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Our title this morning is “Be faithful in the little things.” We are looking at a principle that Jesus teaches and how he applies it to two different areas of our lives. The principle is stated most clearly in Luke 16:10. We can call it –

The principle of little and much

Luke 16:10 – “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is unreliable in a very little is also unreliable in much.”

(Unreliable is usually translated as “dishonest,” but the former seems more appropriate as a counterpoint to “faithful.” The principle is also in Matthew 25:21/23, see below. See also Luke 19:17. Luke 7:47 goes in a different direction.)

So we have what is little and what is much. And there is a relationship between them. How one does with what is little is a clear indicator of how one will do with much. This is stated in both a positive and a negative way – whether you are faithful or unreliable.

This principle can be applied in many ways, for instance with parents working with children or bosses with employees, or even in relationships. If someone you are dating treats you poorly or lies to you, you can be sure that they will do so once you are married. But our focus is on how Jesus applies this principle and first we look at the topic of –

How we use our wealth – Luke 16:11-13

The statement of our principle and these verses come right after the parable of the dishonest manager, which we looked at a few weeks ago. Let’s remember together briefly what it taught us:

There was a manager who had squandered his master’s funds and was about to be fired. But then he figured out how to take care of himself. He cut the debts of those who owed his master, so that they would like him and take care of him after he was fired and had no money. He said, “I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.” Luke 16:4. Through a shrewd use of his master’s wealth he took care of his future.

Jesus’ point is that Through a shrewd use of the world’s wealth (giving it to the needy) we take care of our future. He said at the end of the parable, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” Luke 16:9  That is, the poor ones we help, will welcome us into the eternal kingdom.

And then comes v. 10 which states the principle of little and much, and then in Luke 16:11-12, Jesus applies this principle to the topic of wealth.

11If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?” Here we learn that the wealth of this world is not real wealth. True riches, that don’t fail (v. 9) and that one has because of righteousness, as opposed to how things often work in this world, true riches will only be given out in the world to come.

12And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?” Here we learn that the wealth of this world is another’s. But what we are given in the world to come is going to be our own.

And in both of these statements it is clear that the “little” has to do with what we do or don’t do in this world with the wealth God gives us. The “much” has to do with what we will be our situation in the world to come – whether we will have the true riches that are our own. And the first, what we do or don’t do with the little, determines the second – the much. Because God knows based on what we have done with what is little, how we will do with the much of what is to come in the kingdom.

The key in all of this is, ‘Will we give of our wealth to help the poor and needy?’ This is being faithful in the little, this is being reliable in the little.

Then in v. 13 Jesus gets to the heart of the matter. “13No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” If we love God, we will do what God wants us to do with the little of this world’s wealth. We will give to help those in need. But if we love our wealth, we will keep it for ourselves and we will not have friends to welcome us into the kingdom.

Second, Jesus applies the principle of little and much to –

How we serve God – Matthew 25:21, 23

The context here is the parable of the talents. Let’s remember together the meaning of this parable. Jesus is about to go away to the Father after his death and resurrection. And so Jesus leaves his kingdom work to his disciples – the church, to you and me. And to some he gives a lot of responsibility, 5 bars of silver, to some 3 bars of silver and to some only 1 – each according to our ability. And we are to fulfill our tasks.

And then Jesus returns for the final judgment. And here we have the little and much principle stated clearly, as the master says to the one who had five bars of silver and increased them, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.” Matthew 25:21. And again to the one who had three talents and increased them, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.” Matthew 25:23.

Like before with wealth, the “little” has to do with what we do or don’t in regard to serving God with the tasks he has given us to do. The “much” has to do with what we will be our situation in the world to come – what our levels of responsibility will be in the fullness of the kingdom. And once again, the first, what we do or don’t do with the little, determines the second – the much. Because God knows based on what we have done with what is little, how we will do with the much of what is to come in the kingdom.

The key here is, ‘Will we serve God and do what he has tasked us to do?’ If we are faithful with the small responsibilities in this life that God gives us, God will give us greater responsibilities and honor in the world to come.

But heed the note of warning with the third servant. If we are not faithful here, we will not have a place in the world to come but will go to place of weeping and gnashing of teeth – Matthew 25:30.

The principle of little and much

This principle teaches us that what we do in this life will determine what we have in the life to come. God tests us in the little things of this life, before we get the real blessings of the world to come. Because he can tell from what we do in this life, what we should have in the life to come.

