Influence as Salt and Light

Sermon from Matthew 5:13-16

Each one of us has some kind of influence in this world. We don’t have to be a CEO or a president or a big-name pastor. We all have influence for Christ everywhere our lives take us.

One time when my son was small, we were riding home from church after hearing a sermon about The Good Samaritan. My son said, “Dad, that sermon was about you… the priest who walked by…” I was surprised and asked him what he meant. He said, “Remember the other day when I asked you to play with me, and you didn’t do it?” Wow, that kid was paying attention! Even in our own homes, we are held accountable for our witness and influence!

We often in our minds make a disconnect between our church lives and our weekday lives. But Jesus is saying that we can’t do that! Who we are on Sunday has to be who we are every other day of the week. This is not easy to do!

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

Matthew 5:13

Scholar David Turk believes that the salt Jesus is referring to in this passage is salt from the Dead Sea. In that part of the world, this salt is used everywhere – for healing, for food preservation, for flavor. He says, however, that it’s the sodium chloride in this mineral compound which is what makes it so effective and useful, and the sodium chloride is the first thing to wash out of this compound. Once the sodium chloride is gone, all that’s left is a useless white powder, only good for throwing away.

I suggest that to the degree we see moral decline in our society, Jesus is saying that it is the Christians who bear the responsibility for this. Our societies decline when Christians aren’t being “salty” enough. We have failed to preserve our societies by inserting our integrity into politics, education, business, and social justice.

If societies are to be renewed, Christians must hold the line. If we don’t do it, who will?

We are all surrounded by pressure to conform to those around us, to fit in, to keep up. But Jesus commands us to maintain our saltiness even if we are the only salt in the bowl!

Jesus commands us to shine the holiness of God, the character of God, from the inside out. We must be so firmly rooted in the ways of God that we will not be moved.

The apostle Paul says, ” Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt…” (Colossians 4:6). Elsewhere, he says to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Sometimes truth and love feel like opposites, don’t they? It’s difficult to be both gracious and salty! We must resist the temptation to fall too far on either side; we either lose truth in favor of grace, or we lose grace in favor of truth. There is a fine line right in the middle, and Jesus calls us to walk it.

We are inclined to look upon bad temper as a very harmless weakness. We speak of it as a mere infirmity of nature, a family failing, a matter of temperament, not a thing to take into very serious account in estimating a man’s character. And yet here, right in the heart of this analysis of love, it finds a place; and the Bible again and again returns to condemn it as one of the most destructive elements in human nature. The peculiarity of ill temper is that it is the vice of the virtuous. It is often the one blot on an otherwise noble character. You know men who are all but perfect, and women who would be entirely perfect, but for an easily ruffled, quick-tempered or “touchy” disposition. This compatibility of ill temper with high moral character is one of the strangest and saddest problems of ethics. The truth is there are two great classes of sins – sins of the Body, and sins of Disposition.

Henry Drummond, The Greatest Thing in the World, on 1 Corinthians 13

The righteous tend to struggle with sins of the disposition – we get grumpy and judgmental. Jesus wants us to be at the same time salt (maintaining holiness and truth) and light (loving and brightening all those we come in contact with).

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:16

When people see you living as salt and light in the world, it will inevitably stir up conversation. People will see a difference in you and wonder why. This is when you need to not be afraid to let your light shine in order to glorify your Father in heaven. It is in these moments, when your salt is at its saltiest and your light is at its brightest, that you have the greatest opportunity to influence those around you for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Everything Rises and Falls

Sermon from Luke 2:22-40, The Presentation of the Lord

On the Feast of the Presentation, we celebrate the glorious moment when the infant Jesus was taken by Mary and Joseph to be presented at the Temple. This was just the beginning of all the ways Jesus would perfectly fulfill the life of a righteous Jewish man.

In obedience to God’s law, Mary and Joseph had Jesus circumcised at 8 days old, and they also presented him at the Temple along with a sacrifice. These were both signs of obedience and devotion to God.

The presentation of a child would have traditionally been a mundane task. However, the presentation of Jesus became wonderful when Simeon approached the young family, took the baby in his arms, and declared:

Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.

