Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sermon: Luke 16: 1-18 The Faithful Servant

I’m sure you’ve heard the story of the three little pigs. There they are, innocently building their houses of hay, sticks and bricks, when suddenly, the big bad wolf comes along huffing and puffing. When we hear how the wolf is described, we’re automatically on the side of the three little pigs. We don’t want the big bad anything to win.

You even see the same thing happening in the way you tell your friends of things that have happened you. “So there I was, driving along sensibly, when suddenly this idiot tried to overtake...” Your friend is going to take your side, rather than that of the idiot driver. We do it all the time. We read a story in the newspaper, and we’re taking sides, pre-judging, deciding if the person really was guilty or not.

So as Jesus begins to tell the story of this dishonest manager, we think we know how it’s going to go. The manager has been wasting his master’s money, then he’s caught on, and he cheats his master out of even more on his last day at work. It’s the easiest of clear cut stories - don’t be like this man! Or at least, that’s how we think it’s going to go.

It’s enough of a shock to find the master commending the dishonest manager in verse 8. It’s even more of a shock to find Jesus commending his example for us to follow! But before you jump ahead to thinking out ways you can cheat your employer tomorrow at work, we need to see what Jesus is recommending in this unexpected example.

Look again at verse 8. There we see why the master commended the dishonest manager - ‘for his shrewdness.’ How was he shrewd? Well look at what he says in v3-4. He’s losing his job; he’s not strong enough to dig and is too proud to beg. ‘I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ He’s making friends, setting up favours to be recalled, ‘so that... people may receive me into their houses.’

While he still has control of his master’s accounts, he gives everyone a little bit of debt relief - 50 measures or 20 measures off their bill. The customers will be grateful, and will remember his kindness, and eventually pay him back. Even though the master is losing out, he commends his manager’s shrewdness. What a cunning, well thought out plan he had! He might not like it, but he can’t help being impressed.

And this is the unexpected example Jesus gives us. Look at verse 8: ‘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.’

Isn’t this the very point of the story? The dishonest manager used wealth to make friends, who would receive him into their houses. But we’re not just making friends for this life. Jesus is saying to use your money, use the resources you have to make friends who will welcome you into eternal dwellings. In other words, use your money to make sure that others will be with you in heaven.

So how do you do that? You know very well that you can’t buy your way into heaven. Nor can you pay for someone else to make it into heaven. But you can use your money to help people make it into heaven. As we saw a couple of weeks ago - provide hospitality so that you can share the gospel with a friend or neighbour. It doesn’t have to be fancy, even just a cup of tea and a biscuit. Or you could buy a Christian book or a Bible to give to a friend who is searching or struggling. Or you could invest in church and mission projects to help people hear the good news of Jesus for the very first time.

Many years ago there was a week of mission in a church. And a wee lady called Evelyn, who didn’t have very much money at all, wanted to buy two wee boys a book each from the bookstall. The books were picked, and read, and over the course of time, both boys became Christians. Evelyn invested a little of what she had, and within that week, I became a Christian. There are lots of ways you can make friends for eternity in the way you use your wealth.

That leads us to the principle Jesus teaches in verse 11. ‘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.’ While that’s a principle in all sorts of ways and walks of life - just think of how it applies in work - you give a new worker something small to do, and that gives some indication of what they’ll be like in bigger jobs - Jesus is specifically looking at how we use our money.

Look at the questions in v11-12, the two big ifs. How we use our money is the being faithful in small matters. If you’re not faithful with unrighteous wealth, ‘who will entrust to you the true riches?’ (The things of God). ‘And if you have not been faithful with that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?’

Faithfulness in very little leads to faithfulness in much. And Jesus is calling us to be faithful to God in the use of our money. You see, you can’t serve two masters. You can’t ride two horses at the same time. Jesus says the great impossible: ‘You cannot serve God and money.’ You will either use God as a way to worship money; or you will use your money as a way to worship God. (I’ll say that again).

Luke tells us that some who were listening ridiculed Jesus when he said this. They were the Pharisees, the religious people. Luke tells us why - ‘who were lovers of money.’ On the outside they looked religious, respectable. But their hearts weren’t on fire for God. They were only interested in money. ‘You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.’

God sees through our pretence of respectability. God sees past the outward veneer of religious goodness we try so hard to keep polished. God sees and knows our hearts. He knows the motives and desires of our hearts, even when they’re hidden from everyone else. He knows what we’re worshipping when we sing the hymns and say the creed - whether God, or money, or something else.

And perhaps today as we hear that, we have a moment of realisation. God really does know us. God knows that we have not been faithful, either in small things or in big. Each of us has been faithless in some way.

But the good news of Jesus is that he was fully faithful, all of the time. In small things and in big, he was faithful. He was tempted as we are, yet without sin. Each and every time, he made the right choice, he said the right thing, he fully obeyed. It’s through his use of all that he had - his very life - that we can be welcomed into the eternal dwelling.

He calls us to repent, to turn again, to start again to be faithful in our use of our money - sorry, God’s money. To use the gifts God gives us to worship him and serve others (rather than using God to worship money). In Luke 16 we find an unexpected example - the dishonest manager, and Jesus urges us to be like him, to be shrewd as we make friends by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. How will you invest in God’s coming kingdom? How many people will you meet in the new Jerusalem who give thanks to God because you invested money in gospel work and witness, and helped them come to know and love God for themselves?

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 24th January 2016.

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