The Shrewd Manager
The parable of the Shrewd Manager (Luke 16:1-18) is hard to interpret, so it is mostly ignored. The translations do not help much, because they dull the meaning of the parable by talking about worldly wealth. However, the parable has a very important message. To understand it, we need some context.
The shrewd manager was asked to give an account for his management. He was accused of not watching his master's wealth carefully enough. The accusation was probably correct. The rich man was corrupt, so it is not surprising that his manager did not care about his property.
The shrewd manager knew that much of the rich man's property was unrighteous wealth. He owned land and made his money by renting it out to tenant farmers in return for a share of their production. One tenant had to pay a thousand bushels of wheat each year for his use of the land. Another who rented an olive grove had to give 3000 litres of oil each year. These deals were stacked in the property owner's favour. The tenant did all the work and carried all the risk. If the weather was bad and the crops failed, the tenant still had to give the full payment to the landlord.
In a really bad year, the entire crop might not be enough to meet the claim of the property owner. The landlord would take the crop, and add the deficit onto the payment due from next year's crop. Tenant farmers were usually in debt and always poor.
Operating this way was contrary to the law. God had distributed the land equally among the people. Every family in Israel was given a share of the land. The allocations are listed in Joshua 13-19. If a family fell into debt, there was a process for restoring their share of the land back to their children (Lev 25) Accumulating land was strictly prohibited, so the prophets condemned it.
Woe to you who add house to houseThe rich man had probably gained control of his land by cooperating with the Roman invaders. The rich man's wealth was unrighteous wealth. Therefore, the shrewd manage believed he was justified in changing the amounts owed by the tenants. The shrewd manager had signed the original agreements, so he knew the rents specified were quite arbitrary. He had pushed them up to as much as he could get. They were arbitrary when they were agreed, so arbitrary changes were justified. He had authority to change the agreements up until the day he was fired. However his objective had changed. He reduced the amounts owed to make friends for himself.
and join field to field
till no space is left (Is 5:8).
The rich man commended the shrewd manager for being shrewd. He had gained his wealth by being shrewd, and slightly corrupt, so he appreciated shrewd. Jesus summarises the message of the parable in Luke 16:9.
I tell you, use unrighteous wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.Jesus said that Christians should use their unrighteous wealth or wealth of injustice to make friends for the Kingdom. The only way to do this is to give the unrighteous wealth away.
The key message of the parable is the distinction between "righteous wealth" and "unrighteous wealth.
So if you have not been trustworthy in handling unrighteous wealth, who will trust you with true riches (Luke 16:11)?This parable is the first of a series told by Jesus that builds on this distinction.
Righteous wealth is gained through hard work, honest trade and diligent investment.
If a person works hard, and saves some of their earnings, their savings are righteous wealth. If they use their savings to buy assets that make them and other people productive, those assets are righteous wealth.
If a person starts a business that supplies goods and services that people need at a market price, without coercion, deception or manipulation, the retained earnings of the business are righteous wealth.
We can use righteous wealth to advance the kingdom, but it still has limited value. True riches are found in Jesus.
Unrighteous wealth is "mammona adikia". It could also be translated as "wealth of injustice". It refers to wealth obtained through activities that are contrary to God's will, particularly those that are unjust. Jesus did not define unrighteous wealth, because this had already been done in the Law and the Prophets. We are not familiar with the expression, but when his listeners heard it, they knew what he meant. He was referring to wealth held contrary to the Instructions for Economic Life.
The following are the main categories of unrighteous wealth.
Anything that is stolen becomes unrighteous wealth.
Lending to people that cannot afford the interest and then seizing the assets that has been pledged as security when they default is unrighteous wealth. This has been an easy way to gain wealth in every age.
The accumulation of houses and land is unrighteous wealth. The prophets spoke against those who accumulated land and houses.
Woe to you who add house to houseIn the modern world, residential housing is a popular investment, but this can be unrighteous wealth.
and join field to field
till no space is left
and you live alone in the land (Is 5:8).
