For me, the most chilling money verse in the Bible is Luke 16:11. What does it say? And what can I learn from it?
Some people have a "life verse." There's just something about a particular verse, or a particular passage, of the Word that strikes them. It sums up their experience with the Lord. Or maybe it articulates their hope, or what they hope that Christ will accomplish through them.
Usually, they love to share it. And I love hearing it and the testimony behind it.
But I don't have one.
Not because I have some moral or spiritual objection to them. I've just not had that kind of life connection to a certain verse.
But for the last year or so I've had a verse that, let's just say, has been echoing. It's just been bouncing around my head and my soul. Even if I wanted to forget it, I know I couldn't. It's sort of become my "work verse." It sums up what God has been teaching me about money.
Here's the thing, though, it's rather chilling. Not the kind of hope-inspiring, Great-is-thy-faithfulness verse you usually hear somebody quote as a life verse. It's matter-of-fact. A question, really. But it's a powerful question.
It's Luke 16:11, just after the Parable of the Shrewd Manager. Jesus has just told us about how a worldly manager used his wealth to get what he wanted. If he could do that, Christ tells us, then we believers need to use our money to win others to our Lord. Then, He reveals this truth:
"So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?"
What's the Deal?
It would be interesting to know your reaction to reading that verse. Maybe you have a similar reaction to mine — you're a little chilled. Maybe not.
If not, let me explain my reaction.
As a money writer, it's easy to get bogged down in the details. I write about staying out of debt, purchasing wisely, reigning in our wants, giving to our Father and saving.
Sometimes details are good. As Christians, we are called — or told, really — to be good stewards of what God has given us. It helps to have some guidelines: What should be my attitude toward debt? How should I buy a car? What percentage should I be saving toward retirement? Maybe it helps, especially if we've gotten ourselves into a financial mess, to follow a system — like Dave Ramsey's seven baby steps.
But sometimes the big picture is better. It's better to be reminded of our purpose. That's what this verse challenges me to do.
My purpose is not to have a healthy financial life. My purpose is not to have a giant 401(k). My purpose is not to have a paid-off mortgage.
My purpose is to serve the Lord.
But there's a hitch, as this verse tells me. A healthy financial life is not my purpose, but it is a blazing signal.
I've often heard preachers sermonize that you can always tell what's important to a person by how they spend their time and their money. They're right.
If I spend my Sunday mornings on a golf course rather than a house of worship, you know what's important to me. If I refuse to tithe, but faithfully keep my cable TV coming, you know what's important to me.
Luke 16:11 tells me that these decisions, specifically with my money, have consequences. If I can't get it right with my money — if I can't be "trustworthy" with my "worldly wealth" — then what? Then my Lord knows what is important to me. And, I have to pay the consequences — I will not be trusted with "true riches," with eternal things.
I don't know about you, but that convicts me down to my toes. After all, eternal things are my purpose. That's what I was created for — to serve the Lord. Just as I long for Him to tell me "Well done, good and faithful servant," I would grieve to hear Him say, "Sorry, Heather, but your financial life shows that you care nothing about Me. I can't trust you with my things."
His things are the only things of value. To be kept from them would be a tragedy.
So What Do I Do?
So what can I learn from Luke 16:11? There are two things, I think. First, obviously, I need to be trustworthy with my worldly wealth. Second, I need to value the true riches.
To understand how to be trustworthy, it's been helpful to me to use an analogy from C.S. Lewis. His explanation (from his book, The Screwtape Letters) had to do with devils:
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors....
My explanation is that Christians can make the same two types of errors with money.
One is to "disbelieve" — to think that our financial decisions have no impact on our Christian walk. We think that high debt is a nuisance or that buying is recreation, but that neither really have anything to do with our spiritual productivity. Luke 16:11 tells us that this is patently false. It spells it out: If we are not trustworthy with our finances, we won't be given the charge of eternal things.
The second error is to have an "excessive and unhealthy interest" in money. This is the error, I believe, that many Christians who look "healthy" financially from the outside risk falling into. Under the guise of "financial health" they make their finances the priority, rather than Christ. They will spend hours managing their accounts, but no time in the Word. They see increasing income and decreasing expenses as akin to righteousness.
Or, perhaps, they've made financial mistakes in the past and turned over a new leaf of responsibility. But, in so doing, they might begin to act as if financial salvation is equivalent to salvation. It's not. Financial responsibility is only the first step. It's a "taming of the horse" so that you can get on with the plowing.
Like Lewis points out, the answer for Christians is getting past these two errors. The "trustworthy" one understands that finances are important, without letting them rule his life.
I could almost compare my financial "house" with my own home. I want to enjoy living in it without having to trip over the clutter. But I won't spend every hour of every day polishing it. I'll do the dishes so that I can eat on them my next meal, then I'll get on with my day.
But getting on with my day assumes that I know what I should be doing with it. And that's what brings me to the second answer from Luke 16:11. I need to value the true riches. Another C.S. Lewis quote I really enjoy is from his book, The Weight of Glory: "As long as this deliberate refusal to understand things from above, even where such understanding is possible, continues, it is idle to talk of any final victory over materialism."
In other words, a pursuit of God pushes out greed. I need to read the Word and focus on those things — evangelism, service, love — that won't be consumed by the fire. And if the things of God really are important to me, than I need to put my wallet where my mouth is and support them.
Copyright 2007 Heather D. Koerner. All rights reserved.