If we aren’t faithful in the little things, we will not be entrusted with the greater things – the much of the world to come. So whether it is how we use our wealth in this life, or how we fulfill the tasks that God has given to us in this life, we are being tested.

And so my word of encouragement to you this morning is this be faithful in the little things of this world! Be radical in your giving – don’t let fear of being without hinder you. Serve God with abandon – don’t let the things of this world distract you from what is truly important. Do this and you will be blessed with the much of the world to come – with what is true, with what is lasting and with what will be your own – untold blessings in the kingdom of God.

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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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Jesus has a lot to say about his disciples and wealth. In fact, besides the general theme of the kingdom of God, there is nothing he talks about more. And what he has to say is quite radical, especially to us, who live in what is certainly the most wealthy country that has ever existed; and who live in a culture that glories in wealth – in the seeking of it and in the indulging of it. But Jesus teaches us another way – and this is our topic for today.

Luke 12:13-21

13 Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” (NRSV)

I chose this text for two reasons. First, because it shows us how serious this topic is. God says, “You fool” to the man as an expression of judgment and condemnation. And we don’t want to be called fools by God or be condemned.

Second, because it gives us the closest thing to a definition of what it means to be wealthy that I can find from Jesus. There is an abundance, beyond one’s needs (bigger barns), which you store up for yourself. It’s as simple as that. It’s not how much you make. It’s how much you keep for yourself. So if you are here today and you have a large income Jesus isn’t necessarily talking to you. Maybe. Maybe not. And, if you are here today and you have a small income Jesus may well be talking to you. Maybe. Maybe not. In both cases it all depends on what you do with what you have.

With this background in place, let me share with you now three things that Jesus teaches regarding wealth. And the first is –

Don’t go on accumulating wealth

There are two obvious reasons to accumulate wealth beyond our needs, both of which will kill us spiritually:

1. We want wealth as our security, to rely on in an uncertain world. The farmer stored up his abundance in bigger barns to take care of his future. But this is not loving God with all our heart – the greatest commandment. This is idolatry, which is actually hatred of God, because we make wealth to be our true god. We trust in it to take care of us.

As Jesus said in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

2. We want wealth in order to enjoy it. The farmer said to himself, “relax, eat, drink, be merry” (v. 19). But this is not loving our neighbor – the second greatest commandment. This is love self love and hatred of our neighbors. For even though there are many in the world who do not have their basic needs met – including fellow believers – we want to keep our abundance for ourselves, for our fleshly desires and comforts.

So whether we accumulate wealth beyond our needs for the sake of idolatry – which is hatred of God, or indulgence – which is hatred of our neighbors, our lives with God will be destroyed. And so we should have nothing to do with it.

Hear the words of Jesus from our passage in v. 15 – “be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” And in v. 20 – words of condemnation to the greedy farmer, “you fool.” (NRSV). And hear the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 6:9 – “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.”

Love God, not your wealth

This has to do with getting our heart in the right place regarding our wealth.

1. Be content with God’s provision for you. Hebrews 13:5 says, “Keep your life free from love of money and be content with what you have; for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” Give up seeking after more and more and more. Work hard, but be satisfied with God’s supply whether it is much or little, because he is with us and that is our true treasure.

2. Give up your possessions. Jesus says in Luke 14:33, “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up (or renounce) all your possessions.” (NRSV) Notice he isn’t talking about a certain percentage, say 10%. He is talking about all our possessions, all we have.

We have to recognize that whatever God gives you is not your own, it is God’s. And if he takes it all, or asks you to give it all away – that’s fine. But how many of us can say our hearts are committed to this? Do we own our possessions or do they own us? This is talked about in Acts 4:32 when it says,  “and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own,” but they were willing to part with them.

So this is a call to dethrone your possessions, because without this we can’t follow Jesus. As he says, “none of you can become my disciple . . .” if you don’t do this.

Well, if we give up holding onto our abundance for our security and comforts, and if we have a right heart toward our possessions being content with God’s supply and renouncing what we do have – then we are ready to do with them what God wants us to do with them, which is to –

Love others with radical generosity

We are to act with our wealth to love our neighbor. Let me just highlight two basic patterns for doing this in the New Testament.

