“Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you?”
Luke 16:11 (NASB)
No matter which translation of the Bible one chooses, Jesus’ words in Luke 16:11 are unrelenting.
With all of the voices telling us what our flesh so desperately wants to hear about money, Jesus’ voice stands in stark contrast.
For in this passage, Jesus tells us a story of a steward who, though originally found to be incompetent by his master, is ultimately commended for his shrewd decisions.
When the master tells the steward he can no longer be his manager, the steward says to himself, “I know what to do so that when I am put out of management, people will welcome me into their homes.”
He resolves to use his last few hours of employment to show mercy to his master’s debtors. Wanting to hastily gain their favor for himself, he slashes their debts significantly, simultaneously giving them mercy and collecting on several outstanding debts for his boss. Jesus concludes by saying,
“The master commended the dishonest manager because he acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their contemporaries than the people of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by how you use worldly wealth [unrighteous Mammon], so that when it runs out you will be welcomed into the eternal homes.”
Luke 16:8-9 (NET)
Jesus is telling us that this is the way we should steward our resources. This is the attitude and action we should take with money.
If there is a right way to use worldly wealth— besides renouncing and giving it away as his disciples were required to do— this is it.
But what adjective did Jesus choose to describe such wealth? That is, wealth being used in the way God prescribes?
He could have chosen to call it blessed Mammon. Sanctified Mammon. Kingdom Mammon, perhaps.
But no. He called it unrighteous Mammon.
In other words, according to Jesus, money itself — even when used correctly— is, by nature, evil.
And then, to make sure we don’t misunderstand, he contrasts worldly riches (unrighteous mammon) with true riches, using a word for true (alethinos) that makes it clear that the two are incomparable— unequal, and opposite.
So yes, you should use money shrewdly. You should use it to your Master’s benefit, and for the benefit of others. You should realize the shortness of the hour of your stewardship, and use the temporary power money gives to gain eternal advantage.
But you should never call money something it is not. Never call it good. Never sing its praises.
After all, this is the power that Jesus named “Mammon”—giving spiritual persona to the long-standing idol.
And when it comes to idols, our God is a jealous God— He will not share his glory with another.
Money and Manure
“In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.”
2 Timothy 2:20-21 (NIV)
Using money properly is impossible until we first acknowledge it’s nature. There are many kinds of useful things— some noble, and some ignoble; some clean, and some unclean.
Jesus identified money as the latter.
And though this verse acknowledges that God will indeed make use of ignoble vessels, it also says something worth noting.
It says that God will use you for noble purposes on one condition…if you cleanse yourself of the ignoble things first.
So use money. But use it properly— as you would any unclean thing that is useful.
Take manure, for example. The farmer certainly knows its usefulness— it can fertilize crops, and make them grow.
In the same way, you should spread money around to encourage life, yes— but don’t smear yourself with it, filling your pockets with something not meant to adorn or improve your person. Keep the thing at arms length— for though useful, it is unclean. And being unclean, it will most certainly make your soul putrid if held at all close, bringing spiritual disease and decay and death.
Keeping Money… at a Distance
This is the design of Jesus’ teachings about money: to help you keep your distance from it.
And that’s the real problem, isn’t it?
Because the truth is, we want to get close to money.
We want to adorn ourselves with it. We do think it will improve our person. We want to put it in our pockets, and hoard it for the future, and take credit for our generous financial gifts.
Of course, we tell ourselves we only want riches for the sake of the kingdom. Like popular Christian financial advisor Dave Ramsey, we claim our only motivation is to be able to show “outrageous generosity.”
But let’s get real.
If we’re honest, in the back of our heads, we know there’s a little something in it for us.
As Mr. Ramsey says:
“There’s nothing wrong with having money. And there’s nothing wrong with using it to buy some fun stuff…”
Fun stuff— like his $5 million dollar, 13,307 sq. ft. mansion.
Contrast that with Jesus’ words:
“In the same way therefore not one of you can be my disciple if he does not renounce all his own possessions.”
Luke 14:33 (NET)
Jesus even teaches us how to show “outrageous generosity” with our “filthy lucre” without getting ourselves dirty. He says:
“Thus whenever you do charitable giving, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in synagogues and on streets so that people will praise them. I tell you the truth, they have their reward. But when you do your giving, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your gift may be in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.”
Matthew 6:2-4 (NET)
Why in secret? Simple. Keep the manure at a distance. Don’t smear it on you, because the pigs will come running. They will put a ring in your nose and call you their leader.
And that is what you will be.
When people see your money, they will praise you. When they praise you, you will get proud—and pride defiles you. (If you doubt your susceptibility to pride, see what great lengths God had to go to to keep the Apostle Paul humble.)
The Bible says that God knows the proud from afar, but draws close to the lowly. And whether you like it or not, all that human praise is going to get under your skin. At some point, you will have to justify keeping your money when you know your brother is in need, and that will necessitate at least a smidge of self-righteousness. After all, you must be more deserving of all that money in God’s eyes, since He chose to entrust it to you.
Bottom line, money will draw people to you… but the pride that it spawns will keep God at a distance.
And that’s why Jesus said you’re going to have to choose. Who are you trying to impress? Who do you want to attract? What is admirable to the world is repulsive to God.
But if you obey God and reject money, you will become repulsive to the world.
“For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.“
2 Corinthians 2:15-17 (NIV)
So pick your master. Choose your lover today. No, you can’t marry one and be “just friends” with the other. You can’t be in covenant with God and keep an idol on the side (not to love or anything…just to use for the kingdom, right?)
No, you can’t serve God and Money. Jesus said you will hate one, or you will hate the other.
So which do you hate: money…or God?
Money Is An Idol—Whether You ‘Love’ It Or Not
An idol is something we love, fear, worship, and obey besides God.
1 Timothy 6:10 says that “the love of money is the root of all evils.”
The Bible is clear that money is an ancient, rooted idol in our hearts. So the next time you hear a preacher assert that you can have that idol as long as you don’t love it, remember this excerpt from the diary of God’s heart in Jeremiah 13:
“People of Jerusalem, I have seen your adulterous worship, your shameless prostitution to, and your lustful pursuit of, other gods. I have seen your disgusting acts of worship on the hills throughout the countryside. You are doomed to destruction! How long will you continue to be unclean?”
Jeremiah 13:27 (NET)
So, ask yourself: how close do I want to get to that unclean thing?
Perhaps it’s time to stop listening to rich pastors, and take our Rabbi seriously for a change.
Instead of explaining away Jesus’ teaching about money, maybe it’s time to simply obey.
As He said, if we hold to his teaching, we are really his disciples. Then we will know the truth, and the truth will set us free.
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father is well pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide yourselves purses that do not wear out – a treasure in heaven that never decreases, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Luke 12:32-34 (NET)