One More Kick At the Stewardship Can

shylock

For the Christian, stewardship refers to the proper handling of what God has entrusted to us. And God requires all believers to be faithful stewards. In our final look at stewardship, we’ll look at the lessons learned by two men who were called to give an account of their stewardship.

Luke 12:16 – 21

Then he gave an illustration: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops.” (Luke 12:16 TLB)

Jesus is about to tell a story. He did this often to help His listeners understand some point He was trying to make. This story of rich man, or more accurately, the rich farmer, is supposed to shed some light on this:

And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” (Luke 12:15 NKJV)

This single sentence states one of the most basic principles of the Christian faith. Yet, it is consistently ignored and bypassed from generation to generation in spite of the abundant proof of its truth. Every human being will eventually come to realize how unimportant “things” really are. It’s too bad that most of us figure it out only after we’ve lived a life acquiring them.

“Things” don’t make your life more valuable or full or rich. They are also incapable of making you happy or keeping you in peace. It’s interesting how phobic many wealthy people are. The abundance of “things” produces anxieties and discontent more often than they bring happiness.

It is this principle that Jesus told the story of the rich farmer to illustrate. The rich farmer ignored the principle, and as a result not only lost his soul but became for all time an example of the fool and one of the best illustrations of how NOT to live.

And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods.” ’ (Luke 12:17, 18 NKJV)

Talk about being self-centered! All those “I’s”! Here is a snapshot of the self-made man who had gathered all of his treasure on earth but had stored none in heaven. It brings to mind the famous epithath:

Here lies John Rackett,
In his wooden jacket.
He kept neither horses nor mules.
He lived like a hog,
He died like a dog.
And left all his money to fools.

So just what was wrong with the farmer, anyway? A lot of famers would want to be in this man’s position. Judging only by outward appearances, this farmer had done everything right. Outward appearances indicated this was one hard working, smart, honest, law-abiding citizen. He’s certainly not one to just “let things happen.” Here he was, making plans for the future, doing the responsible thing.

And yet there was something wrong with him. His abundant harvest was really God’s blessing – God’s gift to him. And because of that fact, the decisions he was about to make should have been spiritual ones. John Hagee once remarked:

Since my money is God’s money, every spending decision I make is a spiritual decision.

He’s right about that. The farmer was wrong in not realizing this. This abundant harvest was a test of this man’s character, the outcomes of which were eternal.

Let’s make note of the farmer’s shortcomings:

First, the farmer showed that he really didn’t know himself well at all. He failed to realize that he was mortal and that he wouldn’t necessarily be around to enjoy the fruit of his labors. He also didn’t take into account the fact that even though he had lots of crops, those crops did nothing for the health of his soul!

Secondly, in all of his “inner dialogue,” the farmer never once took into consideration how his wealth might help others in need. Certainly he didn’t appear to lack anything, but all around him were people less fortunate than he. What about them? Both in the Greek and in the NKJV, the “I’s” and “my’s” appear a dozen times. He could see nobody but himself. Poor schlub. He had no clue about the joy that results in giving to others.

Thirdly, the prosperous farmer neither thanks God nor glorifies Him. He never once mentions God or acknowledges Him in any way. The farmer is essentially an atheist.

‘And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry. But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ (Luke 12:19, 20 NKJV)

In verses 17 and 18, the farmer is seen as a selfish, inconsiderate miser-type of person. But in these two verses we see him for what he really was: a fool. Anybody who lives a life without consideration for others and for God is surely the most foolish person who every lived. The height of folly is thinking any kind of material comforts would benefit the soul in any way. In the Bible, the “fool” is anybody devoid of reason. The farmer, then, by God’s own estimation, was a complete fool for three reasons:

* He forgot God

* He forgot his own immortal soul

* He forgot others

He thought he had a lease on life; that he was going to live as long as his wealth could hold out. He couldn’t have been more wrong. What he didn’t realize was that his soul was not his own; that God, its true Owner, had called for an immediate reckoning.

It would do all of us well to recall the words of the psalmist:

The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. (Psalm 90:10 NKJV)

As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. (Psalm 103:15, 16 NKJV)

The final verse of the story is Jesus’ summation and estimation of  people who lives only for themselves and who do not figure on God.

