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6. Material Witnesses, Or How To Minister With Money, Part 1 (Luke 16:1-13)

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November 18, 1979


I read an article some time ago which greatly disturbed me. It was entitled, “Why Your Neighbor Joined the Mormon Church.”2 The author, David Shoemaker, listed these five reasons for the rapid growth of Mormonism:

1. The Mormons show genuine love and concern by taking care of the needs of their people.

2. The Mormons strive to build a family unit.

3. The Mormons provide activities and opportunities for their young people.

4. The Mormon Church is a layman’s church. That is, the ministry is considered the work of the entire church, not just a select few.

5. The Mormons believe that divine revelation is a basis for their priorities and practices.

Do you grasp the significance of Shoemaker’s indictment of the typical orthodox evangelical church? He is saying that while we may be orthodox in our doctrines, the Mormon Church is more orthodox than us in practice. Practically speaking, Mormonism is more New Testament than fundamental evangelical Christianity.

The cults are growing rapidly, not because the unchurched are convinced of the correctness of their doctrinal positions, but because they are drawn by the fact that the needs they feel most strongly are being met outside of orthodoxy. I have not yet met anyone who has converted to Mormonism because of his or her study of the Mormon doctrines. I have not heard of one person who was so impressed by the life and ministry of Joseph Smith that they converted to his teaching.

Evangelicalism has committed a serious error in its practices, and most of it relates to the use of money. In the past, major denominations took the social and physical needs of their fellowman seriously. They rightly grasped the obligation of the church to respond to those needs. But as these denominations became theologically more and more liberal, the emphasis fell almost totally on needs other than spiritual.

Rightly, evangelicals retreated from what have been called “social gospel” organizations. But we have wrongly retreated from the work of ministering to the material needs of men in our efforts to disassociate from those who preach a false gospel. The poor and the oppressed have come to view evangelical Christians as uncaring. We are so spiritually minded, we are of no earthly good. The cults and social gospelers have thus gained disciples due to the disinterest of Christians in meeting material needs.

All of this demands that in a study of the work of the ministry, we must rethink the area of material ministry. We must seriously consider what the Word of God has to say about the ministry of money.

There is a major misconception about money held by most Christians, which is at the root of our material malpractice. We have concluded that money is unrighteous and unprofitable. We have erroneously confused the evil of materialism with ministry that money can perform.

Our error can be proof–texted from Luke 16:

And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that when it3 fails, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much” (Luke 16:9–10).

Isn’t it interesting that in our Lord’s parable of the talents,4 it was the servant who had only the one talent entrusted to him who was slothful and irresponsible in its use (Matthew 25:14–30)? The evil servant probably justified his poor stewardship by the fact that what he was entrusted with really didn’t matter much anyway.

Confusion about the importance of money is also a by–product of disproportionate emphasis on the part of those who proclaim the Scriptures from the pulpit. Some preachers never get off the subject of money. All of us have been turned off by this kind of pulpit pleading for funds. But some of us who preach the Scriptures are in error for not mentioning money at all. Usually this is because we don’t want to be associated with those who are perpetual solicitors of contributions. Also, we hesitate to mention money because to teach the whole counsel of God on this subject is to point out the obligation of Christians to bountifully provide for those who preach the Word (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:1–14; Galatians 6:6; 1 Timothy 5:17). So because of this “conflict of interest,” we avoid thorough teaching on biblical giving.

The Importance of Money

While money is not to be the highest priority in our lives, the way we use it is important. Let us consider several biblical reasons why money is to be an important part of Christian ministry.

1. Money will either be our master or slave.

It will be one or the other. It will not be both, and it will not be neither. It will be one or the other. Our Lord said in Matthew 6:21,

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

He goes on to say in verse 24,

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

So money will inevitably become either a slave or a master to us.

Let me point out several ways in which this could be true. Money is a significant reason why some men turn from Jesus Christ and why some men will go to hell. Money keeps men from heaven. That is what we see in the Scriptures. The rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16–22) was a man who understood about eternal life  that is, he knew he needed it, and he wanted to buy into it. But what he would not do was to give Jesus Christ control of his money in order to enter into eternal life. He was not willing to exchange money as a master for Jesus as Master. It was not the fact that he couldn’t get into heaven with the saddlebags of his bank accounts; it was that he had to make a decision –– who would rule his life? And Jesus said, “Let’s find
out –– will it?” He only tells those people to sell it for who it is a master, not a slave. That man was unwilling. His money, our Lord Jesus said, kept him from heaven.

The parable of the soils (Mark 4:1–25) is another instance where the care of riches of earthly things served like weeds to choke out the message of the gospel and to keep it from fruition, ending up in the salvation of men.

