God’s Business…And Ours
The wonderful thing about Jesus as a teacher is that His words are so memorable. He had a way of painting unforgettable pictures with His language. He understood that you can persuade a person with a picture much better than you can with an argument. He also understood the power of a well-told story to convince and to make a point. In fact, His stories were like hand grenades that He threw into the crowd and they exploded with tremendous impact on those who heard them. So now He is going to talk to us about business—about God’s business and ours. And when He does, He makes the point in such a way that we can’t forget it. He says, “I want to tell you a story about a bunch of crooks.” And that they were. Every single person in this parable is dishonest. There is not an honest man amongst them. Here is the story:
A certain man owned a large piece of property. He traveled a great deal, so he hired a manager to oversee the property in his absence. The manager used his position to embezzle funds from the boss. The boss learned of the manager’s thievery and gave him 24 hours to produce all the financial records; Then the crooked manager thought to himself, “What am I going to do? I am going to be fired for sure. I’m not strong enough to do manual labor, and I’m too proud to beg. What am I going to do?” At that moment, he had an idea. He called in those people who owed money to his boss. To one he said, “How much do you owe my boss?” The man replied, “I owe 100 barrels of oil.” The crooked manager said, “Take your bill and change it to 50 barrels of oil.” To another he said, “What do you owe my master?” The man replied, “I owe 100 bushels of wheat.” The crooked manager said to him, “Change your bill to 80 bushels of wheat.” You see, he was trying to put those men in his debt so that when he was fired from his job, they would be willing to take him on. “I’ll scratch your back now. You scratch my back later.” And because the fellows who owed money to the boss were dishonest, they gladly accepted the offer. But then the boss discovered what the crooked manager was doing.
Now here comes the clinch of the story—and you can practically see the disciples getting a little excited as they waited for Jesus to lower the boom on these crooks. But Jesus didn’t lower the boom. Believe it or not, He said, “The master commended the dishonest steward for his prudence.” I daresay the disciples could not believe what they heard! Congratulations for a light-fingered crook! Then Jesus, with a broad smile on His face but with solemn purpose in His heart, said to them, “I wish you were as serious about the business of your faith. I wish you were as shrewd and clever about God’s cause in the world as those thieves were about the conduct of their crooked business.” He then went on to underscore His point by saying, “My advice to you is to use your money, tainted as it is, to make friends for my sake, so that when the end comes for you, your friends may welcome you into the Kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus’ message is clear: the business of the Kingdom comes before the business of the earth—God’s business comes before ours. So let’s see what that means for us…
The first thing Jesus makes clear here is that the crooked manager was a man of action.
As soon as he got word that he was going to get a “pink slip” he said, “What shall I do?” That word “do” is a word of action. He was ready to come to grips with his predicament. That’s a good business-like approach—to see a problem and to tackle it. I know many Presbyterians who take that approach to the work they do. I’ve known Presbyterians who have thrown themselves so ardently into their jobs that they have broken their health or lost their families. I’ve known Presbyterians who so spent themselves caring for the children and the house that they had nothing left over for the Lord or anybody else. I’ve known Presbyterians who have lost their faith because of their priorities. “Gotta work on Sunday, too. I mean, you know how it is, Preacher, so many deals to close, policies to write, cases to brief, prescriptions to fill, buildings to finish, blueprints to study, records to update.” Yes, so many things to do and they lose their faith because of it.
Now just think for a moment what would happen if the salesmen who are part of this congregation set out to sell the Gospel as urgently as they set out to see their products. Just think what would happen if we would go into our Christian Education program with all of the capacity and creativity that big business uses to achieve its goals. Our task as the Church is to rescue the perishing. Think what would happen if we went after that task as ardently as some of us go after the earthly responsibilities which are ours. Many Presbyterians work very hard to please their boss. What would happen if we worked that hard to please our Saviour? The point is that we must put the business which is first where it ought to be—and that business is the business of God!
The second thing Jesus notes is that this crooked manager wasn’t afraid to face the facts.
He realistically took stock of his situation. He said, “I’m too out of shape to do physical labor and I’m too proud to beg.” Jesus is urging us to have the same kind of realism when we approach the business of our Lord.
