This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 14:25-35. Have you ever wondered what’s the single greatest obstacle for most people to manage their finances well? Good Biblical financial management is defined as first having the right principles: God is the owner and we are temporary stewards. Second, it is defined as 5 key things: working hard (Colossians 3:23), borrowing little (Proverbs 22:7), saving (Proverbs 6:6-8), giving (Psalms 37:21) and living well below our means (Luke 12:15). However, these things are pretty simple, so why are personal finances so difficult? Why do Christians slip up so often? I think the key ingredient Jesus tells us is cited in this section of Luke 14:
25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ 31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. 34 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? 35 It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
Christians and non-believers have always struggled with this section of scripture, because Jesus is saying that the cost to following him is hating family and one’s own life. Is that what Jesus is really saying here? Sometimes Jesus uses hyperbole to make a point. If you recall from high-school English class, hyperbole is defined as a rhetorical device, used to evoke strong feelings, but is not meant to be taken literally. I would argue that the first part of this sentence about hating family or really everyone (since we are all related in the human family) is not to be taken literally. Is it possible to interpret one line of scripture as part hyperbole and another part as fact?
Biblical hermeneutics or exegesis are theories of text interpretation. Hermeneutics can involve all kinds of things, including non-verbal, semantics and pre-understandings. We already know that Jesus commands us to love everyone as recorded in Matthew 22:36-40, and that includes caring for family (1 Timothy 5:8), so I think it is safe to say that Jesus uses hate to get our attention to the second part of the Luke 14:26 “…hate… even one’s own life.” Why would Jesus say this?
Jesus says this for many reasons. One is that he is smart and wise. Secondly, he loves us and wants to help us. Lastly, he wants to save us from our sin, to be a blessing to others and the world, and ultimately to be with him in eternity. Jesus knows that we turned from God in the Garden of Eden, because Adam wanted something for himself. Adam made a decisive decision not to be a steward over the earth as God commanded, but to disobey God by going after the desires he had for himself and his companion.
Millions of people have taken Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University, Crown and Compass Financial Bible Studies, and they have listened to countless sermons about money management, but many continue to fall into financial traps. Several people after taking these classes told me they got on their financial feet and were in terrific financial shape. However, many years down the road they fell back into old habits. They borrowed too much, bought too many things, and didn’t have adequate savings, and they hit a major financial bump in the road, like a big health care expense or long-term job loss, and they were now facing bankruptcy. This happens often to a lot of us, at least to most of us that aren’t naturally very disciplined people. How did this happen when they knew better?
In some instances the financial setback was so great that they would nearly be in the same place in spite of the savings they had. However, most of the time, that would not have been the case. I think Jesus might say that the cost of following him and being a good steward is dying to our own desires for self-satisfaction and failing to pick up the cross with both hands. It is often the case that we try to go through life carrying the same old money and possession expectations on one shoulder and the life of Christ on our other shoulder. For going the distance of life, it is not possible to do both. Jesus says true discipleship is letting go of the desires for ultimate total satisfaction through familial relationships and the “normal” life.
To answer the question this article posed–What is The Greatest Obstacle to Good Stewardship?–I would suggest after reading this section of Luke that it is surrendering, or what Jesus calls giving up in Luke 14:33, because I am my own biggest obstacle. We need to surrender our goals and desires for self, and fully pursue what God wants for us and for the world. When we surrender to Christ’s love and plan for us, he transforms our heart, and changes our character. Things we need in order for the financial skills we learn in order to stick for the long haul. When I live this way, he quenches my thirst, and not my desires for wealth, possessions, and ambition.
Does that mean a life of poverty, without flavor (Luke 14:34-35) like those of ascetic monks? For most people, the answer is no. Simply changing one’s lifestyle will not bring satisfaction. God promises us a good, flavorable, hope-filled, prosperous life in Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
This new life, one no longer trying to quench our unquenchable thirst for self-satisfaction, is surrendered to the better satisfying life of relationship with Christ.
*A chronological examination of any verse that involves money and stewardship, attempting to see the new light that Jesus shines on money in His ‘for-us’ but selfless, grace filled, Holy Spirit empowered, and Kingdom oriented positions. This is the forty-fifth post in this series.