Luke 16, focusing on Luke 16:13.
You cannot serve God and Mammon.
I have been going through a book entitled: “I wish Jesus hadn’t said that!” It discusses many things that are a real challenge in this world and has been most useful as a challenge to the soul. One of the things you can find in that book forms the basis for this message. Our culture is very much opposed to the gospel, and to what the gospel considers to be right. In fact, what the world considers to be right is all wrong when viewed from the perspective of the gospel.
In the current climate of financial difficulties around the world, the call to serve God rather than Mammon could not be more needed. Our Saviour’s view of finances and money could not be more different to the attitudes we discover in the world. The focus for our thoughts in this message will be Luke 16:13:
No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon. (Luke 16:13).
That last phrase, “you cannot serve God and Mammon” is particularly important. In the previous two chapters of Luke’s gospel the focus for thought is how we can come to the Lord Jesus and how He cares for us, and in Luke 16 the question posed is, ‘Will we accept or reject the Lord’s offer of grace? Or will we manipulate it for our own ends?’
The modern world corrupts the truth. A phrase you might have come across in public use is as follows: “Money is the root of all evil.” But the Scriptures do not say this, that the inanimate object of money is in any way evil. Rather, as Paul declared to Timothy, it is the love of money that is the danger.
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (1Timothy 6:10).
Money might be made good use of, but if our love is for money then all types of evil will be the result. It is the greed of humanity that leads to further sinfulness, not the object itself. Such greediness leads to “many sorrows.” Instead of money being the focus, it ought rather to be considered as a tool.
John D. Rockefeller was the richest man in the world in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. He gave much of his money to help others particularly in the areas of education, health, and for some church activities. But when asked by a newspaper reporter, “How much money is enough?” he replied, “Just a little more.” This same sentiment is seen among the modern day rich of the world. They may have billions but just a few more is always needed. For such, money can become the controlling aspect of life. And so for many, money is the god of their lives, controlling their thoughts and behaviours.
What we often find in Scripture is the two contrasts: The Way of God versus The Way of the World. In this case it is God versus Money (or Mammon). Luke 16 has two parables which pivot about the statement we find in verse 13 which pits God against Mammon (the love of money). In the first parable (the unjust steward) we see a challenge for the disciples, whilst in the second parable (the rich man and Lazarus) we see a challenge for the Pharisees. And so, we shall look at this great verse (Luke 16:13) with a view to these two parables, both of which illustrate the point that “You cannot serve God and Mammon.”
 The godly use of money – the parable of the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-12).
Many commentators find this parable somewhat awkward. Why does Jesus describe an unjust steward in such a way? What could He have intended here? Are the disciples to go around in the same unjust ways? Well clearly not. The Lord Jesus never condones unjust actions. The key to understanding this parable comes in verse 8 where we read:
So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. (Luke 16:8).
It was not Jesus who commended the course of action but the master of the steward. But what was going on here? What, in fact, was the unjust steward doing? To begin with we note that the steward was being called to account for his actions prior to the story we hear. He was to give an account of his stewardship for he had dealt unjustly by wasting the master’s goods. What did this unjust steward do? We read that he called the master’s creditors and made them pay less than they owed. To one he reduced the bill by half, to another he knocked twenty percent off. How should we understand this? Was the steward continuing in his unjust ways? If these actions were a continuation of his former unjust ways in wasting the master’s goods, then it is not likely that the master would commend his steward. What we need to understand is that the steward earned his money by taking a commission on the goods his master owned or sold. Different goods earned different commission which explains the differences we see in the text. So, by reducing the bills, what he was doing was removing his commission. The master would still get what he was owed by those in his debt, but the steward would forego his commission.
But what advantage did the unjust steward gain by losing his commission? Why did he do this? There are two things we can say:
[i] He was NOT defrauding his master in doing this – hence the commendation he earns from the master.
[ii] But he was seeking to endear himself to the master’s debtors and clientele, in the hope of gaining future employment.
It was not simply that he was hoping that the master’s debtors would give him a meal now and then in gratitude. Rather he was establishing his reputation. He was also enhancing his master’s reputation by lowering their debts, on account of waiving his commission. The steward was still unjust – he still had to face the charges – but the master approves of what the unjust steward did. We are enjoined in this to not seek the gathering of money – but to put what money we have to good use.
In Luke 16:9-12 we are taught to view money as a tool to make use of according to Biblical principles. We ought to put the money we have to proper use for the benefit others. The statement “when you fail,” (Luke 16:9), is a euphemism for death. If we use our money in this right way by making friends by “unrighteous Mammon,” (v9) then everlasting life is our hope and reward. In verse 10 we learn that what we do on earth with the small things shows how we will fare with the bigger things. In verses 11 and 12 we see this theme continued. If we are unfaithful with regard to Mammon, then we cannot expect to be trusted with the true riches. Then in verse 13 we discover that we cannot ever serve Mammon and God. Money must not dominate our thinking. It is a means to an end, not an end in itself. We need a godly use of money under God’s rule. God must be our only focus and money must always be considered a tool for use as God decides and desires.
 The Pharisees’ abuse of money – the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).
