Jesus told this story to his disciples: "A rich man hired a manager to handle his affairs, but soon a rumor went around that the manager was thoroughly dishonest. So his employer called him in and said, 'What's this I hear about your stealing from me? Get your report in order, because you are going to be dismissed.'"The manager thought to himself, 'Now what? I'm through here, and I don't have 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 16:1-4)What happens next is so bizarre, you don't expect to hear Jesus commend it. You get the impression the money manager didn't even know who owed how much. He decided to turn the situation to his own advantage:
"So he invited each person who owed money to his employer to come and discuss the situation. He asked the first one, 'How much do you owe him?' The man replied, 'I owe him eight hundred gallons of olive oil.' So the manager told him, 'tear up that bill and write another one for four hundred gallons.'"'And how much do you owe my employer?' he asked the next man. 'A thousand bushels of wheat,' was the reply. 'Here,' the manager said, 'take your bill and replace it with one for only eight hundred bushels.' (Luke 16:5-7)The amounts we're talking about are huge - anywhere from three to eight year's labor for the average person. The servant saw a way out. What if he discounted the debt, probably to what the person actually borrowed? No interest, no surcharge, no commission. The debtors would be happy, of course. You'd expect the master to be angry, but his financial reputation was so bad, this would make him look better. Amazingly, the plan worked. Read verse 8: "The rich man had to admire the dishonest rascal for being so shrewd."I love this story. It says to all the money managers out there who have made bad financial decisions: there is hope. You may have made mistakes in the past, but you can recover. There is a way out.Then Jesus adds his comments: "And it is true that the citizens of this world are more shrewd than the godly are. I tell you, use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. In this way, your generosity stores up a reward for you in heaven" (Luke 16:8-9).This story changes the way that I look at my finances. I used to think that God gave me everything that I have, and I have to use it well. That's not really an accurate picture. It still treats me as the owner. Jesus gives us a new picture. I'm not the owner, I'm the money manager. I'm managing God's accounts. Everything that I have - not just 10% - everything belongs to God.God also gives me the goal. Just as the dishonest money manager used the finances to make friends, so can I - in heaven. I can use God's money here so that when I get to heaven, I have friends because of how they've benefited by my financial decisions. The way that I invest my money, giving to the poor, giving to meet needs, giving to support ministries, can touch lives in such a way that when I get to heaven, I'll meet people I've never met before because of the ways that I decided to invest God's money.The way that we handle our money really does matter. It matters, not just for ourselves and our own wellbeing. It matters because it has so much eternal potential. It matters because it's somebody else's money. It's in our hands, but it's not ours. We're only managing it for someone else.Then Jesus says:
"Unless you are faithful in small matters, you won't be faithful 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 trusted with money of your own? (Luke 16:10-12)Now I know why money's so important. It's not mine. It has so much potential to change lives. But here's another reason: it has so much potential to influence my own heart. Jesus says that if I can't figure out how to handle money, God won't be able to trust me with real riches, spiritual riches. My finances are really God's business.Jesus concludes: "No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money" (Luke 16:13). Nobody admits to serving money (literally Mammon or "stuff"). Reality check: we are serving money if we think about it or worry about it frequently. We're serving stuff if we spend a lot of time caring for possessions, or if we have a hard time giving stuff away. We're serving stuff if we're in debt. A lot of us are serving stuff without even knowing it.I'd like to present a radical model for how we can put this picture into practice. Somebody asked me the other day if I was going to be a little different or radically different from the world in the way I handle my money. That's a pretty good question. If we follow the picture that Jesus gives, it's going to be radically different.Ron Blue says there are only five things that we can do with our money: pay taxes, spend it, repay debt, save/invest it, and give it. That's it. I thought this week of the worst financial manager that I know of, and this is what they do: spend it. They don't do any of the other four. They don't even pay taxes - at least not yet. They haven't been caught. They spend more than they make, and all they do is spend.Most people take an owner's approach to their money. Here's how it looks. In order of priority, they take their money, and first pay taxes, then spend it, then repay debt. If there's anything left over, then they save/invest it, and then, if they feel like it, give it. That's probably the average way a financially responsible person operates. If they're really good with money, they put saving ahead of spending. That's the owner's approach to money.What about a trustee's approach? What if we really believed that we're just money managers for God? What if our primary goal in our spending was how our financial investments would pay off in eternity? I don't think you'd have to take a vow of poverty to do this. It would involve a different set of priorities. This is what it might look like.First, give. Give even before you pay taxes. Why? It's not ours. It's God's. It's the first fruits, the best right off the top. This is the one thing we can do with our money that will have eternal benefits. John Wesley said, "Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can." If we're God's money managers, this always comes first.This is about more than a tithe. The Pharisees tithed, and look how they grumbled at Jesus' story: "The Pharisees, who dearly loved their money, naturally scoffed at all this" (Luke 16:14). Here's the problem with a tithe. The late singer Rich Mullins put it best: "If you give a tithe, you get rid of ten percent of the root of all evil. You should be giving ninety percent because God can handle money better than we can."I've heard of one couple who lived on a reverse tithe. They kept ten percent; they gave away ninety. They had a blast. They're investing for eternity.Nobody can tell you what this number should be for you, but if we see ourselves as God's money managers, this is going to come first. It's going to be our highest priority in life.Second, pay taxes. The Bible says to do this. We do get benefits from our government. Besides, if we give right and save right, our government lets us pay less taxes. Most of us don't have a choice about this. It's not discretionary. It's taken right off the top without us even thinking about it. The important thing to remember is that this isn't our first priority. We have to do it, but we have a more important purpose. Our first priority is to give.Third, save it. Even if you're in debt, start to save. This establishes a habit of preparing for the future. You can get carried away with this, but most believe it's prudent to prepare for our future, and for any unseen emergencies that may arise. Most of us aren't out of balance because we're saving too much. Some are, but for most of us, we could learn to save a little.Fourth, repay debt. This isn't a lot of fun, but every debt payment that we eliminate goes right to the bottom line. If we don't repay debt, the consequences are staggering. If you owe $1,000 on a credit card, and only make the minimum payment, at 18% interest (which isn't unusual) it will take you 94 months and $1,880 to repay that debt. The best part is that when we eliminate debt, then the fifth and last priority (us) is bumped up a place.Here's the last priority: spend it. We usually put this first, but it belongs last. After we've given, after we've paid taxes, after we've saved, and after we make payments on our debts, then we spend. That obviously means that some of us will have much less to spend. The reason we're in trouble is that we've made spending a higher priority. This is where the spending category actually belongs.There may come a time when it moves higher. When we've repaid our debts, it moves up. When we're retired, we may not be paying much in tax, and we may be no longer saving for the future. Great, it can move up. But it always comes after giving.It's not really a matter of math; it's a matter of trust. I realize that this may be so far away from where some of us are that it seems unworkable. Still, this is the goal. It's where we can begin to move. It begins with moving away from an owner's approach to a trustee's approach.Later on, we'll be bringing Crown Ministries in for a one-day training seminar. They exist to "teach God's people financial principles." They don't sell investments or make money off of your decisions. They'll be coming in for one day to help make some of this more practical.But we can all start today. If nothing else, we can start by putting giving first rather than spending first. It's not to help the church - that's the least of my concerns in teaching this. It's so that we can put God first in our finances. It's so we can make friends in heaven, so when we get there, we'll hear God's well done, and we'll meet people who say, "You may not know me, but the way you invested God's money on earth is the reason that I'm here. Thank you."
1. Give it 2. Pay taxes 3. Save/invest it 4. Repay debt 5. Spend it