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About this series
The Genius of Generosity
Lessons from a Secret Pact Between Two Friends
What's the secret to being truly smart when it comes to managing your finances, possessions and your very life? The Creator of all things invites you to enter into deeper levels of generosity with Him, so you can become wise in your giving and generous in living. When we begin to grasp God's extravagant love and generosity toward us, we begin to be generous toward Him and others in His kingdom. The result: our generosity becomes a visible expression of our love for Him.More from this series
And so here’s the question for believers, for followers of Christ. Can God trust you? Can He trust with you with a big opportunity? Could God trust you with more financial resources? Could God trust you with a great friend that’s going to be loyal to you? Could God, when He looks at your life and your character, could He trust you with a spouse right now? Or would He know, you know what? The way you treat people now, I’m not going to give a spouse in your life. You’d just produce pain in that person’s life.
Well, when all this issue of stewardship and trust came up Jesus was speaking to the religious leaders and unfortunately the religious leaders in that day have exactly the same problem as a lot of religious leaders in our day. They loved money. They were warped.
If you’ll open your Bibles, turn to Luke chapter 16 and Jesus is going to give a corrective about money and about stewardship. And He’s talking to the religious leaders and the disciples are there.
And the religious leaders at the time, they had this false formula. It’s actually been picked up by the Prosperity Gospel on our day. That if God really loves you He blesses you with material things and the more righteous you are the more material things. And it’s a give-to-get mentality.
Well, the Pharisees wanted to appear very righteous and so they were very, very greedy. Jesus described them as philarguria, lovers of money. And they would they would tithe, oh man, they would do, they followed all the rules. But they would actually even change some of the rules and the traditions to get more money for themselves so they felt like the more wealthy they could be it would indicate that they must be righteous and experience God’s blessing.
And Jesus is going to just cut through and here’s what He’s going to ask and answer. Write in your notes, where it says: “Can God trust you?” you might write this question. And this question is: How do you become a wise steward? Isn’t that the sixty-four dollar question?
How do you become a wise steward? How do you become the kind of man, or woman, or student that God could look into your heart, because that’s where He looks, and say, “I can trust you with more time. I can trust you with more opportunity. I can trust you with more money. I could trust you with more leadership position. I could trust you with the souls of a handful of people. You’ll be faithful.”
And what you’re going to learn is in Luke 16 He’s going to take the good example of a bad person to teach a timeless lesson.
Here’s the setting: Correction to the Pharisees and instruction of His disciples concerning wealth and here’s the story. We pick up the story, Luke 16 verses 1 and 2 a mismanagement occurs and the steward, or the manager is going to get fired.
“Now He was also saying to the disciples there was a rich man who had a manager. And this manager was reported to him as squandering his possessions and he called him in and he said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management for you can no longer be my manager.’”
So as you follow along in your Bible, or your iPad, or mobile device, whatever you’re using just understand this is a guy who was given oversight like Joseph and he was squandering it. He wasn’t a good manager and he’s going to get fired.
Now the second thing that’s going to happen, he’s going to say, “So what are my options?” He’s going to come up with two options, decide neither of those are very good and then he comes up with a very creative third option.
Picking it up in verse 3. “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do since my master is taking my management away from me?’” Option number one, “I’m not strong enough to dig,” in other words I can’t do just labor. “I’m ashamed to beg,” option number two, can’t do that one.
“‘I know what I shall do so that when I am removed from the management people will welcome me into their homes.’ And he summoned each one of his master’s debtors and he began saying to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ And he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and write fifty.’
Then he said to another, ‘How much do you owe?’ And he said, ‘One hundred measures of wheat.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, write in eighty.’ And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the children of light.”
And then He makes an application. “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of wealth of unrighteousness so that when it fails they will receive you into eternal dwellings.” The commendation is not that he’s a crook. Here’s the spiritual principle. I put it in a box so that we wouldn’t miss it, because this passage has been often very poorly interpreted.
The dishonest manager used his present, temporal opportunity, his stewardship, with a view of receiving future reward. This made good business sense and according to Jesus it makes good spiritual sense.