Property and profit received through collusion with political powers is unrighteous wealth. People with political power often protect their positions by providing land and property to their supporters. The people who had become rich in Jesus times gained their wealth through their place in the Roman political system. It was unrighteous wealth. Once these people had chosen Jesus as their King, they could not retain land and property that represented loyalty to King Herod or Caesar, so they sold it. They would probably have lost their property anyway, once their new loyalty became clear.
In the modern world, governments often give a group of people monopoly power over an aspect of the economy, eg import licenses, mining licenses. This enables them to become very wealthy, but this is unrighteous wealth.
Limited liability laws allow business to take excessive risks and then leave their creditors (often small contractors) carrying the burden when they default. Wealth gained through limited liability could be unrighteous wealth.
Wealth obtained through debasing the currency is unrighteous wealth, whether it is done by a counterfeiter or a government.
See how the faithful cityThose who become wealth through debasing or inflating the currency are creating unrighteous wealth for themselves.
has become a prostitute!
She once was full of justice;
righteousness used to dwell in her- but now... your silver has become dross (Is 1:21-22).
Debt and Inflation combined together produce unrighteous wealth. In the modern world, people have found less direct ways to take advantage of inflation and debt. Many people have become wealthy through investing in real estate to benefit from the capital gains that come through inflation of property prices. These gains are often amplified by using borrowed money to pay for the properties. Large returns are earned through an activity that produces very little for the economy.
The high returns are dependent on continued price inflation that is caused by the government manipulating the currency. Collecting capital gains caused by inflation is sharing in the deceitful activities of currency manipulators. Wealth obtained from capital gains obtained by highly leveraged investments in real estate is unrighteous wealth.
The book called Rich Dad Poor Dad by American businessmen Robert Kiyosaki is popular amongst Christians. The book contains some great wisdom, but his core method for acquiring wealth is morally flawed. It relies on using a combination of maximum debt and inflation to acquire residential and commercial real estate. Both debt and inflation are contrary to God's Instructions for Economic Life, so the wealth his method produces is unrighteous wealth.
There are always winners and losers in this game. The wealth gained this way usually comes from people who cannot afford it. It is not a productive activity that makes everyone better off, like investment in a new factory.
Business activity that relies on any of the following produces unrighteous wealth.
limited liability laws,
debt and inflation,
exploitation of workers,
Much modern wealth is unrighteous wealth.
Christians and Unrighteous Wealth
The shrewd manager understood the difference between unrighteous wealth and righteous wealth. Christians should understand the difference too, but many hold unrighteous wealth that is blighting their lives.
Some Christians have unrighteous wealth that they accumulated before the came to faith.
Some Christians have inherited unrighteous wealth. It is still unrighteous, because the process of inheritance does not change its character.
Many Christians are engaged in activities that produce unrighteous wealth.
Trasnforming Unrighteous WealthThere are only two ways to transform unrighteous wealth.
Giving it away (preferably from those from whom it was taken, but that is not always possible).
God's judgment (which is compulsory giving).
These will be explained in the following two sections.
1. Giving Wealth Away
The New Testament prescription for unrighteous wealth is to give it away. Jesus message was that unrighteous wealth should be given away.
Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys (Luke 12:33).Jesus frequently told his hearers to give away their possessions, because unrighteous wealth was very common. The shrewd manager understood this.
If it is known who the unrighteous wealth was stolen from, restitution should be fourfold as required by Exodus 22:1. If it was general conniving, the response is extremely generous giving, particularly to the class of people who have suffered. Zacchaeus is an example of new believer giving away his unrighteous wealth.
Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount (Luke 19:8).He gave away half of his wealth and promised to pay fourfold restitution to anyone whom he had stolen from.