1. We give to the needy. Jesus says in Luke 12:33 – “Sell your possessions and give to the needy.” That is, get rid of your excess – sell it, give it to those in need. (And you can even give up what you need to help others, because giving sacrificially is encouraged, as we learn from the story of the widow who gave all she had in Luke 21:1-4.)

An example of this is seen in the early Jerusalem church in Acts 2 and 4. As there was need, those who had excess would sell and give to the needy among them – 2:45; 4:34-37.

2. We share what we have with others. Jesus said this in Luke 14:12-14 – “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers and sisters or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

What you don’t get rid of, use for God’s kingdom. It’s God’s so share it.

An example of this is found in Romans 16:23 – “Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you.” Here was a well to do man who used his large house to host the church in Corinth (they had no building) and he hosted Paul as well.

Finally, wealth is dangerous, but only if you accumulate it for yourself. The other side of this is that wealth is a blessing of the Lord (Psalm 112), but again, only if you are generous with it. Wealth is a strange thing spiritually. It’s from God, but if you keep it for yourself, it’s like trying to store up God’s provision of manna – it spoils and becomes a bad thing. But if you are generous with it, you can bless many in need and thus store up treasures for yourselves in heaven. Wealth can be a curse or a blessing and it is your choice which it will be in your life.

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camelAccording to Jesus it is hard for those who have more than they need to receive God’s Kingdom salvation. Indeed, it’s impossible, like trying to get a camel through the eye of a sewing needle (Luke 18:24-25). It’s impossible because what God demands is so hard for us to do. Here is what Jesus and his apostles teach about what God demands.

1. Give up greed

Jesus said, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). Jesus warns us against every kind of greed. Wealth is so dangerous that we should not seek to have it (Mark 4:18-19; I Timothy 6:9). Why is this?

  • First, when we store up earthly treasures we are led to trust in them rather than God (Matthew 6:24).
  • And second, when we store up earthly treasures we are led to enjoy comforts while others suffer (Luke 16:19-31). In other words, seeking wealth leads us to hate God and our neighbor, the opposite of the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:36-40).

Rather than this we are to trust God for our provision (Matthew 6:25-34). We are to be content with what we have (Hebrews 13:5), simply praying for our daily bread (Matthew 6:11). We know that “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

2. Give up all you possess

Jesus said, “none of you can be my disciple who does not give up all his own possessions” (Luke 14:33). Here are some things to note about this command:

  • It applies to all who have possessions.
  • “Give up” can be translated “renounce.”
  • This covers “all” our possessions, not some.
  • This command primarily has a vertical focus. It has to do with our possessions and God.
  • This command is interpreted by Luke in Acts 4:32, “not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own.”

It means that we accept that our possessions are no longer ours. We renounce them. We give them up to God. They are God’s now. Jesus tells us why we must renounce our possessions. “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24).

3. Give to the needy

Jesus said, “sell your possessions and give to the needy” (Luke 12:33). Here are some things to note about this command:

  • It is addressed to all who are not themselves needy. (But sacrificial giving on the part of the needy is highly commended – Luke 21:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8:3).
  • This command has primarily a horizontal focus, giving our resources to the needy.
  • This has to do with our excess possessions, including our accumulated money, not necessarily all our possessions and money. In Luke 12 the context of this command is the farmer’s surplus crop. Jesus is not saying here “become needy” (2 Corinthians 8:13-14).
  • All such giving is to be done voluntarily and freely (2 Corinthians 9:7). Ananias could have kept what he pretended to give (Acts 5:4).
  • Sometimes an initial dispersion of wealth happened at conversion. Zacchaeus gave half of his possessions to the needy (Luke 19:8).
  • This giving is to be continuous, however. As Paul said, “each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn” for the purpose of meeting needs (I Corinthians 16:2). As long as there are needs we are to keep giving what we can.
  • This command is interpreted by Luke in Acts 2:44-45 and 4:34-35. When there was a need in the community of believers, those who had would give to those who had need.
  • The giving can be done one on one, or it can be given to the common fund of the church to be distributed to the needy (Matthew 6:2; Acts 4:35; 6:1-4).

4. Who are the needy?

There are three categories of the needy:

1) Those who are needy because of God – evangelists, missionaries, pastors and those who are persecuted. These have sold all they have (Luke 18:22), or left it behind (Luke 18:28-30), or have given up earning money (Luke 10:7; I Timothy 5:17-18) or have had their possessions taken from them (Hebrews 10:32-34) – all for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

2) Those who are needy among the people of God – the sick, the oppressed, widows, and orphans (James 1:27; Galatians 6:10). If we are not needy, our salvation depends upon giving to these two groups of the needy (Luke 16:19-31; 6:24). For we cannot love God and ignore a needy brother or sister (I John 3:16-17). When we do give, they will welcome us into the Kingdom of God (Luke 16:9).

