“Make friends for yourselves by means of the unrighteous riches.”
1, 2. In this system of things, why will there always be some poor people?
TODAY, the economic system is cruel and unfair. For example, it is difficult for many young people to find jobs. Some people risk their lives to move to rich countries. And even in rich countries, there are many poor people. Around the world, the rich are becoming richer while the poor are becoming poorer. According to recent estimates, the richest 1 percent of people have as much money as the other 99 percent of people combined. Clearly, while some people have more than enough money to last for many lifetimes, billions of others are very poor. Jesus recognized this when he said: “You always have the poor with you.” (Mark 14:7) Why does such unfairness exist?
2 Jesus knew that only God’s Kingdom could change this world’s commercial system. The Bible shows that “the merchants,” or the commercial system, along with the political and religious systems, are part of Satan’s world. (Revelation 18:3) God’s people are able to separate themselves completely from politics and false religion. However, most of God’s people cannot completely separate themselves from the commercial part of Satan’s world.
3. What questions will we consider?
3 As Christians, we need to examine our attitude toward the world’s commercial system. To do so, we could ask ourselves: ‘How can I use my material things to show that I am faithful to God? How can I become less involved with the commercial world? What experiences show that God’s people today fully trust in him?’
THE STORY OF THE UNRIGHTEOUS STEWARD
4, 5. (a) What happened to the steward in Jesus’ story? (b) What did Jesus tell his followers to do?
4 Read Luke 16:1-9. Jesus’ story of the unrighteous steward should make all of us stop and think. The steward was accused of being wasteful, and his master decided to fire him. * (See footnote.) But the steward used “practical wisdom.” Before he left his job, he made friends with people who would be able to help him later. Jesus did not tell this story because he wanted his disciples to act in an unrighteous way in order to survive. That is what people of this world do. Instead, Jesus used the story to teach a very important lesson.
5 Jesus knew that like the steward who was suddenly in a difficult situation, most of his followers would find it very difficult to make a living in this unjust world. So he told them: “Make friends for yourselves by means of the unrighteous riches.” Why? So that when such riches fail, those friends, 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 material things “unrighteous,” the Bible makes it clear that making a lot of money from things was not part of God’s purpose. For example, Jehovah freely gave Adam and Eve more than what they needed in the garden of Eden. (Genesis 2:15, 16) Later, when God gave his holy spirit to his 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 said that there would be a time when all humans would freely enjoy whatever the earth produces. (Isaiah 25:6-9; 65:21, 22) But until that time comes, Jesus’ followers would need “practical wisdom.” They would need to make a living using the unrighteous material things of this world and, at the same time, also try to please God.
WISE USE OF UNRIGHTEOUS RICHES
7. What counsel does Jesus give at Luke 16:10-13?
7 Read Luke 16:10-13. The steward in Jesus’ story made friends to benefit himself. However, Jesus wanted his followers to make friends in heaven for unselfish purposes. He wanted us to understand that the way in which we use our unrighteous riches can show whether we are faithful to God. How can we do that?
8, 9. Give examples of how some are showing faithfulness in their use of unrighteous riches.
8 One way to prove ourselves faithful with our material things is by making donations to the worldwide preaching work that Jesus foretold would happen. (Matthew 24:14) A young girl in India kept a small money box and gradually added coins. She even gave up buying toys to do so. When the box was full, she donated all the money she had saved to be used for the preaching work. A brother in India has a coconut farm. He donated a lot of coconuts to the Malayalam remote translation office. Because the office needs to buy coconuts, he felt that his donation had more value than if he had given money. That is “practical wisdom.” In a similar way, brothers in Greece regularly donate olive oil, cheese, and other foods to the Bethel family.
9 Another brother has made his property in Sri Lanka available for meetings and assemblies and for housing full-time servants. It is a financial sacrifice for the brother, but it is a great help to the publishers there, who do not have a lot of money. In a land where the work is restricted, brothers use their homes as Kingdom Halls. That allows pioneers and others who do not have a lot of money to have a meeting place without having to pay rent.
God’s people use their material things to benefit others
10. What are some benefits we receive when we give generously?
10 Such examples show that God’s people are “faithful in what is least.” (Luke 16:10) They use their material things to benefit others. How do those friends of Jehovah feel about making such sacrifices? They are very happy knowing that when they are generous, they gain “true” riches in heaven. (Luke 16:11) One sister who regularly donates money to help the Kingdom work says that something unusual has happened to her over the years. She explains: “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 has benefited them personally.
11. (a) How does our generosity show “practical wisdom”? (b) What is happening among God’s people today? (See opening picture.)
