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Apr 22, 2018

The Buck Should Never Stop Here!

The Buck Should Never Stop Here!

Passage: Luke 16:1-15

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Parables That Change the World

Keywords: eternal rewards, friends, management, ownership, resources, stewardship, wealth

Summary:

This is one of the more difficult parables to bridge culturally. But it could not be more timely for the American church at the beginning of the 21st century. It's a great parable for those of us needing a "do over" on a daily basis.

Detail:

The Buck Never Stops Here!

Luke 16:1-15

April 22, 2018

Get Acquainted Questions:  What are you responsible to steward or take care of on a regular (daily/weekly/monthly?) basis that you do not own or own fully?

INTRO:  This week I was having a conversation with a friend of mine with whom I’ve recently reconnected after about 15 years of not seeing much of him.  He’s now into his 40s and I’m into my 60s.  We were talking about how our perspective of life has changed and how we both wish we could do certain decisions about our lives over again in terms of education and ministry development. 

            As we talked, I said something like this, “I wish there were some way to have a “do over” on a couple of those decisions knowing what I know now.  I wish I had had then the wisdom that I have now to make some of those decisions.”  For instance, if I had it to do over again, I would probably have come out of college with a teaching or business degree that would have given me certain bi-vocational ministry options that could have been very advantageous in a number of ways to ministry effectiveness in a local church. 

(But then I would probably have never met my amazing wife, the best thing to “happen” to me apart from God’s redemption!  So I keep trusting God’s sovereignty.)

Today’s parable is really about the “do-over” opportunities God gives each of us…actually every single day of our existence.  It’s one of the more difficult parables to interpret correctly, I believe.  Part of that is because it is a huge “do over” for someone who didn’t deserve a fresh start.  He was failing miserably at the one task he had been hired to do. 

So let’s read it from Luke 16:1-15:

Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’

“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

“‘Nine hundred gallons[a] of olive oil,’ he replied.

“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’

“Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’

“‘A thousand bushels[b] of wheat,’ he replied.

“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

10 “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. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

14 The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15 He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.

            One of the really important rules of correctly understanding Scripture is to have an adequate and informed grasp of the cultural issues impacting any given event, story or teaching.  For example, if 1,000 years from now, someone comes across the word “wi-fi”, they are going to need to have some understanding of the technology of the early part of the 21st century in order to properly understand the phrase, “She couldn’t connect because there was no wi-fi in her apartment.”  We understand that immediately because it is a part of our culture. 

But someone 2,000 years from now may not have a clue about what wi-fi is.  You can imagine people interpreting that statement, “She couldn’t connect because there was no wi-fi in her apartment,” to mean, “This woman had no ability to have meaningful relationships with others (“connect”) because her apartment complex lacked “white-Floridians” or “wild Fins” (as in Finland nationals) in her apartment building.  Someone may suggest that interpretation because 2,000 years from now, technology will be so different that the term wi-fi probably won’t be in existence. 

[NOTE:  What does “wi-fi” mean today?  Modern vernacular has made it mean a wireless electronic connection that enables some mobile device to be connected to the internet, right?  Anyone know what “wi-fi” actually meant when it was created as a term? 

"Wi-Fi doesn't stand for anything. It is not an acronym. There is no meaning.”  Wi-Fi and the ying yang style logo were invented by Interbrand [a branding company]. The founding members of the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance, now called the Wi-Fi Alliance, hired Interbrand to come up with the name and logo that the Alliance could use for their interoperability seal and marketing efforts. They needed something that was a little catchier than "IEEE 802.11b Direct Sequence”.  J]

This parable is somewhat like that in that there are several things going on here that doesn’t go on much in our culture today but are critical to correctly understanding Jesus’ parable.  So what are they? 

If we understand this story from our cultural perspective, it looks like Jesus/God is commending dishonesty and cheating.  That makes God into something opposite of what the rest of the Bible teaches about Him.  So obviously something is wrong with our understanding.

But if you understand this story through the O.T. Mosaic law forbidding usury (or lending money with an interest charge {usually high} for its use), combined with what we know to be the practice in Jesus’ day of a modified “usury,” then it makes perfect sense.  Here’s what I mean.

