Stephen Um: Jesus and Money #TGC13


My notes from Stephen Um’s session at TGC13′s national conference, “His mission: Jesus in the gospel of Luke.” (All notes are paraphrased.)

Jesus talked a lot of money. He talked about greed about ten times more than he did sexual sin. This is not to minimize sexual sin, but it helps us recognize the insidiousness of greed—the danger of the love of money.

When someone is committing adultery, no one needs to come alongside them and say, “Hey, you’re committing adultery.” But when it comes to greed, we’re not always sure. That’s why Jesus says, “take care, be aware, be on guard.”

There are no accountability groups for greed in the church. There’s no computer software. But we need to recognize the seductive power money can have in our hearts.

Before we start, we need to recognize three things: we need to disaffect our view of money because we often look at money and think it’s a dirty word. Obviously because we live in a fallen world, we’ve seen money used and abused—but God gives money to us as a gift. Secondly, we need to view money as a tool. It’s not any more inherently evil than any other thing God has created. Thirdly, we need to have an intentional theological understanding of money.

There are three truths I’d like us to understand from this passage:

The problem of money

What’s going on in our passage is Jesus is telling a story to his disciples, that there was a very rich man who told a manager to turn in his records, and then we was going to fire him. The loss of the position as manager in Roman culture meant the forfeiting of your social status.

1. The first danger of money is clearly seen here in that it can become your security. 

The manager had to make a fundamental choice about his allegiance. Money is morally neutral, but the heart isn’t neutral. He could have repented of his dishonest actions, he could have been like the younger son in Luke 15‘s parable, but we see he wasn’t repentant. The unjust steward instead looked to himself, asking “What shall I do?”

He turned to himself for the solution, instead of away. The danger of money is it can become our security.

This person is extremely anxious, he’s insecure. He’s afraid—he says, “What am I supposed to do?” His identity was wrapped up in his work. So what does he do? He comes up with a plan.

The problem is he went back to the problem for the solution. He didn’t look outside the problem for the solution. Why is this man in this situation? Because he wasted his master’s possessions. THe word “wasted” here is the same word used in Luke 15 for the younger son who “squandered” his property. It refers to reckless living—the manager misappropriated funds for his own purposes.

It’s a character issue, not a competence one.

This is how you know if something is your deep trust: If something is taken away from you, or if the thought of it being taken away makes you anxious and insecure, that is your idol. 

The manager was thinking about his future, his prospects for employment–he knew he was going to be sacked—so he thought by reducing the debts of others he might ingratiate himself to the debtors in his time of need.

Here are some x-ray questions to help us look deeply into our own hearts:

  1. Where do you beg your hopes on?
  2. What do you fear?
  3. Where do you find refuge, safety, comfort and security?
  4. What or whom do you trust?
  5. Do you find your hope in your retirement plan or in God?

The Bible doesn’t speak against investing, but in bad investments. Are you investing well because your treasure is in heaven or poorly because you’re investing in things here on earth?

Michael Keller recently shared some helpful thoughts with me about understanding money in the relationship of the one story plot line of the Bible. In creation, God created everything. Therefore he rules over everything and clearly owns everything. But hypothetically if he didn’t own everything, then our failure to carry out our obligation to be a good steward of the master’s assets, then it would be just that—a failure. But because he does own everything, it’s more than failure—it’s robbery.

The second danger of money is it can become your master.

The choice of the steward was to turn to his money and ultimately be enslaved to it. If money becomes your security, you trust money instead of God. Rather than controlling money, we will be controlled by money.

That’s what happened with the rich ruler in Luke 18.

More x-ray questions:

  1. What do you fantasize about the most?
  2. Why do you work so hard?
  3. Why are you a perfectionist performer?

Why? Because we’re thinking, “If I do this, then I will get this…”

If money has power over us, it’s not merely stinginess, it’s slavery.

3. The third danger of money is that it can become your lover. 

The Pharisees were lovers of money. You know something is your lover when if someone attacks it and you get angry. Jesus tells the Pharisees they’re not merely mastered by it, but they love it.

Money demands our fidelity. You have to be devoted to money and despise anything else. If money is your lover, it wants to have a faithful monogamous relationship with you.

If money were relationships, if it becomes your ultimate, you can’t live without it and you will viscously attack the one who attacks your lover.

It is the love of wealth, not the amount of wealth, that starves the soul.

Because of Christ’s redemption, we’ve been given the ability to be generous and to share. But when we don’t share, it’s not merely stinginess, it’s adultery. It’s a heart issue.

And if these are the dangers of money, what hope can there be?

It’s the power of the gospel that frees us of the idolatry of money.

The power over the idol of money

We need to understand Jesus’ instruction on money in light of the shadow of the impending cross. In light of that we can see a few things:

1. God becomes the source of our security, not money.

In verse 8, the master isn’t connected for his dishonesty, but for his shrewdness. Carson says, “the point is the manager used resources under his control to prepare his own future.” Yes he was dishonest, yes he squandered, but he was commended for thinking about his own future. The point here is that it would be imaginably irresponsible to not plan for our own future.

If you have children of this world who are planning for their future here, how much more should we as children of God with an eye toward God’s kingdom and plans?

The kingdom is already, but not yet. We’ve already been given all the kingdom’s blessings—we’ve been given security. Our treasure is in heaven.

2. God becomes our master, not money.

This is an authority of grace and a mastery of service. Again, we have to be looking at this in light of the shadow of the cross. And Jesus says you can’t serve both God and money. This is what we’re called to do, but the problem is we’re not faithful servants.

If my security is rooted in the fact that I must be perfectly obedient, that I don’t struggle in my sin… we can’t meet the commands of the law.

Throughout Luke we see Israel, Abraham, David called the servants of God. But every servant failed. All were flawed. We need a perfect Servant, the suffering servant who is Jesus. God demands perfect service and that perfect service was fulfilled by Jesus.

Once we have the person who is a servant master, then the burden of the law is lifted and I won’t be afraid to obey the Law.

3. God becomes our lover.

The Pharisees were all about self-justification. They were finding their own salvation in their money and external behavior, not trying to build an internal radiance. And Jesus says it’s not about being praised by others or good on your own–God knows your heart.

The only way for you to not be a truster of money is to know that you’ve been secured by God, you’ve been mastered by God and you are loved by God.

God is not asking us to justify ourselves. The world accepts us when we are at our best and rejects us when we’re at our worst—but GOD accepts us at our worst! And if he accepts us at our worst, how will he not be gracious to give us all things?

That’s going to stir our hearts to radical generosity.

The practice of money

If we act like owners, not stewards, then our poor management isn’t failure, it’s robbery. We’re called to be stockbrokers, not shareholders.

We are obligated to give, and we have to recognize our need to give. If money is our master, we need to be freed from that slavery, and every time we give, we’re being freed from that slavery.

And if God’s love has come into our lives, we’ll recognize not only our need to give, but we’ll want to give. Where are your investments? Are you investing poorly or well—because your treasures are in heaven?

Paul appeals to the Corinthian church to engage and participate in an act of grace, a collection for the Jerusalem church. They pledged to give, but they’d not sent it. So he says, “these things you excel in, but in this you lack…”

Now, you’d expect him to pull out his authority and command, but he says, “This is not a command.” Instead he appeals to Jesus, who gave up everything to save the lost, if this is what he has done, our hearts will recognize and will be moved to give.

We’ll want God to become the object and desire of our affections. May this be true of you.

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