The Test of Stewardship
The New York Times reported the following story in 2006:
On a weekend day a few years ago, a rural Georgia couple brought their 4 year old son to the children’s hospital in Atlanta. He’d been sick with fevers for several months that just were not going away. The doctors who were on duty ordered blood tests which shoed the boy to have leukemia.
Still, a few symptoms didn’t add up. There were some light brown spots on his skin which didn’t fit the diagnosis, but the doctors had their blood test and scheduled a strong round of chemotherapy to begin on Monday. After all, fighting against leukemia in one so young is always a race against time. While they meant well, and they followed their protocol, they had committed an error which is very easily committed. As Dr. Bergsagel, a senior oncologist at the hospital later said, “Once you start down one of these clinical pathways, it’s very hard to step off.”
What Dr. Bergsagel, nor the other doctors realized at the time was that this 4 year old boy had been misdiagnosed. He actually had a form of leukemia which the strong chemotherapy does not cure. It makes the symptoms go away for a month or so, but they soon return and each round of chemotherapy brings a serious risk of death because the body is in such a weakened condition already.
If only this error was rare. In fact, autopsies reveal that doctors seriously misdiagnose fatal illnesses about 20% of the time. Literally millions of patients are being treated for the wrong disease. The most shocking thing about that statistic, however, is that, according to the New York Times, that percentage has not changed since the 1930's. A big part of the reason for this situation is that, while we have made advancement in the treatment of disease, the emphasis on treatment has not been matched with an emphasis on diagnosis.
Jason had his little girl misdiagnosed in 1999. The doctors called his daughter’s case of flesh-eating infection, chicken pox. When her organs began to shut down, the doctors realized their mistake. Jason was so shaken by the experience that he quit his finance job and founded a company to create software that would help doctors diagnose disease. He named the software “Isabel” after his daughter.
It was that software that Dr. Bergsagel used on Monday morning when he entered that 4 year old’s symptoms into his computer. As a beta tester of the program he was immediately presented with a number of diagnostic options. At the top was the rare form of leukemia that Dr. Bergsagel had never seen before.
Now here’s the tragic part. Even though this program is available, and even though it’s 750.00 price tag per physician is a bargain given the life it may save, at the time the article was written, most hospitals had not purchased the program. The reason: Hospitals get paid to treat illnesses, not diagnose them. They have to way to recoup the money they spend on programs like Isabel.
The point? Well, in medicine misdiagnosis can be fatal. Only the proper diagnosis can lead to the right treatment. And that doesn’t just apply to medicine. It applies to your spiritual life too. Really understanding where you are spiritually is the result of the proper diagnosis. You’ve got to see yourself like you really are. Every believer needs a copy of “Isabel” to really understand what’s going on inside their heart.
You see, it’s possible for you to really believe that you’re a Christ follower, when you’re not. It’s easy for you to think you have faith because you mentally assent to some facts about Jesus. But faith isn’t just thinking the right thoughts, it gets actualized in doing the right deeds. That’s why I want you to hear this message. You may actually learn about the state of your own soul and that lesson could really be a revelation. It could change your eternal destiny.
And others of you really must listen because this message could change your eternal reward. You’ve been drifting along, content in the knowledge that you are on your way to heaven, but you’ve never really stopped very long to think about how things will be for you in heaven when you get there. This I know: The Bible is clear that genuine believers stand before the Lord to be rewarded according to their faithfulness. That can mean a lot of things, but there’s one sure thing it means: What we do now with the resources we have will impact how we are rewarded then.
You might say, “That’s all well and good, but what do you mean by that, Rusty? What does my money say about my heart? Well, I am convinced after reading the parable I am preaching on this morning, that your money management is a diagnostic tool. If you’ve been to the shop lately with your car, you’ve seen some pretty sophisticated diagnostic equipment. Onboard computers have revolutionized car engine repair. Instead of having to listen to the engine like a mechanic did in the “old days,” now the diagnostic machine hooks into your car’s onboard computer and spits out a sheet that tells the mechanic exactly what’s wrong . . . or at least that’s how it’s supposed to work.
