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7. Material Witnesses, Or How To Minister With Money, Part 2 (Luke 16:1-13)

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November 25, 1979


To be perfectly honest, I have always avoided preaching on the subject of money. I think there are several reasons why I and many other preachers have done so. First, it is an area of real frustration. We are often deluged with requests for money, on the radio, in the mail, and (too often) in church. So many requests confront us that we feel guilty for not giving to them all. Guilt is especially severe when the requests have pictures with half–starved children looking into our eyes with a pleading expression. I have even received requests for funds in the form of raffle tickets. Give to God and get a chance to win a new Chevrolet. I am telling the truth. We preachers stay away from the subject for fear of guilt by association––with those who are hucksters, merchandisers, or frauds.

Preachers also avoid the subject of money for fear of conflict of interest. If we teach on the subject thoroughly, we must tell you that God’s Word instructs Christians to generously provide for those who teach the Scriptures (cf. Galatians 6:6; 1 Timothy 5:17). Clear teaching in the matter of finances might result in a raise, so surely such a subject should not be raised.

We preachers are sensitive about the subject of the use of money because many of us are not very skillful here. In some circles, it is well known that preachers are a bad credit risk. Often, I fear it is because we equate faith with financial irresponsibility. We purchase items on the basis that God will provide the money to pay for it. Financially, we have jumped from the pinnacle of the temple, putting God to the test.

You can understand then that I am no more anxious to talk about money than you are, but we must because the Bible has so much to say on the subject. In this lesson, we will consider several principles that should direct us in the godly use of money so that the use of our money will be a ministry.

Biblical Principles for the Use of Money

The Principle of Stewardship

Without hesitation, the principle of stewardship is by far the most important. If we grasp it, 90% of the battle is won. I realize that the word stewardship has negative connotations. Nearly always, the word conjures up thoughts of some kind of fund raising drive. But this is not the biblical sense of the word at all.

The passage in Luke 16:1–13 teaches the principle of stewardship, but the principle is much older than this. In the Book of Leviticus, God told the Israelites,

The land, moreover, shall not be sold permanently for the land is Mine; for you are but aliens and sojourners with Me (Leviticus 25:23).

Palestine does not belong to either the Arabs or the Jews––it belongs to God. He lends the land to those who will abide by His Word. This is why the Canaanites were dispossessed. It is also why Israel was driven out of the land (cf. Deuteronomy 9:4–6; 11; 28).

In Luke 16, the same principle is taught by our Lord. Our money, like Israel’s land, is not our own; it is God’s. We do not really possess material goods; we simply use them, for bad or for good. I may be mistaken, but I think there is a parallel here with money, that is, the dollar bills we possess. The government owns the money. The green bills in our wallets are worthless in and of themselves. The value of money is determined by what the bills represent, and these reserves are held by the government. So, the parable of the steward reminds us of the fact that what we “possess” materially really belongs to God. We simply handle it for Him, for a short period of time. You will recall that our Lord said,

And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is anothers, who will give you that which is your own? (Luke 16:12, emphasis mine).

Nothing we possess is really ours –– it is God’s. We have merely been given the use of it for a period of time.

Oftentimes when the offering plate gets passed, our children say to us “Where does our money go?” “Well, we’re giving it to God,” we say. Our children look at that money laying on that table in those trays, and they watch someone gather it up and take it away. They puzzle over how we are giving it to God but they can’t see how it gets to Him. Our children have something to tell in this. I do not really think that the Scripture emphasizes giving to God. I know that there are passages such as “Give unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and give unto God the things that are Gods,” but it is interesting in that context that money went to Caesar, rather than God.

We have improved upon our theology slightly when we say giving is “giving back to God,” for there is an element of truth here. We recognize that God has given everything to us, and we are simply giving some of it back. But if we are to take the concept of stewardship seriously, we are far better off to talk about our giving as making investments for God.

God does not want His money back; He does not need it. That was the problem with the slothful steward. When the time came for the steward to give account to God, he said, “Here it is back.” And God said, in effect, “I didn’t want it back; I wanted it to be used!”

The principle of stewardship emphasizes the fact that money is to be used for God, not saved for Him, or even given back to Him. Stewardship implies that God has given material possessions to men in order to further His work among men.

Recently, I came across an excellent article on the subject2 of giving that helped me put this matter of stewardship in perspective. While tithing can give the impression that 90% of our money is ours and the remaining 10% is God’s, stewardship stresses that 100% belongs to God. What it takes in order to live should be looked upon as our expense account. This includes housing, food, transportation, clothes and so on. Most of us, if we were completely candid, would have to admit that we have been padding our expense account.

