Upside Down ECONOMICS

This is my manuscript from a message preached on Sunday, April 29, 2012 at Northshore Baptist Church. Here’s the AUDIO of the message.

Randy Alcorn tells this story in his book The Treasure Principle

The streets of Cairo were hot and dusty. Pat and Rakel Thurman, friends of ours who were missionaries to Egypt, took us down an alley. We drove past Arabic signs to a gate that opened to a plot of overgrown grass. It was a graveyard for American missionaries. As my family and I followed, Pat pointed to a sun-scorched tombstone that read: “William Borden, 1887–1913.”

Borden, a Yale graduate and heir to great wealth, rejected a life of ease in order to bring the gospel to Muslims. Refusing even to buy himself a car, Borden gave away hundreds of thousands of dollars to [global] missions. After only four months of zealous ministry in Egypt, he contracted spinal meningitis and died at the age of twenty-five. I dusted off the epitaph on Borden’s grave. After describing his love and sacrifices for the kingdom of God and for Muslim people, the inscription ended with a phrase I’ve never forgotten: “Apart from faith in Christ, there is no explanation for such a life.”

The Thurmans took us straight from Borden’s grave to the Egyptian National Museum. The King Tut exhibit was mind-boggling. Tutankhamen, the boy king, was only seventeen when he died. He was buried with solid gold chariots and thousands of golden artifacts. His gold coffin was found within gold tombs within gold tombs within gold tombs. The burial site was filled with tons of gold. The Egyptians believed in an afterlife—one where they could take earthly treasures. But all the treasures intended for King Tut’s eternal enjoyment stayed right where they were until Howard Carter discovered the burial chamber in 1922. They hadn’t been touched for more than three thousand years.

I was struck by the contrast between these two graves. Borden’s was obscure, dusty, and hidden off the back alley of a street littered with garbage. Tutankhamen’s tomb glittered with unimaginable wealth. Yet where are these two young men now? One, who lived in opulence and called himself king, is in the misery of a Christless eternity. The other, who lived a modest life on earth in service of the one true King, is enjoying his everlasting reward in the presence of the Lord. Tut’s life was tragic because of an awful truth discovered too late—he couldn’t take his treasures with him. William Borden’s life was triumphant. Why? Because instead of leaving behind his treasures, he sent them on ahead.

Alcorn’s story exposes two vastly different and competing value systems as it relates to earthly resources and money. Years ago, the Wall Street Journal had a contest for the “Best Definition of Money.” Here was the winning definition: “Money is an article which may be used as a universal passport to everywhere except heaven, and as a universal provider of everything except happiness.” That’s profound, especially coming from the Wall Street Journal. So today, as we talk about “Upside Down Economics,” here’s the question I want to ask:

In Jesus’ upside down economics, how should we invest our earthly resources?

As we discuss this question, we’re going to explore a perplexing story from Luke 16:1-15. But we’ll discover that what Jesus has to say about Upside Down Economics is very interesting. So let’s read our story…

1 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. 2 And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an accounting of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3 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; I am ashamed to beg. 4 I know what I shall do, so that when I am removed from the management people will welcome me into their homes.’ 5 And he summoned each one of his master’s debtors, and he began saying to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 And he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ And he said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He *said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8 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 sons of light. 9 And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.

10 “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. 11 Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? 12 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? 13 No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

14 Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him. 15 And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.

Explanation

vv. 1-2. Jesus tells His disciples a story about a manager who is a steward of a rich man’s business and estate. The manager is not doing a good job. He’s “squandering” (literally “wasting”) the rich man’s money. So the rich business owner confronts the manager and tells him that’s he’s fired.

