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Jesus on Money: How Do You Want to be Repaid?

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“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” [1]

Instant gratification marks contemporary society; people want immediate fulfilment. I have heard people complain because it required a full minute to reheat a cup of coffee in the microwave. A drive for instant wealth fuelled the stock markets to incredible heights in the late nineties and in 2008. Whereas Canadians were once a nation of “savers,” we have today become a nation of debtors.

Personal gratification appears to be the driving motive for far too many actions witnessed in contemporary society. Even Christians are caught up in this irrational exuberance. We worship, singing the songs we enjoy—selections chosen because of rhythm and melody instead of being concerned about their theological expression. We sing, seeking personal gratification rather singing from desire to honour the Lord. Participation in the work of the Faith is too often motivated by a desire for recognition. We give, anticipating that we will obtain some immediate benefit. Televangelists have taught us that rewards are our due and the rewards sought are immediate. Much of the labour of contemporary Christians is performed with an eye on the moment instead of looking toward eternity.

None should question that God is a gracious and a just Master; He knows our labours and He has pledged to reward those labours that are worthy of His Name. While we may argue that anticipation of rewards is not a proper motive for serving Christ the Lord, God seems to be unimpressed by our scruples. Nevertheless, some Christians have focused on serving solely for what they can receive, instead of focusing on the honour of service to God, as taught by the Master. Therefore, such Christians anticipate immediate repayment for their service. God alone is able to recognise motives for service, but we may be assured that He does know the motive for every service presented in His Name.

THE BACKGROUND TO THE MESSAGE — Since so many of the incidents recorded in the Gospel accounts are unfamiliar to newer Christians, and since it is always helpful to review familiar stories to ensure that nothing is neglected, it will no doubt be helpful for us to review this pericope in order to ensure that each of us fully understand the events that elicited this teaching from Jesus.

The ministry of the Master was marked by conflict from the beginning. Especially incensed at His teaching were civic and religious leaders. Divided by worldview, they were nevertheless united against every threat to their tenacious hold on power. Jesus, through His emphasis that man is created to be free before God, was a threat to their position and to their power. Therefore, they sought to discredit Him.

Consequently, the Master frequently cautioned His followers not to fall into the trap of the Pharisees, which was “telling” but not “doing.” For instance, reviewing the preceding chapters, we are informed that Jesus cautioned against the great sin of the Pharisees—hypocrisy [LUKE 12:1-3]. He followed this up with a call to fear God instead of fearing man [LUKE 12:4-7]. Thus, those who fear God will acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ [LUKE 12:8-12]. He related the story of the rich fool [LUKE 12:13-21], taught the people not to live in anxiety [LUKE 12:22-34] and instructed His followers to be ready for His return [LUKE 12:25-48].

He called all to repentance, warning that those who failed to repent would perish [LUKE 13:1-5], compared Israel to a barren fig tree [LUKE 13:6-9], healed a woman on the Sabbath [LUKE 13:10-17] (a most grievous offence in the estimate of the Pharisees), and then related several parables and clear warnings to those who were religious, but lost [LUKE 13:18-35].

Yet another man was healed on the Sabbath [LUKE 14:1-6], which again distressed the religious leaders. Jesus also accepted an invitation to a banquet in His honour, and insulted the other guests by noticing how they were jockeying for position [LUKE 14:7-11]. He followed this up with the parable that serves as the focus of our study for this day.

Throughout these events, conflict and stress marked the relationship of Jesus and the religious leaders. They seem to have been hoping that He could be co-opted so they would be able to strengthen their position in the estimate of the people, but He would not play their game. His every action was scrutinised and criticised, especially because the religious leaders exalted religious observance over transformation. Every parable He told stung those leaders because it exposed the unworthy nature of their actions.

More particularly, this second healing, immediately prior to the parable serving as our text, occurred at the very dinner to which Jesus had been invited. This particular meal happened to be on a Sabbath, which becomes important in understanding the reaction of the religious leaders to Jesus’ actions. When He entered the house, there was a man suffering from dropsy. The condition is actually the result of another medical condition. It is expressed in swollen limbs and tissue, the result of excessive retention of body fluids. Many Jews considered dropsy to be the result of sin. [2]

Likely, this man was uninvited; he probably just “dropped in.” Uninvited guests would often walk into a dinner party, especially when a guest of some note was present. It was perhaps comparable to people in this day thinking it is all right to approach a celebrity to ask for an autograph, or to attend an Academy Awards ceremony just to see the stars. Then and now people enjoy being in the company of the great. However he came to be present, the religious leaders watched Jesus intently to see what He would do.