Since the O.T. Mosaic law forbade usury and instead called God’s people to lend money without interest charges (see Ex. 22:25; Lev. 25:36; Deut 15:8; 23:19), and since human nature is what it is…always looking for the loophole in the law…what had apparently developed in Israel at the time was a system that allowed wealthy people to loan money “interest-free” while effectively earning interest on it.  It was a “loophole” in the lending system. 

            HOW?  Let’s say you took out a loan of 50 gallons of olive oil.  Under the Mosaic law, a good Jew could only expect to get back 50 gallons of olive oil (0% interest). But since oil could be diluted with inferior olive oil or quality of olives could vary greatly year to year, the “loan” would be written up with an 80% interest rate plus a 20% insurance cost or effectively a 100% loan rate. 

            But instead of loaning 50 gallons and expecting to receive back 100 gallons, the lender would write the deal up as if he had given the borrow 100 gallons when, in fact, he had only given him 50.  The borrower was then obligated to pay back the full 100 gallons since that is what the “loan note” he agreed to said he had received.  Make sense? It was like a Payday Loan you might take out for $100 at 15% interest plus 5% service charge, due in 2 weeks when your paycheck came.  The loan shark will give you $80 cash but you own him $100 in 2 weeks because he’s getting his interest (15%) plus service charge fee ($5) right up front. 

[Interesting OIL fact about 900 gallons of olive oil:  Any idea how many olive trees it takes to make a gallon of olive oil?  A mature olive tree will produce only about 3-4 liters of oil per year or roughly one gallon (with 3.7 liters to the gallon).  So we are talking some 900-1,000 trees worth of olives, no small olive grove nor amount of work.]

            So when this wasteful, inept manager told his master’s debtor to strike the 900 gallons from the note and make it 450 gallons, he was simply taking all the interest profit out of the deal for his master.  He wasn’t breaking any law.  He wasn’t giving away what wasn’t his to give away.  He was, actually, doing just what the Law of Moses said his master should have been doing in the first place.  His master got back the capital he was owed.  But the debtor got off half-price and now owed the poor manager a favor or two for his kindness. 

            WHEAT was a different commodity with apparently a different interest rate attached to it.  Wheat rates could go as high as 20% interest plus a 5% insurance fee, making 25% interest for the lender. So when the fellow came who had borrowed 800 bushels of wheat and owed an additional 200 on the bill (totaling 1,000 bushels or 30 tons of wheat), the manager told him to drop the amount owed to the actual amount loaned, which was 800 bushels.  Again, the lender couldn’t complain as no laws had been broken and the borrower was one happy guy who now simply owed some non-specific but pretty big favor to the soon-to-be-unemployed manager. 

NOTE:  You need to know that there were several people in Mosaic who gave interest-free loans to us over this past year so we and other ministries could get into this building and do ministry here…to the tune of $70,000!  Those people gave up about 25% gain they could have had in the stock market during that time.  But the made up, according to this parable, something no market “correction” or “crash” will ever be able to take from them and no Bull market will ever be able to give them.   But you need to know these are the kinds of saints we’re all sitting next to here. 

            In addition, a “manager” was similar to someone today in our economy that is a financial advisor or money manager but with a lot more freedom and lot fewer laws regulating them.  Managers had the same basic authority an owner had.  They could make decisions legally without consulting their boss.  They could sign contracts and enact business without their boss’s direct involvement. 

            If the manager messed up, about the only recourse the boss had was to fire him…which is precisely what this boss intended to do once this manager presented the audited books to the master. 

            So let’s go back to this parable and see what Jesus was wanting us to embrace that can change our lives?

Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 

God clearly is the “rich man” in this parable and every one of us is the “manager.”  EVERYTHING we have and manage in this life belongs to God, not to us. We are the “managers” or “stewards” of everything God puts under our care. 

