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A Curious Encouragement to be Generous

November 7, 2021 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – Luke 16:9 (NRSV)

And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

Focus

Jesus encourages us to use well the resources God has entrusted to us. We do this in a variety of ways, such as paying fair wages, forgiving debts, and being generous in giving to others as God has given to us.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.

Devotion

Preachers have preached sermon series and authors have written books on the “hard sayings” of Jesus. Inevitably, they’ll say that Jesus’s sayings are hard in at least two ways. First, they are sometimes hard to interpret. Second, even when we figure out their meaning, certain sayings are hard to believe or to do. Luke 16 has several of the so-called “hard sayings” of Jesus, teachings that are both difficult to understand and difficult to practice.

Take the parable in Luke 16:1-9, which is usually called something like The Unjust Steward or The Dishonest Manager. The story itself is not difficult to understand. A rich man had a manager who was ripping him off, so he told the manager he was fired. The manager, realizing that he was about to be in a difficult financial bind, hatched a self-serving plan. He went around to all of those who owed money to his boss, using his soon-to-be-lost authority to forgive a substantial percentage of their debt. Remember, they didn’t owe money to the manager, but to the rich man. Yet the manager lowered the amount they owed in his role as the rich man’s representative.

All of this is pretty straightforward. But here’s where things get curious, even difficult. First of all, when the boss hears what happened, he actually commends the “dishonest manager” for acting “shrewdly” (Luke 16:8; “cleverly” in the CEB). The rich man is impressed by his manager’s strategy and chutzpah, rather than being angry or vindictive. Then Jesus adds a perplexing comment about how “the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light” (16:8). Is Jesus agreeing with the rich man? Is he commending the manager? Or, rather, is he suggesting that children of light are rightly not very good at worldly matters? Commentators differ on what Jesus means here.

Then Jesus adds what might be considered one of the stranger things he ever says: “And I tell you, make friends for yourself by means of dishonest wealth to that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes” (16:9). So many questions here! Make friends with whom? And how? What is “dishonest” wealth? What are the “eternal homes”?

I don’t have space to try to answer all these questions, so I’ll focus on the “make friends” piece. What did Jesus mean by telling his disciples to “make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth”? I have a hunch that the wealth to which Jesus refers is money that actually belongs to another, namely, to God. All our possessions ultimately belong to God. When we do something with “our money,” therefore, we are very much like the manager in the parable.

So how can we “make friends” with the money God has entrusted to us? The manager in the parable forgave debts. We could, of course, do this very thing when it’s wise and gracious. But I agree with several commentators on Luke who suggest that Jesus is talking about more here than simply forgiving debts. He’s referring to many right uses of money, which could include paying fair wages and being generous in giving away funds to worthy causes and needy people.

“Making friends” with money should not be thought of as buying people off. Nor is it the sort of thing that often happens with people who are wealthy. They can be surrounded with “friends” who are hoping to get some financial benefit from the one they’re befriending. No, what Jesus imagines is quite different. It’s using the money God has entrusted to you to care for and to empower others. Even if you don’t receive any reward from them in this life, you will in the life to come when they “welcome you into the eternal homes.” Your generosity, even with what is actually God’s money, will lead to a heavenly reward, not a financial reward, but the reward of gratitude and welcome from those you have served in this life.

Reflect

Do you ever think of your material possessions – including your money – as actually belonging to God? If so, why? If not, why not?

What difference would it make in your life if you really considered your “wealth” as God’s property?

Have you ever experienced gratitude, perhaps even welcome, from people you have helped financially? If so, what was this like for you?

Act

We’re getting to the time of year when people are often generous in their charitable giving. I have experienced this kind of generosity for years, both as a pastor and as a leader of the De Pree Center. When we make our end-of-year “ask” in December, we experience warm-hearted and encouraging generosity. It feels almost like you have “welcomed us into your home.” Let me encourage you to take some time this week to consider your own year-end charitable giving. Ask the Lord what he’d like you to do this year. Remember, from God’s perspective the size of the gift matters far less than the character of the heart of the giver.

Pray

Lord Jesus, we find your parable of the unjust manager to be intriguing, even puzzling. So we do our best to understand and to put into practice what you are saying to us. Thank you for the Spirit who helps us. And thank you for the reassurance that even if we don’t get it all right (and when do we actually get it all right?) you will be glorified by our intentions even as you work in all things for good.

Help us, Lord, to be generous with the resources you have entrusted to us. No matter whether we have great wealth or something closer to the “widow’s mite,” may we open our hearts and also our wallets. May we use what you have given to give to others, “making friends” as we do. Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Shrewd Manager and the Prodigal Son (Luke 16:1-13; 15:11-32)


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