Jesus had a lot to say about money. I’ve previously examined these things on several occasions.
- It’s Not About the Numbers
- “Give to Everyone Who Asks of You”
- Stop Worrying
- What if Ministries Stopped Asking for Money?
The overall thrust of Jesus’ teachings on money is this. Don’t worry about it. Trust in God. Seek his kingdom. He will provide all you need.
That said, there were a few other things Jesus said that could appear to contradict the straightforward teachings he gave elsewhere.
“Count the Cost”
“For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’” (Luke 14:28–30, ESV)
At a glance, it may seem that Jesus advocated strategizing with your money, rather than just trusting God when he tells you to give. However, a look at the surrounding context clears up that idea.
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26–27, ESV)
“So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33, ESV)
Jesus’ point was that there is a cost to following him. He used an example of how people generally treat their money, but he did not affirm this behavior.
“The Dishonest Manager”
“There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And 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.’
And 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. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’
So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then 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.’” (Luke 16:1–7, ESV)
The first read through this passage might lead one to believe that we should be dishonest in our dealings. But I think we can all agree, that’s probably not what Jesus was talking about.
“The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” (Luke 16:8, ESV)
So maybe this passage just means that we should be shrewd in our dealings? Shrewdness is different from dishonesty.
After all, Jesus elsewhere told his disciples, “be shrewd as serpents” with the qualification, “and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16, NASB).
“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, ESV)
Okay… What? Let’s see if the next verses help.
“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.” (Luke 16:10, ESV)
That makes sense. It’s very straightforward. Be faithful even in the small things, and don’t be dishonest. But it really doesn’t help much with the previous verse.
“If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?” (Luke 16:11–12, ESV)
What does it mean to be “faithful in the unrighteous wealth”? Jesus’ teachings at large would suggest that being faithful with wealth means giving to the poor and trusting God to provide. But this context makes it seem like you should bribe unbelievers.
What does it mean to be “faithful in that which is another’s”? This context would make it seem like we should steal the money that belongs to others and give it away.
Again, I’m pretty sure we can agree, that’s probably not what Jesus was talking about. But what was he saying?
“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, ESV)
Now I’m really confused. This verse makes perfect sense… At least it did in its other context.
Jesus said pretty much exactly the same thing in Matthew 6:24. But that context was completely different. He followed his statement there by saying not to worry about anything (including money). Just trust God to provide.
But in the context of Luke 16, it seems to mean something else entirely.
The natural reading of Luke 16 would appear to be that we should dishonestly bribe unbelievers so that they can take care of us. But I’m pretty sure we can agree, that’s probably not what Jesus was talking about.
So What Was He Talking About?
I don’t know. Seriously. And my favorite commentaries have been no help here either.
The only things that have given me a clue thus far, I frankly don’t want to admit, because they are paraphrastic Bible translations that I don’t really like very much.
“Here’s the lesson: Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your earthly possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home.” (Luke 16:9, NLT)
“I tell you, use the riches of this world to help others. In that way, you will make friends for yourselves. Then when your riches are gone, you will be welcomed into your eternal home in heaven.” (Luke 16:9, NIrV)
Now that makes sense. That makes perfect sense, and it fits perfectly with the other teachings of Jesus.
Here’s the thing. That bit about helping others had to be added to the verse. And I’m not a fan of adding to Scripture. Plus, the immediate context gives us nothing to suggest the legitimacy of this addition.
So I don’t know.
I have full confidence in the fact that there are no contradictions in Jesus’ teachings. I just don’t personally know the best way to resolve this one.
What Do You Think?
Seriously. Please tell me what you think, because I’m still not sure. I’d love to hear from you on this one!