Zacchaeus did not need to ask Jesus what to do. Being a good Jew, he would be familiar with the message of the Torah and understand the Instructions for Economic Life. When he realised that Jesus loved him, he spontaneously put these instructions into practice. He made fourfold restitution for money that was stolen. He gave generously from money that had been obtained through general unrighteousness.
The giving that Jesus expected was not indiscriminant giving. That would be pointless. The wealth should be given to neighbours and "one anothers", who need help to get back on their feet. The giving should be designed to help struggling people get into a place where they can manage for themselves.
The ministry of the deacon was established to facilitate this giving. Deacons were people who were skilled in managing their households and their work. They channelled much of the giving because they and their spouses were able to teach others how to manage their households better, so that they did not get into trouble again.
Much of the wealth held in the western world is unrighteous wealth. If there is a gospel advance in the next few decades, we should see a massive amount of unrighteous wealth being given away. This would be an amazing event that would transform the world.
Large holdings of unrighteous wealth, a few people with righteous wealth are a consequence of gospel failure.
The other remedy for unrighteous wealth is judgment. Judgement is compulsory giving.
God has promised that those who accumulate unrighteous wealth will be destroyed. The Psalmist looked at the prosperity of the wicked and was envious.
For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from common human burdens (Ps 73:4-5). God gave him a glimpse of their future. Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors (Ps 73:18-19).
They will be cast down to ruin. The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously; those the Lord blesses will inherit the land, but those he curses will be destroyed (Psalm 37:21-22).The wicked will eventually lose their wealth.
The house of the righteous contains great treasure, but the income of the wicked brings ruin (Prov 15:6).Those who had unrighteous wealth will often prosper for a couple of generations, but their downfall inevitably comes.
The shrewd manager was called to judgment. He was asked to give an account for his management. He knew that the deeds he had done on behalf of the rich man were immoral. He executed judgment against the rich man by writing down some of the debts.
Jesus did not give governments responsibility for confiscating unrighteous wealth. Confiscated wealth remains unrighteous wealth. Unrighteous wealth that Government transfers to another person remains unrighteous wealth. The only way to escape the clutches of unrighteous wealth is to give it away.
When the state confiscates unrighteous wealth, it remains unrighteous wealth.
Unrighteous wealth must be given away to become righteous wealth.
When unrighteous wealth is given away, it is transformed into righteous wealth. In the book of Acts, people sold their property and laid the proceeds at the apostle's feet. They were most likely getting rid of unrighteous wealth. That fact that Ananias and Saphira had trouble giving up their wealth indicates that it was probably unrighteous wealth.
The shrewd manger was making a shift in allegiance from the rich man to the people who owed him money. This represents the shift in loyalty we make when we become a Christian. The shrewd manager understood that a person shifting allegiance must make a total break.
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 (Luke 16:13).Many Christians fail to do this. They hang onto some of the things that were important to them in their old life. This divided loyalty is dangerous.
We are ambivalent about the shrewd manager, because we think that he was dishonest to change the values of the debts owed to his master, but we do not understand the situation. The shrewd manager knew that most of the wealth of the rich man was "unrighteous wealth". It was stolen from other people, through the various tricky activities he had undertaken on behalf of his employer. Therefore, the shrewd manager was not robbing the rich man of his wealth, but was returning wealth that he had stolen on his employer's behalf.
The wealth he took from him had been stolen from someone else. The shrewd manager had worked for the rich man, so he knew how he had gained his wealth. He was not stealing from the rich man, because the wealth of the rich man was unrighteous wealth. He was making restitution on his behalf. As the agent of the rich man, he was doing what the Torah required.
The shrewd manager had given his allegiance to the wrong person. He seemed to be in a good place, but when he least expected it, the rich man turned against him for no reason. That is the way it is for those who give allegiance to the devil. Life seems good for a start, but when they are vulnerable, the devil attacks ruthlessly and tries to destroy them. They need to shift allegiance as soon as they can.
New Christians and Unrighteous Wealth
Many people who come to Jesus will own unrighteous wealth. They and their family before them will have engaged in activities that are contrary to God's guidelines for economic life to accumulate wealth.
