The Treasure Measure
Want to hear one of the weirdest stories about money in the whole Bible? In Luke 16 Jesus tells the story of a savvy manager who was about to get fired for dishonesty. So he met with his employers’ clients and changed the records to reduce their debts. The manager figured the people would be grateful to him and “receive him into their homes” after he got fired. Well, his boss caught wind of this—and praised him “for being so shrewd” (Luke 16:8).
Luckily Jesus clarifies his point, which is not to be dishonest, but to use the world’s resources for God’s purposes. In fact this parable isn’t only about money, but it certainly offers some application for finances. Since we’re stuck dealing with money, use it wisely, instead of getting used by it. Too often people get owned by striving to maintain a typical American lifestyle, which leads to overspending and anxiety, no matter how much they make. So how do we use money wisely? Jesus lays out a rich theology of shrewd stewardship in just a few verses.
1. Make friends. Money can’t buy friends? Jesus begs to differ: “Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your earthly possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home” (Luke 16:9). Sure, buying rounds of drinks doesn’t make true comrades. But what about opening your home to your kids’ friends, even though your carpet will get destroyed? Or sponsoring a child in poverty? There are so many ways we can use our resources to help others and even impact their eternity. I like to think of it as “stealing” from the System to give to the Kingdom. What better way to use money than to redirect the world’s dirty lifeblood to help grow heaven’s headcount?
2. Be faithful. “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones….If you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven?” Jesus reasons (Luke 16:11a, 12a). He is not teaching the “Puritan work ethic” or “prosperity gospel” traditions that if you work hard and give faithfully, God will start throwing gobs of money at you, perhaps by lining up promotions or killing off rich relatives. The real riches He grants the faithful may be relationships, influence, or opportunities for serving others, and some of the boon won’t be discovered until the next life. But what about money? Check out what he says next.
3. Measure your treasure. Jesus warns against getting used by money: “No one can serve two masters….You cannot serve both God and money” (Luke 16:13). This oft-quoted axiom is oft-ignored, as Materialism and/or financial security are faithfully served. Jesus expands upon the ‘one master principle” elsewhere: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” he adds in Matthew 6:21. The context is clearly money. So he’s saying what you do with your money reveals where your heart is. If you want to gauge what’s most important to you, look where your money goes. After meeting basic needs, are you planning for your family’s future and giving generously? Or are you spending frivolously on “treasure” that won’t make it out of this life? If you want worthwhile treasure, why not redirect money to worthwhile causes?
The Bible warns that belongings are temporary and distracting, and also that our hearts are prone to worshiping gods which only destroy: “The love of money is the root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and have pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:10). God isn’t holding out on us when he steers us away from the treasures of this world. As Randy Alcorn points out in Money, Possessions, and Eternity, God created our desires for pleasure, significance, and rewards, and He intends to fulfill these in the most satisfactory ways. Contrary to popular “health and wealth” or prosperity theology, He doesn’t lavish all rewards now only for us to leave it all behind.
Consider the parable of the rich man who stored up all his earthly assets, planning to party like crazy (Luke 12: 16-21). He died the very first day of retirement. That’s why it’s called the parable of the rich fool, because investments made earth-side are so foolish compared to eternal ones. According to Luke 16, people are the forever treasure we can invest in now.
We can discern our deepest values by looking at what we do with our money. As we pursue financial flexibility, let’s measure where our true treasure lies—in meeting financial goals, or helping others? A major goal of pretending to be poor is freeing up resources to win friends for eternity.
What do you think about the principle that money reveals our values? What changes might you make to realign the two?