vv. 3-7. The manager, upon hearing that he’s losing his job, has a freak out moment, realizing that he’s not suited for anything else. He’s not fit to do physical labor, and he doesn’t want to end up destitute as a beggar. So he has a bright idea to secure his future. As he’s transitioning out of his job, he’s going to get in contact with his master’s debtors and reduce their debt so that he’ll earn favor with them. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll have compassion on him and give him a job. So he calls up the first debtor. “How much do you owe my master?” The guy replies, “100 measures of oil.” This is 875 gallons of olive oil, which comes from over 150 olive trees. It’s worth 1000 denarii, which is 3 years salary for average worker in the ancient world. The manager gives him a 50% reduction in what he owes. He calls the next debtor. “How much do you owe?” The guy owes 100 “measures” of wheat. That’s over 1100 bushels from over 100 acres of wheat. That’s worth 8-10 years salary for an average worker in the ancient world. It’s a lot of money. So the manager gives the guy a 20% reduction in his debt. Now you might be wondering how and why the manager is giving these discounts. There are a couple of different thoughts: (1) On his way out of the job, the manager undercuts his boss as a parting shot to spite him; (2) he removes the interest charge from the debt. In the OT law, the Jews were not to charge interest when they lent money. So perhaps the guy is trying to bring his master in line with the OT law; or (3) the manager removes his own commission and he’s sacrificing his own money, not his master’s. We’re not exactly sure which view is correct. The clear motive though is that the manager wants to create good will with his master’s debtors and business associates to secure his future.

v. 8. In a strange turn of events, the rich master actually praises the manager for acting shrewdly… for acting with wisdom and insight. And then Jesus adds this remark… if this “worldly” manager acted shrewdly and wisely as he thought about the future, why don’t followers of Jesus act with wisdom and insight as it relates to eternity because the eternal purposes we’re working towards are infinitely more important than any “temporal” future. Followers of Jesus are to be all about working for eternal purposes… not working for our eternal salvation, but doing everything we can in ministry and mission to make an impact for God’s kingdom as we make an impact in people’s eternal destiny.

vv. 9-13. After Jesus finishes the story, He elaborates on the meaning with three implications of using earthly resources for eternal purposes.

Implication #1 (v. 9) – God looks favorably on those who are generous with their earthly resources because they want to make an eternal impact.

Implication #2 (vv. 10-12) – Be faithful in the way you use your earthly resources regardless of the amount you have. If you are faithful with a little, it doesn’t mean that God will necessarily give you more monetary resources. But if you aren’t faithful and generous with what you have, why would He entrust you with more financial resources and responsibility?

Implication #3 (v. 13) – Be careful about the temptation of money and earthly resources and ensure that your heart is wholly and fully devoted to God and His eternal purposes and not your money and the temporal stability and pleasure you think it’s going to provide.

5. vv. 14-15. As the story closes, we discover that some Pharisees (Jewish religious leaders) were listening to Jesus’ conversation. And they scoffed and sneered at Him for what He just said because they were lovers of money. So Jesus confronts them and tells them that they are people who try to rationalize their greed instead of being generous with their resources. God could see their hearts and motives. Their greed and love of money was “detestable” in His sight. Be careful about allowing money take over your heart.

The Economics of Greed vs. The Economics of Generosity

Here’s what this story teaches us and calls us to do: Generously invest your earthly resources for eternal purposes. Much like that shrewd, wise manager, we’re to make wise decisions about the use of our finances because we can have an eternal impact in the lives of others. Jesus is ultimately talking about a contrast and choice between the Economics of Greed and the Economics of Generosity. Will we be lovers of money or will we generously invest our earthly resources for eternal purposes?

#1 As we talk about the Economics of Greed, it begins with an attitude that sees resources as ours. It’s our money. We worked hard for it. We can do whatever we want with it because it’s ours. Sure, we might give God some of it… we might occasionally tip Him and give some to the church or to a non-profit ministry, but at the end of the day, it’s still ours. And we’re managing it for ourselves. But the Economics of Generosity sees resources as God’s. We’re all stewards and managers of God’s resources. He owns it all. He even owns us. He’s given it to us to steward and manage for His purposes. If God is the owner, and we’re the managers, then we need to adopt a steward’s mentality toward earthly resources. He’s entrusted those resources with us, not given them to us. It’s the steward’s job to find out what the owner wants done and then carry out his will. That’s a vastly different perspective than the economics of greed that sees resources as our own.

