WORLDLY WEALTH Luke 16–17
“No servant can serve two masters.
Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Luke 16:13).Once again Jesus took up the topic of money and its relationship to the kingdom of God, and showed its relationship to faith.
A “shrewd” but dishonest manager used money to prepare for his future (16:1–12). Sneering Pharisees, who loved money, were told to repent and live the truth they claimed to honor (vv. 14–31). Jesus urged His disciples to guard against causing sin (17:1–4), and taught that His command required obedience rather than more “faith” (vv. 5–10). Those who have known Christ’s healing touch are to praise God (vv. 11–19) and look for His coming kingdom (vv. 20–23), though others are entranced by this world’s pleasures (vv. 24–37).
Understanding the Text
“The master commended the dishonest manager” Luke 16:1–13. Don’t suppose that Jesus implied a tribute to dishonesty. The compliment is focused on one thing only. The dishonest manager (“unjust steward” in older versions) had realized that money is to be used to prepare for his future. Jesus applied the story to us. We too are to view worldly wealth as nothing more than an instrument for gaining the true riches in heaven. “You cannot serve both God and Money” Luke 16:13. The saying focuses on our choices. A person who serves another does what his master chooses. In this life God and Money compete for our allegiance. If our choices are motivated by a desire for money, we will not serve God. If we serve God, our choices will not be motivated by a desire for money. The excuse that’s sometimes offered, “I want to make money so I can serve God,” is just that: an excuse, intended to mask the fact that love for money dominates our lives. Yes, a rich person can love God. But if he does, the way he or she uses the money possessed will reveal it. “The Pharisees . . . were sneering at Jesus” Luke 16:14–18. It’s best to take these puzzling verses, along with the story of the rich man and Lazarus, as Jesus’ response to the Pharisees. What do they mean? Jesus identified the Pharisees as money lovers (vv. 14–15). They were well-to-do as well as pious men. Christ accused them of seeking to “justify yourselves in the eyes of men” rather than God. Anyone who cares more about what others think of him or her than what God thinks shares in this condemnation. Jesus affirmed the primacy of Scripture, and of His kingdom. The kingdom, not money, and not the accolades of others, both of which the Pharisees loved, has permanence. The difficult phrase rendered “everyone is forcing his way into it” is better taken “and enthusiastic men lay hold of it.” Unlike the Pharisees, others were unwilling to settle for the tinsel of this tawdry world. The reason for the insertion of the verse on divorce here is uncertain (v. 18), though it may suggest some of the sneering Pharisees had divorced their wives to marry more attractive, younger women. “I am in agony in this fire” Luke 16:19–31. This pointed story underlines the failure of the Pharisees to truly believe the Scriptures in which they boasted. If they had believed, they would not have loved money, but the poor. They would not have built personal estates, but rather would have fed the hungry. Instead, like the rich man in the story, Jesus’ money-loving critics “dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day” while beggars lay outside their gates. Many believe that this is not a parable but identifies actual people. In parables, people are identified as “servants,” or as a “sower” or “master” or “guest.” In no parable is any actor given a personal name, as Lazarus is here. Yet whether or not Lazarus and the rich man are real individuals, or merely representative, the story contains one of Scripture’s clearest pictures of the after-death experience. There is blessing for God’s own, and torment for those who refuse His grace. And between these two states lies an uncrossable gap. The choices we make during this life do fix our destiny. Those who wish can scoff at Jesus’ warnings of the corrupting influence of wealth. But many have pushed heaven away while grabbing greedily for this world’s worthless gold. “They will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” Luke 16:31. The teachers of the Law and Pharisees frequently demanded Jesus provide a “sign from heaven” to prove His messiahship (11:16; cf. Matt. 12:39; 16:4; Mark 8:11). Why didn’t He provide it? Part of the answer lies in Scripture’s emphasis on faith. We are to trust God and His Word to us. Yet part of the answer lies in unbelief. Whatever sign Jesus provided would not convince those determined not to believe. Even when Jesus did rise from the dead, His opponents refused to believe. If a person will not hear and respond to the Word of God, “to Moses and the Prophets,” they simply “will not be convinced.” It’s good for us to remember this when we share the Gospel with others. The Word of God is living and vital. It reaches human hearts, and those who are open to God respond. Those who do not believe will not believe, and would not even if we could perform miracles before them in our own day. So we witness without hesitation, confident that where the seed of the Word finds fertile soil, new life will sprout. “Things that cause people to sin” Luke 17:1–10. Again one of Jesus’ frequent teachings is found in a context different from