“The people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
‘Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is worldly with very little will also be worldly with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?
‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.’
The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15 He said to them, ‘You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.”
RADICAL GENEROSITY IN PRINCIPLE
Maybe you’re wondering why I’m connecting your heart for the lost and your attitude to money. That’s because Luke 15 is all about God’s heart for the lost (lost sheep, lost coin, lost son), and now Jesus is saying ‘prove you have God’s heart for the lost, by the way you use your money’
When I preached on this passage I summarised it with the title See the future, act now! and then broke it down into 3 points:
- Money is a tool for eternity (v8-9)
- Money is a test of trustworthiness (v10-12)
- Money reveals your heart’s desire! (v13-15)
Then I concluded by saying “Teach your money a lesson: give it away!”
Basically, money used with worldly motivation is detestable to God (v15), but money given for eternal purposes is a wonderfully liberating gift from God! Jesus says God will entrust you with more and more (money and other responsibility) if you trust him enough to give it away.
You can be just as worldly with “very little” (v10) as you can with “much”. Jesus is not only calling the wealthy in the church to radical, entrepreneurial generosity, but also those living on the poverty line, or living on student loans. If we highly value worldly wealth by hoarding or craving it then, according to verse 15, we are detestable to God. We are self-justifying, self-reliant sinners who are so spiritually poor that we need to be rescued. But if we realise that the Lord Jesus Christ poured out his wealth to pay the price for our poverty and to make us spiritually rich (2 Corinthians 8:9) then we can commit to giving away the money we have (and even the money he hasn’t yet given us) for the sake of winning other lost sinners to that amazing gospel. Jesus challenges us to see if we can out-give God. Be as shrewd as you can to live on less, so that you can give away more. Then you can begin to experience the joy of verse 9: “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” For example, you give money to buy Bibles for missionaries to distribute in Burundi and when you enter eternity you’ll be greeted by Burundians who thank you that your money played a key part in them coming to know Jesus – what a joy!
You can be just as worldly with “very little” as you can with “much”. Jesus is not only calling the wealthy in the church to radical, entrepreneurial generosity, but also those living on the poverty line, or living on student loans
IT’S NOT JUST THEORY - IT WORKS
One of the reasons I’m writing this article is because the Lord has made giving a source of great joy for me and I want to share the love! He did that by getting people to speak into my life about radical generosity at a young age and then giving me a diverse range of opportunities to put it into practice. Over the last 20 years, I’ve been able to see what it’s like to apply these principles in almost every wealth bracket (except super-rich and extreme poverty).
As a 17 year old, I read a testimony about a young student who found that as he gave 10% of his minuscule income he went from always drifting into debt to finding that he had money left over each month which he could give away. I tried it out and found exactly the same thing happened as I lived on £6000 (actually £5,400!) a year as a student. Then I moved to London in 2003 and visited a big city church one Sunday hoping to meet some bankers who could help me find a job quickly. I met a guy from Merrill Lynch – I can’t remember his name or what he looked like, but he said something that changed my life. He said, “You don’t need my help finding a job, but what you do need is to know that a graduate salary is enough to live on for the rest of your life, so start by giving a good chunk and then as your salary increases, give it all away”. At a similar time, I heard a talk to workers by a non-pastor who said, “A Pastor earns £X, so if you earn more than that, give all the extra to gospel work, and if you’re left with too little then make sure your church pays your pastor more!”.
As I started living by these principles, like many others I’ve spoken to, I found that as I gave money away more came into my account unexpectedly, enabling me to give even more. I have also experienced times when the Lord has withheld more money but the general trend didn’t stop when I left my well-paid city job to train for ministry. By then I was married and we had more than we needed to self-fund the next couple of years, so we got rid of the excess. Yet after two years of self-funding we had the same savings we started with – which I really can’t explain! Now that we’ve got three kids, living on a pastor's salary means we’re offered income support by HMRC by way of tax credits. The government positively encourages those on tax credits to keep giving, such that it tops up 70% of the money we give to the tune of several thousand each year. This is an area where wealthier church members could team up with poorer families to provide a safety net if they ended up accidentally giving too much away. This is part of living out biblical church life: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who
had need.” (Acts 2:44-45)
Here are some other entrepreneurial suggestions to consider:
- Try spending no more than £1 on lunch when at work. Compared to the £5+ that many workers spend you could save up to £1000 a year to give away. Use Gift Aid and it will be worth even more. (Don’t do this if it stops you making friends with colleagues you could be witnessing to!)
- Use an accountant. For under £200 I have someone who can answer my questions to make my giving and expenditure £1000s more efficient and tax effective.
- When a church needs a house for the Pastor I’ve seen people increase the % mortgage on their own house to lend the money to the church at an interest rate much lower than a church could borrow. This makes it far cheaper for the church to buy than to rent.
- Insure your life. I realised that giving all our savings away might leave my family destitute if I died, so I’ve insured my life for £450k at a cost of £14/month until our youngest is 21. Now we can get rid of the burden of more worldly wealth without being irresponsible!
- Give radically into a new ‘shrewd dealing’ gospel fund. My sermon in Luke 16 happened just as I came into some inheritance – so in application the Lord promted me to set up a Charitable Fund designed to invest assets entrepreneurially for kingdom purposes; a kind of gospel hedge fund. Normally these funds are exclusive to the super-rich, but my aim is that anyone with a windfall, some inheritance or excess savings (however small or large) can give into it. You can give cash, shares, a garage or a plot of land etc into this Fund and the trustees will use their financial expertise to invest it profitably. You maintain ongoing influence on which charities/gospel projects the profit goes to, including your local church (which should be your first priority).
Alex Lyell is Senior Pastor at Streatham Central Church. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in finding out more about this Fund or want to talk through how to be more entrepreneurial with your own money - Acts 4:32-35 is possible!