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Jesus Christ said more about money than about any other single thing because, when it comes to a man's real nature, money is of first importance. Money is an exact index to a man's true character. All through Scripture there is an intimate correlation between the development of a man's character and how he handles his money. -Richard Halverson
Joy sits down for a moment and watches part of a television program that her two sons watch every day after school. The action and plots are typical, but during the commercials her kids light up, pointing out particular toys they want. "Mommy, can I get that?" they plead at various times.
Joy and her husband both work outside the home to make ends meet, but she feels badly she can't get as many things as she would like for her children. Now it's toys, but in junior high it will be designer clothes, and then in high school a car. For a moment she feels resentful of the television that daily imports new desires into the minds of her boys. With a little more reflection she might have realized that the same phenomenon is true of her. As she and her husband watch a favorite television program, they too are bombarded with images of the "good life." And they dream about getting a better car or that new electronic gadget.
Joy and her husband are both Christians and faithful members of their church; yet neither of them was taught how to handle the materialistic demands of culture in terms of their Christian faith. And in this they are like the majority of American Christians-possessions seem important and seldom have a link to their spiritual life. How can we live out Christian financial values in the midst of a consumer-oriented culture that teaches us always to want more? Is there a way to break free of these ingrained values? Does God's Word have anything to say about how a Christian is to handle his stuff in light of eternity? "As counter culture as it may seem, generosity is a virtue that's absolutely essential for a soul that wants to remain free and to grow in spiritual health. For the attitude we have toward our money and possessions reaches to the depth of us, to the very nature of our existence."
Many of us feel that if we only had a little more money or possessions, somehow our life would get straightened out. We could pay off our bills and have money left over to give to God. We could get out of our present financial mess; we could live with some security for once, maybe feel at peace with God. But perhaps something is fundamentally faulty with this strategy of getting more and more. Our lives are filled with anxiety and dissatisfaction. And even when we get that pay raise, we don't give any more to God's work.
What we need is a different starting place, a different assumption for our lives. More is never going to be enough. My goal in writing this book is to help you find a sturdier foundation for dealing with your stuff-one that gets you off the treadmill of "more." It will happen when you rearrange the priorities of life to put God first.
A Tool, a Test, and a Trademark
At the heart of ordering our relationship to God, our possessions, and our soul is understanding how God views this unique triangle. In the parable of the rich man in Luke 16, Jesus lays out three basic principles that would transform our lives if we only applied them. In summary, they are:
1. Our possessions are to be used as a tool to further God's kingdom here on earth;
2. They are given to us as a test to see how much responsibility we will be given in heaven;
3. They serve as a trademark to those around us that we are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let's unpack the Luke passage a bit before looking at each of these principles in more detail.
In Luke 16:1-9, Jesus tells His disciples about a wealthy man who does not want to deal with his daily financial affairs, so he turns them over to a steward or investment manager. The manager has held this position for many years and is able to handle the job with little effort.
One day at the wealthy man's club, a friend comes to him and says, "Hey, it's probably none of my business, but yesterday I was at the market and I saw your manager making some bad transactions with your money." Again, later that day, while the wealthy man is eating dinner at the local café, he runs into another friend who says, "I know it's none of my business, but I saw your money manager, and you might want to check up on him. I think he's robbing you blind."
So the wealthy man investigates and, sure enough, the person he entrusted with all his wealth is mishandling it. Shaken from his complacency and red with anger, he calls in the financial manager and tells him, "I have the goods on you. You have twenty-four hours to bring all accounts up-to-date. Then hand over the record book; you're finished."
Realizing that he's about to be out of a job, the manager calls on his cunning. He says to himself, I too am a highly respected person in this community. I am not going to dig ditches or beg.
The manager's plan is to reverse his record (see verses 5-7). He sends a runner to summon everyone in the community who owes his boss money. When the first of the debtors arrives, he asks, "How much do you owe my boss?" "Eight hundred gallons of olive oil," the debtor replies. The manager counters, "Make it 400 and you owe no more." At this, the debtor looks at him in amazement and says, "What a bargain. Thank you so much. If there's ever anything I can do for you, let me know."
The manager asks a second debtor, "How much do you owe?" "One thousand bushels of wheat," is the response. The manager instructs, "Take your bill and cut it by 20 percent. You now owe eight hundred." The manager has done the debtor a favor, but the debtor does not know why. And this sequence repeats itself until every overdue account is addressed.
Within twenty-four hours, the manager had surrendered his keys. On the street he meets one of the debtors, who greets him warmly. The debtor asks, "How's it going?" The unemployed manager tells him a story of woe about the wealthy man coming on hard times and having to cut back his staff. The debtor, sympathetic to the man's plight, immediately takes him in. When the money manager meets other debtors and relates his twisted tale, they all feel sorry for him. Soon, he has a new circle of friends promising to provide him whatever he needs.
by this time, the disciples must surely be thinking, What a crooked, evil man. I can't wait to see how Jesus will condemn this cheat. However, Jesus surprises them by com-mending the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. Then Jesus pulls out of the parable and makes this statement to all of us about possessions: "For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light" (verse 8). He goes on to apply the parable, noting three principles that encompass and communicate how God views not just our money, but all of our stuff.
He begins by saying: "I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings" (verse 9). He is referring back to the money manager who has used his limited time and opportunity to leverage for himself a secure future. As children of God's kingdom, we have only a short time to serve as managers in this world. Our lives could end at anytime. We should use the stuff we have as stewards to affect people for eternity.