Jesus not only healed this man, but having sent the healed man on his way, He seized the opportunity to challenge the religious critics. Unable to respond to His teaching, they kept their silence, probably burning inwardly all the while. Jesus then told a parable based upon His observation of the way in which these self-important men promoted themselves by jockeying for the seat of honour. The Master cautioned them to remember that honourable men do not seek honour, but rather honourable men recognise that someone other than oneself awards honour. Jesus was saying that it is easier to go up the ladder than it is to be forced to go down the ladder.

THE ASSUMPTION BEHIND THE STORY — The unspoken assumption is that those hearing this story are able to give a party. Jesus assumes those hearing Him have at least some friends, family or colleagues whom they wish to impress on occasion. This story was not directed toward the common people; but rather it was addressed to a man whom people would have considered wealthy. We would not consider the average person of that day to be wealthy, but rather we would think him to be quite poor. The story Jesus told is well suited to those of us living in this great nation in this day. We are wealthy!

Ours is a most unusual society in the history of mankind. From a historical perspective, the overwhelming majority of mankind has been insufficiently fed, inadequately housed and unsatisfactorily clothed. Throughout much of history, meat was a luxury, as was a ready supply of fresh fruits and vegetables. Not so many years ago, every home had a root cellar precisely because root vegetables were stored for eating during the winter and spring months as the family awaited fresh produce during the summer and fall. The few families that did not raise milk cows or chickens either purchased fresh milk and fresh eggs from local farmers, or they purchased canned milk and eggs packed in sawdust for use throughout the long winter months.

Until very recent times, the thought of time away from home, especially anticipation of an annual holiday, was foreign to the average individual. Even during the first half of the previous century, holidays were rare, except for the very wealthy. Until immediately after the Second World War, hunting and fishing as recreation would have been most unusual. For most inhabitants of this northern country, hunting was a necessity and fishing, if time for such was available, was to provide food for the table.

Perhaps families were able to observe an occasional holiday—Thanksgiving or Christmas, perhaps even Dominion Day—but government-mandated holidays would have been unprecedented. One day in seven was invested with significance, allowing for some rest from routine labours as families throughout the English-speaking world gathered for worship of the Almighty, whom they acknowledged as the Giver of every good and perfect gift. These thoughts are presented to awaken within us the knowledge of our privileged position, living as we do at this point in history and in this nation.

Perhaps in the clutter of electronic chatter we know as Email, you have received an article that made the rounds a short while ago; it was one of those thought-provoking items that most of us read and then forget. Consider the impact of what the Email said.

“If you have a homeland in which you are able to live in safety, you are ahead of 50 million people who have been displaced because of war.

“If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture or the pangs of starvation, you are ahead of 500 million people in the world, and therefore you are blessed.

“If you can attend a church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture or death, you are fortunate because more than three billion people in the world cannot.

“If you have a roof over your head and enough to eat, you are richer than seventy-five percent of this world.

“If you have money in your wallet, you are among the top eight percent of the world's wealthy, because the average income worldwide is only $500 a year.

“If you can read this message, you are more blessed than over two billion people in the world who cannot read at all!”

I mention these facts, not to condemn holidays, fine dining, good houses or the other luxuries we enjoy as a society; rather, I wish us to recognise our blessings as the wealthiest people of all history. Despite the debt incurred in acquiring convenience, we are yet a wealthy people. Thus, the words of Jesus are assuredly directed to us. We are the people who have sufficient wealth to invite friends to a party. There is not one of us incapable of inviting friends over to share a meal. That meal may be no more than soup and sandwiches; but we are able to do this, and much of the world cannot do so! There is not one of us forced to live on the street. We live in warm homes, whether rented or purchased, and we can invite our friends to share our homes with us. We are among the wealthiest people ever. Surely God has blessed us!