So what Jesus is saying is here’s someone who realized, “I’m only going to have this job for a little bit more time. So I’m going to do, in this limited time, something that will allow me, once I get fired, to have these guys,” his boss, apparently, was in commodities, olive oil and wheat. And he says, “Then they’ll be indebted to me and I can say, ‘Hey, guys I need some money or I need a place to live. Remember what I did for you? In fact, if you don’t remember I could maybe let my master know what you did.’”
And so he’s just operating. He’s shrewd. He’s saying, “I’m going to take this little window of time and set myself up for the future.”
And Jesus’ application is if you could understand eternity and you could understand that this tiny, little dot called time and inside that tiny dot is a microscopic, little dot of your life that’s maybe seventy to ninety years max, He said you want to take this present, temporal, little opportunity and the wealth that God gives you and what you want to do is you want to leverage that so that after you die and there is a real heaven and there is a real hell and there is a real thing called rewards that you’ll be like John Saville who, right now I am sure, has hundreds, if not thousands of people saying, “John, I was that teenage girl and I met that Chip guy and he wrote that check. I didn’t know you’re the one who did it, thank you. I wouldn’t be here except for you.”
That’s what Jesus is saying. He’s saying, “Use this temporal management opportunity to invest wisely.
Now notice what He goes on and says, however. The teaching is faithfulness with material wealth is a prerequisite to being trusted with spiritual wealth and rewards.
Notice the axiom. Verse 10: “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much.” Now that’s true of finances. But that’s also, that’s an axiom. That’s a timeless principle. “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much.”
That’s what people who, look into the lives of stewards. If you’re faithful in this, God entrusts you with more. You’re faithful in that, He’ll entrust you with more. And whether it’s money or whether it’s time or whether it’s your gifts, whether it’s your talents.
“But he who is unfaithful in a very little thing will be unfaithful in much. Therefore, if you’ve not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth who will entrust you with true riches? And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters for he will hate the one and love the other or else he’ll be devoted to one and despise the other. You can’t serve both God and wealth.”
Now notice the commentary to the group. Now the Pharisees were lovers of money and they were listening to all these things and they were scoffing at Him or, literally, they were sneering.
He’s talking about, see, they’ve got this religious pretense like I had. Thirty percent. I wasn’t generous. I thought I owned that car. I thought I owned my gifts. I thought I owned my future. I thought I owned my dreams. I thought I was in control.
And I’m going to figure out a little way to use the religious system that I was understanding to promote me.
And God didn’t want to take away a car. God wanted to take away an idol and the only way God gets a hold of the idols in our life, often, is He asks you to surrender them.
The only way you know whether it’s really His or not is He taps you on the shoulder and says, “You know something? I want you to give that away. Or I want you to relocate. Or I’ll tell you what, I want you to cross a boundary and invite that neighbor and I want you to love him. Or I want you to take a risk over here. Your time isn’t your own, it’s not your reputation, it’s My reputation. You’re My child.”
And He says here they were scoffing. And then this last line, this is a verse I memorized that some of you if you have a little Chip Ingram in you, you might want to jot down.
This is what Jesus said to those of us that tend to have that bent toward legalism, that bent toward performance. “And He said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men but God knows your heart. For that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.’”
Let me ask you, what’s highly esteemed among men? What you drive, what your zip code number is, what’s your portfolio, how many zeros, how many letters behind your name, who you know. That which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.
Now when God gives you nice things, when He entrusts you with position and power and wealth and opportunity and if He gives you a wonderful and nice body and you’re on a good diet and all those. And when, as a steward, you’re thinking, “Oh, God, thank You. I can’t believe how generous You’ve been. And, by the way, I just want You to know, any time, any way You want to use any of this I just, it’s in Your hands.”
See those kind of people, you know what God does? He just keeps pouring more in. He keeps pouring more in. Because He’s like one of those venture capitalists.
“We invested some money with that group and they made us a hundred million dollars, they’re coming back, what do you think we ought to do? I think we should invest some more. Next time out they win us a billion dollars. Well they got another great idea, what should we do? I think we’ll invest some more.”
What Jesus is saying is if you can understand that there isn’t scarcity, that God owns everything and that true spiritual wealth is not about money or things but it’s about relationships but the symptom, the symptom that tells you where you’re at in relationship to God and how much you trust Him is your money.
There’s a young man that I was spending some time with in Atlanta and just gifted. He was an artist and a photographer and just had all these dreams and wanted to start this ministry and he was trying this and trying that and he did an art exhibit and got with other artists in Atlanta area and everything he tried it just, it was just like there was no air in the balloon.