I want to share with you a significant piece of research that I happened to come across as I was looking through some articles on money. I have said money is important because it will determine your values, and it will become either your lord or your servant. Listen to this statement from an article in Christianity Today entitled, “From Meat to Marks: Counting the Cost.” The writer is commenting about Matthew 6:21: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

A recently published survey questioned members of low, middle, and high-income groups about their personal values, asking them to rank eighteen according to their relative importance. All three groups, low, middle, and high, agreed in giving “a world at peace” and “family security” the first two places, though the low and the high put “peace” first, the middle income, “security.” But then the relative values shifted sharply. The low income group placed “salvation” third, but the middle income group put it ninth behind such concepts as “happiness,” “equality” and “self–respect.” For the high income group, “salvation” dropped to fourteenth place, followed only by “an exciting life,” “social recognition,” and “social recognition,” and “pleasure.” 5

Isn’t that interesting? Low income, third; middle income, ninth; high income, fourteenth. Now that to me is significant. You see, how you value money has a lot to do with how you value life. It is your master, or it is your servant.

2. Money shapes our priorities.

Closely related to money’s role as master or servant is the way it tends to establish our true priorities, for as Jesus said,

. . . where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:21).

Ideally, our priorities should determine our expenditures, but this isn’t the way it works. Priorities should flow out of biblical principles, but, pragmatically, they generally result from our purchases.

I would prefer that this verse in Matthew read, “Where your heart is, there will your treasure (your money) be also.” Jesus knows us too well for that. The things that I invest the most money in are the things I become most concerned about.

Let’s use missions as an illustration. I’m sure you’ve gotten letters or cards from missionaries that, in essence, are presenting a need to which they want you to respond in a variety of ways. The list of responses to their needs nearly always includes, “I will give” and then there is a blank as to how much the amount will be. The last one is almost universally, “I cannot give but I will pray.” I am not trying to ridicule such requests. I am saying that it sounds good, but it usually does work. I know there are some people who don’t have the money to give and they do pray. Don’t misunderstand me. Most of us, however, make commitments that we never keep. We say, “Oh, I can’t give, but I I’ll pray.” But it’s hard to pray for something you are not investing in. It’s hard to sacrifice time if you don’t sacrifice money. When we invest in missions we want to be sure that that money is well taken care of. So we pray for what we invest in. Where we spend our money determines where our heart is.

This is similar to the relationship between our attitudes and our actions. People say, “Well, I don’t feel in love with my wife anymore.” Your attitudes should determine your actions, but it is your actions that will determine your feelings. When we act upon the biblical imperatives regarding money, our feelings will follow. I guarantee that you will feel much closer to works in which you have invested. Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

3. The Christian’s attitude toward money is a test of his character and creed.

One of the vital areas in which an elder or deacon must demonstrate godly character is in the matter of money. Paul wrote Timothy that an elder must be . . .

. . . free from the love of money (1 Timothy 3:3; cf. 3:8, Titus 1:7).

Peter had similar words to say on the subject (1 Peter 5:2). While Paul could have insisted upon financial support (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:1–14), he sometimes preached without any remuneration in order to enhance the cause of the gospel (Acts 20:33–35; 1 Corinthians 9:15–18; 2 Thessalonians 3:7–9).

It is not money that is evil, but the obsession to obtain it (1 Timothy. 6:9). It is not wrong to enjoy the good things of life, so long as we recognize them as coming from God and gratefully receive them as such (1 Timothy. 4:1–5). If we are rich in this world’s goods, we should be rich in sharing as well (1 Timothy 6:17–19). Fake asceticism is not in accord with right doctrine (1 Timothy 4:1–5; Colossians 2:20–23).

4. While money is only temporal, it can be invested in eternal things.

“Shrouds do not have pockets,” we are told, or “You can’t take it with you.” Yet while this is true, you can, in the words of one preacher, send it on ahead.

Money can be used to win souls to Jesus Christ. This, I believe, is our Lord’s point as recorded by Luke:

And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that when it fails, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings (Luke 16:9).

What a joy to enter into God’s presence and to be welcomed by those who have been won through the shrewd use of money. This does not mean just that we should help in the support of missionaries and evangelists. We may leave a generous tip at the restaurant, accompanied with a gospel tract. At Halloween time, we may wrap large candy bars with a children’s tract. We may invest in the kind of playground equipment for our backyard that attracts the neighborhood children to our home, where the gospel can be shared. Money invested shrewdly can pay eternal dividends.

Then, too, money can be used to meet the needs of those around us. By this, the love of Christ is manifested to men. When Christians are ministered to in this way, God is praised:

For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. Because of the proof given by this ministry they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all (2 Corinthians 9:12–13).

5. Money is a ministry.

From this same passage in 2 Corinthians 9, we are instructed that the sharing of money is a New Testament form of ministry. Many New Testament passages refer to giving as a ministry (cf. Mark 15:41; Luke 8:3; Acts 6:2–3, 11:29, 12:25; Romans 15:25f; 2 Corinthians 8:4,19,20; 9:1).

6. Money is an expression of New Testament fellowship.

Numerous New Testament passages use the Greek word for fellowship in its nominative or verbal forms:

Contributing (koinoneo) to the needs of the saints, . . . (Romans12:13).

And let the one who is taught the word share (koinoneo) all good things with him who teaches (Galatians 6:6).