Luke 2:29-32

Simeon instantly recognized that this was no ordinary child – he was God’s promised Messiah!

These words of Simeon have become a traditional evening prayer. One commentator says that it is appropriate to say these words at the close of the day, because the end of each day is like a type of death. Each night when we close our eyes in sleep, it’s like we are “dying” to the day. We can close our days knowing we have met our Savior that day.

What a blessed life to begin each day saying, “Lord, I want to praise you today,” and then end each day saying, “I have seen the Lord today.”

Simeon went on to tell Mary and Joseph that everything would rise and fall on that little One in their arms (v. 34). Every single person on the planet must make their peace with him, or find their lives lacking peace. He alone is the Savior of the world. Many oppose him, even though he is the source of all light, hope, and comfort.

Simeon told Mary that her own soul would be pierced like a sword (v. 35). Imagine how those words echoed through her mind as she stood beneath the cross and saw him crucified!

Jesus is the one who gave his life for our salvation, as proof of the promises and the love of God. Everything rises and falls on him – every day, every life.

Who Is Jesus? The Beloved

Sermon from Matthew 3:13-17

During the season of Epiphany, we reflect upon Jesus, the Light of the World who has been revealed to us. We spent the season of Advent anticipating the coming King, and now the King has come! As we consider the King who came, I’d like to examine a passage where one aspect of Jesus was revealed to us – the Baptism of Jesus.

“And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Matthew 3:16-17

God reveals to all the listeners present, and to all of us who read these words, that Jesus was his Son – his beloved Son, with whom God was well pleased. The root of the word “beloved” in this passage is the form of love that in Greek is called agape, which is the highest form of love.

One thing to note about this passage is that we are clearly told that all three Persons of the Holy Trinity are named as being present here. The Father is speaking, the Son is in the waters, and the Spirit is descending like a dove. The Trinity is very hard for us to understand, but one thing we can understand is that the Trinity is the purest demonstration we have of agape love. The divine fellowship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all eternally delighting in each other.

Don’t we all want to we are completely loved and delighted in? Of course we do. This is wonderful.

However, this passage contains a tricky problem as well. Just a few verses before this, John tells those present that he is baptizing people for repentance (v. 11). And in that very same verse, he predicts the coming of the Holy One that John isn’t worthy to even touch his shoes. However, Jesus them comes to John to be baptized with the baptism of repentance, and this baffles John as much as it baffles us! Jesus doesn’t need to repent!

But when John protested that he shouldn’t be baptizing Jesus, Jesus told him, ” Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (v. 15).

Let me explain this using a quote from C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity:

Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. Laying down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry, realising that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again from the ground floor– that is the only way out of a “hole.” This process of surrender–this movement full speed astern–is what Christians call repentance. Now repentance is no fun at all. It is something much harder than merely eating humble pie. It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years. It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death. In fact, it needs a good man to repent. And here comes the catch. Only a bad person needs to repent: only a good person can repent perfectly. The worse you are the more you need it and the less you can do it. The only person who could do it perfectly would be a perfect person–and he would not need it.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Chapter 4

Jesus enters into our humanity, and he bears ALL of it. By bearing our sin and repenting perfectly on our behalf, Jesus also enabled us to become the beloved of God. We have been ushered into that marvelous fellowship of delight and agape love through the work of Jesus Christ, who “fulfill[ed] all righteousness” (v.15) for us.

The Righteous One

Sermon from Matthew 1:18-25

We may not often think about it, but Jesus was a crisis pregnancy. Think about how it happened for Joseph. Mary’s news of her pregnancy was a huge shock for Joseph, and a major crisis.

Joseph was a righteous man, well trained in the Law of Moses and the Jewish tradition. He knew what the Law said about adultery, and what it said should be done in a case like Mary’s. He was supposed to expose her shame publicly. But as he contemplated this, he didn’t want to do that to her, probably because he loved her. Instead, he wanted to send her away quietly.

But then suddenly, he was visited by an angel, affirming Mary’s story, and now Joseph is faced with a second crisis. Is he going to believe this outlandish story?