The message of this parable is that new Christians with unrighteous wealth should give it away immediately. If they hang onto it, they will be corrupted by the unrighteous spirit that clings to it.
Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling unrighteous wealth, who will trust you with true riches (Luke 16:10-11)?If they cannot be trusted to do the right thing with their unrighteous wealth, they cannot be trusted with the treasure of the Spirit. Many people come to faith with significant wealth. They think they can use the wealth to advance the kingdom. This does not work. Jesus said,
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 (Luke 16:13).Those who try to use their unrighteous wealth for the kingdom will end up serving money. Righteous wealth can be used for the kingdom, but we must be careful about assuming that all our wealth is rightious. It is easy to fall in the trap of trying to convert unrighteous wealth by using it in the Kingdom of God. This is a huge issue for the western Church. If we are open to the Spirit, Christians will realise that more of their assets are unrighteous wealth than they realised.
The shrewd manager adjusted the debts, so that
People will welcome me into their homes (Luke 16:4).This is the source of Christian blessing. Living close to other Christians, who will opent their homes and share what they have brings greater blessing than unrighteous wealth.
Discerning Unrighteous Wealth
There are no simple rules to distinguish between righteous and unrighteous wealth. Some wealth will be obvious. The shrewd manager had worked for the rich man, so he knew how much of his wealth was earned in unrighteous ways. People who have served sin should be able to recognise the fruits of sin. The Holy Spirit will reveal this to the person who seeks honestly.
Unrighteous wealth is not an objective standard that can be decided by a judge. Nor can it be decided by other Christians or Christian elders. Only the person who holds the wealth knows how it was obtained, so they must decide whether it was unrighteous wealth or not. An elder can explain to new Christian what it means, but they must assess their own wealth and decide its status. Only the property owner can decide how much of their wealth is unrighteous. This is a personal issue.
Zacchaeus decided that half of his wealth was unrighteous wealth and gave it away. Likewise, the property owner must decide themselves what they will do with their unrighteous wealth. They can ask Christian elders for advice. They can ask deacons for assistance, but their response must be a personal choice, not compulsion.
Most unrighteous wealth will be obvious. If it is not obvious, we can leave it to the Holy Spirit. He will convict the new Christian, if his wealth is unrighteous and needs to be "got shot of". We can trust the Spirit to do this task. Christian elders must not get into the business of forcing new Christians to give away their wealth, whether it unrighteous or not.
The Ananias and Saphira incident probably occurred because people were coming under inappropriate pressure to give wealth away (Acts 5:1-10). This teaching is not the basis for compulsory income redistribution either by the church or by political power.
Unrighteous wealth can usually be discerned by examining the way it was acquired. It will have been obtained through deception, theft, manipulation or dishonesty. In Jesus time, it was often acquired through collusion with the political and religious powers. That problem has not changed, but the form will be different.
Barnabas would have brought his money to the disciples when he realised it was unrighteous wealth.
Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet (Acts 4:36-37).Barnabas was a Levite and Levites were not entitled to own land in Israel (Num 26:62). When he came to faith in Jesus, the illegal ownership of land would have weighed on his conscious. He probably could not return the land to its rightful owner (Lev 25:13), so he sold the land and gave the money to the apostles for distribution to those in need.
The word used for possessions in Acts 2:45, 4:34 and Acts 5:1 is "ktema" or "ktetor" This is not the word generally used for possessions in the New Testament (uparxis). These nouns are derived from the verb "ktaomai". It means "acquire" or "gain control over". It refers to property that has been acquired, not bought. "Ktema" refers to unrighteous wealth that has been acquired by wickedness. The property sold by Christians like Barnabas and Ananias had been acquired as a reward for unrighteous activities.
The generosity of the early church was not proto-communism as is often suggested. It was the practical outworking of the Jesus teaching on unrighteous wealth.