3) We are also to give to those who are needy among the unbelievers (Luke 10:30-37; Galatians 6:10; Luke 6:33-36).

We are not to give to the idle, those who choose not to work. Rather we are to teach these to work hard, earn their own living and help others in need (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12; I Thessalonians 4:11-12).

5. How much should we give?

There is no set requirement of how much we are to give; no percentage is given. Those who give much, however, like Barnabas, are honored (Acts 4:36-37).

Love for God and our neighbor should control our giving. Those who give out of love are willing to give sacrificially for others in genuine need. They are not concerned about percentages, but helping the needy. Paul said, “each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). But remember this, “the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully (2 Corinthians 9:6). How much treasure do we want in heaven (Luke 12:33)?

6. Caring for family

None of this giving to the needy excludes us from our responsibilities to care for our family. It is evil to neglect this (Mark 7:8-13; I Timothy 5:3-8). Caring for family can involve storing up resources for our parents in old age (Mark 7:9-13), and for our children’s needs (2 Corinthians 12:14). Caring for family, however, should not be used as a pretext for greed so that we can live in indulgence.

7. Sharing all that we possess

Jesus said, “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (Luke 14:13). Whatever is not used to support family needs and to give to the needy is still God’s and must be used for God’s purposes. This means being hospitable and sharing what we own.This means blessing the needy with our resources. Philemon had a room for Paul to stay in when he traveled through his area (Philemon 1:22). Gaius allowed his large home to be the meeting place for the church in Corinth (Romans 16:23).

8. Doing the impossible

What God demands of us is impossible because we are evil. We store up treasures for ourselves because we do not believe that God will take care of us. We store up treasures for ourselves so that we can live in comfort while others suffer; because we think it’s alright if others suffer lack as long as we don’t.

But there is hope for us. Jesus tells us that with God all things are possible (Luke18:27). If we truly desire it, God can change our evil hearts. God can enable us to give up all our possessions and be generous with all that we have.

William S. Higgins – 2003

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I have started sharing with you the stories of faithful Christians from time to time, people who lived after the time of the Bible. I am doing this to point out that we can be radical followers of Jesus in whatever context we find ourselves in, not just in Bible times. And I am doing this to encourage us to live more radical, faithful lives as Christians. And to that end, in each case, I want to highlight how their lives embody specific aspects of faithfulness to Jesus from the Scriptures.

So far we have looked at Perpetua, who lived in Carthage, North Africa in the 200’s; Felix Mantz, who lived in Zurich, Switzerland in the 1500’s; and today we look at a man named –

Waldo

He was from Lyon France and lived  from around 1140-1206.  This is a statue of Waldo, in Worms Germany. Of course, no one knows what he actually looked like.

waldo

Much about Waldo’s story is shrouded in mystery, coming from his enemies or from later legends about him. I will try to give you some basics.

1. His name was Valdesius, which is Latin, but has come into English, whether correctly or not, as Waldo.

He is usually called Peter Waldo, but it is not at all clear that his name was Peter. All we know for sure is his Latin name Valdesius which he signed in one instance. His name in the local language was probably Vaudes. We’ll call him Waldo.

2. He was a wealthy merchant. The merchant class was emerging at this time and gaining social and economic power, and Lyon was a real commercial center. It is possible that he handled the investments for the archbishopric, which was suspected of charging interest on the poor. If true, he was involved in oppressing the poor to make himself rich.

In terms of real estate he is said to have owned “ponds, groves and fields, houses, rents, vineyards, mills, and fishing rights.” http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/waldo1.html This doesn’t include his bank account. He had some serious wealth in a time when most were dirt poor.

3. He gave up his wealth to preach the gospel. He was already concerned for his soul regarding his wealth, and then he heard the story of the rich young ruler and how Jesus called him to give up all his wealth and to come follow him. And he was disturbed that Jesus said, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 19:24). (Which, by the way, doesn’t refer to a small gate in the wall of Jerusalem).

Waldo heard in all this Jesus calling him to give up all his wealth so that he could preach the gospel, and this is what he did.