The challenge is that, when confronted by something like this, we have to ask ourselves this question: Am I going to believe God or not?

The angel instructed Joseph to name the baby Jesus, which means “Yahweh [God] saves.” Then the angel clarified that the baby Himself was going to be the one to save His people from their sins. And the angel added that this baby was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of the virgin birth. So the angel told Joseph plainly that Mary’s child was the promised Messiah, God in the flesh.

Matthew 1:24 tells us that Joseph, faced with this unimaginable reality, accepted what the angel said as truth, believed God, and obeyed what he was told to do.

In Romans 3, Paul says that there is no one who is righteous, no not one. In addition to being our story, this is also the story of Israel. No matter how hard God’s people tried to follow the Law, they still failed. They still sinned and disobeyed.

No matter how many were righteous, who did good things, none of them were perfect. Everyone needs a Savior, and that’s why God sent Jesus. He was the only One who was perfect, who never sinned, who never deserved any shame. He was born to bear OUR shame instead.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

2 Corinthians 5:21

One of the greatest gifts that was ever given to this world came in the form of a baby: “Immanuel, God with us.” Like Joseph, many of us don’t know how to react to this incredible story. Like Joseph, let’s choose to believe God and obey what He says.

Dealing with Anticipointment

Sermon from Matthew 11

I heard a new word recently, and I feel like it applies perfectly to this Scripture passage: anticipointment. It’s when you build up anticipation to something so much, and then it turns out to be not that big of a deal. Anticipation + disappointment = anticipointment.

This may be what John the Baptist was feeling when he was in prison, wondering if Jesus really was the Messiah they had anticipated so eagerly. When God spoke through His prophets, the prophets didn’t know how those prophecies would be fulfilled, and maybe sometimes the fulfillment didn’t look like the way they had pictured. This seems to be the case with John, who sent some messengers to Jesus asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

Jesus replied with prophecies from Isaiah that He had fulfilled: “the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:5-6).

John, and many of the Jews of that time, was expecting a conquering king who would defeat the oppressors and put everything to rights in an instant. But that is not the kind of Messiah that Jesus was. Jesus was indeed bringing freedom from oppression, but not political oppression. Jesus brought freedom from sin, sickness, and death.

This was a challenge for God’s people to accept, but in the following paragraphs of this chapter, Jesus proclaims woe upon those people who had the Messiah working miracles right in front of their very eyes and refused to accept Him. On the other hand, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:6).

We have to learn how to submit to God’s agenda, especially when it doesn’t match up with our own. Approaching God’s Kingdom with our own agendas will not go well for us. We must not attempt to make Jesus conform to our image, but rather change our image to match His whenever they don’t align.

Our assumptions and preconceived notions must fall before we can achieve true understanding and be on board with God’s perfect agenda. You can’t rush God, and you can’t make God do what you want Him to do. Have patience and allow Him to direct. Let go of things that don’t happen the way you wanted them to, rather than getting upset and grumbling.

In Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby introduced the idea that rather than asking God to bless our own pursuits and agendas, we should look to see where God is working and join Him there. This is life-changing for our own hearts and attitudes.

When John was questioning Jesus, Jesus encouraged him that God was indeed bringing about the fulfillment of His prophecies, just in a way that John didn’t expect. Shift your heart to accept what God IS doing, rather than what you had expected him to do. Then your heart will be filled with the joy of experiencing the manifestation of God’s Kingdom in God’s way.

He Bore Our Shame

Shame is connected to guilt – the two are interrelated. Guilt is something we feel because we do wrong; it has to do with our actions and the consequences of our actions. Shame, on the other hand, has to do with our being, our identity. It’s a subtle difference, but an important one. Shame is what breaks our communion with the Lord. Remember in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve sinned, it was their shame that caused them to hide from God.

Shame is not only caused by things we do, but also by things that have been done to us, or by our own personal failures and inadequacies. Shame causes us to hide, but it also causes us to create false facades. We keep our sources of shame hidden.

This is where some idols are set up in our lives. We become really good at certain things in an attempt to hide our failures, and they become shame-generated idols behind which we hide in order to keep people from seeing our authentic selves.