Our desires often outstrip our ability to pay, but almost universally we have bought into the lie that every desire deserves immediate fulfilment. Consequently, most of us make monthly payments on debt acquired as result of our appetites. Too frequently we excuse ourselves from remembering God through the worship of giving because we have already indebted ourselves to care for our own luxurious tastes! If our books were opened for everyone to see, most of us would be embarrassed to discover that we spend more on entertainment and personal grooming than we do on Christ and His Kingdom.

Consider the words of Jesus as if they were directed toward you. These thoughts from Him are pointedly applicable to each of us. “When you give a dinner or a banquet…” The next time you invite friends over for a meal, the next time you entertain business associates, the next time you give a party and invite your neighbours, think of Jesus. Think of the fact that He inspects your actions and your guest list, calling into question your claim to be unable to support with your wealth His Kingdom’s work.

THE ANTICIPATION ARISING FROM THE STORY — The anticipation arising from the story is that hearers will be sufficiently sobered to consider their actions. Let’s review once more the immediate setting. LUKE 14:7 informs us that Jesus “noticed how [those invited] chose the places of honour.” In that culture, people did not sit at a table; they reclined on couches, with three or four diners reclining on one couch. The table was usually arranged in a U shape, with the host occupying the inside centre of the U and the honoured guests seated on the right and on the left, where he would be able to face them.

Honoured guests often arrived late, after everyone else was seated. Seating, consequently, occurred after the ceremonial washing of the hands, the seats being chosen by the guests, though the master of the meal had the right to arrange guests, even rearranging guests after the meal had begun. From Jesus’ observation, we could anticipate that rank (“someone more distinguished,” VERSE EIGHT) was a serious issue.

To be certain, the parable Jesus tells in VERSES EIGHT THROUGH ELEVEN provides instruction in good manners. Good manners, consequently, reflect good behaviour. In a similar fashion, bad manners reflect bad behaviour. However, an underlying theme is important for us as Christians. The manner in which we approach people reflects our approach to God.

Of course, the parable Jesus told is clearly addressed to those invited to a dinner (whether a wedding feast or another banquet). The message is to watch that you do not permit your ambition to overwhelm your good taste. However, Jesus continues to speak after relating the parable by turning His attention to the host. We know this because our text begins by noting that Jesus then addressed “the man who had invited Him.”

Do not misrepresent Jesus’ intention by suggesting that we should connive to receive greater honour through self-effacement. He is not suggesting some form of false humility, but rather, He is stating an axiom of character—honour is not to be seized, it must be awarded. This is not a polemic against giving honour to those deserving of honour. His teaching cautions us against the use of power or position or prestige for the purpose of self-aggrandisement. It is an axiom of the Faith that God honours the humble.

Humility as a desired trait in the life of the godly is a frequent theme of the Word. “[God] gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble’” [JAMES 4:6]. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” [JAMES 4:10]. And yet again we are admonished by Peter, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” [1 PETER 5:6].

Elsewhere, Jesus is quoted as saying, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” [MATTHEW 23:12].

One of the rich promises found in Isaiah’s prophecy is ISAIAH 57:15.

“Thus says the One who is high and lifted up,

who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:

‘I dwell in the high and holy place,

and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,

to revive the spirit of the lowly,

and to revive the heart of the contrite.’”

Before rushing past this passage, take a moment to note what is said of God. God dwells “in the high and holy place,” therefore, God alone is exalted. Undoubtedly, every one of us who is a Christian would agree that God is exalted. However, notice how God continues—“and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit.” Would you like to know the presence of God? His presence is discovered through a humble spirit. He dwells with the humble!

The immediate instruction that should remain with each of us is that if we have a proper perspective of God and if we view ourselves properly, we will not think too highly of ourselves. Paul instructs believers, “By the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” [ROMANS 12:3].

Godly humility is not an issue of what we say about ourselves; rather, it concerns how we act. I am not denying that our words are important—they are quite important; rather, I am emphasising that who we are is reflected through what we do. How we act is dependent upon our character. Truly humble people recognise their utter dependence upon God. They realise that before God they have nothing of which to boast.

In the context of history, we are a blessed people. However, we must confess that we have no “right” to these rich blessings. God has blessed us despite ourselves. Consequently, we are responsible to administer wisely the blessings we have received. Do you have good transportation? How do you use that vehicle? Do you bring others to the House of God? Do you have a good house in which to live? How are you using that home? Do you invite others into your home so that they can learn of Christ and His love? Do you have money in your pocket? How are you using those funds that God has entrusted to you? Is God glorified through the administration of the funds you hold?