In a corporation, some officials need a larger expense account than others. This is expected, and rightly so. The principle of stewardship does not teach that all Christians must live in the same size home or drive identical automobiles. It recognizes different lifestyles and different expense accounts.

When we provide for our own needs and those of our family, we need not feel guilty about that. A good steward is expected to do this. Poor management in the area of our expense account leaves less money available to “invest” for God’s work. Carelessness in our expenses will probably reflect carelessness in “investment” management.

Let us not forget the purpose of money. It is given by God to provide for the needs of our family, and to invest in the work of God. These investments, I would like to suggest, are opportunities to minister with money, as stewards of the manifold grace of God.

Incidentally, good stewardship involves proper care of the things God has entrusted to us. If my car is really God’s car, then I am a poor steward if I do not attempt to maintain it in such a way as to provide optimum service for a maximum amount of time. The same could be said of a home, or a sewing machine, or whatever. Many of us are careless in this area. We assume that God will take care of the car; but as stewards, God has given us the responsibility of maintaining it.

The Principle of Motivation

The second principle which should govern the use of money is that of motivation. As I understand the Bible’s teaching on rewards, a great deal is based upon the motive for our service. The use of money is no exception. Very often, those who appeal to Christians for money do so on the basis of impure motives. Let me mention a number of bad reasons for giving money.

The first wrong motive is guilt. Often Christians feel guilty for enjoying a good meal. Often we stuff ourselves rather than leave something on the plate, remembering all those in the world who go to bed hungry. I have not said that we should not be moved by those in distress and dire poverty. I have said that our motives should be one of compassion, not guilt. So far as I can tell, guilt is never a good motive for any action, except repentance.

The second impure motive is that of pride. The Lord Jesus tells us that in giving, our “left hand should not be aware of what our right hand is doing” (Matthew 6:3). This does not encourage financial sloppiness. The IRS will not accept this passage as proof text for poor record keeping. Our Lord was teaching that we ought never to give in order to receive the praise of men for our deeds, “That you may be honored by men” (Matthew 6:2).

I have very serious reservations about requests for money which appeal to human pride and a love of praise. Some organizations will allow you to give, and they will name a building in your honor. For those of us less endowed financially, we can have our name engraved on a plaque for all to see. Some receive public praise and expressions of appreciation. How sad it is to deprive people of a divine reward by soliciting them to give for self–acclaim.

Christians today will literally line up to give to certain “glamour” causes. They want to support celebrities and to give to popular and prominent causes. They especially are inclined to support what seem to be successful enterprises. Our Lord had much to say about this.

And the King will answer and say to them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even to the least of them, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40).

The examples our Lord gave of those to whom we would minister are not those whom the world would regard the “most likely to succeed.” They are the stranger, those who are hungry and thirsty, those who are without sufficient clothing, and the prisoner (Matthew 25:35–36). If we would give as to the Lord, we must minister to those whom our Lord sought out. By and large, these were those who were pathetic and cast­aways. Our motives for giving must be pure.

A third evil motive for giving is greed. One passage that could be used as a proof text is Luke 6:38.

“Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, they will pour into your lap. For whatever measure you deal out to others, it will be dealt to you in return.”

The more extreme appeals to this motive are often heard on the radio, on a particular type of program. The promise is made that whatever you give as a contribution will be rewarded many times over. Given this approach, anyone would be a fool not to give. Giving is not a sacrificial act, but a selfish one in which money is given in order to get more in return.

There are more subtle forms of this type of appeal. These forms are often found in orthodox Christian circles. As an expression of gratitude for your “gift” of a certain amount or more, you will be sent, at no cost, a book, or some other token of appreciation. Now this bothers me. People should not give in order to get. These “contributions” are really purchases, but they can be counted as a tax-deductible contribution. To me, this is appealing to wrong motives.

Paul emphasizes this matter of motive in relation to the gift of giving. He writes,

. . . he who gives, with simplicity (margin, NASV) (Romans 12:8).

The Greek word translated “simplicity” (aploteti) can be rendered in either one of two ways, both of which are important to our giving. The textual rendering, “with liberality” makes good sense. But so does the alternative translation, “with simplicity.” The one who gives should do so with simplicity, or purity, of motive.

