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Posts Tagged ‘giving to the poor’

Today we are looking at the parable of the dishonest manager from Luke 16:1-9, where Jesus is teaching us how to be shrewd with our worldly wealth; how to truly use it for our benefit. This is considered by many to be a very difficult parable to understand. I don’t think that it is. The difficulty is really in accepting the teaching and putting it into practice.

Some background

1He 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.”

So we have –

  • the rich man or master who is a wealthy land owner.
  • The manager is his estate or business manager. It was his job to make sure the land produced money for the master.
  • Later in the parable, those who owe the master are tenet farmers, who rent the land from the master and are to give a portion of the produce of the land to the owner; in this story an olive tree orchard and a field that was used for wheat.

This arrangement was common in Jesus’ day.

In this case the manager “was wasting the mater’s possessions.” This could mean that he was a bad manager and had failed to make the land profitable for the master; or more likely that he was siphoning off money from the profits and burning through it. (This is the same word that is used of the prodigal son and what he did with his inheritance).

A manager in a tough spot

Well, the master fires him. 2And 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.’” Go get your record books, turn them in and leave.

3And 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.’” He’s in a real predicament.

But then he comes up –

A shrewd plan

– as we see in vs. 4-8a. He says, “’4I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’”

Notice the time element here – “when I am removed.” There is a process involved in his dismissal. He has to get his accounting records. And this gives him a window of opportunity to work with because his dismissal hasn’t been made public yet.

5So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’” The farmer owes around 875 gallons of olive oil to the master. But the manager cuts the debt in half. Notice the haste. This was done “quickly” it says. You can be sure this was one happy farmer!

7Then 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.’” Here the farmer owes around 1,100 bushels of wheat to the master. But the manager cuts the debt by 20%. Again this would be one happy farmer.

But in both cases it’s about more than making them happy. In that day when you did someone a huge favor like this, they were indebted to give you a favor back. Certainly more so than is the case today. This is what the manger means when he says in v. 4, “so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.” By doing a huge favor for them, they will help take care of him when he is out of job.

The master’s response

Then the parable ends with a surprising twist. 8The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.”

The manager is called “dishonest” because he in effect stole from his master in order to save his own skin. But despite this the master commended him for his “shrewdness.” He has to acknowledge that the manager was very clever in planning ahead for himself. If the manager had just stolen it, he could have recovered it. But as it is the master doesn’t want to acknowledge he was duped. And it would be socially unacceptable to take back such a gift, given in his name.

This brings us to –

Jesus’ point

8For the sons of this world (or of this age) are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. The contrast here is between those who are a part of this world system, or this age, and those who are a part of the kingdom of God or of the age to come; the sons or children of light. Jesus is saying that the people of God can learn something from this story about using wealth.

9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth (or mammon), so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. The manager, in a worldly context knew how to take care of himself through a shrewd use of wealth. The sons of light, in a kingdom context don’t act as shrewdly with their use of wealth The sons of light should, just like the manager, make friends for themselves by means of wealth.

Jesus is talking here about using our wealth to help those in need; and especially to help the righteous poor. Those who have needs but look to God for help. He is talking about giving alms.

The assumption here, which might well make us uncomfortable – we who have more than we need and are therefore considered rich – is that these righteous poor will be in the kingdom for sure. As Jesus said about the rich young ruler, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God” – Luke 18:24. He never says such a thing about his poor followers.

And so like in the story, if you help the poor now ; if you give them a favor, they will return the favor on the final day. On the day when wealth fails, they will welcome you into “the eternal dwellings.” It’s not that they are your judge, but they will bear witness of your righteousness before God, and in this way welcome you into the eternal kingdom.

Putting it all together

1. The manager was fired and shortly would have nothing. He has to act quickly. One day our wealth will “fail” (v. 9) whether it’s when we die, or when the judgment day comes. Our money won’t help us then and this may be just a short time away.

2. The manager gave away wealth to debtors. We are to give away wealth to the poor.

3. Those he gave to will welcome him into their houses. His future is secured. Those we give to will welcome us into eternal dwellings. Our future will be secured.

Through a shrewd use of his master’s wealth, he took care of his future. Through a shrewd use of the world’s wealth, we can take care of our future.

Let me end by asking how do you use your worldly wealth? Jesus’ advice goes against the advice of financial planners who only plan for this life and not the next. How do you use your worldly wealth?

– Do you store it up for yourself as a source of security, which is idolatry and hatred of God? Or do you use it to help and bless those in need, which is love of God, doing what he wants with the wealth he has given you?

– Do you store it up for yourself by having the comforts and luxuries of this world, which is self-indulgence and hatred of your neighbor? Or do you use it to help and bless those in need, which is love for your neighbor?

If you have wealth, God did not give it to you to keep it for yourself for security or comforts. He gave your wealth to you so that you can be a channel through whom he can work as you are generous and bless others in need.

Jesus is teaching us, if you do give it away through alms, you are shrewd indeed! You are clever in planning ahead for yourself. For on the day when wealth fails – and it surely will since it means nothing in the age to come – you will nevertheless be well taken care of. You will be welcomed into the true riches of the kingdom of God by the friends you have made with your worldly wealth.

