Not many people would say money is the meaning of life. So how do you avoid making money your top priority?
- When it comes to managing money, what three words best describe you?
- How would your life be different if you had less financial worry?
- How do you tell the difference between planning financially for the future and hoarding money for your security and consumption?
- Have your religious beliefs (past or present) ever played a role in your financial decisions? Explain.
- What comes to mind when you think of generosity? What emotions surface?
- If being a means to an end is what gives life meaning, to what end do you want your life to be a means?
NOTE: The following content is a raw transcript and has not been edited for grammar, punctuation, or word usage.
So if our money could actually talk, do you ever wonder what it would tell us? Because if our money could talk, assuming it was for us and assuming our money was trying to help us, I doubt that we would be shocked at all of what our money would tell us because we kind of already know. If our money started talking, our response would be along the lines of, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, I know, I know. Yeah, I should have known. No, I shouldn’t have.”
The shocker, I think, in this whole series that we’re gonna talk about is not what our money would say. The shocker, that I hope is a shock to you and a pleasant surprise, the shocker is the parallel between what our money would say if it could talk and what Jesus did say when he did talk. In fact, you may know this if you grew up around church. But Jesus actually said more about money than heaven.
But the interesting thing that may be a shock, because of the way preachers talk about money, is Jesus never asked for any money. He talked about it all the time and never asked for any except for one occasion we know of. He asked somebody to borrow a coin. He did a coin trick, not really. Anyway, he used it as an illustration. And then, at the best we can tell, he gave the money back. So what was he up to? What was this about? And what we discover when we read the Gospels is when it comes to money and possessions, Jesus really was up to something and he really was after something. But as it turns out, it wasn’t anybody’s money.
So, let’s jump in. If your money started talking and if money could talk, one thing for sure it would tell us is this: “I,” I being money, “I can add meaning to your life, but I’m not the meaning of life. I can add meaning to your life, but I’m not the meaning of our life.” Money would remind us that it is a much better means than an end. In fact, if you make money an end, you may end up alone. But using money as a means to an end is what makes money meaningful.
Now, this is a really important little statement I’m about to make because this lands on all of our lives and this isn’t like a Christian thing or a non-Christian thing, this is just a thing-thing. But being a means to an end, I want you to think about this. Being a means to an end is what makes anything meaningful. Being a means to an end is what makes anything meaningful. This is why we don’t have Segways. You didn’t get that. Okay, have you ever ridden a Segway?
It’s like if you’ve ever ridden a segue, you think, “This is the coolest thing in the world. I need one.” And you can never come up with a reason for why you should have a Segway. Even if they were less expensive, they’re just the distant catch-on because we just couldn’t figure out a meaning. So they became meaningless. They’re interesting, they’re fun, but they’re just not a means to an end that anyone’s come up with yet. The thing that makes anything or any one meaningful is when that thing or that person becomes a means to an end. That’s what it means to have meaning. That’s what meaning actually means.
And it’s true for you as well. If you want to have a meaningful life, you have to come up with a way of being a means to an end that goes beyond you. And here’s what we’re gonna discover: When you decide to be a means to an end, your money becomes a means rather than an end as well, and you will begin to view all of your money, you will begin to view all of your resources, you’ll begin to view your net worth, you’ll begin to view everything, as a tool. And this is exactly… We shouldn’t be surprised. This is exactly what Jesus taught in one of his are-you-kidding-me-did-he-really-say-that parables.
So Luke, was a first-century doctor who actually got the information about the life of Jesus and put it in an orderly chronological order for his first-century audience, and it was so valuable to the church, they meticulously copied it, and eventually it was collected with some other New Testament documents and became part of the New Testament, which became part of our Bible.
And so, Luke, who thoroughly investigated all these things, records for us several of Jesus’ parables, and one of them is a parable about money and possessions. And here’s what Luke said that Jesus said. Jesus told his disciples, and the disciples are the general group of people that followed Jesus everywhere, including the apostles, but broader than that. Jesus told his apostles, “There was a rich man,” and they knew immediately this wasn’t a true story. Jesus was making this up in order to make a point. “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions.”
