THE CHRISTIAN AND HIS USE OF TODAY’S WEALTH.*
[* NOTE. This tract is edited from writings by D. M. Panton.]
" ... IT IS REQUIRED IN STEWARDS, THAT A MAN BE FOUND FAITHFUL," (1 Cor. 4: 2, R.V.).
is more disturbing or awakening than to observe the fog, the confusion,
the elusiveness with which the
Now "to the disciples " (Luke 16: 1) - not to the covetous Scribes and Pharisees, who merely overheard it, and were greatly incensed, but to His own blood-bought followers living in this evil age - the Lord presents the appalling brevity of our trust. A wealthy man’s steward, having wasted his lord's goods in an extravagant, self indulgent, and luxurious lifestyle, receives his dismissal; and shocked by his sudden peril, and immediately aware of the little span left him here in which to provide for his future, he instantly faces the facts and acts with swift decision. He summons his lord's debtors; reduces their debts, how far, as steward, he had authority to do this is not shown; but that he exceeded his authority is certain by his description as an "unrighteous steward" - so as to gain their friendship; and sees the thing through with urgent dispatch* - "Take thy bill quickly". So our Lord pictures each of us, His regenerate disciples, as rapidly approaching (by death) the revoking of our trust: our time is as brief, our need for making immediate provision as overwhelmingly urgent: the stewardship we presently hold from God is fast running out, and our impending bankruptcy, which no prudence can stave off, calls for rapid and decisive action. Christian stewardship is sharply defined between our conversion and the grave.
practice by multitudes of regenerate and careless bible teachers of today – (that
of watering down divine truths, and ignoring a divine revelation: "a just recompense of reward";
and by changing our Lord’s conditional promises into unconditional
ones) - are prominent examples of unjust
stewardship now acting inside the
Now our Saviour emphasizes the approval expressed by the steward's lord: "His lord commended the unrighteous steward, because he had done wisely". "‘Wisely’", as Archbishop Trench says, "is not the happiest rendering, since wisdom is never in Scripture dissociated from moral goodness"*: "and so in Wiclif's Version it stood"; warily, shrewdly, circumspectly. It is one of the startling assumptions of our Lord in this parable, revealing incidentally the profoundest truths, that the methods of accumulating wealth characteristic of this age - though not invariably so - are dishonest; the Steward steps into the parable not only already an unscrupulous man, but a type of all men: yet every fabric of the splendid instrument thus misused is admirable. The world’s God-given endowments - foresight, industry, ingenuity, inventiveness, devotion - are, through sin, made abominable; yet they remain, nevertheless, of priceless value; and how priceless is seen at once by what replaces them in their absence - laziness, improvidence, carelessness, sloth. So our Lord says elsewhere:- "Be ye wise as serpents"; that is, imitate, not the venom, but the intuition, of the serpent. The Parable is a composite picture of the business world as we know it, and as it has always been; a flashlight photograph of commerce, with all its moral lights and shadows coming out as the blacks and whites in a finished picture.
[* ‘Shrewdly,’ as translated in the N.I.V. would best represent the original.] -
So our Lord, in His next word, makes the moral distinction clear, while the parable assumes an overwhelming force. "For the children of this age" - all worldlings - "are in their generation" - that is, as moving in an evil atmosphere, actuated by wrong motives, unscrupulous because ‘a wicked and adulterous generation’ - "WISER" - more circumspect, more far-seeing, intenser, more ingenious, more concentrated and devoted on their selfish and evil ends - "than the children of light", on theirs. “An owl sees further than an eagle in the dark” (Trench). A wolf is keener, more astute, more wide-awake than a sheep. The highest and holiest aims, our Lord assumes - and supremely the laying up of a fortune in the beyond - require no less sagacity, forethought, and travail, than the fortunes of a Rothschild or a Ford: business acumen, our Lord warmly commends, if only it be a razor whetted on the right strop. The two "generations" - the generation of the flesh, and the generation of the spirit - are opposed in origin, in nature, in aim; yet in wise ambition the lower excels the higher: one has chosen this evil age and its prosperity, the other the Saviour in His kingdom during the Age to Come; yet he who has chosen the self-life now prosecutes it with a far intenser devotion than he who seeks an inheritance in the one to come. It is a revelation of extraordinary and startling import: our Lord, looking down all the ages, declares that - habitually, in the mass, tragically - Satan’s kingdom - [in this evil age] - is better served by multitudes of unregenerate and carnal Christians than Christ’s principles for holy living by obedient and well-informed believers.* We have but to mark the extraordinary absorption of the worldling; his fixed purpose; his unswerving pertinacity; his economy wherever possible, and lavish fiscal investment (wherever he thinks it safe); his sacrifice of present comfort to present and future wealth with the uninformed disciple’s too frequent listlessness, doubt, hesitation - the complete absence of any thought of investing wealth beyond the tomb - to recognise our Lord's picture of us all as true to fact. **
[* The death-penalty for a regenerate believer’s disobedience, either here (1 Cor. 11: 30) or among the dead in Hades during the time of the millennium (Matt. 24: 51; Gal. 6: 8), cannot alter his/her standing as justified by faith, nor will it forfeit his/her eternal life - "the gift of God" in "a new heaven and a new earth" (Rom. 6: 23; Rev. 21: 1).]
** R. Govett was once quoted to have said: "We have known many determined to be rich in this world but have we ever known one so steadily setting himself to be rich in the next?" Actions always speak louder than words, and while there are multitudes of regenerate believers who honour Christ with their lips, their hearts are far from believing and acting upon what He has said to them.]
