Make Friends

The following saying has always held mystery for me. Parts of it make sense. It’s the idea of ‘casting your bread upon the waters.’ However, some of it almost sounds like buying your way to heaven.

And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. Luke 16:9 English Standard Version (ESV)

The theologian, John Calvin, dismisses the notion of a ‘pay to play’ entry into heaven. Instead, he says:

Make to yourselves friends. Christ…teaches us that by acts of charity we obtain favor with God, who has promised, that to the merciful he will show himself merciful, (Psalm 18:25.)…

The Lord looks not to the persons, but to the work itself, so that our liberality, though it may happen to be exercised towards ungrateful men, will be of [benefit] to us in the sight of God. […The depravity of men does not prevent the Lord from placing on his records all that we have expended on the poor.]

…Our kindness to the poor will be a seasonable relief to us; for whatever any man may have generously bestowed on his neighbors the Lord acknowledges as if it had been done to himself.

Calvin’s explanation makes me reconsider the make-up of my own giving.

To the parts I did understand, Calvin says:

When you fail. By this word he expresses [our] time of death, and reminds us that the time of our administration [of riches] will be short, lest the confident expectation of a longer…life should make us take a firmer grasp. …Many squander what they have on superfluities; while others…deprive both themselves and others of the benefit…

Of the mammon of unrighteousness. By giving this name to riches…Christ justly represents them as worthy of our suspicion; just as on another occasion he called them thorns, (Matthew 13:7, 22.)

[…Christ intends, by way of an unstated contrast,] that riches, which otherwise, in consequence of wicked abuse, polluted their possessors, and are almost in every [case] allurements of sin, ought to be directed to a contrary object, to be the means of procuring favor for us. [This is] a warning given to believers to keep themselves free from unrighteousness.

Key to the right use of riches, then, is to neither squander nor hoard; using it not as an occasion for sin but, instead, for righteousness.

Clarifying what our attitude should be when giving, the Apostle Paul cautions:

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 (ESV)

And we do well to remember that time really is money when it comes to charity:

You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and ignore them. You shall help him to lift them up again. Deuteronomy 22:4 (ESV)

Deeds of Christian Charity

Deeds of Christian Charity, 1575, Pieter Aertsen (circa 1508–1575), in the public domain in the United States

God or Money?

Which will it be, God or money? The God spoken about in this context is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; one God in three persons. Money, or mammon, on the other hand, is any earthly means of exchange or gain (i.e., possessions).

While speaking with His disciples, the Lord Jesus Christ was overheard by the religious rulers of the day. They scoffed at what He said to His disciples:

“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Luke 16:13 English Standard Version (ESV)

Christ then turned to these rulers and addressed how their heart attitudes kept them out of His Kingdom.

Christ spoke the same words to a different audience who listened intently to His Sermon on the Mount. He spoke about the heart attitude that His disciples and the crowds that followed Him should possess in the Kingdom of God. As part of that sermon, Christ said:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Matthew 6:24 (ESV)

Although the disciples were common to both groups, many in the first audience sneered at what He said and in the second, they hung on His every word.

John Calvin commented on this two-thousand-year-old chronicle over five hundred years ago:

No man can serve two masters. …[Christ] had formerly said, that the heart of man is bound and fixed upon its treasure; and he now gives warning, that the hearts of those who are devoted to riches are alienated from the Lord.

For the greater part of men are [inclined] to flatter themselves with a deceitful pretense, when they imagine, that it is possible for them to be divided between God and their own lusts. Christ affirms that it is impossible for any man to obey God, and, at the same time, to obey his own flesh…

We commonly call this a ‘divided heart.’ Calvin goes on:

True, it is not impossible that those who are rich shall serve God; but whoever gives himself up as a slave to riches must abandon the service of God: for covetousness makes us the slaves of the devil…

So it isn’t the riches themselves, so much as setting our hearts on those riches to the partial (or total) exclusion of Him. Calvin then extends this principle to all our vices.

…As God pronounces everywhere such commendations of sincerity, and hates a double heart, (1 Chronicles 12:33; Psalm 12:2); all are deceived, who imagine that he will be satisfied with the half of their heart…

The covetous, the voluptuaries, the gluttons, the unchaste, the cruel, all in their turn offer the same apology for themselves: as if it were possible for those to be partly employed in serving God, who are openly carrying on war against him.

But wait, we are beset with sins that, the scriptures say, so easily entangle us. Are we double minded and in danger of hell fire? To this, Calvin, the shepherd, says:

It is, no doubt, true, that believers themselves are never so perfectly devoted to obedience to God, as not to be withdrawn from it by the sinful desires of the flesh.

But as they groan under this wretched bondage, and are dissatisfied with themselves, and give nothing more than an unwilling and reluctant service to the flesh, they are not said to serve two masters: for their desires and exertions are approved by the Lord, as if they rendered to him a perfect obedience.

But this passage [Luke 16:13] reproves the hypocrisy of those who flatter themselves in their vices, as if they could reconcile light and darkness.

So there we have it. The question now becomes: “Do I serve the devil or do I serve the Lord.” For, we all have to serve somebody.

Serve Somebody, Johnny Q. Public, Lyrics by Bob Dylan