Riches or Relationships: Luke 16:1-18

Focus Passage: Luke 16:1-18 (NCV)

    1 Jesus also said to his followers, “Once there was a rich man who had a manager to take care of his business. This manager was accused of cheating him. 2 So he called the manager in and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give me a report of what you have done with my money, because you can’t be my manager any longer.’ 3 The manager thought to himself, ‘What will I do since my master is taking my job away from me? I am not strong enough to dig ditches, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I know what I’ll do so that when I lose my job people will welcome me into their homes.’

    5 “So the manager called in everyone who owed the master any money. He asked the first one, ‘How much do you owe?’ 6 He answered, ‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil.’ The manager said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and write four hundred gallons.’ 7 Then the manager asked another one, ‘How much do you owe?’ He answered, ‘One thousand bushels of wheat.’ Then the manager said to him, ‘Take your bill and write eight hundred bushels.’ 8 So, the master praised the dishonest manager for being clever. Yes, worldly people are more clever with their own kind than spiritual people are.

    9 “I tell you, make friends for yourselves using worldly riches so that when those riches are gone, you will be welcomed in those homes that continue forever. 10 Whoever can be trusted with a little can also be trusted with a lot, and whoever is dishonest with a little is dishonest with a lot. 11 If you cannot be trusted with worldly riches, then who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you cannot be trusted with things that belong to someone else, who will give you things of your own?

    13 “No servant can serve two masters. The servant will hate one master and love the other, or will follow one master and refuse to follow the other. You cannot serve both God and worldly riches.”

    14 The Pharisees, who loved money, were listening to all these things and made fun of Jesus. 15 He said to them, “You make yourselves look good in front of people, but God knows what is really in your hearts. What is important to people is hateful in God’s sight.

    16 “The law of Moses and the writings of the prophets were preached until John came. Since then the Good News about the kingdom of God is being told, and everyone tries to enter it by force. 17 It would be easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for the smallest part of a letter in the law to be changed.

    18 “If a man divorces his wife and marries another woman, he is guilty of adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman is also guilty of adultery.”

Read Luke 16:1-18 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

Which comes first: God or money?

Is this a trick question? Not according to Jesus. He clearly states in verse 13: “You cannot serve both God and worldly riches.”

This passage also states that the Pharisee’s loved money (v. 14) and because of this, we can conclude that for many of them, money, stuff, and status were more important than God.

However, while money and God can be placed on opposite ends of the spectrum in our lives (either you are poor and with God or rich and far away from Him), Jesus does not actually make this conclusion. Instead, He pushes them (and us) to examine the motives and primary focus for what we do.

There are two baseline motives we can choose from: Serving God by serving others, or serving ourselves. When we place ourselves first, we shift into accumulation mode and we save and collect everything we can – both stuff and status. When we place serving God and others first, any accumulating we do is aimed at how this can be used to help someone else.

God loves blessing the people who view the world through the lens of how to help others. He knows that giving extra to those people is a good investment.

However, can serving God through serving others be taken too far? Yes.

If in our diligence to serve, we begin neglecting our basic needs, then yes it has been taken too far. We can illustrate this challenge with the warnings giving to those who have flown on an airplane: “In the event that there is a change in cabin pressure, oxygen masks will be released. Be sure to place your mask on first before assisting others around you.”

Is this self-centered behavior? Yes and no. It is true that you focus on yourself first, but we must ask the question of why.

If you place your mask on first only out of the self-preservation mindset – excluding the well-being of those around you – then yes, your actions are self-focused.

However, if you place your mask on first knowing that you can only help others effectively when your mask is on, the entire focus has shifted. You help yourself have the foundation necessary to help others effectively. This is helping from a position of strength, and it still retains the “other-focused” mentality.

The passage states that having money is not the issue, but the focus of the money is. We clearly read in verse 9, “Make friends for yourselves using worldly riches so that when those riches are gone, you will be welcomed in those homes that continue forever.”

Riches don’t last forever – but relationships do. Are your friendships made to support your wealth, or is your wealth used to expand your relationships?

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Opening Our Heart to God: Matthew 13:10-17

Focus Passage: Matthew 13:10-17 (NLT)

10 His disciples came and asked him, “Why do you use parables when you talk to the people?”

11 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others are not. 12 To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them. 13 That is why I use these parables,

For they look, but they don’t really see.
    They hear, but they don’t really listen or understand.

14 This fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah that says,

‘When you hear what I say,
    you will not understand.
When you see what I do,
    you will not comprehend.
15 For the hearts of these people are hardened,
    and their ears cannot hear,
and they have closed their eyes—
    so their eyes cannot see,
and their ears cannot hear,
    and their hearts cannot understand,
and they cannot turn to me
    and let me heal them.’

16 “But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. 17 I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but they didn’t see it. And they longed to hear what you hear, but they didn’t hear it.

Read Matthew 13:10-17 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

In an unexpected part of the gospels, Jesus shares a blessing on His followers who were present while He was teaching. It is a blessing and a privilege that most of us living today wish we could have had. In Matthew’s gospel, He shares Jesus’ blessing His disciples and followers first hand, because He was there to experience it.

Matthew tells us that after Jesus shares Isaiah’s prophecy in response to being asked why He always seemed to talk in parables, He tells His followers, “But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but they didn’t see it. And they longed to hear what you hear, but they didn’t hear it.” (v. 16-17)

I am one who would have loved to have been present to hear Jesus first hand as He taught the crowds. Perhaps you can also relate. For thousands of years before Jesus arrived on earth, there were prophets and people who looked forward to the day. There were countless people longing to be present when God would send the Messiah into the world – but they all lived before Jesus’ time.