There was a rich man who had so much to manage, he couldn’t manage it all. He had so much to manage that he hired a manager who bought and sold and traded with his name. And he got wind to the fact that this manager was doing deals on the side or doing something dishonest that made him nervous. So Jesus continues, “So this rich man, who had too much to manage,” so had to have a manager, called the manager in, and he said, ‘Hey, what is this I hear? Word on the street is you’re not dealing with my stuff well. You’re not being very accountable. You’re not being honest. You’re not representing me well with my stuff. What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management,” that is, get the books together, finish up whatever you’re doing, “because you can no longer be my manager. You cannot be my manager any longer.” So he fires him.
But before he lets him go, he says, “You’re fired, but I need you to kinda tidy up all the loose ends. Bring me the big notebook, give it to me, and then you’re out of here. You can no longer be my manager.” Jesus continues, everybody’s leaning in ’cause he’s such a good storyteller. “The manager” in the parable… This is Jesus teaching. “The manager said to himself,” and this is the key word, “What shall I do now? What shall I do now? Oh no, I wasn’t expecting this. I’ve been caught. What should I do now? My master is taking away my job and I’m not strong enough to dig. I’m an inside guy and I’m ashamed to beg. I have my pride.” And suddenly, he finds himself, the guy in the parable, with a little bit of time and a little bit of opportunity to figure out where he is going to go and if anybody is going to take him in.
So he thinks about it and he comes up with an idea. And he says, “I know. I know what I’ll do. I know what I’ll do so that when,” because this is all about time, “When I lose my job here, I’m losing it, people will welcome me into their houses.” So he comes up with a plan to make sure that when he’s no longer employed by the rich guy, he has some place to go and someone to go to. So here’s the plan that he came up with. So this is Jesus telling this parable. “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors,” and his master probably had a lot of debtors. He just gives us illustrations of two of them. “He calls in each of the people who owed his master something,” people he’d been doing business with, “and he asked the first one, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ And this gentleman said, ‘Well, I owe your master 900 gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. And the manager told him, ‘Take your bill and sit down quickly. Sit down quickly before anybody sees. Sit down quickly before anybody finds out. Sit down quickly because I don’t have much time. Sit down quickly and make it out for 450.”
So the guy’s like, “Absolutely. Let’s just finish this up.” He said, “Boy, this is amazing. Thank you, thank you. Hey, if you ever need anything, call me.” “Ah, yeah. I might do that.” “Then he asked,” Jesus continues, “Then he asked a second. ‘And how much do you owe my master?’ ‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it 800, just 800, yeah. Let’s just finish this account out. Just make it 800. Let’s just wrap this thing up.’ ‘Wow. Well, thank you. Hey, if there’s ever anything I can do for you, just let me know.’ ‘Don’t worry. You may be hearing from me sooner than you think.'”
And the implication is he did this over and over, ’cause Jesus in the parable said he went to each one of the people who had done business with his master and he settled these accounts so he could have all the accounts settled, but he gave everybody these huge, huge discounts. Now, in the parable, when his boss, when the rich guy, finds out, or the way Jesus says it is, “The master,” because you know the master’s gonna find out about this, right? The master and everybody in Jesus’ audience is thinking, “Oh man, this guy is going to jail. And if you have not heard this parable before, you think the same thing. And the reason you think the same thing is because Jesus is the master storyteller. Jesus knew how to get his first-century, and sometimes his 21st-century audience to lean in and to be just confused enough to have the category scrambled just enough to where we have to pay attention and ask the question, “What is he trying to say in this fictitious story?” Because in every parable, there’s someone who represents God, and in every parable, there’s someone who represents the people in Jesus’ audience. There’s someone who represents God, and there’s someone who represents you, and there’s someone who represents me.
And the people in Jesus’ first-century audience assumed that the dishonest money manager is about to get into big trouble, but they would be wrong. They would be wrong because the text says that Jesus actually commends. In the story, the master commended, that is, he complemented him. That is, when he found out what happened, he smiled, he high-fived him, he slapped his knee and he laughed, and he said, “You got me.” And the text says that Jesus said inside this made-up story, in order to make a real point, he said, “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.” He commended him in the parable because this guy thought it through. He thought it through with the future in mind. He thought it through with his limited opportunity and his limited time and mind.