Jesus is the only person ever who has never had any reason to feel shame. Not even those who disbelieved him could find any charge against him. Everyone who put him on trial proclaimed, “This man has done nothing wrong!” (Luke 23:13-15) And finally, the centurion at the foot of the cross of Christ proclaimed, “Certainly this man was innocent!” (Luke 23:47) Yet he endured the cross for our sake.

Our world teaches us that if we have problems or if we feel shame, what we need to do is save ourselves. Our libraries and bookstores are full of “self-help books,” which instruct us to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and save ourselves. But those are really just hiding our shame, not healing it.

The better choice for dealing with shame is acknowledging it before God, bringing it before him. The Collect for Purity puts it perfectly for us:

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid.

Book of Common Prayer

We need to acknowledge them before God and allow him to do his redemptive work in them. He already knows you intimately anyway. Don’t allow your insecurity about yourself or your knowledge of faith keep you from approaching God with humility.

Make a decision not to allow the world’s save-yourself attitude to keep you from approaching Jesus and asking for his mercy. Remember the grace he showed the thief on the cross, who begged for his favor, and Jesus gave it to him freely (Luke 23:39-43). He longs to show you the same mercy and bring you the same freedom from shame. He himself bore it on the cross, and he offers to restore us to his Paradise, not naked like Adam and Eve, but rather clothed in his righteousness. What a glorious Savior!

Politics, Marriage, and the Resurrection of the Dead

Sermon on Mark 12:18-27

This passage is a difficult one to explain. First of all, it’s important to understand that the Sadducees and Pharisees were both political parties. Our political views are shaped by our values, our ideas, our doctrines, and our worldviews. The Pharisees and Sadducees had a political debate over whether or not there was a resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees said that there was no resurrection, so their focus was on living their best life now, because afterwards there is just nothing.

The Pharisees, however, believed that there is a resurrection of the dead. They believed that when people die, they go to a sort of temporary state in heaven, but then there will come a day when God will turn the world upside-down and set everything to rights, and this is the Day of Resurrection. On this day, those who have died and are in the temporary state will rise from the dead bodily and be alive again.

(Many people don’t know that Christian doctrine agrees with the Pharisees. A common misconception is that heaven is the ultimate destination for our souls, but it’s not. We are looking forward to the day when Jesus Christ will return, and we will rise with him, and live out eternity on earth with Christ in bodily form.)

We see in Acts 23:6-10, an example of how volatile this division between the parties was, because Paul used the violent dissension between the groups as a way to get out of trouble before the Jewish council.

So in Mark 12, the Sadducees are trying to bring Jesus into this argument with the Pharisees by presenting him with what they think is an incontrovertible proof that they are right: A woman is married and widowed by a succession of seven brothers and then she dies… Whose wife will she be in the resurrection? The Sadducees think this is a zinger, because that situation is ridiculous.

So Jesus responds. Sometimes he refuses to engage in debate when he is challenged, but the issue of resurrection is so central to who he is and what he came to do that he responds clearly and firmly.

Jesus essentially says to the Sadducees, “You are wrong. Resurrection is real.” Jesus explains that marriage is a temporary situation for this age only; there will not be marriage in the resurrection age. Marriage is necessary in the current age because people die, and so we need to marry and have children in order to make more people to carry on in the world. But in the resurrection, there will be no more death, so marriage and procreation will not be required to make more people. In the resurrection, marriage will be irrelevant. The Sadducees are focusing on the wrong thing entirely.

Jesus then goes on to give further proof that resurrection is real, by using a passage from the Book of Exodus, when Moses was at the burning bush. God introduced himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. To the human way of thinking, those three men were dead, but God was saying in essence, “These men are alive and with me now.”

It is absolutely necessary for a Christian to believe in resurrection, and Paul explains it this way:

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

1 Corinthians 15:12-19

When Jesus was dismissing marriage as a temporary state for this age only, he was aiming straight for the Sadducees’ way of thinking, because the Sadducees were focused on this life only. They were wrapped up in their earthly wealth, status, and comfort.