  • What does God give to us that is identical? 24 hours in a day, His unbounded love and mercy, salvation rich and free.
  • Most of what God gives us is slightly or greatly different from each other: health, wealth, education, IQ, friendships, stuff, opportunities, creativity, children, etc.   

But ALL of it is given to us to manage.  And EVERYONE of US is, in lesser or greater ways, guilty of “wasting” God’s gifts, right?  None of us can claim to be faultless in our management responsibilities of everything God has put under our care. 

            Just to help us think for a moment about what God has put under our care (not to overwhelm you, however), let’s think for a moment about what God has given us to steward/manage.

Think 1st about things you and I clearly do not fully “own” even from the world’s perspective, that we are nonetheless responsible to be good stewards of.

  • Public Property: parks, sidewalks, streets, public buildings, national debt, government, schools, buses you ride, etc.
  • Someone else’s private property: rental apartment, mortgaged house, car you’re paying off, any business you frequent from banks to burger joints, stores, coffee shops, church buildings, your WORK-life, etc.
  • Your “property”: your time, your work life (if self-employed), your money (monthly income, SSI, investments, retirement), your home [how many rooms?], your car, your clothes, your household goods, your body, your food…???
  • Non-tangible things like: friendships, opportunities, skills, abilities, gifts, talents, health, creativity, strength, stamina, age/chapter of life, etc.
  • God’s property: the environment, time, the Kingdom of God, ministry, etc.

If ALL of these are gifts from God, given to us to steward as managers, it doesn’t take long to realize that we’ve all been managers who have, to greater and lesser degrees, “wasted” God’s good gifts. 

So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’

While I don’t want to stretch this parable to the breaking point by trying to make a theological point from every phrase, I don’t think it is beyond the text to ask a couple of questions here.

  • WHEN will we be called to give an account to God? (When life is over.)
  • WHEN will we stop managing all that God has given us in this life? (When our days are done and we die…or are raptured.)

While God may give us other things to manage at that time, management of this life and things will cease someday.  [See Hebrews 4:13; I Peter 4:5; Mt. 12:36; Romans 14:10—“…we will all stand before God’s judgment seat”; 2 Cor. 5:10—judgment seat of Christ.] 

God may not end our time as his managers here on earth because we have been poor managers of life.  At that point we are stretching the limits of the parable too far. 

But the fact is, we shall all give account before God—redeemed Christians and condemned sinners, great managers and poor managers. 

APP:  The fact that we will ALL be called to account by God someday should matter, right?  HOW? 

  • It should change the way I view what I do with life and the stuff/people/opportunities given me in life.
  • It should change how I live right now!
  • It should cause me to live differently than if I didn’t have to give account for my management of life.
  • It should produce different outcomes for WHAT I do with what God has entrusted to me.

We would all probably be better managers of God’s many and gracious gifts if we were to ask of every part of our day and every use of our lives, “How will this look from the vantage point of eternity?  Is this a use of time/money/freedom/etc. that God can commend?  Must rebuke?  Will be able to honor?  Will dishonor Him?” 

APP:  Just take the rest of today, for instance.  What are your plans for a.) expending the remaining hours, and b.) expending resources ($, food, apartment/house, gas/transportation, time, relationships)?

That doesn’t mean we need to be neurotic about every little decision.  But it certainly wouldn’t hurt if all of us got more in the habit of asking God, “What do you think, God?  Is this a good use of Your time/money/car/home/etc. right now?  Is it the best use?”

APP:  This part of the parable has something else to tell us.  Every day is another “do over” opportunity.  We may not get to rearrange everything about our day.  We may not be free to choose a different job or change every relationship.  But as long as you wake up on this side of the sod, you have a “do-over” day in front of you.  God still hasn’t laid you off!  There is still time to change the accounting.  Even at the prospect of having to give account, God is being merciful and gracious to get ready for the next life better. 

“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

            What’s the “self-talk” we give ourselves when it comes to the brevity of   life and the missed opportunities?  This manager was smart enough to at least redeem what time was left. God wants our self-talk about life and death to be as smart and shrewd as this fellow’s was. 