Stewardship is like that sophisticated diagnostic machine. Your money management gives you a detailed read out on your soul. It diagnoses you. Read about this diagnostic tool with me in this little story Jesus gives us here in Luke 19:11
Now as they heard these things, He spoke another parable, because He was near Jerusalem and because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately. 12 Therefore He said: “A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return. 13 So he called ten of his servants, delivered to them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Do business till I come.’ 14 But his citizens hated him, and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We will not have this man to reign over us.’
15 “And so it was that when he returned, having received the kingdom, he then commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. 16 Then came the first, saying, ‘Master, your mina has earned ten minas.’ 17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.’ 18 And the second came, saying, ‘Master, your mina has earned five minas.’ 19 Likewise he said to him, ‘You also be over five cities.’
20 “Then another came, saying, ‘Master, here is your mina, which I have kept put away in a handkerchief. 21 For I feared you, because you are an austere man. You collect what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 And he said to him, ‘Out of your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked servant. You knew that I was an austere man, collecting what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow. 23 Why then did you not put my money in the bank, that at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’
24 “And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to him who has ten minas.’ 25 (But they said to him, ‘Master, he has ten minas.’) 26 ‘For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 27 But bring here those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me.’ ”
Now I know you’re probably saying, “Well, I don’t see where you get a diagnostic tool out of that passage.” I understand, but it really is there. Let me show you. This parable tells us three diagnoses that our money management makes on our lives. First:
DIV 1: STEWARDSHIP DIAGNOSES THE DEPTH OF YOUR COMMITMENT
Now if you grew up in church, this parable sounds familiar to you. That’s because it resembles the parable of the talents that Christ tells in Matt 25. But there are some significant differences which, I believe, make a difference.
First, in this parable, the Owner gives each servant the same amount, regardless of their ability. It says: So he called ten of his servants, delivered to them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Do business till I come. You see, each one received the same thing: a “mina.” A mina was worth 100 drachmas and represented the three month salary of an average worker. What’s the point of this difference? One commentator writes:
If Matthew describes how different opportunities were equally used, Luke describes how equal opportunities were differently used by successful servants.
That difference shows up in their results. The first servant gains ten more minas, the second gains five and the third gains zero. The question becomes, why the difference? Why did one of the servants gain 10 times his investment. From what I have studied I believe it is because one of the servants was wiser, worked harder, was more committed. You see, he took his master’s investment and determined to make it count and the results came.
By the way, I believe you see that justified in this text. For one thing, the difference in the results were clearly not because the owner gave one more opportunity or ability. The gift to them was the same. It was the results that differed. I think you also see this in what the Master says to them when he comes back to check on their progress. Start reading with me in v 16. It says: Then came the first, saying, ‘Master, your mina has earned ten minas.’ 17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.’ That was the first servant. He invested his masters money and earned a 10-fold return. He is praised.
Now, notice the second servant, in v 18: And the second came, saying, ‘Master, your mina has earned five minas.’ 19 Likewise he said to him, ‘You also be over five cities.’ Notice something missing? Where’s the praise? Where’s the “well done?” It’s missing. Now I don’t want to make too big a deal over that, but there seems to be some distinction. There certainly is when it comes to the reward, for the first servant gets 10 cities and the second gets 5, even though they started out with the same one mina they ended up with different results and they received different praise and different rewards.
Now I think that all of this can be directly applied to you and me. You see, your management of your God-given resources tells you some things about yourself. First, it tells you something about your sense of urgency. Why did one servant gain 10 minas and the other 5? Well, it’s probably because the 10 mina servant had a different sense of urgency. He believed that stewardship made a difference. He believed that how he invested this money was a direct reflection of what he thought of his master so he worked with a great sense of urgency.
Your stewardship tells you something about your sense of urgency as well. If you take all the blessings of God and squander them on toys and things that will not matter for eternity, you’ll find that you’ll never be a 10 mina-servant! Commitment flows from a sense of urgency about the will and the plan of God and how you handle His resources diagnoses the presence or the absence of that commitment.