#2 In the Economics of Greed, money controls our heart. This is why Jesus says that you can’t serve two masters… you’ll love and devote yourselves to one and hate and despise the other. We think that money is there to serve us, but when it controls our heart, we end up serving it. When I talk about money and greed, I’m not simply talking about the “love of money,” as though we’re all some miserly hoarders who sit in some dark room as gold coins run through our fingers with gleeful delight. Money also controls our heart when we have excessive anxiety about it. Now we’re hitting closer to home. When we worry that we don’t have enough of it… or when we constantly think about how we can get more of it to alleviate our financial concerns or to get the things we want. It controls our heart and it creates fear… fear that we’re not going to have enough… or if we do have “enough” (which we never do), we’re afraid that we’re going to lose it. But in the Economics of Generosity, as we wisely invest our earthly resources for eternal purposes, it changes our heart. Again, if we see that it’s all God’s anyway, we can be generous people who release our grasp on our finances and earthly resources.  And in that release, in that freedom, it changes our hearts. Pastor Chip Ingram puts it this way, “Where your money goes, your heart flows.” If your money all goes toward yourself, your heart follows. If you generously invest your money and earthly resources for eternal purposes, to advance God’s kingdom, to serve the world around you in Jesus’ name, where do you think your heart goes? Towards Jesus and towards His beautiful, upside down kind of life. Generosity changes our heart.

#3 Back to the Economics of Greed… when we see our resources as ours to be used for our own pleasure and purposes, it not only controls our heart, but it also disconnects us from people. A February 2012 Boston Globe article asked the following question: Does money change you? Here’s what the article said:

Here in the home of the American dream, most people are convinced that gaining a lot of money wouldn’t change who they are as people. As a mounting body of research is showing, wealth can actually change how we think and behave—and not for the better. [Money causes people to] have a harder time connecting with others and to show less empathy to the extent of dehumanizing those who are different from them. Money causes people to be less charitable and generous and less likely to help someone in trouble. If you think you’d behave differently in their place, meanwhile, you’re probably wrong: These aren’t just inherited traits, but developed ones. Money, in other words, changes who you are.

Research studies conducted by Kathleen Vohs, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, and her colleagues have found that even the mere suggestion of getting more money—a technique known as “priming”—makes people less friendly, less sensitive to others, and more likely to support statements like “some groups of people are simply inferior to others.” “If you win the lottery and you want to avoid becoming an insensitive lout,” there is a simple solution. One of the researchers summarized it this way: “Give at least half the money away.”

Now, of course it doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to allow money and earthly resources to disconnect us from people. In the Economics of Generosity, as we see our resources as God’s and as we generously invest our earthly treasure for His eternal purposes, it connects us to people. When we give generously toward God’s kingdom work and His eternal purposes, our heart not only flows toward God, but it also flows toward loving other people the way He loves them. When we give generously, we see the impact of our generosity in people’s lives.

When we give towards the ministry and mission of Northshore, we see the difference He’s making in people’s lives and it connects us to them more deeply. We hear stories about individual lives and families being changed by Jesus’ love and grace. We hear about people in our LIGHT ministry who are moving beyond their hurts, habits, and hang-ups and are now beginning to live in a place of life. We hear stories about people who’ve come to the Discovery class and are finding life-changing answers to their questions about Jesus and faith. We hear about people who came to our Easter services and it was the first time they’ve been in a church maybe ever or for a long time, and they experience love and warmth. We hear about families in financial crisis who’ve been helped our benevolence funds. We hear about low income families being served by ministries like the Mobile Medical Unit or the Bring:Give:Serve initiative over the Christmas season. We hear about how villages, cities, and even nations are being changed by our global mission efforts. It’s all about people and seeing them and loving them the way God sees and loves them. I could go on and on about the life-change that’s happening in and through the ministries and mission of Northshore… and it’s funded and empowered by your generosity. Generosity connects us to people… eternally.

So how are you going to live and invest your earthly resources? Will you choose the economics of greed or will you choose the economics of generosity?

Let me close with a quote by the famous pastor A.W. Tozer:

As base a thing as money is, it can be transmuted into everlasting treasure. It can be converted to food for the hungry and clothing for the poor. It can keep a missionary actively winning lost men to the light of the gospel and thus transmute itself into heavenly values. Any temporal treasure can be transmuted into everlasting wealth. Whatever is given to Christ is immediately touched with immortality.

Whatever is given to Christ is immediately touched with immortality. Generously invest your earthly treasures for eternal purposes. See those earthly resources as God’s. As you give generously, you’ll see how it changes your heart and connects you more deeply with the people God loves. And together as a church, as we grow in generosity and live out Jesus’ upside down economics, we’ll have an extraordinary, eternal impact in our world for Jesus.

 

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