"Can't Serve Two Masters" - Ninth Sunday after Trinity [Luke 16:1-13]
[Luke 16:1-13] He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2 And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3 And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5 So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8 The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.
10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
Can’t Serve Two Masters
The rich man and his dishonest manager had the same god – “unrighteous wealth”, or “the mammon of unrighteousness” as it’s literally called.
The dishonest manager proves himself to be wise, shrewd in the ways of dishonesty in service to this god of mammon. When, due to his wastefulness with his master’s possessions and income, the dishonest manager is at risk of being fired from his master’s household, he uses his knowledge of the ways of unrighteous wealth to secure other households for himself as future places of employment, or at least residency.
The dishonest manager falsely reduces the bills of those who owe debts to his master. For one who owed a hundred measures of oil, he had them change it to fifty. To another who owed one hundred measures of wheat, he reduced it to eighty. When fired, he will be welcomed into the households of those who saved so much by these falsely rewritten bills.
The master, when he discovers the dishonest manager’s plan, is so impressed with his shrewdness in the ways of wealth that he commends the dishonest steward for it. Though at odds over his wasteful management, the master and manager still found common ground in their worship and praise of dishonest gain, the mammon of unrighteousness.
Can our God and Master commend us for our shrewdness in using the wealth of this world for the purposes of righteousness? For service to the true God? Jesus laments that the children of light are not as shrewd in the ways of righteousness, the true wealth, as the sons of this world are in the ways of unrighteousness.
Jesus explains, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?”
God is the creator of all things. Even wealth is part of God’s creation. Man sins when he begins to worship the created things [Romans 1:18-25] – when he begins to put his fear, love, and trust in the created things – rather than using the created things to serve the Creator and do His will with it.
I can do two things with the wealth of this world:
(1) I can love and trust in it as my security, as my hope for happiness. Then I fear and tremble at the lack of it. It’s my hope, trust, and security. There’s always a higher amount that would finally make me feel safe. I’ve made money my God – because whatever my heart trusts as it’s hope and security, that is my “God”.
When the fear, love, and trust of my heart is in money, it becomes unrighteous mammon – no matter the amount. I may even begin to make moral compromises in how I deal with my money because I so fear the lack of it. And, perhaps, I withhold my money from God. I fear the lack of extra – I fear the lack of financial breathing room – more than I fear robbing the true God.
“Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.” [Malachi 3:8-9]
(2) The second and right option is that God is my God. I worship and serve the Creator. All that I have in this created world I count not as mine but as His. I use the created things – including my money – for the worship and service of God. I seek to use all I have in ways that are pleasing to Him. I seek – I’m not pummeled into it – but I willingly seek to use my money to support God’s Kingdom and the preaching of His Word.
I seek to use my money to help and serve Christ in my neighbor in need, in “the least of these” [Matt. 25:40,45]. God is my God and money is His servant. I’m a steward, a manager, of His created thing, wealth, that I manage and use for His purposes because He is God and Lord.
Jesus says, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
When God is my God and my money is His servant – when my fear, love, and trust are in God alone – I no longer fall into the temptation of being less-than-honest in financial matters. I don’t fear the loss of money or the lack of its increase. I fear God more. And, even more than that, I trust God more – He will be my Father and will provide in every circumstance. I have no reason for dishonesty. And I love God more. I, in heart, am not willing to offend Him or sin against Him with His created things, including wealth. I love Him for all He has done for me.
These are our two options with wealth, money, all our possession, and even our own bodies. Either God is our God, and these things are all used in service to Him, in ways pleasing to Him, according to His commandments. Or mammon is our god, and we end up despising or neglecting the reign and rule of the true God over our hearts and bodies, our homes, and our church.
What about my sins? (And I have sinned. And you have sinned.) What about my failure to serve God with what He’s entrusted to me? I have made money and created things into my god. Jesus mentioned eternal dwellings, and my sin gains for me the eternal dwellings of hell.
Yet, there is another Manager – another Steward – a Righteous and Good Steward of all the things of God. This is Jesus Christ. Just as the dishonest steward was expert in the ways of unrighteousness, Jesus Christ is expert in the way of God’s stewardship of you.
Jesus did not reduce your bill of debt to God unjustly but has canceled your debt in full, once and for all, by paying the price with His own life. At His cost, by His death on the cross, Jesus has bought you pardon from your sins and has reconciled you to the true God. Jesus has paid the debt of death owed for sin by His death for your sins in your stead.
“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” [Colossians 2:13-14]. Sin forgiven, guilt canceled, price paid.
Jesus has been faithful over all God’s treasured possessions. That includes you. We love because He first loved us. We give because of what He has given for our sake. We serve because He first served us sinners by giving His life in our place.
Jesus is shrewd in the righteous ways of God and has been able to save sinners to the uttermost [Hebrews 7:25]. Let us, in turn, serve our one Lord, Master, and Savior with all we have and with all our heart. Amen.