Your managment tells you about your sense of urgency and it also tells you about your sense of ownership. I think you’ll have to say that the first two servants at least had a strong sense of whose money they were managing. At first glance it seems like the third one does as well, but I am not so sure. Notice what he does with what he is given in v 20: Then another came, saying, ‘Master, here is your mina, which I have kept put away in a handkerchief. Now, at first you think, “Wow, he was really careful with that money,” but my research indicates that just the opposite was true. While it was a practice to keep money like this and could be found in the rabinnic writings, such a practice was regarded as being unsafe. You see, not only did the third servant not do anything with his master’s money, he actually did not even protect it. In so doing, he was saying, “I have no regard for my master’s ownership.”
And your stewardship tells you something about your sense of ownership as well. If you take God’s investment in your life, HIS money and treat it as if it is yours, you are in the third servant’s category. The management of God’s resources tells you what kind of commitment you really have to Him.
So let me ask you: How committed are you to Christ? While you might want to answer that question in a way that makes yourself look good, and that’s just a natural response all of us would give, I must tell you that it is not your words but your managment that really tells the tale. If you want to know how committed to Christ you really are, you must answer this question: Where are you putting the resources He has given you to manage?
Where are you placing your energy? Does God get the leftovers of your life? Does your Quiet time happen as an afterthought or do you give God the “sweetspot” of your day, whatever that is?
What about your time? Where are you spending that resource? I know that all of us only have limited time, but I also know that your time must be planned or it slips through your fingers like sand. So, where are you PLANNING to spend your time? Does God get the most? Does God get the best?
And of course, where are you putting God’s money? Do you honor Him with the first fruits of your increase? Do you tithe? Do you commit everything to Him? Have you increased what you give to Him as He has increased your income over the years, or do you still put in the same $20 every week?
Here’s the truth: Don’t say that Jesus means everything to you, if He doesn’t receive everything from you. You say “That’s quite a commitment!” Yes it is. That’s why Jesus told you to count the cost.
ILL - FROM IMPROVING YOUR SERVE - O YOU HAVE A CAR?
One man, with a sanctified imagination, offered the following idea of what it is like to surrender your all to God:
“I want this pearl, how much is it?”
“Well,” the seller says, “it is very expensive.”
But how much, we ask.
Well, a very large amount.
Do you think I could buy it?
O, of course, everyone can buy it.
But, didn’t you say it was expensive?
Well how much is it?
Everything you have, says the seller
We make up our minds, “All right, I’ll buy it, “ we say
Well what do you have? He wants to know. Let’s right it down.
Well, I have ten thousand dollars in the bank.
Good-ten thousand dollars. What else?
That’s all. That’s all I have.
Well, I have a few dolars in my pocket
WE start digging. “Well, let’s see–thirty forty sixty, eighty, a hundred, a hundred 20 dollars.
That’s fine. What else you got?
Well nothing. That’s all
Where do you live? He’s still probing
In my house. Yes I have a house.
The house too, then. He writes that down.
You mean I have to live in my camper?
You have a camper? That, too. What else?
Well, you already havemy money, my house, my camper, my cars. What more do you want?
Are you alone in this world?
No, I have a wife and two children
O yes, your wife and children, too. What else?
Suddenly the seller exlaims, “O I almost forgot! You yourself, too! Everything becomes mine–wife, children, house, money, cars–and you too.”
Now listen–I’ll allow you to use all these things for the time being. But don’t forget, they belong to me and you’fe just managing them. Whenever I need any of them, youmust give them up, because now, I am the owner
Knowing Jesus is the pearl of greatest price. Nothing compares with it, but if you are to know Him it will cost you everything you have. That’s why your stewardship diagnoses the depth of your commitment.
DIV 2 - STEWARDSHIP DIAGNOSES THE SIGNIFICANCE OF YOUR FUTURE
One of the grandest features of Jesus’ parables were their surprises. You know, you’ll be tooling along through one of He parables and all of a sudden, He’ll turn the tables on you and throw you something you were never expecting. In this parable, one of those table-turning moments comes to the one-talent wonder. You know what happens: He does absolutely nothing with his Master’s investment and brings back his mina wrapped in a towel. Look at how the Master judges him in v 22:
And he said to him, ‘Out of your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked servant. You knew that I was an austere man, collecting what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow. 23 Why then did you not put my money in the bank, that at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’
24 “And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to him who has ten minas.’ 25 (But they said to him, ‘Master, he has ten minas.’) 26 ‘For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.
