“Make friends for yourselves by means of the unrighteous riches.”—LUKE 16:9.
SONGS: 32, 154
1, 2. In this system of things, why will there always be some poor people?
TODAY’S economic system is harsh and unfair. Young people search in vain for employment. Many risk their lives to move to more prosperous lands. Poverty is widespread, even in affluent lands. And the gap between rich and poor is widening. According to recent estimates, the richest 1 percent of the earth’s population have as much wealth as the rest of its inhabitants combined. While such a figure is difficult to confirm, no one disputes that billions of people are desperately poor, while others have enough wealth to last for many lifetimes. Jesus recognized this harsh reality with the words: “You always have the poor with you.” (Mark 14:7) Why such inequality?
2 Jesus understood that the current economic system would not change until God’s Kingdom comes. Along with the political and religious elements, the greedy commercial system, represented by “the merchants” of Revelation 18:3, constitutes part of Satan’s world. Unlike the complete separation that God’s people maintain from politics and false religion, most cannot separate themselves completely from the commercial part of Satan’s world.
3. What questions will we consider?
3 As Christians, we do well to examine our view of today’s commercial system by asking ourselves such questions as these: ‘How can I use my material possessions to show faithfulness to God? How can I minimize involvement with the commercial world? What experiences show that God’s people fully trust in him in this challenging environment?’
THE ILLUSTRATION OF THE UNRIGHTEOUS STEWARD
4, 5. (a) In what situation did the steward of Jesus’ illustration find himself? (b) What admonition did Jesus give his followers?
4 Read Luke 16:1-9. Jesus’ illustration of the unrighteous steward is thought-provoking. After being accused of wastefulness, the steward acted with “practical wisdom” to “make friends” to help him when he lost his stewardship. * Jesus, of course, was not encouraging his disciples to act in an unrighteous way in order to survive in this world. He labeled such behavior as that of “the sons of this system of things,” but he used the illustration to drive home a point.
5 Jesus knew that like the steward who found himself in a difficult situation, most of Jesus’ followers would need to make a living in this unjust commercial world. So he urges them: “Make friends for yourselves by means of the unrighteous riches, so that when such fail, they [Jehovah and Jesus] may receive you into the everlasting dwelling places.” What can we learn from Jesus’ counsel?
6. How do we know that today’s commercial system was not part of God’s purpose?
6 Although Jesus does not explain why he calls riches “unrighteous,” the Bible makes clear that commercialism was not part of God’s purpose. Jehovah provided abundantly for Adam and Eve’s needs in Eden. (Gen. 2:15, 16) Later, when holy spirit operated on the first-century congregation of anointed ones, “not even one of them would say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.” (Acts 4:32) The prophet Isaiah pointed to the time when all humans would freely enjoy earth’s material resources. (Isa. 25:6-9; 65:21, 22) But in the meantime, Jesus’ followers would need “practical wisdom” to make a living, using the “unrighteous riches” of today’s world while seeking to please God.
WISE USE OF UNRIGHTEOUS RICHES
7. What counsel is found at Luke 16:10-13?
7 Read Luke 16:10-13. The steward in Jesus’ illustration made friends for personal benefit. However, Jesus urged his followers to make friends in heaven for unselfish purposes. The verses that follow the illustration connect the use of “unrighteous riches” with faithfulness to God. Jesus’ point was that we can ‘prove ourselves faithful’ with, or control, those riches once we obtain them. How so?
8, 9. Give examples of how some are showing faithfulness in their use of unrighteous riches.
8 An obvious way to prove ourselves faithful with our material things is by contributing financially to the worldwide preaching work that Jesus foretold would take place. (Matt. 24:14) A young girl in India kept a small money box and gradually added coins, even giving up toys to do so. When the box was full, she handed the money over to be used for the preaching work. A brother in India who has a coconut farm contributed a large number of coconuts to the Malayalam remote translation office, reasoning that since the office needs to buy coconuts, his supplying them directly will help his contribution to go further than it would if he gave cash. That is practical wisdom. Likewise, brothers in Greece regularly contribute olive oil, cheese, and other foods for the Bethel family.
9 A brother from Sri Lanka, now living abroad, has made his property back home available for meetings and assemblies and for housing full-time servants. It is a financial sacrifice for the brother but a great help to the local publishers of little means. In a land where the work is restricted, brothers make their homes available for use as local Kingdom Halls, allowing many pioneers and others with limited funds to have a meeting place without a financial burden.
10. What are some blessings we receive when we give generously?
10 The foregoing examples show how God’s people are “faithful in what is least,” that is, in their use of material wealth, which is inferior to spiritual riches. (Luke 16:10) How do these friends of Jehovah feel about making such sacrifices? They understand that being generous is a way to gain “true” riches. (Luke 16:11) A sister who contributes regularly to the Kingdom work tells of a blessing she has received: “By being materially generous, I have experienced an unusual phenomenon within myself over the years. I find that the more generous I am materially, the more generous my disposition toward others has become. I am more generous in being forgiving, in being patient with others, and in being able to accept disappointments and counsel.” Many have learned that generosity is spiritually enriching.—Ps. 112:5; Prov. 22:9.
11. (a) How does our freely giving show “practical wisdom”? (b) What equalizing of finances is taking place among God’s people? (See opening picture.)