God hates the accumulation of large tracts of land and wants it evenly distributed. He created the earth for all humans and wants every person to own a bit of it, so they have the capacity to feed themselves. When Israel entered the land, he told Moses to divide it equally between all people. That means that large landholdings are unrighteous wealth. The accumulation of houses is unrighteous wealth. The prophets spoke against those who accumulated land and houses.
Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land (Is 5:8).In the modern world, residential housing is a popular investment. This demand pushes up the price of dwellings, which makes it difficult for young people to buy a house. Investment in housing is unproductive. It does not increase the productivity of the economy. People who are saving for their retirement should invest in productivity activities not residential dwellings.
If people who own more than one house or residential lot were to sell them, the price of houses would fall dramatically. Young people would find houses easier to afford.
Lazarus and the Rich Man
Jesus expanded on the dangers of unrighteous wealth in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Most Christians see this parable as teaching about heaven and evil, but this misses the point of the parable because it follows on from the parable of the Shrewd Manager, in which Jesus articulated the concept of unrighteous wealth. The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus continues this theme. Jesus was warning that the soul of the person who owns unrighteous wealth is in serious danger. It is almost impossible for them to get into the kingdom.
The rich man lived in luxury, but thought that he was okay. He assumed he was inheriting the blessing of Abraham. He ignored Lazarus because he assumed that he was cursed because he was such a poor man. He thought Lazarus was a bludger.
Like many poor people, Lazarus would have enjoyed a few scraps of food from the rich man's rubbish bin, but he was shut out from that too. No trickle down from this table. When the dogs licked his sores, their salivia trickled down, but there was little comfort in their attention.
When the two men died, the rich man discovered the was wrong. He had received his good things, but now he was in agony.
Why did this man end up on the wrong side of the great divide? Jesus does not say explicitly, but his listeners would have understood the reason. The rich man wore a robe of purple, which pointed to an establishment role linked to the privilege of the Roman Empire. His wealth was unrighteous wealth
The rich man asked that Lazarus would come and dip his finger in water and cool his tongue. He had done nothing to comfort Lazarus in his suffering, so he still just thought of himself.
The rich man asked Abraham to send someone to his brothers to warn them. Abraham said that the law and the prophets had warned them and that should be enough. The Instructions for Economic Life contained in the Law of Moses defined the nature of unrighteous wealth very clearly. The prophets explained and confirmed the nature of unrighteous wealth. The law and the prophets contained everything that the rich man's brothers needed to know.
The rich man had ignored the teaching of the law and the prophets and got on with becoming rich. He thought that he was inheriting the promise of Abraham, but he was ignoring God's standard for righteous wealth. This left him on the wrong side of the eternal divide.
Lazarus had experienced the bad things condemned by the law, so he arrived at a place of blessing. He was the true son of Abraham.
If we want to understood the nature of unrigheous wealth, we should do what the rich man and his brothers did not do. We should study the law to discover God's Instructions for Economic Life. We should study the insights of the prophets into the application of the law in everyday life.
The Pharisee and the Tax Collector
We think of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14) is a parable about hypocrisy, but this not quite right. Hypocrisy is pretending that you are better than you are. The Pharisee was not pretending. He thought he was better, but he was wrong about righteousness.
This parable is part of a series of parables about unrighteous wealth. Jesus directed it towards people who "trusted in themselves that they are righteous". The Pharisee explains the basis for his righteousness. He tithed a tenth of "everything that he acquired", yet Jesus said that he did not go home justified as righteous before God.
The reason is that tithing on wealth does not make it righteous. The righteousness of wealth depends on how it is acquired, not on how much is tithed. Acquisition of wealth must be consistent with God's Instructions for Economic Life. The Pharisee failed to meet that standard, so he was benefiting from unrighteous wealth. It looked fine on the outside, but he was actually no better than a tax collector.