Our first response, when we hear what happens to this guy is to do exactly what the people do: Criticize the Master’s response. When he takes the mina away from the unfaithful servant and gives it to the ten-mina servant, the people standing around say: “But he’s already got 10 mina’s. Why are you giving him another one? Jesus answer is clear: “Everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.”
Why does Jesus do this? Because Jesus is investing for the Kingdom. The ten mina servant had proven himself to be the most faithful and, thus, he was rewarded with more resources and responsibilities. That’s the way God’s economy works: If I am faithful with a little, He gives more. If I am irresponsible with a lot, He takes it away, if not in this life, in eternity. You see, the way I manage God’s resources here speaks volumes about my significance in His kingdom there. It diagnoses the significance of my future.
And just in case some of you might be tempted to say, “But I am saved by grace through faith and my works do not matter,” let me just say, you’re right! You’re right, that is, when it comes to your salvation. You cannot buy your way into heaven with dollars nor deeds. But your reward and your responsibility in heaven will be determined by what you do here. Need proof? Listen to 2 Cor 5:10:
Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent (that is whether dead or alive), to be well pleasing to Him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
That’s pretty clear! God’s saved you by grace, and left you here as a manager with resources of time, talent, and treasure to manage and he expects you to be a steward of all three.
Will you just bear with this rabbit trail for a minute? Will you notice that I said “all three.” Some people have the mistaken impression that its either, or. They think, “Well, if I give my time, I don’t have to give my treasure. I just add up all the hours I spend in ministry, translate that into dollars, and that makes up for the fact that I don’t give squat to God.” I’m sorry, but you don’t find that in scripture. All of your resources are to be dedicated to God! And what you do with those resources determines what happens in your eternity.
Which just leads me to say this to those of you who are seeking God, but you are not yet a Christ-follower. Can I just give you a reason to step over that line of faith? Here it is: Eternity is real! There really is a heaven to gain that will have tangible significant responsibilities and rewards. I know what some people say. They’re fond of this habit or that sin and they don’t want to give it up to become a believer so they’ll say something like this: “Hey, Rusty, I don’t want to miss out on heaven, but I’m just going to wait until I’m on my death bed to commit my life to Christ. That way, I’ll get the best of both worlds.” At the risk of insulting you, can I just tell you: That is a dumb, dumb idea!
In the first place, you may not die on a bed. You may die with your boots on or in some sort of accident or something like that. Now, listen, I don’t wish you harm and I’m not trying to be morbid, I’m just saying that you have no clue about this and if you stake your eternal life on dying in a bed, you’re taking a huge risk.
And even if you die on a bed, who’s to say whether God will be convicting you at that point. I’ve seen many people, dying unsaved, who refused to repent. You cannot be saved unless the Holy Spirit draws you and if you hear Him calling you today, your day of salvation is NOW not then whenever then may be.
But, even if you die on a bed, and you get genuinely converted on that bed, when you get to heaven, you’ll be a pauper. You’ll have no reward. Your reward will have been forfeited by your refusal on days just like this one, to turn your life over to Christ and begin to serve Him with His resources.
And Christian, please know that God has left you here for a reason! He’s not left you here in this world to chase after money to enrich yourself. He is just like this owner in this parable. He has given you resources for a reason, so . . .