Regarding his preaching, one source gives this account of what sounds like his first public pronouncement.

He cried, “No man can serve two masters, God and mammon.” Then his fellow-citizens ran up, thinking he had lost his mind. But going on to a higher place, he said. “My fellow-citizens and friends, I am not insane, as you think, but I am avenging myself on my enemies, who made me a slave, so that I was always more careful of money than of God, and served the creature rather than the Creator.

I know that many will blame me that I act thus openly. But I do it both on my own account and on yours; on my own, so that those who see me henceforth possessing any money may say that I am mad, and on yours, that you may learn to place hope in God and not in riches.” http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/waldo1.html

He also criticized the church’s accumulated wealth and how many of its officials lived in luxury.

4. He had portions of Scripture translated so that people could hear and understand them. It’s not clear when this happened, but he hired two clergy to do this. This book was called the Sententiae and apparently focused especially on the Gospels. (There were also other portions of Scripture and some sayings of the church fathers as well.)

You have to understand that Scripture was in Latin, which the common person didn’t know. So people were completely dependent on what the church taught them.He brought the Scriptures into the common person’s language so that they could hear them for themselves. He is said to have memorized this book.

5. A movement began – the poor of Lyon, or the poor of Christ. People responded to his preaching. A number gathered around him and also gave up their wealth and began to preach. This would have been around 1170-1175.

They would go out two by two, as in the Gospels. They would share from the Scriptures and call people to repentance. Both men and women went out to preach. They lived off of the support of those who heard and received their message.

As one enemy wrote, they “went from village to village, going into people’s homes and preaching in public squares and even in churches . . .” (Bernard Gui). But this was a real problem because only trained clergy were allowed to preach, and then only under the supervision of the local Bishop.

This is the key that led to their –

Persecution

In 1179 some of his followers appeared before the Third Lateran Council. They sought the approval of their movement by the church.They showed them their Bible translation. There was some openness to them, but they were also ridiculed for their perceived ignorance of theology.

In 1180 Waldo signed a confession of faith to establish that he was orthodox. But they were still eventually forbidden to preach. In 1184 the Council of Verona made excommunication the punishment for those who persisted in preaching. Waldo and his followers were excommunicated and expelled from Lyon.

It is said that Waldo responded to all this by saying, “We must obey God rather than man”quoting Acts 5:29 and Peter’s words to the religious authorities of his day who told him to stop preaching.

Waldo died, apparently of natural causes, somewhere around 1206.

waldensiansLater persecution of the movement

 The poor of Lyon or the Waldensians, spread all throughout Europe with many thousands of adherents. They were also harshly persecuted. Many faced the inquisition. Many
were killed. They were forced to flee into the Alps to find refuge. This is a picture of the burning to death of some of them in  Toulouse in the 1200’s.

From 1487-1489 a Crusade of 18,000 troops was sent against them, to persecute and kill them.

 

 

I want to highlight – 

Several characteristics of faithfulness from Waldo’s life

But first let me say, you don’t have to die to be faithful. I don’t want to give the wrong impression with these stories of faithfulness. We all have to lose our lives in this world in various ways by giving them up to follow Jesus. But not all will be killed for their commitment. Waldo died a natural death.

Regarding his faithfulness, 1. His fearless preaching of the Gospel stands out. Jesus said in Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . ..” In a time when it was assumed that everyone was a Christian, he preached and called all people to repentance. And when some tried to stop him, he accepted rejection and persecution to continue to do this. He is a model for us of zeal to reach out and share our faith in our much, much easier set of circumstances, where the biggest issues for us are shame, laziness or making time in our busy lives.

2. His rejection of wealth. Jesus doesn’t call all people to give up all their wealth like the rich young ruler or Waldo. But he does call all of us to reject wealth as the source of our security and comfort. This is God’s role in our lives. As Waldo quoted Jesus from Matthew 6:24 – “No one can serve two masters . . .You cannot serve God and money.”

Jesus also tells us all in Luke 12:33 – “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy.” We should all give of what God has blesses us with to help those who have needs. And we can also give sacrificially, even cutting into what we need (Mark 12:41-44). 

3. He obeyed Jesus simply and radically. It is Jesus’ purpose that we do everything that he teaches. As he said in Matthew 28:19, everyone who is baptized is “to observe all that I commanded you,” that is, all that he taught the apostles. As he says in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” We are called to obedience.