The tax collector was not an innocent bureaucrat. Tax collectors were instruments of the Roman Empire. They extracted as much wealth from the people as they could get. They paid what they owed to the Romans, and kept the rest for themselves. Being a tax collector was a good way to becomes rich, but it was unrighteous wealth. The tax collector in the parable know that and asked God for mercy.
The message of the parable is that the person who acquires unrighteous wealth is no better than the tax collector. They might do good things with their wealth, but that does not change their character.
This is a serious warning for modern Christians. We are easy about how we obtain their wealth, but we assume that tithing and other Christian activities makes it right. It does not.
The Rich Ruler
Jesus did not just tell parables about the dangers of unrighteous wealth, he applied his teaching in real life situations.
A rich ruler asked him how to inherit eternal life (Luke 18:1-29). Jesus asked him about the commandments. The man insisted that he had kept them all since he was a boy, including the command not to steal. I presume he mentioned this one, because he had heard Jesus teaching about wealth. Jesus cut to the chase and told him to sell everything and give it to the poor. The reason that he had to get rid of everything was that it was unrighteous wealth. The only way to make it right and comply with the standard of the law was to give it away.
The rich man claimed to have kept all the commandments since he was a boy (Luke 18:21), but he was wrong. He had honoured the Ten Commandments, but he had ignored God's Instructions for Economic Life. He was not entitled to accumulate land. To be righteous, he needed to sell his land and give it away. This would fulfil the land laws of Leviticus 25.
Luke records that the man became sad, because "he was very wealthy". This man was a ruler. In Jesus time, a ruler was an agent of the Roman empire. He was running the country on behalf of the Romans, which was a great way to become rich, without having to engage in robbery. Everything he did was legal, because he was an agent of the law.
Wealth gained by collusion with political power is unrighteous wealth. It is tainted with evil, so it cannot come into the kingdom. Jesus gave a stark warning.
You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me (Luke 18:22).This made the man very sad, be had great wealth. He missed the promise of wealth in the spiritual realms. Jesus drew a blunt conclusion.
How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God (Luke 18:24-25).Some of Jesus listeners thought he was saying that it is impossible for a rich man to be saved, but they were wrong. It is just about impossible for an owner of unrighteous wealth, because their wealth has a hold on them that is hard to break.
Jesus was explaining that it was easy for a rich man to enter heaven, but it had to be done God's way. A rich man could get rid of his unrighteous wealth by giving it away to the poor.
Unrighteous wealth cannot come into the kingdom. It must be left behind, or the owner must stay out. The owner must leave it behind, if they want to follow Jesus.
Zacchaeus must have heard Jesus' message about unrighteous wealth (Luke 19:1-9), because he knew what to do without being told. When Jesus came to dine with him, he stood up and said,
Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount (Luke 18:9).This was not a grand gesture to impress Jesus. He knew that he was the owner of unrighteous wealth. Tax collectors became rich by stealing from their fellow citizens, using stand-over tactics. Zacchaeus was entitled to a fee for his services, but most of his wealth was unrighteous wealth.
Zacchaeus wanted to enter the Kingdom of God, so he knew he had to get rid of his unrighteous wealth. He offered to make fourfold restitution to anyone he had stolen from. That is what the Law required (Ex 22:1). He no longer knew who he had acquired most of his wealth from, so he could not make restitution. That is why he gave half of his possessions to the poor.
Zacchaeus gave his wealth away, because he knew he could not take it into the Kingdom. Jesus did not need to say anything to him, because he understood Jesus message. We focus on the generosity of Jesus in coming to dine with a bad man. That is good, but dining with sinners counts for nothing, if we are clinging onto unrighteous wealth.
Most Christians look back to the book of Acts with envy, and fair enough. We wish we could see the free flow of miracles that made the early church so effective. Most of us would love to experience the fullness of the Holy Spirit that they experienced. And we could do with seeing thousands added to the church in the way that they did.
However, there is one thing from the book of Acts that no one seems interested in copying. They took unrighteous wealth seriously. Those who came to faith as owners of unrighteous wealth quickly gave it away.