Jesus’ audience is very confused. And Jesus pulls out of the parable and he begins to teach the lesson he wants his audience to know from the parable that in the kingdom of heaven, the way that God views wealth and money and possessions, is different than the way we view it. And here’s how he views it and this is the lesson, this is the takeaway, this is the application, of the parable of the unjust, dishonest money manager. He pulls out of the parable and he looks at us. He looks at his first-century audience and here’s what he says: “For.” Now he’s out of the parable.
“For the people of this world,” the people who live their lives as if all there is to life is this life, the people who live as if it’s only about a birth certificate and a death certificate, the people that live as if all you see is all there is and all you get… “The people of this world,” he said, “are more shrewd,” that is, they are more thoughtful. They think things through better. “They are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.” And the people of the light in that particular context, he was talking about the Jewish people who had an eternal promise from God, that God was gonna do something fabulous through the nation. He’s saying that the people who have the covenants, the people who have the promises of God, sometimes aren’t as thoughtful and don’t think things through as well as the people that just assume that all there is to this life is this life, and then if there is a God, he’s not that interested in my life.
And then this is expanded to those of us who put our faith in Jesus. Anyone who believes that there’s more to life than life, that there’s life beyond this life, he says the people in this world, oftentimes, they think it through better than those of us who think in terms of, or are supposed to think in terms of, eternity, those who live within or who are supposed to live within a broader context.
The money manager was commended for taking full advantage of his limited time and his limited opportunity. Jesus’ point is the reason this guy was commended, it’s not because he was dishonest, he was commended because he took full advantage of his little-bitty time and his little-bitty opportunity. And Jesus’ point for you and for me is simply this: That we are to do the same. That when it comes to our money and when it comes to our wealth and when it comes to our income, we are to view it within the context, not simply of this life, but the broader context. And we are to ask the question, “How do I get maximum use out of it in light of my little-bitty time on this planet and the little bit of opportunity that comes my way?”
And then, just so we don’t miss it, Jesus leans in and he gets very, very specific, and he gets so specific that the first time I read this parable as an adult and I really understood the implications, it really was life-changing and life-shaping for me, because Jesus now gives an imperative. If you’re not a Christian, you don’t have to do this. Okay? Please don’t hear me telling you what to do. I have no authority over you, and if you’re not following Jesus, he doesn’t have any authority over you either. However, there are some takeaways for you, so hang on. But if you’re a Jesus follower, Jesus leans in and he says, “I tell you.” In other words, “Pay attention. I’m talking to you now. This isn’t a story.” “I tell you… ” This is the command: “Use.” Why? Because it’s a means to an end. It’s not the end, because it’s a tool. “Use worldly wealth,” to which we might be inclined to say, “Well, what other kind of wealth is there?” Aha, a good question. You’re paying attention. “Use worldly wealth,” this is a command, “to gain friends for yourselves,” like the money manager, “so that when it is gone,” because it will be gone. Actually, you’ll be gone.
But anyway, “When it is gone, you will be,” and this is so strange, “welcomed into eternal dwellings.” Now, don’t ask me to explain this because I can’t explain this. In fact, isolated to the teaching of Jesus at this particular time in his life, this really doesn’t make any sense because the implications are unmissable. The implications are that there’s something we can do with temporary wealth during this little-bitty slot of time that we have in life that makes an eternal difference. And honestly, I would not take that seriously and you shouldn’t take it seriously either, except for one thing. After Jesus was crucified, he came back to life. And when someone predicts their own death and resurrection and pulls it off, whenever they talk about death or resurrection, you and I should pay attention.
So consequently, looking back through the filter of the resurrection of Jesus, Luke is writing this on the other side of the resurrection. He’s like, “I know this sounds a little bit crazy,” and I know that Jesus’ first-century audience in the moment certainly didn’t understand what he was talking about. But clearly there is something to this because Jesus substantiated the idea that there is eternity not just through his teaching, but through his life, and specifically, through his resurrection. But his point is clear that your money and your possessions, my money and my possessions, money is a means. It is not the end. It’s a means to an end that goes beyond us and Jesus, as it even goes beyond this life.
The implication is that our right-now resources, that our right-now resources, that your right-now resources, have the potential to make a forever difference, that we can’t take it with us. We’ve heard that our whole lives, right? We can’t take it with us, but there is a way for us to have something to show for it beyond this life. It’s a means to an end. As Jesus would say, “It is a tool.” Now, if Jesus is right, and I think he’s right, you know? But if he’s right, it means that I should view and that you should view not a percentage of what you have is something that should be made available to your Heavenly Father, it means that we should view 100% of what we have as a potential means to an end.