So now our Lord lays down the only profound and provident use of wealth: neither hoarding, nor squandering, but carefully investing beyond the grave. "And I say unto you" - something closely similar to the steward's lord: I say it, with whom the adjudication ultimately rests - "make to yourselves friends" - that is, personal friends: not barns, nor palaces, nor estates, nor banking-accounts, but friends - "by means of" - literally, out of; draw friends, not coins, out of your purse - "the mammon of unrighteousness" - the wealth which, in this age, is attached to evil: - "that, when it shall fail" - when the grip passes from the dying grasp - "they" - the beneficiaries [i.e., obedient servants under a divine trust] - "may receive you" - it is reception only: heaven is not purchased, but a welcome into the millennial kingdom is; for faithfulness and gratitude survives the grave - "into the eternal" - that is, in this context, ‘age-lasting’ - "tabernacles": so obviously, it is fellow-pilgrims upon whom this wealth is to be conferred. We change our currency when we go abroad: happy are they whose proper use of divine riches here make friends there! Here is a startling and profound reverse of the parable. For our interest coincides absolutely with God's. In giving his entrusted wealth so as to create worldly friends, the unjust steward defrauded his lord: we, by declaring "the whole will of God", and by taking care not to "distort the truth" (Acts 20: 27, 30) by strict compliance to His commands, show our wisdom, create deathless friendships, invest God’s wealth as the Owner of the wealth commands, and delight Him. Transmute your gold into love, says the Saviour, for love leaps the grave: a wise foresight in the correct use of today’s wealth is identical with a perfect stewardship Godward: four times fidelity is emphasized, and fidelity is obedience and wise distribution. So we stand awed before this masterpiece of Divine wisdom: which, through an appeal to self-interest; produces an unselfishness so powerful as to disclose all divine truth; distribute wealth; clothes the naked and feeds the hungry saints; proves the selfless competence and farsighted administration of God's steward; creates a love to obey*; and uses the evil mammon to heighten heaven's joy.
[* Obedience is said to be greater than sacrifice, and, in the case of the regenerate, obedience will: "attain unto the resurrection [out] from the dead"(Phil. 3: 11), and an inheritance in the millennial kingdom, (Rev. 20: 4-6). Compare an example of disobedience in the loss of a kingdom, (1 Sam. 13: 13, 14) with ‘a love to obey’ at cost to present life, "to gain a better resurrection" and an inheritance in "that age" to come, ( Heb. 11: 35b; Luke 20; 35.)]
Finally, our Lord, faced with the prospect of a universal rejection of this truth, is an extremely instructive model to the Christian teacher. There is no "hurt" feeling - He discounts the unbelief before it comes; there is no surprise - He who knew what was in man, saw the pound which is at the bottom of most men's souls; there is no anger - He simply states the facts, and is done; there is no forcing of the truth - ‘he that hath ears to hear, let him hear’; there is no reproach - for this is not the day of reproach, and the bankrupting loss for regenerate believers of the inheritance in that millennial day will probably be reproach enough. All that Christ does do is to close with the clearest warning of the fact, and a challenge. The fact is this. "He that is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much" - and so the principle applies to the least possible wealth any of us can hold: the wise master of a homestead would be the wise master of a kingdom; "and he that is unrighteous in a very little is unrighteous also in much" - proved incapacity during this evil age disqualifies regenerate believers for the larger trust during the coming age. And the challenge springs out of the fact. "If therefore ye have not been faithful" - and the fidelity consists in dispensing the Master’s trust with a view to age-lasting friendships - "in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?" - of which, for the obedient believer, the Millennial earth will form a part. Jesus implies that God will not. "And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another's" - no earthly wealth is yet given us as an inalienable possession; we are merely tenants at will - "who will commit to your trust that which is your own?" - the world, forfeited by the Fall, but, ‘in that day’, no longer foreign or loaned, but a wealth. The principle - presented to disciples, startlingly enough, only negatively, in view of all our Saviour foresaw - is as practical as it is momentous, and is the gravest possible: namely, that incompetence in the illusive, transient wealth of this age forfeits His trust in the genuine and inherent wealth in the next; and that if we use God's capital, He expects His dividends - so much so that infidelity in our temporary trust now incapacitates us for an inheritance in millennial property then.
Satan has succeeded today in blinding the eyes of multitudes of regenerate believers to the good news of the coming glory of Christ, (Eph. 1: 18): and the writer of "The Church At Laodicea" has so indicated this as a fact:-
THE CHURCH AT
Thou sayest, I am rich, and have no need,
Yet thou art naked, poor and blind indeed;
Buy of me gold, by fire all pure, refined,
The gold that maketh rich, in Heaven mined;
White raiment, too, I have prepared for thee,
And eye-salve for thine eyes, so thou canst see;
World-centred thou, oh hasten to repent,
I love thee still, My heart toward thee is bent.
How long must I stand knocking at thy door?
How long must all My mercies thee implore?
E’en now I want to come with thee to sup,
To drink with thee, from out My trysting cup;
Leave thou this world, and learn to overcome,
Then thou shalt have abundant entrance, Home,
For "overcomers" I will grant to sit
With me upon My throne, for such are fit.
Come thou open thine erstwhile fast-closed ear,
Then what the Spirit sayest, thou shalt hear;
Remember how thy fathers tempted Me,
They could not enter in, nor could they see
So fear thou, lest by lounging in thy nest,
Thou, too shall fail my promise to believe,
And fail, thy reigning with Me, to achieve."