            “Let’s see.  My life is quickly passing. Pretty soon I’ll be standing before God Almighty and giving account for my life.  I’m not strong anymore.  I can’t pull all-nighters.  I can’t just use more elbow grease.  I’ve got to live smarter rather than just work harder.  I’m not going to just start living on the streets panhandling.  I’m going to come up with a plan so that when this life is done, people will welcome me into their houses.” 

            Again, some of these details fit pretty amazingly a lot of what the Bible teaches about life to come.  This chap is smart enough to not deny impending reality (i.e. death).  Neither should anyone who has been saved/brought-on/”hired” by God to be a manager of life.  We of all people should recognize the need for a plan NOW that will make preparations for a life LATER. 

            Scripture tells us that Christ has gone ahead to “prepare a place for us” (John 14:2).  That place has many buildings, many apartments, many homes.  And WHO will be living in those other homes?  People who we have known in this life, affected, blessed, been kind to, been merciful to, helped grow, etc. What are we doing now that redeemed sinners will one day thank us for?  Supporting missionaries instead of buying more stuff?  [Morhlangs] 

            Our choices/activities/spending of life must change NOW if we are really making preparations for life LATER. 

God’s “managers” should be conspicuously different NOW because of what we know life will be like LATER.  The plans we make about today should be driven by the truths we know about the judgment. 

ILL:  Do you think Billy Graham is welcome in a few of those “houses” of people who came to Jesus because of the life and message Billy lived and preached?   Do you think he ordered this life by what he knew would one day be a day of reckoning for him? 

There is nothing wrong about studying for a final exam instead of partying every night.  There is nothing wrong with working hard to meet a deadline, knowing that we can rest once the project is finished or the window of opportunity for that sale is closed. 

Those “little” deadlines ought to remind us of THE BIG “deadline” (is that a pun?) that we will all surely face.  We face it knowing our God is amazingly merciful and generous and that we’re not trying to in any way earn our eternal life with Him.  But WHAT we experience in eternity is consistently presented in Scripture as in some way deeply impacted by what we do with life in Christ here on this earth. 

Heaven in not divine socialism where everyone is paid the same, lives the same, has the same responsibilities and future.  That idea is nowhere found in Scripture.  Since greed and jealousy will be no more for us, those differences won’t have the same sinful effects they have on us right now.  But that doesn’t erase God-granted differences that He promises based on how well we have managed this life given us to live for Him.

“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

You might be saying to yourself, “Dishonest manager?  I thought you said he hadn’t done anything wrong in writing down those debts.”  I did.  The question is whether that designation applies to how he had conducted himself leading up to this financial audit OR whether that is describing only his behavior in writing down the debt.  I think the latter makes more sense.  Otherwise, why would the master commend him for the specific action that condemned him as dishonest?  Instead, he is specifically commended for “acting shrewdly” in precisely what he did with the debtors.  It makes no sense to commend behavior if that behavior, in fact, made him “dishonest.” 

But what the master, and by analogy God, commends is how “shrewdly” this manager acted.  That term literally means “to act with great practical intelligence,” “prudently” or “sensibly.”  God isn’t calling for some form of deviousness and commending worldly business people for being better at it than His kids.  But he does commend secular people when they live more “prudently, sensibly and with better practical intelligence” than we Christians do. 

This manager was smart enough to use wealth… somebody else’s wealth at that…to “gain friends for” himself, so that when that wealth was gone or the opportunity to use that wealth had passed, there would be some lasting, beneficial consequences to the way the manager had handled it.  The point is, if secular people are smart enough to know that wealth can be used to develop friendships that benefit you in this life, God’s kids should be smart enough to know that this world’s wealth can be used to develop friendships that will benefit us in the life to come….especially because God plainly tells us just that! 

God is not saying here that we should “buy” friends with our wealth.  Jesus was quite poor and yet he was known as a “friend of tax collectors and sinners.”  But He clearly had something in this life that sinners wanted.  I imagine his sense of humor was very attractive…and utterly clean.  I imagine his words were better than the best food at a banquet.  I imagine his compassion and kindness was unmatched making Him highly sought after by those needing compassion and kindness.  He used what He had in this life to make friends.  And I’m not at all sure he was a real extrovert either. 