The people living in Jesus’ day were blessed because they could be present to hear Him personally, but taking the rest of Jesus’ response into context, it would seem that even being alive during Jesus’ life could not change a stubborn heart. There were thousands of people who rejected Jesus because they didn’t understand Him, because their minds and/or hearts were closed to Him, or because they thought He set the bar way to high with many of the things He taught.

We have an advantage living centuries after Jesus. We can look back and see how God worked through His life – and we can see the cross Jesus faced in the context that He went to the cross for you and me. This is something those present during Jesus’ life, and those living prior to Jesus, were unable to connect together like we can connect these truths today.

But to really benefit from Jesus’ ministry at any point in history, we must be open to letting God lead our lives and open to obeying the truth that He has revealed to us.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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Listening Wisely: Mark 4:21-25

Focus Passage: Mark 4:21-25 (NASB)

Jesus had many profound teachings, and much of what He tells us sounds “unfair”. While we usually use the word unfair to describe a situation when other people have been given the upper hand, when we look at what Jesus taught, and even at the reason why He came, Jesus’ life was anything but fair. Jesus’ life was unfair because it lifts all of us up while He stepped down.

But in some of His teaching, Jesus shares a truth that can seem incredibly unfair, but it is a truth we have control over. Jesus tells the disciples and the crowd, “Take care what you listen to. By your standard of measure it will be measured to you; and more will be given you besides. For whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.” (v. 24-25)

While too often, we focus on the last idea about getting more, and the contrast that we might let other things be taken away, we apply these words to mean our money, our wealth, and our possessions. But the context for these words in both Luke’s version of this teaching and Mark’s is that Jesus is warning us to be careful what we listen to. Luke records Jesus saying, “So take care how you listen…” (Luke 8:18a)

How we listen, and what we listen to has a huge effect on our lives. What we let into our minds will eventually change us. This can be positive, or it can be negative. If we let good things in, we will be helped, but letting bad things in will hurt us – maybe not immediately, but eventually.

There is a trend in culture that all ideas should be given equal hearing – that is, except for ideas based on a Biblical foundation. However, this flies in direct opposition to Jesus’ words in this passage. Jesus warns us to be careful what we listen to. If we measure all ideas as being equal, then eventually chaos will result. Chaos might not happen immediately, but the more time ideas are given equal weight, the more they can erode at laws, which by definition are checks against someone’s ideas.

Contrasting two people can give us a clear example of this: One feels the speed limit on a rural road should be 75mph, while the other believes that it should only be 35mph. If the actual speed limit is closer to 75, the one believing the lower speed limit will make themselves a road hazard for those who follow the posted speed limits. But if the posted speed limit is closer to 35, then the one wishing to drive faster puts their life and the lives of those traveling on this road in danger.

Both people have an opinion – an idea of what things should be – but the law in place (the speed limit) filters their ideas as valid or not valid.

The Bible has given us instructions and rules to live by. While these may fly in the face of modern culture’s opinions, our culture has not actually settled on where it should settle. If culture continually pushes laws away, then what has been built over the past centuries will be “taken away”.

This passage speaks directly to our self-control. The more discretion we have, and the more self-control we exercise, the more we will be given. The less self-control and discretion we have, the easier it will be to lose the little we have. Life is a series of habits, choices, and decisions. Jesus challenges us to live wisely on the foundation He gives us – and it starts with being careful “what you listen to”.

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Stopping God: Matthew 21:28-32

Focus Passage: Matthew 21:28-32 (NCV)

28 “Tell me what you think about this: A man had two sons. He went to the first son and said, ‘Son, go and work today in my vineyard.’ 29 The son answered, ‘I will not go.’ But later the son changed his mind and went. 30 Then the father went to the other son and said, ‘Son, go and work today in my vineyard.’ The son answered, ‘Yes, sir, I will go and work,’ but he did not go. 31 Which of the two sons obeyed his father?”

The priests and leaders answered, “The first son.”

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes will enter the kingdom of God before you do. 32 John came to show you the right way to live. You did not believe him, but the tax collectors and prostitutes believed him. Even after seeing this, you still refused to change your ways and believe him.

Read Matthew 21:28-32 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

It is passages like this one that make me think Jesus enjoyed irritating the scribes and Pharisees. A simple reading in context tells me that Jesus had just finished responding to the challenge of where He got authority, and the discussion could have ended there. However, instead of changing the subject to something unrelated, it seems as though He turned and then began speaking directly to them.

What really surprises me is Jesus’ boldness. In the last verses of this passage, Jesus basically flips the spiritual tables on the religious hierarchy by telling them that tax collectors and prostitutes (i.e. the worst in society) will enter heaven before they do.

What is the entrance test given here for God’s kingdom?

Jesus tells us. It’s the action of repentance – specifically belief in Jesus that leads to the action of repentance. Verse 32 directly says the reason for this: “you still refused to change your ways and believe him.” The context is Jesus talking about the religious leaders discounting and ignoring John the Baptist’s message of repentance while tax collector’s and prostitutes would turn from their sinful ways.

John’s message was simple and clear – and John never made any while or crazy claims about being the messiah. The religious leaders were likely indifferent towards him, acknowledging that he was helping to point people to God, but not wanting to associate with his wildness in any way, shape, or form. We don’t see the hostility or frequent challenges posed at John that we do see posed at Jesus.

Perhaps they didn’t really see John as a threat – even though he was drawing a crowd. So they discounted him and his message, which set them up even more for discounting Jesus and His message.

This leads into the big thought for this passage: Believing that you don’t need Jesus or that you don’t need to change your ways stops God from being able to work in your life. It is only when we acknowledge our need and take steps to change our ways that God can step in and help us turn to Him.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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