When Ananias and Sapphira gave only a portion of the proceeds from the sale of their property, they did so with mixed motives. They may have sincerely wished to please God, but they also wanted the praise of men, and they wanted to keep some of the money for themselves. Such multiplicity of motive is wrong Paul has said.

The Principle of Partnership

The principle of partnership reminds us of the relationship that giving creates between the donor and the recipient. This truth should encourage biblical giving and discourage giving to false teachers or religions.

In Matthew 10, our Lord taught,

He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward (Matthew 10:41).

The word “receives” implies welcoming the individual into our home and providing for their needs. We should give them a place to sleep and food and clothing.

The point of this verse is very significant. We become partners with those whom we support, and therefore, we share in their rewards. While God may have gifted or called us to go to the mission field, we can become partners in missionary work by supporting godly missionaries.

The Greek word koinonia is most frequently rendered “fellowship.” One of the concepts conveyed by the word is that of partnership. It was used of partnerships in business and for marriage. Very frequently, it is employed in the New Testament for the partnership created or expressed by the sharing of money:

For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability they gave of their own accord, begging us with much entreaty for the favor of participation in the support of the saints (2 Corinthians 8:3–4; cf. Philippians 1:5; 4:14).

Negatively, we become partners with unbelievers or false teachers by giving to them:

Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? (2 Corinthians 6:14–15).

Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If any one comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting, for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds (2 John 9–11).

The recent crisis in Iran has made one thing clear––to financially support a particular individual is to become partners with him. Whether rightly or wrongly, many Iranians hold America responsible for the actions of the Shah of Iran because we supported him morally and financially. Just as marriage makes us partners, so does money, for good or for evil. Let us be careful to whom we give, for we shall share in their rewards.

The Principle of Prudence

Our Lord said in Matthew 5:42, “Give to the one who asks.” People have a way of building their theology on one verse. You are at the airport, and somebody walks up with a flower, hands it to you and asks for a contribution. Do you become partakers with them by sharing financially with them? You are in downtown Dallas, and the derelict asks for a dollar (inflation has come, you know) for a cup of coffee. Do you give? The Scriptures have some other things to say about giving, and that is what brings us to the principle of prudence. We must be wise. And remember, it is not my money; it is God’s.

As we were coming back from Washington State last summer, we stopped in a rest area. In the midst of trying to get supper fixed, a young woman walked up and said that she had two children and was trying to get back to her family. She said she had no money and wanted to know if we would buy one of her necklaces. She then presented a couple of them, as though they were her only possessions of any value. Without thinking too much, I immediately said, “No, thank you; we are not interested.” A feeling of guilt immediately began to come upon me, and so I said to my wife, “Let’s save some of the chili that we’ve been heating up, and I’m going to walk over to where her car is supposed to be. And if she is there, I’m going to ask her to come, and we’re going to share our meal with her.” I purposed to tell her that I did not know whether her need was legitimate or not. Frankly, it sounded suspicious to me. Whether the need was real or not, we decided to give her what she asked for without the necklace or whatever in exchange. But I was going to say to that woman, “This is God’s money, and if you’re ripping off anybody, you’re ripping off God. He’ll deal with you, not me.” Well, I was on my way over to approach the woman, but I couldn’t quite find her car. And then as we were driving around, trying to locate her car, we saw her walking arm in arm with some gentleman, and there were no children that we could see in the car. The long and short of it was that it looked like a genuine rip-off. In that case, it would seem to have been a bad thing to give. The money we had was God’s money, and we ought not to squander God’s money.

From what Paul wrote in 2 Thessalonians 3, we can determine that there were some who were sitting around on their laurels, expecting other Christians to finance them. So he said, “if a man does not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

Do you remember how the poor were cared for, in part, in the Old Testament? When you harvested the fields, you would not cut the corners. And if any sheaves were overlooked, you left them (cf. Leviticus 19:9–10; Deuteronomy 24:19–22). Our system of meeting the needs of the poor is to go out and harvest it for them. We glean it, reap it, thresh it, bake the bread, and deliver it to the door. That is not the system God designed. Now if they can’t physically get to the field or reap it, we ought to provide it anyway. The Old Testament system for meeting the needs of people gave the poor their dignity and left them with a sense of responsibility. Now that involves discretion. It involves prudence I think.

Again, 2 John 1:9–11 talks about discretion in giving to those who are apostates. We must be shrewd in the use of money, not simple.

And his master praised the unrighteous steward because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light (Luke 16:8).

Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16).

