father turning His face against His eternal Son so that His face can shine with love and kindness toward us now. It’s the eternal Son enduring the curse of God against your sin to present you blameless and holy before His Father. There is no generosity I could possibly show, even if I were to give up all my riches and give my body up to be burned, as St. Paul says, no generosity that could ever compare to this love of our God. And so it is precisely because this generosity of our Lord Jesus is our treasure, the one thing needful of which we sing, that we Christians are called naturally, by baptismal birth as sons of the generous and only God and coheirs with Christ, to be generous with all that God gives us.
Second, it means we should not waste what God has given us. This was the accusation against the manager in the parable, that he was wasting his master’s goods. It’s the exact same word as we find in the previous chapter, when Jesus describes the prodigal son wasting his inheritance in godless living. It’s the use of money and stuff simply for our own pleasure. Now God is no despiser of pleasure. He is the Creator. He gives us good things to enjoy. He gives the pleasure of a good meal or a good drink. He gives the pleasure of a good book or a good walk or good conversation. He gives husband and wife pleasure in one another, children pleasure in laughing and playing. And it is precisely the Christian who can truly use and appreciate these pleasures, first because we know who gave them to us and we receive them from our heavenly Father with thanksgiving – O give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His mercy endures forever, and second, because whatever sin clings to us in our enjoyment of God’s gifts we know He forgives them and washes them away for Jesus’ sake and so graciously cleanses our conscience to live in peace before Him. So it is really only the Christian who can have full enjoyment of the pleasures God gives, only the Christian who can fully enjoy hiking or hunting or biking or the mountain or reading or conversation or marital union or eating or drinking, all gifts and mercies from the Giver of all good things. Quite the opposite of being a killjoy, God is the giver of joy, a joy and pleasure that is pure and holy and so true and beautiful.
But enjoyment is nothing but base vanity, sinful pleasure, if we lose sight of our God and use our money and our stuff only for our own gratification and without sacrificing our own pleasures for others’ good. God gives us stuff so that we can love one another with it and use it to His glory. We become wasters of money, wasters of our God’s possessions, when we use money not simply to take care of our needs and the needs of our family, not simply to enjoy in good conscience and in moderation the pleasures our Lord bestows, but to live in outright luxury, to spend first on ourselves and only begrudgingly for others and for the church.
This is probably the greatest threat facing the Christian Church today. You’d think it was the threat of the culture around us, the sexual depravity, the looming persecution of Christians, but these all come from outside. And we can meet every challenge the world throws at us if we actually mean it when we say that Jesus is the one thing needful, that all earth’s pleasures piled up in a heap can’t compare to a drop of the blood of Jesus poured out for us and put into our mouths. If we find our pleasure and relief in reading God’s Word and praying to our Father in the name of Jesus. If we are not addicted to worldly pleasure, if we can suffer want and need and be content, because we have the Lord Jesus who fills our every need, then there is nothing out there that can do us any real harm.
The threat to the church is not lack of money. God doesn’t need your money. He needs nothing. The cattle on a thousand hills are mine, the Lord says. No, the threat to the church is the same as it has always been, that we whom God loves so much and has spent so much on would fall in love with this world and its pleasures and lose sight of the God of generosity. We have become soft in America. We lack discipline. We don’t pray as we should or read the Bible as we should. We may give money to the church or to the poor, but for the most part we give from our plenty and not so that we see the hurt of it. And this needs to stop. The stunning contrast between what God has done and what the unjust steward did should be plain to us and should wake us up from our sleep – the unrighteous manager was generous with another man’s wealth, with what didn’t belong to him and so didn’t cost him a thing, but God has been generous with His own wealth and at His own cost, at the cost of His Son’s suffering and shame and death. This is our salvation. And this is our example of true generosity. So when Jesus urges you to be generous, and when I do, because God tells me to in His Word, it’s not because this church needs your money, it’s because you need this exercise of your faith. Jesus meant it when he said that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God. With God all things are possible, Jesus says. Because God’s generosity saves the poor and the rich alike, gives them riches the world cannot give, turns their hearts not to waste what God has given them, but use it in love for our neighbor.
Third, this means that our generosity is always a generosity with an eye toward heaven. This is not to say that we earn or merit a thing from God by our generosity. We don’t. God bought heaven by the blood of His Son. It is open to us. We are God’s children. We don’t have to buy a thing from Him. He is our generous Father; he is our Brother who loved us to His death; he is the Spirit who makes His home in us. And it’s precisely for this reason that we use our stuff and live our lives on this earth with an eye toward heaven. Heaven is our home. It is our destination. It is the goal of our lives, to see the God who has so loved us on this earth. The rich man in the parable praised the unrighteous manager for his shrewdness, his prudence, in preparing a future for himself by using money. The unbelievers take preposterous care to provide for their earthly enjoyment, for their future on this earth. The unrighteous manager made friends for himself on earth with money so he could have people to invite him into their homes, for earthly security. People pile up money, far more than they need, to have an easy life before they die. Learn from this shrewdness, this planning, this forethought, but know that the future you prepare for is not on this sinful earth, but in the mansions of heaven. Jesus commands us to make friends for ourselves with money so that we have friends who will invite us into our eternal home. What will you see in heaven? In the resurrection? Who will greet you? The Lord Jesus, your Savior, whose glorious face you will finally see. The angels. And the saints. The saints, who were sinners in this world, but like you heard the Gospel and believed it and now rest from their labors. Like Tracy and Bob who passed to heavenly glory in June and who were fed by the Gospel that was preached at this church. And so it is our ridiculous privilege to use our money now with an eye toward this heaven, to spend it and give it and use it, to provide for Christ’s Church, so that this Gospel of the all-generous God continues to be preached, and sinners like us and like our children and grandchildren, are declared saints and washed clean of our sins and kept children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
There’s nothing I or you can take with us to heaven. Nothing we’ve bought. No money we’ve saved up. But in heaven and in the resurrection, we’ll see the saints who heard the Gospel and were saved by the blood of the Lamb just as we were. They’ll greet us with unrivaled joy to see their friends. They won’t be praising my generosity or yours, but the generosity of our God who is the Giver of all good things, whose praise we sing now and will sing forever. Amen.