In other words, the question that we should begin to ask as Jesus followers… In fact, I would encourage you to ask this question just for fun even if you’re not a Jesus follower. The question that we should all ask at some level is how can I leverage more of what I have as a means to an end that’s not me? How can I leverage more of what I have as a means to an end that is outside of what benefits me? Because as most of you already know, because all of us have experienced just enough of this to know, that is where joy is truly found, isn’t it? When Sandra and I were first married, one of the advantages that we have is… We had several advantages. One, we were raised very similarly when it comes to money and managing money and generosity. We were both raised by very, two sets of very generous parents. And so consequently, when we set up our budget and we started doing life together, we decided up front there is a percentage of our money that is going to be given away first. We just decided that: 10% to our church, and then another percent is gonna go to other things that we love.
And here’s why.” This is pretty brilliant. You’re gonna wanna write this down. Okay, you ready? The reason you should decide ahead of time what percentage of your income you wanna live on is because you are going to live on a percentage of your income. Let me say that again. You, each one of you, I don’t even know you. All of you are living on a percentage of your income. Why would you not choose it rather than letting a lifestyle choose it for you?
See, that’s what shrewd-thinking, forward-thinking people do.
They don’t think about the numbers of dollars. They think about the percentage.. And we also decided that anything we own, we’re gonna try to figure out how to use it to help other people. And we’ve been successful and we’ve been unsuccessful. And sometimes I get selfish and sometimes she has to say, “Remember?” I’m like, “Oh, yeah,” ’cause she’s more inclined that way than me. And we also decided that we’re not gonna hoard stuff. If we’re not using it, we’re going to give it away. As soon as I have the box and I’m about to go into the basement with it, I realize, “Okay, if I take this into the basement, it will live there for two or three years doing no one any good, and then one day, I’m gonna see it and go, ‘I need to get rid of that,’ and then I’m gonna put it into circulation. So don’t even take it down there. Just give it away.”
And then we decided that we’re gonna try to say yes to anyone who ever asks us for anything. Now, that’s complicated. That’s not even always wise to just do for people when they ask. But we decided if we’re gonna err, we’re gonna err on the side of generosity. And this isn’t unique for me, many of you have done this. If you haven’t, I hope this is challenging to you. Through the years, what actually happened, what actually transpired, is that we turned stuff into stories and we don’t miss the stuff. The stories are still very emotional for us. There are some stories that we can’t tell to this day, and it was years ago some of these things happened, that we just don’t tear up when we think about the opportunities we had because we decided ahead of time.
Here’s the thing. Okay? Then I’ll move on. This is what I know about you. All of you have several things you factor into your financial decisions. We all do, even if you don’t have them written down, you don’t even know what they are, I promise you every time you make a financial decision, you factor in something. You have to have some things that you factor in, right?
So I wanna suggest you begin factoring this question in, because this could possibly free you up to become more of the kind of person that you actually wanna be anyway. And here’s the question: “Do I want more stuff or do I want more stories? Do I want more stuff or do I want more stories?” And let me just give you a tip: Nobody’s gonna talk about your stuff in the end. They’re gonna tell stories about you. Do you want more stuff or do you want more stories? I mean, how do you compare the stuff with the stories?
And yeah, we gotta make a living. We’ve gotta pay our bills. We’ve gotta get our kids through school. I get all that. I’m not advocating irresponsible living. I’m just saying I think you should factor this in. What do you want? More stuff or more stories? Now, here’s Jesus’ point. His point is simply this: Money, money can add meaning to your life when you use it as a means to an end that goes beyond you. Now, the parable, the teaching on the parable isn’t over, and I’m gonna get through this last part pretty quick ’cause it’s fascinating. He continues. He’s not done. They’re all leaning in. He says this. He says, “Hey, by the way, whoever,” and whoever means whoever, “whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much.” Do what? Yeah. “And whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” Okay, wait, wait. What are you talking about? He keeps going. “So I tell you, if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true? Or who will trust true riches with you or to you?” one text says.