Waldo heard what Jesus said, he listened to the Spirit and he acted. He did not need any fancy explanations or pressure, or an inspiring message to act. And he certainly didn’t listen to any who would explain away what Jesus said. He read it and he acted on all that Jesus said.

And he obeyed Jesus even when it was very difficult, giving up everything he had and living off of the charity of others; even when  the authorities, even the church authorities, told him not to; even when it brought him persecution.

Let me end with a call to commitment. We all only have one life to live. Why not give it to Jesus fully and radically? Why not give it as a monument of your love and devotion to him? Why use it up on the mundane things of this world, especially accumulating wealth and trying to live comfortably? Don’t waste your life. It is a gift from God. Don’t let the distractions of this world and earthly pursuits take up your life so that you wake up one day and you are old and you haven’t served or loved God in dramatic ways. What will any of this life’s comforts mean in the context of the final day? Why not choose to do something great for God? Lift up your eyes to see greater things than just living life like everyone else is, or just being a nominal Christian. What is God calling you to do? Do you have the courage to follow him? It is never too late.

[A note: If Waldo did leave his wife behind and put his children in a convent, then this is problematic. Neither Luke 14:26, nor Matthew 8:18-22 condone functionally divorcing one’s wife and orphaning one’s children. Even though he provided for them financially he was bound by his marriage covenant to be with his wife (Matthew 19:4-6; 1 Corinthians 7:3-5) and as a father to raise his children. Although perhaps it is possible that he maintained some contact with his wife and children.]

*I have relied on Gabriel Audisio’s The Waldensian Dissent, and also John Driver’s Radical Faith, who in turn draws on Amedeo Molnar’s work.

William Higgins

 

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“Am I my brother’s keeper?”

I begin with a question today, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  Or to say it another way, “Are you your brother’s keeper?” And, of course, the question refers to both brothers and sisters.

This question is a haunting one. It challenges us to think about our responsibilities to others. And whether we have kept them, or not. It comes from –

The story of Cain and Abel

This is a familiar story, from Genesis 4. Let’s remember it together:

  • They both brought an offering to the Lord
  • God had regard for Abel’s. But God did not have regard for Cain’s, who was the older brother.
  • Cain became angry and depressed.
  • God counseled Cain to do well and to beware of sin.
  • Cain, however, murdered his brother while they were in the field together
  • So God confronted Cain, “Where is your brother?” Now, of course, God already knew what had happened, but he is inviting Cain to confess and take responsibility for his actions.

And this brings us to –

The question

– which is our focus. Cain responded to God, “I do not know (where Abel is); am I my brother’s keeper?’” – Genesis 4:9.

First of all he lies. He knew where his brother was. And second his question communicates his belief that he has no responsibility for his brother and his well being. This belief shows up clearly in that he could murder Abel, and yet evidence no hint of sorrow; there is not a shred of guilt in any of his responses.

But let’s look at the question more closely, because there’s a lot going on here. The word “keeper” means “to watch over, to guard, to have charge of.”

  • It is used in Genesis 2:15 of Adam as the keeper of the garden of Eden – which was his full-time job as it were.
  • It is used in Genesis 3:24 of the angel that constantly guarded the tree of life to keep Adam and Eve away from it.

So Cain uses this word to exaggerate what God wants from him. What he is saying is that, “Hey, I can’t be expected to keep up with every detail of my brother’s life! That’s not my full-time job; I’m not his body guard.” And he asks the question in this way because he’s seeking to evade any responsibility for his brother.

But even though he asked it as a way of avoiding responsibility, the question has a way of coming back to condemn him nevertheless. That’s because even though Cain is not responsible for every aspect of his brother’s life, he does bear responsibility to care for him and help him. And in this regard he failed in the worst possible way.

So the answer to the question is actually, “yes.” Cain did have a responsibility to his brother. And we have a responsibility to help and care for our brothers and sisters, that is to say our neighbors – especially when they are weak and in need.

This point is made abundantly clear in Scripture, and I want you to see this, so we are going to look at a lot passages. We begin with –

The call to be our brother and sister’s keeper

This shows up in different ways in Scripture, but it is certainly clear in the command to love our neighbor. Leviticus 19:18 says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” We are to act for their good; for their well-being. In Matthew 5:44 Jesus expands this to cover all people when he teaches “love your enemies.”