The point is, know the value of people and friendship in comparison with all else in life.  Know that every resource God grants us to use or manage for others has divine capacity to make an eternal impact. 

Q:  How can we use our housing to make friends?

  • If you live in an apartment: you live closer to people and see them more often than you do if you live in the suburbs where you pull out of your garage in the morning and into it at night. 
  • If you live in a house, what does a house facilitate in potential eternal “friendships” or relationships that an apartment may not? (More children, guests, students, foster kids, long-term neighborly relations, small groups, etc.)

Q:  How can we use our transportation to make friends for eternity?

Q:  Money?  [Dick & Lil Shanks]

Poverty has little to do with the amount of opportunity!  It just changes the type.  If you don’t believe me, look at Jesus.  His poverty never held him back from exchanging this life’s “riches” for the next life’s “wealth.” 

  • He taught His disciples to leave family, houses, lands and businesses in exchange for 100 times all that in this life and the eternal life to come. (Mt. 19:29)
  • He modeled for them giving up his very life so that we and others in this world could be ransomed and redeemed forever.

Everything we have in this life that can be in the least measure considered a resource is something that we have the opportunity to exchange for eternal “property.”  But once we move from this country to our heavenly country, the whole exchange system changes currencies. 

Q:  How many of you have ever traveled internationally and had to change currency?  What happens when you cross that boarder?  [Your American currency doesn’t work anymore…often.  Only because the dollar has been a sort of world currency might it work.  But certainly, when anybody comes to the U.S. and tries to use a Mexican peso or a Costa Rican colon or an Ethiopian birr or a Russian ruble, you have to exchange it or it is useless. 

            The only difference between here and heaven in terms of currency is that 1.) there will be no Exchange counter where you can trade in your dollars or car or house for heavenly currency because 2.) you won’t be able to bring any of it with you.  You can only send it ahead by what you do with it here and now.  That’s why you’ll never see a U-Haul at a graveside (though I did see a Postal truck in a cemetery once!). 

            There is a little jingle that goes, “Do your giving while you’re living so you’re knowing where it’s going.”    We might want to add, “…so you’re going where it’s going.” 

            Too many Christians completely miss the purpose of money.  The Pharisees of vs. 14 certainly did.  They thought money was for becoming wealthy in this world…and they even despised poverty so much that they “sneered” at God himself living in human poverty. 

14 The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15 He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.

ILL:  Getting acquainted with a Sr. Pastor this week who works in a rather well-to-do church in a certain well-to-do section of our city.  He came from Southern California about 5 years ago.  So I asked him what he felt were some of the cultural differences between Spokane and Orange County. 

He responded, “You know, in So Cal materialism is very visible and evident.  Everyone is driving expensive cars and living on expensive property.  But here the materialism is more in the form of hoarding.  People give their lives just as much here to amassing wealth.  But they like to hoard it away in the retirement or investments or things less conspicuous.  But the effects on their marriages and children and families is just the same—deadening.”  

That’s missing the purpose of money…and that’s the church in Spokane! 

APP:  What did we do last week to use our resources to build friendships that can have eternal consequences?  Did we invite someone over for a meal?  Pay for someone’s coffee so we could talk eternal issues?  Take some time to pray for someone?  Use our car…or time on the bus…to help someone and share some spiritual truths/realities? 

What resources might God want me to ‘repurpose’ for Kingdom work?  A bedroom in your house?  A shirt/blouse in your closet?  A hobby you could use to make friends and share Christ?  A retirement account or investment God would like you to let go of so you can invest it in some ministry reaching and discipling souls for Christ right here in Spokane or in some other part of the world?    

11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.

Everything we will ever have…once we belong to Christ…truly is “someone else’s property.”  It’s God’s…on loan to us…to use to for kingdom purposes.  We won’t be able to love that property for ourselves and love using it for the kingdom.  But if we love using it for the kingdom more than for ourselves, it loses its power as we discover our true Love who is worth more than the whole world of wealth.