But the truth is, if you put too much stock in the things of this age, you may very well forfeit your soul. You have to place all your hopes in the coming age. Jesus promises that all the blessing, comfort, and riches are coming for his people in the resurrection, not in this world. People who are truly following Christ will be willing to lay down their temporary lives, their temporary possessions, because they believe they will receive all that and more in eternity.

Do Not Lose Heart

Sermon on the Parable of the Persistent Widow (Luke 18)

When Luke begins to recount how Jesus told the parable of the persistent widow, he explicitly says why Jesus told it: “that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1).

People of Jesus’ day were so longing for God to manifest his power and overcome the corrupt political and societal systems of that day. They wanted God to bring about the fulfillment of all his promises, and for him to somehow intervene in people’s hearts to cause them to want to do good and live righteously. They longed for the day when God would wipe away sin.

In our day, sometimes we get so used to the way things are, so disillusioned with the way things are, that we just accept things too casually. We see so much injustice and perversion and corruption that we become desensitized to it. We lose our deep longing for God’s righteousness and to see authenticity in God’s people. We come to a place where we start to just expect people to be dishonest, to be corrupt. Cynically, we stop expecting anyone to do the right thing. Our hearts get hard, and we stop feeling. Or our hearts despair, and we stop hoping. In either case, we lose heart and stop believing anything can ever change.

Jesus tells this parable in order to counteract the tendency to lose heart. He set up a situation with an unjust judge – he clearly tells us that the judge “neither feared God nor respected man” (18:2). And then he tells us about a widow, who had to be her own advocate – she had no one else to stand up on her behalf. The only One she had on her side was God, and the text explicitly tell us that the judge didn’t care about God. Seems like a hopeless situation.

And yet with her persistence, she finally wears him down. The judge eventually decides to give her justice simply because he was tired of hearing from her. “Because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming” (18:5). The original Greek that is translated “beat me down” in this sentence literally means “give me a black eye.” The picture of this is great – the judge feels like he is being beat up by this little widow simply because of her tenacious persistence!

So then Jesus tells us to now think about God the Father, the perfectly righteous Judge that we have. Our Judge cares about the widow, cares about the poor, cares about justice. Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, he records when Jesus says how tenderly and with such detail God cares for his people:

“Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!… Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

Luke 12:22-24, 27-31

Yet how often do we give up asking, give up seeking? Do not be someone “of little faith” who gives up believing that God will work. Just keep praying, just keep seeking, just keep asking!

Often one problem in our challenges is that we put way too much faith in the things of this world. Money will let us down. Other people will disappoint us. Our circumstances may not ever change the way we want them to. The Apostle Paul explicitly states what we should be fixing our eyes on in order to not get discouraged:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Stop putting your hope in other people! Stop putting your hope in your circumstances! Put your hope ONLY in Jesus Christ, and continue to pray.

Is there something in your life that you’re discouraged about right now? Finances? Health? Relationships? The kind of faith the Lord is looking for is the kind of faith that says, “I’m going to take all of these problems to only one place – the throne of heaven. I’m going to knock. I’m going to seek. I’m going to ask. And I’m not going to give up. Because I know my good, good God will never stop loving me.”

The Man at the Gate

Sermon from Luke 16:14-31

At first glance, one’s interpretation of this Gospel passage might be to say that rich people go to hell and poor people go to heaven. That’s not what this is saying! Instead, it is a direct follow-up to last week’s Gospel message, which ended with, “No 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” (Luke 16:13). It’s upside-down when you take the possessions that were meant to serve you and you serve them instead.

Then the following Gospel passage says that the money-loving Pharisees ridiculed Jesus for this stance, so he doubled down with the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus to reaffirm his position.

Jesus presents the circumstance of a wealthy man, clothed in fine clothing and eating fine food. Sitting outside this man’s gate is a poor man called Lazarus, who is starving and covered in sores. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus tells us the name of the poor man, but the rich man goes unnamed?

This is not the only time that Jesus teaches that at the end there will be a great reversal – those who are last shall be first, and the first shall be last (Matthew 20:16). This parable is another example of that principle.