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We’re talking about prayer again today. Last week we looked at fasting as a prayer amplifier. That is, a way of increasing the effectiveness of our prayers. In the words of Isaiah 58:4, a way of making our “voice to be heard on high.”

We saw how fasting makes our prayers more effective because it’s a way of humbling ourselves before God when we pray. And when we are lowly, we are closer to God; when we are truly humble, we gain God’s favor.

This week we look at almsgiving as a prayer amplifier. Let’s start with –

Some basics on alms

And we begin with the question what are “alms”? It’s not a common word today. It means giving aid to the poor and needy. The word comes from a Greek word whose root means “mercy” or “compassion.”

Isaiah 58:7 gives a good description of almsgiving. It means “to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; (and) when you see the naked, to cover him.”  Jesus gives a number of examples of alms in his teaching on the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:35-36. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”

Alms in the Law. Giving to the poor was encouraged for individuals in the Law. For instance lending money to the needy (Deuteronomy 15:11). And these loans were forgiven every seven years, which means some of them became gifts.

But the Law also required alms of everyone at points. The third year tithes (Deuteronomy 14:28-29) were stored up and used to feed Levites, immigrants, orphans and widows. And harvest was left in the field (Leviticus 19:9) in order for the needy to gather it and have something to eat.

Alms in later Judaism grew in importance. Giving alms was considered second in importance only to study of the Law (or Scripture). It was considered greater than all other commandments. It even became Synonymous with the word “righteousness” it was so highly esteemed.

We are to give to the needy

If there might have been a question about fasting, there is no dispute about this. It is an expression of love for the person in need, and it is an expression of righteousness on our part.

Jesus taught about giving alms a lot. Here is just one example, “Sell your possessions and give alms” or give to the poor – Luke 12:33. He is saying, take of your excess and help those who don’t have enough.

Paul also taught giving alms, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” –  Galatians 6:10. ‘Doing good’ is another way to say helping the needy.

Jesus also practiced giving alms – John 13:29. As did Paul, as we see in the case of the Jerusalem offering for the poor in Jerusalem – 1 Corinthians 16:1-3.

There are a number of –

Scriptural promises

– connected to giving alms, and I want us to see some of these.

  • Proverbs 22:9 – “Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor.”
  • Proverbs 28:27 – “Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.”
  • Psalm 41:1 – “Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him.”
  • Psalm 112:5 – “It is well with the one who deals generously and lends.”
  • Proverbs 14:21 – “Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.”

Alms as a prayer amplifier

The connection of prayer and the giving alms to the blessings in these promises comes out in several places:

1. Matthew 6:2-5. Here alms are spoken of as a way of seeking the reward of God’s attention or favor. And in this passage it is linked to prayer and also fasting. This is, in fact, why these three things are grouped together by Jesus. Prayer is seeking God and giving alms and fasting are prayer amplifiers.

2. Isaiah 58. We looked at this last week because it also talks about fasting. v. 7 says if you give alms, that is, if you help the hungry, help the homeless and clothe the naked, then v. 9 says, “Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’” Your voice will, for sure, be heard on high by God – v. 4.

3. Acts 10. In this example of Cornelius the connection between alms and prayer comes out clearly. v. 2 says that Cornelius was “a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.”

Then one day an angel came to him and said in v. 4 – “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God.” As Cornelius recounts this in v. 31 the angel said, “your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God.”

So God answered his prayers, sending Peter to him to preach the gospel. And this great favor came to him, in part, because of his almsgiving and prayer. As the verses say, your alms have been remembered. And so when he prayed God heard his prayers and blessed him.

Why do alms make our prayers more effective?

The basic idea is that when we give alms it pleases God very much; it gains God’s favor. There are several different ways of saying this:

1. Giving alms is lending to the Lord. And God will repay you, when you call out in your time of trouble. Proverbs 19:17 says, “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.”

2. Almsgiving is a sacrifice that gains God’s favor. The language in Acts 10 is sacrificial language, his alms “ascended as a memorial before God.” It is like a burnt offering in the Old Testament, the smoke of which went up into heaven before God.

Hebrews 13:16 uses similar imagery. It says, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” After receiving a gift of alms, Paul says in Philippians 4:18-19 – “I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”

3. The prayers of the righteous carry more weight. James 5:16 says, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” And almsgiving is very righteous. As we saw, often the word for alms was synonymous with the word for righteousness, the association was so close.

Let me end with a caution on giving alms from Jesus.

Beware of false seeking

In other words, don’t give alms in order to seek the attention of people; to show that you are spiritual or righteous. We always have a way of taking something good and then making it self-centered. And this is the case here.

Jesus said in Matthew 6:2 – “When you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” Jesus is saying, they will get nothing from God because they already got what they wanted – the people’s attention.

Rather, Jesus says in Matthew 6:3-4 – “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

When we give to help others (besides showing love for the person in need) we are to focus on getting God’s attention alone; or pleasing God. And then God will see what we do in secret, and remember it. And when we call out in our time of need – our prayers will be amplified. The intensity of our concern will be fully conveyed to God for consideration. As I said last week, this doesn’t force God’s hand but it makes sure that we are heard and fully considered by God.

William Higgins

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