Now there are some things that appear very pious that may be unwise. For example, (and please forgive me, any who might read this in time to come), there are churches that pass the offering plate around, and say, “if you want to give to God, we encourage you to put money in the plate. But if you have needs, then we encourage you to take it out of the plate.” That does not seem wise to me. In the New Testament, it was the elders who made decisions about the expenditure of money. You see, the man who may most desperately need the money may not take it out of the offering plate. Would you if you were in need? Would you before the eyes of all of your brethren take money out of that plate? I think not. But the ones who are least deserving and may have need of discipline rather than a dollar, may take it out. So this practice may be unwise, as spiritual as it sounds.

The principle of prudence must be applied, not only to the persons and organization to whom we give, but also to the process by which we give. Prudence, I suspect, may choose to claim a gift as a tax–deductible contribution, if that can be legitimately accomplished and done in a way that best meets the need.

Paul exercised great caution in the way money was distributed:

. . . taking precaution that no one should discredit us in our administration of this generous gift; for we have regard for what is honorable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men (2 Corinthians 8:20–21).

Money is very dear to the hearts of men. For this reason, we should never leave ourselves open to chances of mishandling money.

The Principle of Priorities

The principle of priorities helps us a great deal. If you look about and see all the requests for money, you know the requests are greater than you or we as a church can collectively meet. Therefore, we must exercise priorities in the expenditure of money. Let me suggest several biblical priorities for giving.

1. We should give to people.

In Luke 16 our Lord says that we ought to use unrighteous mammon in order to win friends for the gospel of Jesus Christ, that they may receive us into heaven. Now in the Old Testament, you understand that people brought their earrings and offerings and contributed to the physical facilities. With these gifts, the tabernacle was built. I do not in any way want to depreciate that. But in terms of priorities, my friends, it is people over programs; it is our fellowman over facilities. And if we ever reverse those, as often is done, we are in trouble. A building is a place to meet, and we need one. Our purchase of this building in which we meet is the most economical way for us to gather as a church. I think God answered our prayers and gave us what we needed. But if we are to put a building above people, we are in trouble. It is always people first, then programs, physical plants, and so on. This you see throughout the entire New Testament.

2. We are to give to those truly in need.

It is interesting that Paul says in 1 Timothy 5: “Widows who are widows indeed are to be honored.” My wife asked me what this meant, “widows indeed?” Well, in the context it means widows that do not have a son, a daughter, an uncle or any close relatives to look after them. That is, those who are helpless. And that is what we are talking about here. Those who are in need––helpless. Not shiftless, but helpless. And there is a difference, you understand.

Having established the priority of people over physical plants or programs and emphasized our responsibility to meet legitimate needs first, there is a rather clear–cut sequence in which people’s needs should be met. Let us consider this sequence of responsibility outlined in the Bible. While the precise order may be open to criticism, the general order appears to be correct.

Our first obligation is to meet the needs of our relatives:

Honor widows who are widows indeed; but if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family, and to make some return to their parents, for this is acceptable in the sight of God. But if any one does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:3–4,8).

Nowhere are we ever commanded to minister to others at the cost of depriving our family basic necessities. That is why good stewardship invests some of God’s money in providing for the needs of our family. How sad to see the children of some of those who have served God faithfully bitter because they were not adequately provided for. I pray that my children will always rejoice that they are preacher’s kids. Family needs should be met first. The old adage, “Charity begins at home,” is a biblical one.

Next, generally speaking, we are obligated to meet the needs of Christians before those of unbelievers:

So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith (Galatians 6:10).

In Acts 11, Agabas prophesied that there was going to be a famine in all of Judea (vs. 28). Luke tells us that in response to this revelation, those at Antioch sent a collection to the brethren in Judea (vs.29). You see, it was a priority to give to those who were believers. They ought to come first. Then after this, we should give, if possible, to non–Christians. I am in no way saying we should not meet the needs of unbelievers. I am saying that in the line of priorities that I understand believers’ needs ought to be met first.

3. We should give to those who minister to us.

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

Now immediately you suppose that this means me. Yes, it does mean me, but it also does mean me and a number of others. It means anyone in this body who teaches you, who ministers to you. You have an obligation to them. This is the principle of reciprocity found in the Scriptures.