I know that we must have transportation for work, to care for the routine of family matters and to transport family members to their various appointments. Yet, how many Christians inconvenience themselves to ensure that others will be present in the House of God? I know that having guests into our homes can be inconvenient. However, some whom we did invite might come to faith if we were to show hospitality toward them. I know that many of us have limited funds and that we are hindered in supporting the Lord’s work as we might wish. However, each of us is capable of giving something—if giving is a priority! We must realise that we are blessed in order to bless others!

To a distressing degree, we modern Christians are no different from the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. We employ “payback” hospitality. We invite to share our hospitality those whom we feel are “owed” a meal. We calculate whom we will invite, considering whether they will be able to repay us or how their friendship will reflect on us before others. This is not hospitality at all. Hospitality and blessing are meant to be given, not exchanged in an unspoken social contract, as is so often the case.

Most of us will have a Christmas card list. Who is on that list? Of course, there are family members, some of whom we don’t even speak to throughout the remainder of the year. However, they sent a card last year and we simply dare not fail to send them a card. There will be close friends, as well there should be. There will be more casual acquaintances, many of whom we hear from once a year—at Christmas! However, in order to keep up appearances, we will include them on our card list. There may be neighbours and people we know through work, despite the fact that we have never had them over for a meal. There is a high degree of hypocrisy in these Christmas card lists. This is merely one example of failure to bless others.

Most of us will at one time invite guests to experience our hospitality. Generally the guests we invite into our homes are family or close friends, whom we expect to reciprocate. We aren’t likely to invite even casual acquaintances to share a meal with us even though they are members of our own congregation! Jesus’ words must surely challenge each of us. “When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you” [LUKE 14:13, 14a].

When did you last invite a visitor sharing the service to join you for a meal? When did you last invite a single parent or an unmarried person to join you for a meal? When did you last give a party, intentionally inviting those thought of as less socially attractive? Would you dare go into this community, deliberately inviting the wounded in our society in order to provide them with a good meal? When, as a church, did we last consciously invite the least within our society to enjoy a warm meal? These are serious questions; they demand better of us. Moreover, Jesus expects better of us.

THE APPLICATIONS OF JESUS’ STORY — Every choice must either bring God’s commendation or God’s condemnation. God’s response toward us depends upon our actions—especially our actions toward those who are most vulnerable. Salvation does not depend upon what we do; but who we are is reflected in what we do. The child of God will not continue in sin as though enjoying the sin. “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” [1 JOHN 3:9, 10].

Several immediate applications of this story Jesus told suggest themselves. Consider them in turn as expressed through the story. The first application calls each of us to be generous with the resources God entrusts to our care. “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid.” Christians should be a generous people. They should be marked by compassion. We should be considerate of those who are truly in need. Remember the frequent statements demonstrating that the heart of God is moved by the plight of widows and orphans, and thus focused on the weaker elements of society.

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world” [JAMES 1:27]. God is “Father of the fatherless and Protector of widows,” according to PSALM 68:5. According to Isaiah, those who will honour God will “seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless, [and] plead the widow’s cause” [ISAIAH 1:17]. Once again, the Apostle admonishes believers to “honour widows who are truly widows” [1 TIMOTHY 5:3].

I am not suggesting that we should be gullible; I am saying that we must be compassionate. I am not saying that every slothful individual must be fed; those who are lazy and who refuse to work deserve no pity [see 1 THESSALONIANS 4:10, 11; 5:14]. Neither do I say that we are obligated to care for every needy person in the community. What I do say is that we must be careful to reach out to every strata, not picking and choosing those to whom we reveal the love of God because of social or economic status. Nevertheless, we are to care first for those of the household of faith [see GALATIANS 6:10].

I frequently receive requests to minister to individuals who by their lives have neither a desire to participate in the life of the church nor a willingness to support the work of the ministry. When asked, I am willing to visit with them in hospital or to make an effort to provide ministry to them. However, I do not consider those who are “inactive” because of unresolved problems, or those who choose to invest their time and energies elsewhere, to be a priority for my limited time.