They began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need (Acts 2:45).
For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means "son of encouragement"), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet (Acts 4:34-37).
Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife's full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself,but brought the rest and put it at the apostles' feet (Acts 5:1,2).I wonder if we would experience more of what they experienced, if we took unrighteous wealth as seriously as they did.
At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus read from Is 61:1-2 and said this prophecy had been fulfilled by him. This was a big call.
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,The prophecy ended with a proclamation of the year of the Lord's favour. This was a reference to the year of Jubilee in which the debt of the poor was cancelled and land that had been lost was returned to the owner (Lev 25:8-55).
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn.
Jesus was not promising a one year Jubilee in AD 32. He was promising that the blessing of the Jubilee was being permanently fulfilled. His ministry would bring a permanent, continuous Jubilee. This Jubilee will becomes continuous as the Kingdom grows rapidly. As multitudes receive the gospel, a great flood of giving will create a massive shift in wealth.
I am going to finish this article where I probably should have started, with Jesus' Sermon on the Level Place (Luke 6:17-49). This is Luke's version of the Sermon on the Mount that Christians love. I presume that Jesus preached this message many times with different emphases according to the audience (Luke 4:43). Luke's version of the blessings and woes is less well known, presumably because it is tougher to apply. It is important because it repeats Jesus' promise of the continuous Jubilee.
Blessed are you who are poor,The poor will receive the Kingdom of God. This is not just a spiritual blessing. The hungry will be satisfied. People who are rich and well fed now will lose their comfort and become hungry. These big changes will be the consequence of the continuous Juilee.
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied (Luke 6:20-21).
In his sermon, Jesus did not explain how it would happen, but we can see it happening in the book of Acts. In chapter 4, Barnabas was a rich man. By Acts 14, he was often going hungry (see 2 Cor 11:27). When Barnabas was suffering on his missionary trips with Paul, it would have been nice to have had his wealth, so they could book into a 4-star hotel for a few nights of rest. It would have been nice to have a well-stocked credit card, so he could pay for a ride instead of having to walk everywhere. Barnabas was hungry, because he had given his unrighteous wealth away, but the Kingdom of God belonged to him.
While Barnabas was hungry and tired, the poor people in Jerusalem were being fed Acts 6:1-7; Acts 11:27-29). This continuous jubilee was the fulfilment of the sermon on the level place.
In Jesus time, the only way to become rich was through collusion with political power, but this produced unrighteous wealth. When rich people heard the gospel, they would have to give their unrighteous wealth away. If they rejected the gospel, they would come under judgment and lose it anyway (this happened for many in AD 70). Either way they would lose their wealth.
If the rich people of Galilee and Judea chose to follow Jesus, they would give their unrighteous wealth to help the poor. This flood of giving brings the blessings and curses of Jesus into reality. The same is true today. If the church took Jesus teaching on unrighteous wealth seriously, there would be a huge flood of giving that would look just like the sermon on the flat ground. The wealth distribution would be flattened dramatically. Unfortunately, we prefer to spiritualise Jesus teaching on unrighteous wealth and the poor continue to be poor and hungry and the rich tend to be satisfied.
Churches and Unrighteous Wealth
In the last century, millions of people in the western world have come to faith. This should have resulted in a massive continuous jubilee, as the new Christians gave away their unrighteous wealth, but that never happened. The consequences are serious.
- The poor have been robbed of blessing.
- The gospel has been hindered.
- Wealth has been stored up for judgment (maybe this is the reason for the current grumpy economic growth).
I do not know of any church that has taught that unrighteous wealth must be given away. Jesus teaching has been ignored.The consequence is that the church has robbed the poor. The church has gained a tenth of the income from unrighteous wealth, and the poor have got nothing. Not quite what Jesus had in mind. I think it means that a significant proportion of the property of the church is unrighteous wealth. That must lead to spiritual proverty