We are especially to help and care for those who are weak and vulnerable. Psalm 82:3-4 says, “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” In Acts 20:35 Paul says, “We must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” And in I Thessalonians 5:14 Paul says simply, “help the weak.”

Now let’s look at some specific –

Examples of being our sister and brother’s keeper

We are to care for the needs of widows and orphans. Exodus 22:22 says, “You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child.” Isaiah 1:17 says, “Bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” James 1:27 tells us that we are “to visit orphans and widows in their affliction . . ..”

We are to care for immigrants, most of whom are, by definition, weak both economically and socially. Leviticus 19:33-34 says, “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself . . ..”

We are to care for the disabled. Deuteronomy 27:18 says, “Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind man on the road.” Rather we should help the one who is disabled.

We are to honor the poor. James 2:9 indicates that if you dishonor a poor person, “you are committing sin.” Proverbs 17:5 says, “Whoever mocks the poor insults his Maker.” Rather we should give honor where others give disdain.

We are to give food, clothing and shelter to the needy. Ezekiel 18:7 gives a description of a righteous person. Among other things, he “gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment.” Isaiah 58:7 teaches that true fasting means to stop all oppression and “to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him.”

In Luke 3:11 John the Baptist said, “Whoever has two tunics (or items of clothing) is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.’” In Luke 12:33 Jesus said, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” We are to do this instead of storing up our excess wealth for ourselves.

We are to give the poor economic assistance. Leviticus 25:37 says, “You shall not . . . give him your food for profit.” That is, sell your food at cost.  Leviticus 19:10, speaking of gleaning says, “You shall leave [some of your harvest] for the poor and for the sojourner.”

Deuteronomy 15:7-8 says, “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor . . . you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.” Exodus 22:25 says, “If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor . . . you shall not exact interest from him.” Jesus sais in Luke 6:35, “Lend, [even to your enemies] expecting nothing in return.”

We are to invite the needy to share in our celebrations. There are several examples of this in the Old Testament. This one has to do with the tithe feast. Deuteronomy 14:28-29 says, “At the end of every three years you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in the same year and lay it up within your towns. And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled . . ..”

In Luke 14:12-14  Jesus said, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

Alright we have spent quite a bit of time looking at this in the Scriptures, because I want to ground this truth in God’s word. And that truth is that we are indeed our brother and sister’s keeper. We are to care for and help others, especially when they are weak and in need.

But you might say, Pastor,

There is so much need in the world!

And it is easy to get overwhelmed. Just the crises of one week, like flooding in Pakistan and landslides in China are enough to overwhelm. And then you have things like the gulf oil spill and Katrina which continue on for years.

So, yes, it is easy to throw up your hands and say, what can I do? But we have to be careful that we don’t do something similar to what Cain did. We can’t use the vastness of the need as an excuse; as an out for not acting; for not taking responsibility.

It’s true we can’t do everything. But we can do something. We can help some people. And we can care for some needs. And that is what God asks of us.

Next week we will look at a specific example of suffering, and talk about what we can do.

William Higgins

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We have come to the final letter in our series on the seven letters to the churches in Revelation. Today we look at what Jesus has to say by the Spirit to the church in Laodicea, and also to us.

Laodicea was situated on major north-south and east-west trade routes. It was a prosperous city, even able to rebuild after a devastating earthquake in 60 AD without imperial help. It was known for several things: its banking and financial industry, it textiles – including making clothes, and a medical school.

The situation in Laodicea

Something is seriously wrong. This letter is arguably the worst of the seven in tone and critique.

  • In v. 16 Jesus says, “I will spit (or vomit) you out of my mouth.” In other words, they make Jesus sick!
  • In v. 17 Jesus says, “You are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”
  • They have shut Jesus out. v. 20 presents a picture of Jesus on the outside, knocking, hoping to get in.
  • They need to repent, as Jesus says in v. 19.

When we look at what’s going on, it isn’t exactly clear. They are doing well. In v. 17 Jesus has them say, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.” And all this in a time of persecution, which raises some questions. We have already seen in other letters that persecution can bring economic hardship. But they are doing just fine. Perhaps they are using their wealth to keep them out of suffering, through bribes or calling in favors and otherwise using their influence.

In v. 17 Jesus tells them the truth, “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” They think they are faithful. They haven’t denied Jesus (having used their wealth to escape persecution), but in reality they aren’t standing up for Jesus. If it is true that they have bought their way out of testing, they are avoiding true faithfulness to Jesus.