that in which it appears in other Gospels. Here Christ shows us how we can help each other accept and live by values the Pharisees had rejected. We are to rebuke one another when one of us sins, but be quick to forgive when he or she repents. How is this relevant to our theme? Simply that each of us is to accept responsibility to care about one another’s walk with God. Other’s may stumble often, but in the community of faith each is to find forgiveness and support to live a godly life. The Apostles were right to see this as challenging and difficult. But Jesus leaves us no choice (see DEVOTIONAL). “Have pity on us” Luke 17:11–19. The healing of the lepers is a case study in attitude. Ten were healed of a dread disease that isolated them from all the pleasures of life in this world. They were cut off from loved ones. They were cut off from work. They were cut off from their homes, and even from the worship of God. But 10 lepers who appealed to Jesus were healed! And 9 of them couldn’t wait to return to the world from which they had been cut off. Only 1, a Samaritan, after showing himself to a priest and being confirmed as clean, returned to thank the Lord. We are in danger from the meshes of that love for money that ensnared the Pharisees. We are in danger, after being spiritually healed, of dashing back into the world, without acknowledging our debt to Jesus, and without putting praise first. Only by valuing God supremely can we be protected from the love of money and ease. “The kingdom of God is within you” Luke 17:20–21. It seems better to take Jesus’ reference to the invisible form of His kingdom as “among” rather than “within” the Pharisees who questioned Him. The kingdom was already present, in the person of the King. It was not present in pomp or glory. It was not present in power. All the emblems of worldly rule had been discarded. And the Pharisees, deceived by the phantoms they pursued, simply could not recognize the kingdom when it came. What a lesson for us. God’s kingdom is among us too. Christ is here, hidden but present in His church and in His people. Christ is here, in the needy and the oppressed. Christ is here, in the hopeless and the weak. Let’s never be deceived, as were the Pharisees, by worldly wealth, by buildings, or by pomp. God’s kingdom is among us, as Christ expresses His love in the ministry of His people to all. “As it was in the days of Noah” Luke 17:22–37. Christ’s kingdom is among us—and coming. What is hidden now will be revealed. But when Christ returns He will find the world as it was in the days of the Pharisees. As it was in Noah’s day. As it was when fire rained down on Sodom. As it was when San Francisco quaked. People are so caught up in eating and drinking, in marrying and being given in marriage—in the pleasures and pursuits of this world—that they cannot imagine that another world looms on the horizon, ready to break in on our reality and strip every illusion away. The Pharisees, despite their religion, did not really believe, and so came to use their religious zeal as a cloak for money love. Yet one day, when Jesus comes or when death overtakes, wealth will at last be put in true perspective. It can be used by the wise believer to prepare for a better eternity. And it can destroy the fool, who ignores the Word of God, and reaches for the cash.
When Faith Doesn’t Matter(Luke 17:1–10)
We Christians rightly put great emphasis on faith. So it’s just next door to heresy to insist that in some things, faith doesn’t matter. Not one little bit. Still, that is what Jesus is saying here in Luke 17. It’s like this. Jesus told His disciples to guard one another. When one sinned, another is to rebuke him. Then, if the sinning disciple repents, he’s to be forgiven (vv. 1–4). It seems simple enough, even though we don’t like confrontation. But Jesus went on to make it even more difficult. He said if a brother sins against you he’s to be forgiven. Even if he keeps on sinning against you, time and time again! That’s right. Even if it happens over and over again, daily. Each time the brother says, “I’m sorry,” he’s to be welcomed back. Even though by a sixth or seventh time even the most gullible of us would suspect he’s putting us on. At this point the dismayed disciples cried out, “Lord, increase our faith.” Lord, they’re saying, if You expect us to live this way, we’re going to need a whale of a lot more faith than we have now! Then Jesus used another illustration. He spoke of a slave (servant) and a master. Would a slave be praised for doing whatever duty the master assigned? Hardly. He’d only be doing what is expected of a slave. But why this story? Simply because Jesus, the disciples’ Lord and Master, commanded them to confront, to accept “I repent,” and to forgive. Responding to a command isn’t a matter of faith. It’s a matter of obedience. And so we have to examine our own lives carefully. How many times have we held back, wishing we had more faith so we could do something we knew God wanted us to do? How many times have we pleaded for more faith in our inadequacy? And how many times has the longing for more faith simply masked the fact that we have been unwilling to obey?
Don’t deceive yourself. Much in the Christian life is not a matter of faith. It’s a matter of obedience!
“The accomplishment of the divine will is the sole end for which we are in the world.”—John Eudes