The Clever Steward

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
September 22, 2013, Pentecost XVIII

Amos 8:4-7, Psalm 113, 1Timothy 2:1-7, Luke 16:1-13

From the Old Testament:
“And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale, that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great, and deal deceitfully with false balances, that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and sell the refuse of the wheat?”

From the First letter of St. Paul’s to Timothy:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.

And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
The master commended the dishonest steward for his shrewdness; for the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

Those of us who have retired or are thinking about retirement will from time to time look at our investments. And given that most of us are not knowledgeable about financial matters, we will seek out a financial advisor: someone who will advise us and perhaps manage our investments for us.

If you own income property, you might hire a property manager or management company to handle your investment; someone who will help you find tenants; someone who will deal with the complaints and maintenance of the property.

Obviously, this involves a lot of trust on your part that your financial advisor or your management company will have your best interests at heart; that they will be knowledgeable and honest; and that you will receive a good return on your investment.
Now I can’t resist giving a political example, because there is just so much sermon material with our elected officials. Does not our government take our money, through taxes, and “invest” it and spend it for our benefit? And if we don’t think they are doing a good job on our behalf, they get “fired” [like the steward from our gospel reading] or voted out of office. Are we not the master and our elected officials the steward? And does not the steward or elected official think that our money is theirs to spend however they see fit? Are we not $17 Trillion in debt? I think the whole lot of them should be fired! But that’s just my opinion.

In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus tells a parable about a master and his cleaver steward. A steward is someone who manages another’s wealth. He does not own that wealth himself, but he has the privilege of enjoying it and using it for the profit of his master. This was very similar to a financial advisor or property manager of today. The most important thing about a steward is that he serves his master faithfully (1 Cor. 4:2). When he looks at the riches around him, the steward must remember that they belong to his master, not to him personally, and that they must be used in a way that will please and profit the master.

This particular steward forgot that he was a steward and began to act as if he were the owner. He became a “prodigal steward” who wasted his master’s wealth. His master heard about it and immediately asked for an inventory of his goods and an audit of his books. He also fired his steward.

Before we judge this man too severely, let’s examine our own lives to see how faithfully we have been as stewards of what God has given to us. To begin with, we are stewards of the material wealth that we have, whether much or little; and we will one day have to answer to God for the way we have acquired it and used it.

Christian stewardship goes beyond paying God a tithe of our income and then using the remainder as we please. True stewardship means that we thank God for all that we have (Deut. 8:11-18) and use it as He directs. Giving God 10 percent of our income is a good way to begin our faithful stewardship, but we must remember that God should control what we do with the remaining 90 percent as well.

We are also stewards of our time (Eph. 5:15-17). The phrase “redeeming the time” comes from the business world and means “buying up the opportunity.” Time is eternity, minted into precious minutes and handed to us to use either wisely or carelessly. The main lesson of this narrative is that the steward, as dishonest as he was, used his opportunity wisely and prepared for the future. Life ceased to be “enjoyment” and became “investment.”

One of the important things that we should spend our time on is prayer. Timothy tells us that prayer is most important in the public worship of the church. It speaks highly of our church that we have continued our prayer group that meets before church. Our numbers may have declined, but there is a faithful remnant that continues.

But it is also important to pray in our worship service, which we do. However, we all need to prepare ourselves for prayer. Our hearts must be right with God and with each other. We must really want to pray, and not pray simply to please people or to fulfill a religious duty. Prayer is an act of worship, not just an expression of our wants and needs. There should be a reverence in our hearts as we pray to God.

Many believers do not realize that prayer is based on the work of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Mediator. If the basis for prayer is the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ on the cross, then prayer is a most important activity in a church. Not to pray is to slight the cross! To pray only for ourselves is to deny the worldwide outreach of the cross. We pray for “all” because Christ died for “all” and it is God’s will that “all” be saved.

Christians are stewards of the gifts and abilities God has given them (1 Peter 4:10), and we must use those gifts and abilities to serve others. The thief says, “What’s yours is mine – I’ll take it!” The selfish man says, “What’s mine is mine – I’ll keep it!” But the Christian must say, “What’s mine is a gift from God – I’ll share it!” We are stewards and we must use our abilities to win the lost, encourage the saints, and meet the needs of hurting people.

Finally, God’s people are stewards of the Gospel (1 Thes. 2:4). God has committed the treasure of His truth to us (2 Cor. 4:7), and we must guard this treasure (1 Tim. 6:20) and invest it in the lives of others (2 Tim. 2:2). The enemy wants to rob the church of this treasure (Jude 3-4), and we must be alert and courageous.