For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution (koinonia) for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem (Romans 15:26).

And do not neglect doing good and sharing (koinonia); for with such sacrifices God is pleased (Hebrews 13:16, cf. Philippians 1:5, 4:15; 2 Corinthians 8:4, 9:13).

When my wife and I came down to Dallas 12 years ago, we developed a friendship with a senior seminary student who was graduating that year. I don’t know that I have seen him since. He had a good–sized family, and he knew that at that point in our lives there were some material needs. At one point, he gave us some money. He said to me, “Brother, we just wanted to have a little fellowship with you.” I had never heard the word fellowship used in the context of sharing financially before. Fellowship; that’s a weird kind of fellowship, I thought. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t just say he wanted to give us some money, but he said he wanted to have fellowship. I didn’t understand what he was saying until I began to understand what biblical fellowship is.6 I had always thought fellowship was coffee and donuts, or that it was a particular place in the church where people ate together. But in the New Testament you will find that very, very often it has financial connotations.

It is interesting in Acts 2 when the Scripture says that the church devoted itself to the apostle’s doctrine and fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayer, that some scholars have understood fellowship as a reference to the offering. I don’t agree with them, but I understand how they could come to that conclusion.

7. The giving of money can be an act of worship.

And do not neglect doing good and sharing; for with such sacrifices God is pleased (Hebrews 13:16).

But I have received everything in full, and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well–pleasing to God (Philippians 4:18).

In both of these passages, giving is referred to in terms of a sacrifice offered to God as an act of worship. The highest calling of man is to be a worshipper of God (John 4:24), and one means of worship is through sacrificial giving.

8. Faithfulness in the use of money is a prerequisite for greater responsibilities.

He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. If therefore you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous mammon, who will entrust the true riches to you? (Luke 6:10–11).

And it came about that when he returned, after receiving the kingdom, he ordered that these slaves, to whom he had given the money, be called to him in order that he might know what business they had done. And the first appeared, saying, “Master, your mina has made ten minas more.” And he said to him, “Well done, good slave, because you have been faithful in a very little thing, be in authority over ten cities” (Luke 19:15–17).

In my college days, a number of courses were not of great significance to me, except for one reasonthey were prerequisites for courses I really wanted. Faithfulness as stewards of the financial resources God has given to us is a prerequisite for greater responsibilities in His work. We cannot be irresponsible with money and expect to be greatly used of God.

One of my friends who is an elder in our church continually reminds me of this principle. If we as a church are not faithful in the little matter of handling money, we dare not expect God to greatly use us.

Conclusion and Application

My Christian friend, money is important in God’s eyes. There are other things more important, but money (particularly how we handle it) is a very significant measure of our effectiveness as stewards of the manifold grace of God (cf. 1 Peter 4:10).

While I have spoken specifically of money, I hope you will appreciate the fact that we are to share not only money, but also all of our material goods. Barnabas sold a piece of property to be able to minister to material needs in the church (Acts 4:36–37). Paul tells us that we are to share “all good things” with those who teach. For a farming community, this might mean potatoes, beef, milk, or whatever.

John the Baptist taught,

. . . Let the man who has two tunics share with him who has none; and let him who has food do likewise (Luke 3:11).

The world about us is not really as concerned about our doctrinal position as they are our ethical and moral practices. Money is one means of ministry that few will object to, and that many will regard as the measure of any man or woman of God. As a friend of mine has said, there is a book that each of us writes in our lifetime which tells the story of our life. That book is our checkbook. May God grip us with the importance of money in the present age. And may we determine to seriously study the biblical principles of giving by which our material good should be utilized for our ultimate good and the glory of God.

1 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel, on November 18, 1979. Anyone is at liberty to use this edited manuscript for educational purposes only, with or without credit. The Chapel believes the material presented herein to be true to the teaching of Scripture, and desires to further, not restrict, its potential use as an aid in the study of God’s Word. The publication of this material is a grace ministry of Community Bible Chapel. Copyright 1979 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081.

2 Donald P. Shoemake, “Why Your Neighbor Joined the Mormon Church,” Christianity Today, October 11, 1974, pp. 11–12, 15.

3 The “it” of verse nine, as found in the New American Standard Bible, is “ye” in the King James Version. While some Greek manuscripts differ here, the sense of the verse remains the same. We are to use money in this life to win souls for eternity. We can make eternal investments with mortal money. If “ye fail” is the correct reading, it would be equivalent to saying, “when you die.” Thus, at death those who have been won will receive us into heaven through our investment in evangelism. If “it fails” is correct, it refers to the time when money no longer has any use. This again refers to the age to come. The sense of either translation remains the same.

4 In New Testament times, a talent was a measure of money, not an ability.

5 “From Meat to Marks: Counting the Cost,” editorial, Christianity Today, May 11, 1973, p. 26.

6 Essentially koinoneo means to have a share in, or “to be a partner in” something. The word is used of business partnerships and of marriage. Most often we use the term in a socializing context, which is foreign to the New Testament usage.

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