Managers, not Accumulators
The guest speaker at a pastors’ conference handed out a paper containing ten statements for the pastors to think about during the course of the conference. He called them ‘The Ten Deadly Delusions’ because they were statements that at first glance seemed to be true, but each contained a dangerous or misleading idea or attitude.
Three of them related specifically to the parable that is before us today. Let’s see if you can see what is wrong or misleading in each statement.
- “God wants us to give him a percentage of what he has first given us. If only people would practice tithing!”
- “God has blessed this country with many wonderful things to enjoy.”
- “This country offers many opportunities for people to achieve success for themselves.”
In the light of Jesus’ parable of the shrewd manager let us consider a response to these three so-called ‘delusions’.
To the first ‘delusion’ we must ask: How can we give God what really belongs to him anyway? Don’t the things we use in this world still belong to God? The Old Testament practice of making tithes and offerings was given, not as an end in itself, but so that people would not forget that God is the owner and giver of all things. We cannot begin to assume that we own or deserve any of the things we have. Think about the manager in Jesus’ parable. He had nothing of his own. His job was on loan to him only for as long as the rich man saw fit. His employment was totally in the hands of his master. He had been living in a house provided by his master, eating food and wearing clothes provided by his master or bought with his master’s wages. Now, when accused of wasting the master’s possessions and left to consider his future without a job, the reality began to hit home. He really owned nothing at all. Without his Master he was completely unable to provide for himself.
Isn’t that true for us also? Apart from our Master’s goodness we have nothing. The one who owns all things graciously loans some of them to us. We confess in the explanation to the first part of the creed that everything we have from God is ‘purely out of his Fatherly and Divine goodness and mercy, though we do not deserve it.’ Our life itself is on loan from God. Every day of our time on this earth is entirely in God’s hands. Our food, clothing, money, talents are ours only as long as our Master loans them to us. Apart from his goodness to us we have nothing and are incapable of providing for ourselves. The Scripture says: We brought nothing into this world, and we can take nothing out if it (1 Tim 6:7). When God speaks of his ‘giving’ to us or our ‘giving’ to him we must always see it in this context. The Psalmist says: The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it (psalm 24:1).
Like the rich man in Jesus parable, the Master owns everything. In reality we cannot give ‘a percentage’ back to him because it’s all his anyway – 100% of it. In our tithes and offerings we honour God’s generous loan by returning the first percentage to its rightful owner.
Like the manager or steward in Jesus’ parable we are simply managers of what our Master owns. When God created the Adam and Eve he gave them ‘dominion’ or ‘management’ over the things he had made, not ‘ownership’. That is why we have traditionally used the word ‘stewardship’ in relation to our management of time, talents and treasures, rather the word ‘giving’ – because giving presumes that we own these things – and we don’t! As God’s ‘stewards’, we are simply employed to ‘manage’ and distribute what belongs to our Master.
Jesus’ parable leads us to look at the second ‘deadly delusion’: “God has blessed this country with many wonderful things to enjoy.” To that statement we must then respond: We are certainly blessed by what God generously loans to us, not just to enjoy for ourselves but to use to his glory and in the service of others. Think again of the manager in Jesus’ parable. He knew he owned nothing but he also knew something else; he had his master’s goods at his disposal. So he used his remaining time, his talents as manager, and the goods that belonged to his master to serve others and to secure his own future.
Jesus makes no bones about the fact that what the manager did was dishonest, but he does commend him for his shrewd or clever use of what was placed under his care. Jesus’ point is that if non-believers can be so clever in their use of worldly goods then we should ‘take a leaf out of their book’ when it comes to our management of what we have on loan from God. Jesus is by no means promoting dishonesty; he is talking about the wise use of our Master’s time, talents and treasures while we have them at our disposal.
Like this manager we have all been given notice that our time on this earth is limited and that we must give an account of our management. We know that we can’t take anything with us into the next life, so the challenge is to use what we have to wisely to serve others and prepare ourselves for life in the eternal dwellings.
The questions we must ask are: How can we wisely invest our time, our talents and our treasures to ensure our own eternal life and that of our family remains secure? How can we use what we own to make friends for God; people who will also be our friends in the eternal dwellings? How can we use the Master’s goods that are now at our disposal to serve those who live in hardship or oppression?
Nowhere in the Scriptures are we called to accumulate things for our own enjoyment. Instead we are called to manage, use and distribute them wisely for the glory of God and the good of others. ‘We live in a world where 6% of the people receive half the income, 50% are constantly hungry, 60% live in shanty-towns, and 70% are illiterate’. There is even a greater percentage who are Biblically illiterate and spiritually hungry and who know nothing about the eternal dwellings.
Now we can also see what is wrong with the third ‘delusion’: “This country offers many opportunities for people to achieve success for themselves.” While that statement is true in one sense, we must ask: Is material success what we’re really here for? God reminds us that real success is not determined by the size of our house, our land, our possessions or our retirement nest-egg, the type of car we drive, the type of clothes we wear, or who our friends are, but by whether we are God’s friends. Real success is not about accumulating riches but seeking God’s kingdom and his righteousness.
Both the master in the parable and Jesus himself commended the shrewd manager because he looked to the life beyond. While still in his tenure as manager he prepared for life beyond his job. He used his limited time and his master’s possessions to make friends for himself so that when he had nothing left they might welcome him into their homes. Jesus encourages us to use our remaining time and all the talents and treasures at our disposal to make friends with God – to make sure we are reconciled to him. If we are friends with God through faith in Jesus we know we will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. We know that real success is finally achieved the very day we are called to leave all our worldly possessions behind.
We don’t have to accumulate riches here because, in our friendship with God through Jesus, we have everything we need. We are already rich. In fact, Jesus warns that when the things of this world become the object of our loyalty, at that point we become spiritually and eternally poor. We simply cannot serve two masters.
So let’s re-word those three ‘deadly delusions’ into three ‘living truths.’
- “God wants us to acknowledge that we own nothing and that everything we are and have is graciously on loan to us. If only people would manage and distribute God’s gifts wisely!”
- “God has provided the people of this country with many wonderful things, not to live comfortably but usefully for God and for others.”
- “Life in this world offers many opportunities for people to prepare ourselves and others for the life in ‘eternal dwellings’.”
And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
This message is brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas. For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected]. A Pass it On Project , You can read more at Lutheran Church of Australia Pentecost 15 Proper 20 Series C