But what then is the worldly view of money? The Pharisees were lovers of money (v14). They would have been unimpressed with Jesus’ first parable about the unjust steward. To them it would have been absurd for the steward to waive his earnings in such a way. In fact, we learn that they “derided” Him, by which we understand that they ‘turned their noses up’ at what He was saying. And so now the Lord Jesus switches focus towards the Pharisees and their attitude towards money. Note here that the explanation is given first and then the parable follows on. We ought to recall that the Pharisees were masters of manipulation and seeking out the loopholes. They had what may be termed “the rule of corban” (Mark 7:11). They had decided that all of their money was dedicated to the service of the temple. But, neatly, as they were the leaders of the system, they had charge and command of all the money! And so they could sidestep their obligations to parents by stating that what would have been used to help them was dedicated to God! All the while it was their money they had ring-fenced for their own use. There were some Pharisees who were truthful and faithful, of course, but by-and-large these lovers of money had their possessions and treasures under their own rule.
In verse 15 we learn that these Pharisees were ones who justified themselves. They interpreted the Law to suit themselves. In verses 16 and 17 we are taught that the Scriptures (the law and the prophets) will not be passed over nor would they pass away. Not one smallest point of the law would fail. Then in verse 18 we get some teaching on divorce. This may seem out of place, but it was one of the key areas where the Pharisees side-stepped the law. God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). There were provisions in the law for marital breakup and how this should be handled, but the Pharisees had all sorts of ways of getting rid of their wives for all sorts of petty reasons.
In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus we are given an incredibly stark contrast. The rich man is incredibly rich. The purple may signify royalty. Some suggest that Herod Antipas may have been in view here. This man had the best of the food daily. And then we read of Lazarus. He could not walk and had to be carried to the gate. He aspired to feed on the crumbs that fell from the table of the rich man. Dogs licked the sores he sported. Dogs were considered the filthiest of animals in Israel. His was a pitiful existence in terms of this world. Now up to this point the Pharisees would have lauded and celebrated the rich man. He was successful. For them, they would have considered his possessions and money to be a blessing from God. In contrast the Pharisees would have thought of Lazarus as contemptible and not to be lauded. They held to the principle of retribution. Lazarus must have deserved his low and despicable position. A similar theme comes in John 9.
And so the Lord Jesus flipped things over and turned everything around. Lazarus is the one who gets taken by angels to heaven. The rich man simply dies, is buried, and ends up in torments. In his torment he shows that he had not changed, for he is still commanding and ordering Lazarus to do various things. The rich man pleads with Abraham saying, “Send Lazarus that he may slip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue” (v24). He carries on in this way in verse 27 where he asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers. In this way we see that the rich man is unrepentant.
In truth there was an immense gulf between where Lazarus was and where the rich man was. Lazarus experienced evil things on earth – we live in a fallen world – but all the while we note that Lazarus was silent. He does not complain and neither does he gloat. Then in great contrast we see the rich man with all his sumptuous riches and foods. He had plenty of opportunity to give Lazarus from his wealth. He could have simply opened his window and tossed out some of his food! But he didn’t! The rich man simply saw Lazarus as a servant. But Abraham replied to the rich man by saying that his living brothers had Moses – the law and the prophets. This was, of course, the prime source for the Pharisees! God’s word was always available to the rich man, but they chose to do things from their own perspective. The rich man’s brothers were probably just as rich. If they do not hear what Moses was saying, then what else could they hear? Moses brought God’s word. If they do not hear Moses, then they would not listen to one who was raised from the dead. This was shortly to actually happen, of course, for the Lord Jesus would raise three days following His resurrection. Now when this actually occurred, after the resurrection, the elders of the people consulted and gave a large sum of money to the soldiers who were guarding the tomb to say that the disciples had spirited Him away (Matthew 28:11-15). How ironic it is that the Pharisees used their money to suppress the truth.
In 1956 all USA banknotes were to have “in God we trust” printed on them. There is a certain irony here because this word “Mammon” comes from the same root as the word “Amen.” The root of the word Mammon is that in which we trust. In what should you trust? God or Mammon! Trusting in Mammon is essentially a trust in self. We either trust in God or we trust in self. Will you give yourself to the Lord and use all things in His service? Will you give yourself that He might use you in His service?
Jesus tells us you cannot serve God and mammon. To trust in mammon is really to trust in ourselves: my powers, my abilities, myself. But to trust in God is to lay that before His throne and to say to God, ‘You know best.’ We need to use everything God has given us in His service. It is all from God.
At the end we see that the rich man recognised what was needed because he wanted his brothers to repent, to give up what they were doing wrong. Yet that is something he did not do himself. We have so much, but most importantly, we have the scriptures, the Word of God. They tell us of the risen Saviour who calls us to come to Him and repent. Will we do that? The Christian life should be one of daily repentance. We are not called to give everything up but rather to use what God has given us in His service, rather than simply serving ourselves alone. That is the choice that lies before us. We have money, we have other resources. Will we keep it for ourselves, therefore having worldly abuse of our money, or will we thank God for what He has given us and make Godly use of our money and other resources? May God keep our hearts safe from the lure of mammon, that we may be true servants of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.