They chose to walk away from the church and stay away for months on end, they are not generous toward the work God has appointed for us; but when they are sick and needy, they expect the church to rush to their aid. I am more than willing to be generous with my time and with my resources without regard either to social or economic standing to help those who seek to honour God, but I will not be used by false brothers.

Here is a second teaching from the story that Jesus told to the wealthy entourage that day. He taught us to use our wealth to reach beyond ourselves for the glory of God. “When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.” Push yourself out of your comfort zone. If you will honour God as administrator of all that He has entrusted to you, you must be willing to leave your comfort zone. Paul warns us not to be haughty, but rather to “associate with the lowly” [ROMANS 12:16].

James says that the faithful must not be partial in their associations. We are not to consider a person’s social or economic standing in receiving them as brothers or sisters, but we are to be courteous and kind, treating all alike. The basis for this admonition from James is that God has “chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which He has promised to those who love him” [cf. JAMES 2:1-9].

Yet a further application is to be considerate of those who have genuine needs. “When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.” This is a clarion call for the people of God to be deliberate in receiving those who are weak and vulnerable. Because we so often fail to be discerning, this certainly addresses our treatment of those who are brothers and sisters in the Faith. They are our first priority. I am not suggesting that we are to be rude or inconsiderate of those within the general populace, but I am reminding you that first we are responsible to provide for the needs of those of the Faith.

This admonition is founded on the fact that we have received mercy; therefore, we are obligated to demonstrate mercy. Do you remember the words of Jesus? “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” [LUKE 6:32-36].

Who could forget the Beatitude, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” [MATTHEW 5:7]? Paul’s instruction PHILIPPIANS 2:1-4 is significant in the context of this teaching. “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

There is yet this final application. Anticipate God’s best as you serve His cause. “You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” What sort of payment would you expect? God determines the payment. We know Him to be just and merciful. We know Him to be generous and good. We may anticipate that we will be generously reimbursed. Throughout the years of earthly service, you expect God to be good to you as you prove the reality of the presence of His Spirit through generous response to the needy. With these words, Jesus guarantees that He will also be gracious at the resurrection.

Our Lord promised those who follow Him as disciples, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things [what you will eat, what you will drink, what you will wear] will be added to you” [MATTHEW 6:33]. With that promise, our Master is guaranteeing that He will provide richly for us now, so long as we seek Him and so long as we seek that which honours Him. I often told my children that God would provide for our needs—and we proved that He does so repeatedly! Surely, revealing the compassion of Christ honours Him because it demonstrates that He lives within us.

In that same Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke of providing for the needy. “When you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” [MATTHEW 6:2-4]. It is important to note that Jesus said, “When you give to the needy.” He did not say, “If you give to the needy.” God anticipates generosity from us who name His Name.

For many of us Christians, our giving betrays hearts that are fixed on fulfilling our own desires. We are not truly generous. The average giving of members of one major evangelical denomination in the United States in recent years has consistently been less than three percent of gross income; and that standard of giving set a high for evangelical believers. For the most of the professed people of God, giving was less than two percent of gross income! Remember, this was the giving to all charitable causes, including their church. Doubtless, our personal giving in this congregation beats that standard. At least, I hope we are more generous than that.

However, if you are not giving at least ten percent of your gross income—all that over which God has made you an administrator—you cannot claim to have even begun to be generous toward God, much less are you demonstrating generosity toward the needy. If you are still focused on your wants, and not on the work of God, is it because your heart is unchanged? Perhaps we should pray that God would give us an income commensurate with our giving. If we give ten dollars a week, then perhaps He should permit us to live on nine times that amount, or ninety dollars a week.

Review the state of your heart. Review your spiritual condition by reviewing your generosity. As a child of the True and Living God, let your generosity—generosity toward the Faith and generosity toward those in need—reflect the presence of Christ the Lord.

Of course, this message has no bearing on the life of you who are outside the grace of God. To you, our call is that you would receive rather than give. You cannot give as an act of worship until you submit to Him who is worthy to receive worship. Therefore, the divine call to you is to receive Christ Jesus as Lord of your life.

This is how you are to do that. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” [ROMANS 10:9-13].

That is our invitation to you. Believe on Christ and be saved. Saved, honour Him through revealing the generosity that characterises the people of God. Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Good News Publishers, 2001. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[2] Darrell L. Bock, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Luke 9:51-24:53 (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI 1996) 1256

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