What’s in your bank account? What’s in your garage? What’s hanging on your wall at home? What kind of home do you live in? Do this right now with me, will you I want you to picture all of the resources you have. Picture them in your mind right now and as you are picturing them, in your minde, draw a huge question mark through them. I tell you to do that because everything you have been given is really a test from God. He’s using your camry to see whether you are a faithful manager; He’s using your certificate of deposit to see whether you are a faithful manager; He’s using your home to see whether you are a faithful manager. The day will come when you get to heaven when He will look at your record of management, and based on how you took care of what He trusted you with, He will give you your reward and your responsibility in heaven. Your stewardship diagnoses the significance of your future and it diagnoses the depth of your commitment. But most importantly:
DIV 3: YOUR STEWARDSHIP DIAGNOSES THE REALITY OF YOUR RELATIONSHIP
There is a little detail of this parable that I had never noted until I was studying it for this message. Notice that the two faithful servants are rewarded with what? That’s right cities! They returned to the master a simple return on his investment, and they, in turn, are given a huge reward. This master was very giving and gracious. In this story, however, after the 10-mina servant is graciously and generously rewarded with 10 cities and the 5-mina servant with 5, along comes the fearful servant. Look at what he says about his master in v 20
Then another came, saying, ‘Master, here is your mina, which I have kept put away in a handkerchief. 21 For I feared you, because you are an austere man. You collect what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 And he said to him, ‘Out of your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked servant. You knew that I was an austere man, collecting what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow. 23 Why then did you not put my money in the bank, that at my coming I might have collected it with interest?
Even though the master demonstrates his fairness in giving to them equally; even though he generously rewards those servants who were faithful, the unfaithful servant says something interesting: He says that the master is an “austere” man. One commentator says of this:
The master is ‘exacting, strict’ which means he is a grasping person who wants money without the labour of earning it. He takes what he has not put aside: the metaphor is drawn from banking, and is used here to describe a person who seeks a disproportionately high return from his investments. The servant appears to have feared that he would get no return for his work: all the profit would have been taken by the master.
You know what that tells me about this guy: Just this: If the others served faithfully and trusted the master; if the others made money on their investments and were rewarded; and if the others didn’t just receive a reward, but received an amazingly generous reward; if all these things were true, those who served faithfully knew and trusted their master and the unfaithful servant didn’t even know the master at all! One commentator wrote of this unfaithful servant.
The third servant also represents a strong warning. Connection to a Christian community is not what makes a Christian, even if that person has stewardship responsibilities in that community. A Christian is a person who has a relationship of trust with Jesus. The Christian knows, because he or she has responded to the gospel, that God is gracious to those who turn to him for forgiveness. Service to him and other people is the response of a changed and grateful heart that has embraced what it means to be forgiven. The first and second servants have understood the call to respond to the nobleman, while the third servant doubted the master’s character in slanderous ways. This parable calls on us to examine whether our perceived relationship to God is purely formal or real.
The parable suggests on the surface that the third servant lacks fruit in his life, but there is really a more basic complaint. He is condemned on the basis of his own words, that is, on the basis of his own heart attitude to God, for he sees the master as a hard, unjust taskmaster. Behind his lack of fruit is a lack of recognition of God’s grace. That absence of faith is what Jesus condemns here, for it is that heart attitude that prevents this servant from pursuing the master’s call. Membership in a church is not a union card to heaven; knowing and embracing God’s grace is.
Do you get it? Your unwillingness to properly manage God’s resources says something about your view of God. Your unwillingness to tithe and to give of your wealth to God says something specific about whether you really know Him or not. You see, when I understand the gracious heart of God and the greatness and power of God; in short, when I really, really KNOW Him, I trust Him enough to lay down my life for Him and nobody has to beg me to give. I am able to recognize a great investment opportunity when I see one.
So let me ask you: Do you really know Him? Do you? If you do, may I just ask you a couple of questions? Who controls your check book and your bank card? And while I am including your tithe, I’m not limiting it to that. Who controls your finances, is it you or is it God? Who gets to say what you do with the money in your retirement account? Is it you or is it God?
Teens and young adults: Who gets to choose your college, is it you or is it God? Who gets to say who you date or where you work? You or God? And who controls your career path? That you or God?
You know, I’ve often puzzled over why Jesus told the Rich Young Ruler to sell all he had because he knew that this young man had a problem with control and who called the shots in his life. By the way, when the rich young ruler walked away from Christ, as far as I can tell from that story, he was not heading to heaven. He wasn’t able to reject stewardship and still be an ok believer. No! It was all or nothing and this rich young ruler proved that while he said he admired Jesus, he really didn’t even know Him at all.
Listen to me believer: If your giving was the only thing we could look at, would there be enough evidence to call you a Christian?