It’s amazing to me that more people don’t pay attention to this Bible. Here’s a book the counsel of which is more sought than any other book ever written. Here’s a book which we Presbyterians claim to be “the whole counsel of God” and “the only infallible rule of faith and practice.” Here’s a book which is The Word of God, not just a word about God. And what does this book set forth as a realistic view of God’s business?
Well, it says things like this. In Genesis 14:20 it is recorded that Abraham gave God a tenth of everything. Again in Genesis, Jacob says, “Of all that Thou gavest to me, I will give thee the tenth.” Leviticus: “All the tithe of the land, whether the seed of the land or the fruit of the trees is the Lord’s, it is holy to the Lord.” The thundering voice of the prophet Malachi says: “Bring the full tithes into the storehouse.” Some have said that Jesus is silent on the matter of the tithe. Not so. In Matthew 23, He rebukes the Pharisees saying, “You tithe right down to the last mint leaf in your garden. This you ought to do. But you also ought to do more. You ought also to give yourselves to justice and mercy and faith.” That is the word of God, the whole counsel of God about His business. When are we going to face the fact that it is good counsel? We have become “Pharisees in reverse.” We can work up a holy passion about justice and mercy and faith while ignoring God’s demand of the tithe.
But, you ask, what is the tithe? I can only tell you what it is for me. It is l/10th of my total income, before taxes, before monthly bills, before medical expenses, before everything else. That first tenth doesn’t even belong to me. It belongs to God. God requires the tithe. That is a fact. How you respond to that requirement is a matter between you and God. I only ask you to remember that Jesus said that the people who give their lives away will save them. In other words, Jesus is saying to us, “Invest in what will endure, not just for a lifetime but for all eternity.
Then Jesus makes it clear that this crooked manager was far-sighted.
That is to say, he recognized his predicament, he faced the facts as they were, but he also looked ahead. He set up the crooked deeds with the fellows who were in debt to his boss so that when he entered the world of the unemployed, he could go to them for favors.
Well, how are we planning for this world in which one day we shall live? Strange isn’t it how we make so many preparations for the latter years of our lives on the earth: pension plans, insurance programs, annuities, little nest eggs for a rainy day. But we never seem to think about what we will have for ourselves after we live. Now I am not suggesting for a moment that we can buy or bribe our way into heaven. We can’t. But while it is true that there are lots of things money can’t buy, there are very few things that you can’t gain by giving.
Jesus says, “Why are you so concerned about the next 5 or 10 or 25 or 50 years, when all eternity is right beyond that? Use you money to make friends for my sake so that when the end comes for you, those whom you have won and helped will be there to welcome you into the Kingdom of heaven.”
If we take seriously what Jesus says in this parable—and I believe we must—then there will come a time when we stand before God in heaven. We will stand there with nothing—no bank books, no securities, no degrees, no tables, no honors. And God will say: “Is there anyone who will speak for this person? At that point, if we have followed the counsel of Jesus, if we have spent what is ours to the glory of God and in the service of our brothers and sisters in the world, then a youth will step forward and say, “I would have been lost in the world,of narcotics, but the Church this person supported reached me for Christ’s sake.” Then a child who died in one of our mission hospitals in Haiti or Mexico or Zaire or Korea, but who was cared for and loved in his last hours, will whisper into the Father’s ear, “Though this person never saw me, the money so freely given blessed me across the sea.” A black man from the ghetto will cry out: “Because this church of which this person was a part stood tall for the worth and dignity of all people, I learned the power of Christ’s love in a world torn apart by hatred.” Maybe even one of our own children will rise to speak, “Mom or Dad never gave me a dollar for the movies and a dime for the offering plate. They taught me that God’s business is the real happiness in the world. I learned about Jesus at their feet and I am here because of them,” One after another these friends we have made for Christ, these people whose lives have been blessed by our service will rise to speak in our behalf. Then the Lord of glory Himself shall step down from His throne, wrap us in His great embrace, and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter now into the joy of your Lord.”
Once there was a crooked manager who did some crooked things, which pleased his crooked boss. Jesus told that parable to Presbyterians. You know who they are. They are those people who put Christ and Christ’s work first in their lives…