“So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:21 NKJV)

The rich farmer was not a fool because of his wealth. He was a fool because he thought of his wealth only in terms of himself. He had no regard for God.

The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1 NKJV)

Luke 16:1 – 13

Jesus now told this story to his disciples: “A rich man hired an accountant to handle his affairs, but soon a rumor went around that the accountant was thoroughly dishonest.” (Luke 16:1 TLB)

Here is a parable that a lot of casual Bible readers don’t get. Jesus in NOT commending crooked business practices. This particular steward is a crook, make no mistake about it. This crooked accountant was a man who followed the principles of the world. Christians aren’t supposed to be doing that.

The world would love you if you belonged to it; but you don’t—for I chose you to come out of the world, and so it hates you. (John 15:19 TLB)

Jesus is not wanting His disciples to be shady operatives like the steward is in the parable. But we are supposed to learn a lesson about stewardship from him.

“So his employer called him in and said, ‘What’s this I hear about your stealing from me? Get your report in order, for you are to be dismissed.’” (Luke 16:2 TLB)

As happens to all who take advantage of others, the dishonest steward got found out. The boss wanted a complete financial report. The manager was caught and his days were numbered. What would he do?

“The accountant thought to himself, ‘Now what? I’m through here, and I haven’t the strength to go out and dig ditches, and I’m too proud to beg. I know just the thing! And then I’ll have plenty of friends to take care of me when I leave!’” (Luke 16:3, 4 TLB)

He was in a pickle, that’s for sure. Too proud to dig and too ashamed to beg. But not above stealing. The man determined to use the few hours of employment he had left to win the friendship of some of his boss’ debtors, so that after he was dismissed he would have a few friends that would take care of him.

“So he invited each one who owed money to his employer to come and discuss the situation. He asked the first one, ‘How much do you owe him?’ ‘My debt is 850 gallons of olive oil,’ the man replied. ‘Yes, here is the contract you signed,’ the accountant told him. ‘Tear it up and write another one for half that much!’

“ ‘And how much do you owe him?’ he asked the next man. ‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ was the reply. ‘Here,’ the accountant said, ‘take your note and replace it with one for only 800 bushels!’ (Luke 16:5 – 7 TLB)

What a piece of work this guy was! He was making his master’s debtors personally indebted to HIM by lowering their indebtedness. It’s the Godfather philosophy at work, “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours,” only in reverse. In other words, he was doing them a favor because pretty soon he would be asking something of them.

“The rich man had to admire the rascal for being so shrewd. And it is true that the citizens of this world are more clever in dishonesty than the godly are.” (Luke 16:8 TLB)

Obviously the rich man knew the books had been cooked and he knew what his now-former employee had done, so that makes this statement kind of shocking. It may well be that the rich man got rich using the same tactics his one-time manager had just used on him. According to the (low) standards of the world, the crooked manager did a shrewd thing. Remember, this is the same world that hates us Christians. The world makes up its own rules; it isn’t obligated to obey God’s rules. So, according to the way the world does things, this crooked former employee was pretty slick indeed.

But in paying a compliment to the rascally manager, Jesus was really saying something very uncomplimentary about His followers. What He essentially said was that unbelievers use their money more wisely than believers do. Or, stating it another way, in worldly matters worldly people often show more shrewdness than God’s people do in matters affecting their eternal salvation.

For unless you are honest in small matters, you won’t be in large ones. If you cheat even a little, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven? And if you are not faithful with other people’s money, why should you be entrusted with money of your own? (Luke 16:10 – 12 TLB)

The main point of story is that Christians are stewards of material things, since we are living in a material world. But, as believers we don’t actually own anything. God does, and we are responsible to Him for how we use His “things.” Jesus was dismayed that the non-Christians seemed to be better at that than we Christians are.

Jesus’ words slap us across the face. Sometimes we try so hard to be the kind of “Christian” we think we should be that we miss the obvious things we should be doing. Maybe Billy Graham’s thoughts can drive home Jesus’ teaching;

If a person gets his attitude toward money straight, it will straighten out almost every other area in his life.

Amen to that.

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