11 Using material assets to advance Kingdom interests shows “practical wisdom” in another way. It allows us to take advantage of our circumstances to help others. Those who have this world’s means but cannot share in the full-time ministry or move abroad have the satisfaction of knowing that their donated funds support the ministry of others. (Prov. 19:17) Voluntary contributions help to supply literature and support the preaching work in territories where poverty abounds but where there is great spiritual growth. For years, in such lands as Congo, Madagascar, and Rwanda, brothers often had to choose between having food for their families and having copies of the Bible, which sometimes cost the equivalent of a weekly or a monthly wage. Now, by means of the contributions of many and “an equalizing” of finances, Jehovah’s organization has sponsored the translation and distribution of Bibles to each member of the family as well as to spiritually hungry Bible students. (Read 2 Corinthians 8:13-15.) Thus, Jehovah’s friendship is being freely extended to both the givers and the receivers.
MINIMAL INVOLVEMENT IN “THE COMMERCIAL BUSINESSES OF LIFE”
12. How did Abraham show that he trusted in God?
12 Another way to gain friendship with Jehovah is by minimizing our involvement with the commercial world and using our circumstances to seek “true” riches. Abraham, a man of faith in ancient times, obediently left prosperous Ur in order to live in tents and pursue his friendship with Jehovah. (Heb. 11:8-10) He always looked to God as the Source of true wealth, never seeking material advantages that would indicate a lack of trust. (Gen. 14:22, 23) Jesus encouraged this sort of faith, telling a rich young man: “If you want to be perfect, go sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come be my follower.” (Matt. 19:21) That man lacked faith like that of Abraham, but others have shown implicit trust in God.
13. (a) What admonition did Paul give to Timothy? (b) How can we apply Paul’s counsel today?
13 Timothy was a man of faith. After calling Timothy “a fine soldier of Christ Jesus,” Paul told him: “No man serving as a soldier involves himself in the commercial businesses of life, in order to gain the approval of the one who enrolled him as a soldier.” (2 Tim. 2:3, 4) Jesus’ followers today, including an army of over one million full-time ministers, apply Paul’s counsel to the extent that their circumstances allow. Resisting the pressures of advertising and the world around them, they remember the principle: “The borrower is a slave to the lender.” (Prov. 22:7) Satan would like nothing better than to have us spend all our time and energy as slaves to his commercial world. Some decisions could keep us in financial bondage for years. Huge home mortgages, lingering student loans, expensive car payments, even extravagant weddings can result in great financial pressure. We demonstrate practical wisdom when we simplify our life and reduce debt and expenses, setting ourselves free to slave for God rather than for today’s commercial system.—1 Tim. 6:10.
14. What kind of determination is needed? Give examples.
14 Keeping our life simple involves setting priorities. One couple owned a thriving manufacturing business. However, their desire to reenter the full-time ministry compelled them to sell the business, their boat, and other material items. They then volunteered to help with the construction of world headquarters in Warwick, New York. A special blessing for them has been to serve at Bethel with their daughter and son-in-law and, for some weeks, with the husband’s parents, who also worked on the Warwick project. A pioneer sister in Colorado, U.S.A., found part-time employment at a bank. The staff was so pleased with her work that she was offered a full-time position at triple her salary. However, since the job would diminish her focus on the ministry, she turned down this lucrative offer. These are just a few examples of the countless sacrifices made by servants of Jehovah. Such determination to put Kingdom interests first shows that we value God’s friendship and spiritual riches far more than what today’s commercial world can offer.
WHEN MATERIAL RICHES FAIL
15. What riches bring the greatest satisfaction?
15 Material wealth is not necessarily an indication of God’s blessing. Jehovah blesses those who are “rich in fine works.” (Read 1 Timothy 6:17-19.) For example, when Lucia * learned of the need for ministers in Albania, she moved there from Italy in 1993 with no means of support, trusting fully in Jehovah. She mastered the Albanian language and has helped over 60 individuals to the point of dedication. While the majority of God’s people do not preach in such fruitful territories, anything we do to help others find and stay on the road to life is something that we and they will treasure forever.—Matt. 6:20.
16. (a) What lies ahead for today’s commercial system? (b) How should what we know about the future affect our view of material wealth?
16 Jesus said: “When such [unrighteous riches] fail,” not ‘if they fail.’ (Luke 16:9) Bank and economic collapses that have occurred in these last days are insignificant when compared with what will happen on a world scale in the near future. Satan’s entire system—political, religious, and commercial—is destined to fail. The prophets Ezekiel and Zephaniah foretold that gold and silver, staples of the commercial world through the centuries, will become worthless. (Ezek. 7:19; Zeph. 1:18) How would we feel if we reached the end of our life in this world and realized that we had sacrificed true riches for a vast store of this world’s “unrighteous riches”? We could feel like a man who has worked all his life for a pile of money, only to learn that it is counterfeit. (Prov. 18:11) Yes, such riches will ultimately fail, so do not lose the opportunity to use them to “make friends” in heaven. Whatever we do to advance the interests of Jehovah’s Kingdom makes us spiritually rich.
17, 18. What is in store for friends of God?
17 When God’s Kingdom does come, rent and mortgages will cease, food will be free and plentiful, health-care costs will disappear. Jehovah’s earthly family will enjoy the best that the earth has to offer. Gold, silver, and gems will be for adornment, not for investment or hoarding. High-quality materials of wood, stone, and metal will be freely available to build beautiful homes. Friends will assist us for sheer satisfaction, not for money. A new system of sharing earth’s bounties will be a way of life.
18 This is just part of the priceless inheritance for those who make friends in heaven. The rejoicing of Jehovah’s earthly worshippers will know no bounds when they hear Jesus’ words: “Come, you who have been blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the founding of the world.”—Matt. 25:34.
^ par. 4 Jesus does not indicate whether the accusation was valid. The Greek word rendered “accused” at Luke 16:1 allows for the idea that the steward was slandered. Jesus, though, focuses on the steward’s reaction, not on the reasons for the dismissal.
^ par. 15 The life story of Lucia Moussanett appears in the June 22, 2003, issue of Awake!, pp. 18-22.