Now in our day and time, it is a little different and far more complicated than in New Testament times. A lot of churches want their members to give their money only to the church, or through the church. They want to control all of the money given to the Lord’s work. If you listen on the radio to J. Vernon McGee, and he blesses you, you have an obligation to him. You do. If you listen to other men who teach the Scriptures, if you read printed materials that come from Ray Stedman or the Radio Bible Class and they bless you, you have an obligation to them. That is a biblical imperative. Those who minister to us deserve to be ministered to in a financial way.

Conclusion: Practical Suggestions On Giving––How To Do It

I would hope that all of us are firmly convinced of the need for giving. I believe the principles given in this lesson should help us in the decisions that must be made concerning those to whom we should give. I would like to conclude by suggesting several helpful and, I believe, biblical guidelines to help you to give biblically.

1. Some of the greatest problems we face in giving are the result of not planning to give.

Oh, I know that we “plan” to give God what is left over at the end of the month. I also know that there is never anything left, even when our salary greatly increases. The only way we will ever give biblically is to plan to give and to provide for this plan in our budget at the first of the month.

And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea (Acts 11:29).

On the first day of every week let each one of you put aside and save, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come (1 Corinthians 16:2).

For it is superfluous for me to write to you about this ministry to the saints; for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the Macedonians, namely, that Achaia has been prepared since last year, and your zeal has stirred up most of them. . . . So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, that the same might be ready as a bountiful gift, and not affected by covetousness. . . . Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:1–2,5,7).

These saints planned to give, and they made provision to fulfill their commitments. Most of us only hope to give. Paul did not pressure Christians to give, but he did present them with needs other than his own, and he did urge them to meet them. From that point on, Paul left this matter with the individual Christian to decide. But he did urge them to make some decision and not one by default, and then to carry through with it.

2. Prepare to give

Not only must there be a plan to give, this plan must be followed up with action. The preparation to give was usually a setting aside of a certain (already determined) amount of money. This was done on a systematic basis so that, when the time to give arrived, there would be no embarrassment to any.

3. Proportionately give.

There are two extremes in the area of giving, both of which are unbiblical. The first is sometimes called a “faith pledge.” They pledge to give a certain amount of money, based upon the presumption that God will provide that amount. I do not mean to condemn every kind of pledge. I am here challenging any pledge which is based upon something which you do not have. The Macedonians gave out of deep poverty (2 Corinthians 8:1–2), but they gave out of the little they had, not out of the plenty they may have wanted. Nowhere does the Bible encourage a commitment to give based upon income we hope to have.

For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a man has, not according to what he does not have (2 Corinthians 8:12).

The commitment to give if the Lord enables tends to undermine sacrificial giving out of what we already possess.

The other extreme is to use grace as an excuse for covetousness and materialism. I do not believe that a Christian is under a legal obligation to God to give 10% of his income. In other words, I understand tithing as a part of the Old Testament dispensation. I understand that all we have belongs to God, and we are His stewards. Some, however, abuse this truth and allocate only a pittance to God’s work, while they consume the vast majority of their resources on their own comfort and pleasure.

But godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content (1 Timothy 6:6–8).

Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed (1 Timothy 6:17–19).

The biblical balance between these two extremes is to give proportionately to that which we have been given.

And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea (Acts 11:29).

4. Give personally.

One of our great failures is that we assume that someone else or something else is taking care of the needs of others. Government has assumed much responsibility for the care of the poor, the sick, and the elderly. This meets many serious needs in our community, and I am grateful for the help it provides. But often we are guilty of assuming that people are being cared for by government, by the church, or by others when they are not.

Often someone will inform the church of a particular need that is relatively minor. By this I do not mean that the need is unimportant or not urgent. I mean that the actual cost involved is not so great that an individual could not handle it personally and directly. Now I must confess that I am of the persuasion that government governs best which governs least, not only in national, state, and local politics, but in the church. Those in Acts who sold their property and gave the money to the church did so because of the magnitude of the needs and due to their lack of knowledge as to which needs were the greatest. Such will always be the case in many financial needs.

Nevertheless, you will often be the one who knows the needy person most intimately. You are the one who can handle the situation most easily and without burdening the church with the need. When you give directly, you will find a blessing, and your relationship with the individual in need will be greatly strengthened. Meet the needs that you are aware of and that you are able to meet. As my friend, Dr. Haddon Robinson has said, “Your neighbor is anyone whose need you see, whose need you are able to meet.”

May God grant that you and I will be able to apply these principles in such a way as to minister with the money He has given, to the edification of the church, and to 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 25, 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 The Christian and Money, Moody Monthly, May, 1971, pp. 24, 25.

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