So Lazarus dies and is carried to the heavenly realms by angels, and the rich man dies and goes down to torment. Notice it’s the poor man who God helped, not because he was poor but because he was humble. The rich man wasn’t condemned because he was rich, but because he was selfish.

Notice that the rich man gives himself away when he is in torment. First, he decides to try to boss around Father Abraham, proving that a person’s selfishness doesn’t go away once they see the torment they will receive in the afterlife. But secondly, he calls Lazarus by name, asking for his help, proving that in life, he KNEW who Lazarus was, the beggar who had been sitting outside his gate for years, and he had declined to help him then.

But Abraham, having none of it, declared what is true. The rich man had received his good things in life, and now Lazarus, who had received bad things in life, was receiving his reward thereafter. Also, just like the rich man had put a gate up outside his house to keep out the dirty beggar Lazarus, now there is a fixed chasm between Lazarus and the rich man, so that even if Lazarus had wanted to help him, he wouldn’t be able to.

The rich man tries a different tack, asking Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers who are still living about the torment that would come. But once again, Abraham states the plain truth, saying that even Lazarus rising from the dead wouldn’t convince the man’s brothers if they are unwilling to believe based on the truth of the Law and Prophets, which they already know.

Through this parable, Jesus is challenging his listeners to be intentional about our material blessings. Our world is upside-down, and the natural inclination is to worship our possessions. Jesus says that path will only end in destruction. If you have been given earthly material blessings by God, do not settle into the false thinking that you deserve those things, and they are meant to serve YOU. They are meant for you to use to serve GOD. He is the one worthy of worship, not us, and not our possessions.

Look around and see who God has placed around you, maybe someone in need right outside your gate. Can you use your own earthly possessions to make an eternal difference in their life? Don’t let your heart get greedy, conceited, or wrapped up in using money as your identity.

I cannot say it any better than the Apostle Paul did in his letter to Timothy:

Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But 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. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs… As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19 (ESVUK)

Kingdom Shrewdness

You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Yes, you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well it may be the Devil
Or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

Bob Dylan, “Gotta Serve Somebody,” Album: Slow Train Coming, 1979

Bob Dylan got it right in this case. We are made to serve, made to worship, made to be possessed. The problem comes when we take our possessions, the things made to serve us, and we worship them instead. That’s backwards. We are the Lord’s possession, and the things we own are made to help us serve him. We must intentionally make an effort to serve only the Lord, and not give ourselves to other things.

The parable Jesus teaches in Luke 16 about how we use our possessions is one of the most complex and difficult ones to interpret. It sounds at first like he is commending dishonesty and corruption, but actually he’s doing something more clever than that.

In this parable, there is a dishonest manager who knows he is about to get fired, and so he does some underhanded deals with his employer’s business partners in order to ingratiate himself with them and ensure that he will be able to do business with them again in the future. Verse 8 says that the master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.

If we try to interpret this parable according to other parables about stewardship, where God is the master and we are the stewards, we’re going to be running down the wrong track. That is not the case here. In this case, the master is just as corrupt as the steward. They are both delighting to earn unjust wealth for personal gain. The master doesn’t commend his steward for his dishonesty, but for his shrewdness.

What is shrewdness? It’s a practical wisdom, that can judge a circumstance wisely and turn it to your own advantage.

The key to understanding what Jesus meant by this parable is found in verse 8-9:

For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 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 16:8-9

He wants us to take a look about how the corrupt people of this world can use relationships in the world to secure their own futures. Worldly people are really good at this, but often God’s people are not shrewd enough in their dealings in this world. We need to be shrewd about using relationships and resources in this world, not for personal gain, but to bring about an eternal future and the success of the Kingdom of God in this world.

Jesus is not telling us to be dishonest, but he does want us to be wise. Wealth, politics, and business are in many ways corrupt, unrighteous, and tainted by sin, yet we all have to use it in this world. We have no choice. So be shrewd about using it in an intentional way for the sake of eternity.

Use your possessions, your wealth, your relationships, your talents to build up the Kingdom of God. Don’t keep the rest of your life separate from your faith life. How can you shrewdly use ALL that God has entrusted to you to put it in the service of God and his Kingdom?