11 We also show “practical wisdom” when we use our material things to support others in the ministry. Then, even if we cannot serve full-time or move where the need is greater, we will still be benefiting others. (Proverbs 19:17) For example, our donations help to supply literature and support the preaching work in very poor areas where many are coming into the truth. In such countries as Congo, Madagascar, and Rwanda, Bibles can be very expensive. Sometimes one costs as much as a weekly or monthly salary. For years, our brothers had to choose between buying food for their families and buying a Bible. Now, because of the donations of others and “an equalizing” of funds, Jehovah’s organization translates and distributes Bibles free of charge to each family member as well as to Bible students. (Read 2 Corinthians 8:13-15.) So both those who give and those who receive can become Jehovah’s friends.
HOW CAN WE BECOME LESS INVOLVED WITH THE COMMERCIAL WORLD?
12. How did Abraham show that he trusted in God?
12 We can also become friends with Jehovah when we become less involved with the commercial world and seek “true” riches. That is what the faithful man Abraham did. He obeyed Jehovah and left the very wealthy city of Ur in order to live in tents because he wanted to be Jehovah’s friend. (Hebrews 11:8-10) He always trusted in God rather than in material things. (Genesis 14:22, 23) Jesus encouraged others to imitate that kind of faith. Once, he told 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.” (Matthew 19:21) That young man did not have faith like Abraham’s. But there were other people who trusted in God.
13. (a) What counsel 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 Timothy 2:3, 4) Jesus’ followers today, including the more than one million full-time ministers, do their best to apply Paul’s counsel. They resist the tempting advertisements of this greedy world. They remember the principle: “The borrower is a slave to the lender.” (Proverbs 22:7) Satan wants us to spend all our time and energy working for his commercial world. Some get huge loans to pay for a home, a car, an education, or even a wedding. If we are not careful, we may end up in debt for many years. We show practical wisdom when we simplify our life, avoid debt, and spend less money. In that way we will be free to serve God rather than slave for today’s commercial system.
14. What must we be determined to do? Give examples.
14 In order to keep our life simple, we must put God’s Kingdom first. One husband and wife owned a large and profitable business. However, they wanted to return to the full-time ministry. So the couple sold their business, their boat, and other material things. They then volunteered to help with construction of the world headquarters in Warwick, New York. This was very special for them because it meant serving 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 a part-time job at a bank. Her employers were so pleased with her work that she was offered a full-time position at triple her salary. However, since the job would not allow her to focus on the ministry, she refused this tempting offer. These are just a few examples of the many sacrifices that Jehovah’s servants have made. When we are determined to put Kingdom interests first, it shows that we value God’s friendship and true riches much more than material things.
WHEN MATERIAL RICHES FAIL
15. What riches bring the greatest satisfaction?
15 Having material wealth does not necessarily mean that we have God’s approval. Jehovah blesses those who are “rich in fine works.” (Read 1 Timothy 6:17-19.) For example, a sister named Lucia learned that there was a need for ministers in Albania. * (See footnote.) So she moved there from Italy in 1993. She had no job but trusted that Jehovah would provide for her. She learned the Albanian language and has helped more than 60 people make a dedication. We may not all have the same results from preaching in our territory. But anything we do to help others learn about Jehovah and become his friends is something that we will treasure forever.
What we do for Jehovah and his Kingdom will make us truly happy
16. (a) What will happen to today’s commercial system? (b) How should that affect our view of material things?
16 Jesus made it clear that today’s commercial system will end. He said: ‘When such material riches fail,’ not ‘if they fail.’ (Luke 16:9) In these last days, some banks have failed and some countries have had serious economic problems. But in the near future, things will get worse. The political, religious, and commercial systems that are part of Satan’s system will fail. The prophets Ezekiel and Zephaniah foretold that gold and silver, which have always been important to the commercial system, will become worthless. (Ezekiel 7:19; Zephaniah 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 the world’s unrighteous material things? We might feel like a man who has worked all his life to make lots of money, only to find out that the money is all fake. (Proverbs 18:11) The material things of this world will fail. So do not lose the opportunity to use your material things to make friends in heaven. What we do for Jehovah and his Kingdom will make us truly happy.
17, 18. What do God’s friends look forward to?
17 When God’s Kingdom comes, no one will have to pay rent or get a loan. Food will be free and plentiful, and there will be no need to pay for doctors or medicine. Jehovah’s friends will enjoy the best of earth’s products. Gold, silver, and gems will be used for their beauty, not to make someone rich. High-quality materials of wood, stone, and metal will be freely available to build beautiful homes. Our friends will help us because they want to, not because we pay them. We will share all the things the earth produces.
18 This is just part of the priceless reward for those who make friends in heaven. Jehovah’s worshippers on earth will shout for joy 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.”
^ par. 4 Jesus did not say whether the accusation was true or not. In fact, the word “accused” at Luke 16:1 could mean that someone told a vicious lie about the steward’s being wasteful. Jesus, though, focuses on the steward’s reaction, not on the reasons he lost his job.
^ par. 15 The life story of Lucia Moussanett appears in the June 22, 2003, issue of Awake!, pages 18-22.