Like this steward, we will one day have to give an account of our stewardship (Rom. 14:10-12; 2 Cor. 5:10ff). If we have been faithful, the Lord will give us His commendation and reward (Matt. 25:21; 1 Cor. 4:5); but if we have not been faithful, we will lose those blessings, even though we will be saved and enter heaven (1 Cor. 3:13-15).

The steward in our Gospel reading this morning knew he would lose his job. He could not change the past, but he could prepare for the future. How: By making friends of his master’s creditors so that they would take him in when his master threw him out. He gave each of them a generous discount, provided they paid up immediately, and they were only too glad to cooperate. Even his master complimented him on his clever plan (Luke 16:8).

Jesus did not commend the steward for robbing his master or for encouraging others to be dishonest. Jesus commended the man for his wise use of opportunity. “The children of this world” are experts at seizing opportunities for making money and friends and getting ahead. God’s people should take heed and be just as wise when it comes to managing the spiritual affairs of life. “The children of this world” are wiser only “in their generation”; they see the things of time, but not the things of eternity. Because the child of God lives “with eternity’s values in view,” he should be able to make far better use of his opportunities.

The prophet Amos denounced Israel, as well as her neighbors, for reliance upon military might, and for grave injustice in social dealings, abhorrent immorality, and shallow, meaningless piety. He also preached that the end was coming.

In our Old Testament reading today, it talked about how the merchants trampled on the poor and needy and robbed them of the little they possessed (Amos 8:4), an indictment that Amos had often brought against the people (Amos 2:6¬-7). When they did business, the merchants used inaccurate measurements so they could rob their customers. The Law demanded that they use accurate weights and measures (Lev. 19:35-36; Deut. 25:13-16), but they cared only for making as much money as possible.

Added to the deception was their desecration of the Sabbath and the religious holy days. The worship of God interrupted their business, and they didn’t like it! You might expect Gentile merchants to ignore the holy days (Neh. 13:15-22), but certainly not the Jewish merchants. The poor were unable to pay for the necessities of life and had to go into servitude to care for their families, and the merchants would have them arrested for the least little offense, even their inability to pay for a pair of shoes.

The evil vendors would not only alter their weights and measures and inflate their prices, but they would also cheapen their products by mixing the sweepings of the threshing floor with the grain. You didn’t get pure grain; you got the chaff as well. Timothy said, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10).

Jesus gave three admonitions, based on the experience of the steward. First, He admonishes us to use our opportunities wisely (Luke 16:9). One of these days, life will end, and we will not be able to earn or use money. Therefore, while we have the opportunity, we must invest our money in “making friends” for the Lord. This means winning people to Christ who will one day welcome us to heaven. Our lives and our resources will one day end, so it behooves us to use them wisely.

The heritage of the past must be used wisely in the present to guarantee spiritual dividends in the future. All of us should want to meet people in heaven who trusted Christ because we helped to pay the bill for Gospel witness around the world, starting at home. Thoreau wrote that a man is wealthy in proportion to the number of things he can afford to do without, and he was right.

Our Lord’s second admonition is be faithful in the way you use your material wealth (Luke 16:10-12). He makes it clear that you cannot divorce the “spiritual” from the “material.”

Why is our Lord so concerned about the way we use money? Because money is not neutral; it is basically evil, and only God can sanctify it and use it for good. It is significant that both Paul and Peter called money “filthy lucre” (1 Tim. 3:3, 8; Titus 1:7, 11; 1 Peter 5:2). Apparently by its very nature, money defiles and debases those who love it and let it control their lives.
People who are unfaithful in the way they use money are also unfaithful in the way they use the “true riches” of God’s kingdom. We cannot be orthodox in our theology and at the same time heretical in the way we use money. God will not commit His true riches to individuals or ministries that waste money and will not give an honest accounting to the people who have supported them. When it came to money, Paul was very careful that everything was honest “not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men” (2 Cor. 8:21).

Finally, the Lord admonishes us to be wholly devoted to God and single-minded (Luke 16:13). We cannot love or serve two masters, anymore than we can walk in two directions at one time. If we choose to serve money, then we cannot serve God. If we choose to serve God, then we will not serve money. Jesus is demanding integrity, total devotion to God that puts Him first in everything (Matt. 6:33).

If God is our Master, then money will be our servant, and we will use our resources in the will of God. But if God is not our Master, then we will become the servants of money, and money is a terrible master! We will start wasting our lives instead of investing them, and we will one day find ourselves “friendless” as we enter the gates of glory.

Jesus said, “Make money your servant and use today’s opportunities as investments in tomorrow’s dividends.” We need to be a wise and clever servant. There are many lost souls to win to the Saviour. May our Master be pleased!

Let us pray:
Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.


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