Possessions as a Tool to Advance God's Kingdom
In essence Jesus explains, "You need to learn how to use your worldly possessions in such a way that when you enter heaven people will welcome you because of your resourcefulness." In short: You have limited time on this earth and limited opportunity with your possessions-use them wisely! God is instructing us to leverage our possessions so that when we enter our eternal home, we'll meet people who will say, "You don't know me, but do you remember when you gave to that Christian college? Do you remember when you gave to that church or Bible society? Do you remember when you provided that spare room in your house? Do you remember? (Well, barely, you think.) Well, know that I am in heaven because of the way you used your possessions on earth to further God's kingdom."
The question becomes: How are we leveraging our possessions-our car, our home, our clothes, our stocks, our time, our talents, our collections-to glorify God? Wise stewards will assess all of their possessions to determine if they are being used wisely as tools on God's behalf. The point is not about giving a percentage of income or giving away what we have, but what we are doing with what we have to advance God's kingdom.
Possessions: A Test with Eternal Consequences
The second principle is that our possessions are a four-part take-home test. This test is to:
1. determine who is master of our life
2. assess how much responsibility we will be given in heaven
3. determine how faithful we were in dispensing God's grace
4. see what honors we will receive at commencement into heaven.
As Randy Alcorn states, "God makes it apparent that it is His business to watch us with intense interest to see what we do with the money He has entrusted to us. We are being tested and what we do with our money will influence the course of eternity." This final exam is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There is no calling in sick, no retake, no rescheduling, no appeals to the department head or dean. When time is up, the game is over, and we have no excuse. How will you score on the final exam? (Chart 1-1 provides a practice test for you to see how prepared you are and what changes you may want to make in your life.)
Luke 16:10-12 states, "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own?" It is as easy to shortchange someone with a $10 bill as with $10,000. One does not need to mismanage a high-tech executive's for-tune to prove oneself a poor steward; poor use of a weekly paycheck will serve to demonstrate the point as well. This is why our character is associated with our use of money.
God in heaven is looking down and saying, "For the span of your earthly life, I'm watching to see whose kingdom you're really committed to. And if I cannot trust you with worldly, temporary wealth, then why do you think when you enter my kingdom I will be able to trust you with true riches-riches that last forever? Besides it's not really your house, your car, your dining-room table, your 401k. If you died today, it would remain here and you would not. It is not yours; you are simply a steward."
Part one of the test, then, is to determine our lord and master-God or stuff. We cannot serve both God and money (Luke 16:13). Each moment of our lives we are making choices to leverage and use the possessions we have to either benefit our lives on earth or to invest in heavenly stock. This is why our checkbook and credit card statements are a better reflection of our soul's health than any Christian service we could render. This life on earth is the preface, not the book. There is no cheating on this test, for God knows our attitudes and our actions better than we know them ourselves.
The second part of the take-home test is to demonstrate how much responsibility we are worthy of assuming in heaven. Do you remember in grade-school gym class when the teacher selected someone to be captain? The captain had earned the right, through responsible behavior, to select who would be on his or her team and what positions they would play. The captain's leadership would by and large determine the team's success. Similarly, here on earth we are demonstrating to God what we are able to be responsible for in heaven.
What if at the judgment seat of Christ we are shown to have been irresponsible with the money entrusted to us? And what if our assignments in the world to come are meager because of our ineffective management here? This brings our possessions into focus as a Christian trust, not merely a medium of exchange to serve our own private ends. Our possessions are something that God gives us; then He steps back and allows us to work. As a result of the decisions we make on earth, God will assign us proportional responsibilities in heaven.
The third part of the take-home exam is to assess how well we have shown ourselves dispensers of God's grace. This facet of the test arises from a passage like 1 Peter 4:10, which instructs us to be "good stewards of God's varied grace" (RSV). Or, as other translations suggest, we are called to be "good managers" (TEV) or "faithful dispensers of the magnificently varied grace of God" (PH).
The thinking behind being dispensers of God's grace is threefold: (1) God creates abundance; therefore, we sense ourselves as overwhelmingly gifted; (2) God is gracious; therefore, we celebrate God's grace; and (3) God is generous; therefore we are sent into the world to be imitators of God. Our giving is reciprocating God's grace. Acts 2:44-45 and 4:32-37 show how the early Christians shared all they owned and even liquidated their possessions to give to others as they had need. "Much grace was upon them" and "There were no needy persons among them" because they gave sacrificially. How common is that today? Are we imitators of God in dispensing His grace to those around us?
Part four of the test is God's assessment of what honors or crowns we will earn in heaven. Scripture points out that we will receive rewards in eternity according to what we do on earth and that the degree of rewards will vary (Proverbs 24:11-12; Matthew 19:27-30; Luke 14:12-14). It may come as a surprise to many Christians, but the Bible indicates our reward levels in heaven will differ (1 Corinthians 3:12-15)-not all of us will have the same position of authority (Luke 19:17,19,26). We will not all have treasure in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21), and unfortunately, not all Christians will hear the Master say, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" (25:23).
Not only can we fail to receive rewards, we can forfeit rewards already in our account. So we are to guard our own crowns (Revelation 3:11) because we can be disqualified from earning them (1 Corinthians 9:27), lose them (3:15), or have them taken away (Matthew 25:28-29).
Excerpted from God & Your Stuff by Wesley K. Willmer MARTYN SMITH Copyright © 2002 by Wesley K. Willmer. Excerpted by permission.
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