And Jesus’ point is simply this: That no matter how much you have, your wealth, your possessions, my money, my wealth, my possessions, not only is it a means to an end, not only is it a tool from the kingdom of God’s perspective, it’s all a test as well. It’s like the manager in the parable, that we have a little bit of money, we have a little bit of resources for a short amount of time, and we are basically being tested to determine whose kingdom we are most devoted to, the book-ended kingdom of this world or the kingdom in which there is more to this life than what we can see and that goes beyond the bookends of our physical lives.
But he’s not done. He says this: “And by the way, as we wrap up, if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property… ” It’s like, “Wait, wait, wait. What are you talking about?” I mean, this is my paycheck, this is my money. I have the deed to the house. I have the title to the car. I mean I own stuff. This is my stuff.” “If you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?”
To which you were like, “Okay, I’ve lost you.” But if your money could talk and if my money could talk, I think it would confirm what Jesus is saying at the end of this teaching. It would say, “I’ll still be here when you’re gone. And the moment you think you own me, the moment you think you own me, I actually own you.” Because we all, like the money manager in the parable, are, in fact, managers. We are not owners. And the way we know that we’re not owners is that if you’re going to leave it behind, clearly you don’t own it. You’re just managing it. But here’s the real question: If you’re just a manager, not an owner, who are you managing it for? I mean, if you’re just stardust, if you’re just an accident of evolution by natural selection, then I don’t know how to answer the question who you are managing this for because you are gonna leave it all behind. We all know that. Nobody argues with that.
But think about this: If in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and if in the beginning, God created mankind in his image, and if in the beginning, God made us as a race, stewards of this planet, and he gave each of us a little bit of time and a little bit of opportunity and a little bit of resources to manage, then suddenly all of this makes perfect sense. And Jesus would say, “Manage it well, and please don’t get confused. Don’t get confused.” If your money would talk, it would remind us, “I’m a means. I’m a means. I’m not an end. I’m a tool and I’m a test. I can add meaning to your life, but don’t be confused. I’m not the meaning of your life.” So, as we wrap up, I wanna ask this question, then we’re gonna pick this up next time: What do we do with all this? I mean, where do we start? I think the real place to start is the place that Jesus is pointing to, and the place to start is not an amount of money, and the place to start isn’t even really a percentage.
The place to start is with the bigger question, the big question that really most people never stop to ask, and consequently, never have an answer for, a question that on the surface seems to have nothing to do with money, but in the end, it has everything to do with money. So here’s the question I wanna leave you with: If being a means to an end, is what gives your life meaning and purpose, to what ends do you want your life to be a means? If being a means to an end that goes beyond you is what gives your life purpose and meaning, to what ends… It doesn’t have to be one thing. It shouldn’t be one thing. To what ends do you want your life to be a means to?
What, and we’ve asked these questions before, what do you want people to celebrate about you when you’re gone? What would I want people to line up to thank me for at the end of my life?” and I don’t even know you. But I know you enough to know this. You wouldn’t give this answer: “Well, here’s what it is for me. It’s accumulation, consumption, upgrades, fashion forward, house full of stuff. That’s the meaning of my life.”
Nobody chooses this on purpose. Listen to me: If you don’t decide the ends to which you want your life to be a means, that is the direction our culture will pull you. You already know that, and you don’t wanna spend another season of your life like that. I know you don’t. Nobody does. “She ate, she drank, she was merry, then she died,” right?
I mean, that’s not a legacy, right? That’s a life poorly lived. Here’s the thing, and then I’m done. When you answer… Look up here. When you answer the big question, when you answer the big question, and you start wrapping your heart around the answer to the big question, your money will follow because money is a means to an end. Money is a tool. It’s not the goal. And we’ve all lived long enough to have seen that in the lives of other people. We’ve all experienced just enough joy to know it’s true. When you answer the big question, something begins to happen in your heart.
But listen: Until you answer the big question, until you answer the big question, you may just end up following your money, and that would be a shame because live for yourself. You only have yourself to show for yourself along with some stuff for people to fight over when you’re gone. So this week, here’s the question I want you to wrestle with. If being a means to an end is what gives life meaning, to what ends do I want my life to be a means? And when you identify and embrace the answer to that question, your money will begin to follow and you will begin to view everything you own, everything that comes your way, as a means to an end, as it was intended to be.