Just failure. Flat. Flat. And I met with the guy and he had a heart for God and he was gifted and the stuff was amazing. And I just, it was one of those times where you just thought it’s like playing basketball with a guy that has a forty inch vertical and he can’t dunk and you go, “There’s something wrong here.”
And so I went to Starbucks one day and I said, “Hey, Josh, let’s, I…” Because he said, “What’s wrong? Why is God not blessing this?” And I said, “You know, I don’t know,” but I read through Luke 16 with him and out loud and I said, “I don’t know and I don’t want to mess with your interior life, I don’t know you all that well but just let me ask you. What, like, where are you at in your finances?”
And the story comes out and he really hadn’t worked full time anywhere for two and a half, three years, was living off credit cards, had amazing amounts of debt, wasn’t giving a dime to God in any way.
And I said, “Josh, do you think it would be wise for God to entrust a ministry to you and people’s lives to you and maybe even give you a position of credibility to tell people about Christ when actually you haven’t even been faithful with the little thing: money?”
And he got in a plan to get out of debt and it was just an amazing story to watch him turn things around.
But see the test, there’s two tests. We’ll talk more about these things a little bit later but just here’s two financial tests that are just crystal clear that can let us know if our priorities, if, in fact, God really were trustworthy.
Test number one is: Generous stewards give the first and the best to God. There’s an Old Testament passage here and it’s all through the New Testament. It says, “Honor the Lord with all your wealth and with the first portion of your produce or your crops.”
So he says the first fruits would be like the harvest comes in or the grape has just come off the vine. You take the best and the first and you bring it to the temple and you say, “I’m not sure how many grapes are coming. I don’t know how big the harvest is going to be. I don’t know if it’s going to be a ten-fold or a twenty-fold or a thirty-fold and I don’t know. But, God, I want you to know the very first and the very best is Yours and You are the one that’s responsible and I’m a steward.” You give your first and your best to God.
And then what’s the second half of that say, “Honor the Lord with all your wealth and with the first fruits of your produce or your crops. Then your barns will be filled to overflowing and your vats will burst forth with new wine.”
See there’s no scarcity. When God sees us trust Him like that He says, “Hey, I’ll, the blessing of My hand will be upon you.”
The second test is that generous stewards give regularly and systematically. The apostle Paul would write to the church. It says, “On the first day of every week each one of you should set aside a sum of money,” notice how much. What’s he say? “In keeping with his income.”
It means rather than looking at just a percentage as, “Hmm, well I’ve given that, I’m okay.” I mean, I’ve had, somehow God’s linked me with some people that have been extraordinarily wealthy and very blessed and I know one friend and he’s just so smart and so gifted and really loves God. And yet he kind of has this attitude that, and I mean, he’s worth, well, he’s got one piece of property that’s worth ten million dollars, it’s just an empty lot. I won’t tell you where it is. And he’s got about four different houses.
And as we talk it’s like, “Oh, yeah, I want to be faithful to God and whatever God brings in I give the first ten percent.” And he’s like, “Hey like I wrote the bill. So that’s it, right?”
And I’m thinking, “Oh man, you really don’t get it at all. It doesn’t, it says, ‘Let each on the first day of the week set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income.’”
Those that have a lot give a lot. Those that have a little just can give a little.
And so until you can be faithful in the little thing, little responsibility, and the little thing starts with money but it’s just the training wheels. And then it’s relationships. And then it’s integrity. And when we’re faithful in little things He gives more and more and more and more.
Well, on the very back there are three questions that, I guess what I’d say is if there is someone safe, it might be your mate, it might be one of your best friends, it might be your small group. But I would encourage you to ask those three questions out loud. It’s what wise stewards ask. “Am I spending the owner,” which is God’s, “money in a way that He wishes?” “Am I keeping track of the owner’s money?”
If I give thirty percent, I’m still responsible for the seventy percent. He owns it all, right? And, “Am I becoming best friends with the owner?”
If giving is like I was where, hey I got that done, I’m so glad, it’s an obligation. You may give but you’re missing what it means to be generous.
What is it that God wants to do in your life to entrust to you so that you could experience the joy and the genius of generosity?