In vs. 15-16 Jesus says, “you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

The idea of this hot-cold contrast, with lukewarm in between seems to be that they are trying to be something in between two extremes. They are trying to have it both ways, being faithful to Jesus, but also not having to suffer for him. But the truth is they are neither standing up for Jesus (hot?), nor denying him (cold?), but are doing something in between (lukewarm).

The Laodiceans didn’t have good drinking water, so they would have understood Jesus’ image here of spitting out bad water. They would have gotten the message that Jesus doesn’t approve of their behavior.

Jesus’ message

v. 18 picks up on the last three words of v. 17 – “poor, blind and naked.” Jesus says, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.”

In this verse Jesus gives them the answers to their problems. 1. They are poor (even though their city is famous for its financial industry and wealth). The answer – “Buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich” – v. 18. Refining is a common metaphor for testing and persecution. Jesus is saying, gain true treasures that come through enduring testing.

2. They are naked (even thought their city is famous for its textiles and clothing industry). The answer – “Buy from me . . . white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen” – v. 18. In Revelation, white garments have to do with righteous deeds, including suffering (Revelation 19:8; 7:13-14). Jesus is saying, gain true righteousness through enduring testing.

3. They are blind (even though their city is famous for its medicine, including eye medicine). The answer – “Buy from me . . . salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see” – v. 18. Jesus is saying, gain true vision so that you can realize your situation of unfaithfulness.

Jesus’ call to change. Although judgment is threatened, Jesus says in v. 19, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” His warnings come from love, so that they will listen and have a change of heart and behavior.

In v. 20 Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Now this verse is popular and is often used to speak of becoming a Christian. But in context it is spoken to those who are already Christian, but need to repent because they are being disciplined by Jesus.) In this verse, Jesus is looking for those in the church in Laodicea that he can share fellowship with. This fellowship is pictured as eating a meal together. The path to this is repentance. They have shut him out, and so they must let him back in.

Jesus speaks to us

v. 22 – “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Jesus is speaking to all who will listen in his churches. And so, once again, we have to ask ourselves, ‘Do we have ears to hear what Jesus is saying to us in this letter?’

1. We often don’t see when we are failing. The Laodiceans thought they were faithful and were probably expecting a good word from Jesus. They were clueless having deceived themselves.

And we too can be unaware of our own faults. We too can be deceived and oblivious to reality. This is why we need to be in relationship with God and with others so that we can receive admonition and correction.

We need others. When we isolate by ourselves; when we stop coming to church and stop reading the Scriptures and praying, we cut ourselves off from God and other. And we are setting ourselves up for failure.

But we are Americans and we love our privacy! But we are called to love each other enough to help each other see our faults, so that we can repent and receive God’s blessing in our lives.

2. Even when we fail, Jesus still loves us and invites us to come back. In v. 19 Jesus admonishes us because he loves us and wants us to change. And in v. 20 he knocks on the door of our hearts because he wants to be in fellowship with us.

Even when we sin and are under threat of judgment, Jesus still wants us to hear him and respond with repentance so that we can be in relationship. We may shut Jesus out of our lives, but he still pursues us.

3. Beware the dangers of wealth. All through the New Testament wealth is seen as potentially dangerous. In Mark 4:18-19, the parable of the sower, the seed among the thorns represents – “those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.”  Wealth can choke out and kill our Christian faithfulness.

In Luke 12:15 Jesus says, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Jesus is saying, don’t even desire an abundance of things.

When wealth is used to help those in need it is a blessing to all. But when it is used for personal comfort and security it becomes a stumbling block. This seems to be how the Laodiceans were using it.

4. Jesus wants us to be truly faithful to him. In v. 15 he says, “you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!” Like the Laodiceans, we try to have it both ways. We want to be faithful to Jesus, but we also want to be comfortable. We don’t want to experience the downside of faithfulness, you know, things like suffering and ridicule. And so we find ways to get out of this.

But you can’t have it both ways. To be faithful to Jesus means being faithful precisely when it is hard, and precisely when it takes away our comforts. We can’t be both hot (faithful) and cold (unfaithful) at the same time, that is, lukewarm. We have to be either hot or cold. Not just faithful on the surface.

As we end, lets remember Jesus’ words of encouragement for faithfulness: v. 21 – “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.”

William Higgins

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