The Greatest Reward :: Succeeding with Money


 At Gateway Church in Austin, we continued our series called “The Greatest Reward.”

Everyone wants to be successful in life, and for most of us, success may mean personal achievement, ambition, or perhaps financial wealth. Although there’s nothing wrong with those things in general, isn’t there an even greater picture of success? It’s meaningful to succeed in our short life here, but God promises us much more in our eternal life to come. What does it look like to work towards the greatest reward?


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These discussion questions are designed for your life group or family dinner to help you apply the message to your life.

Here is the audio of the message I shared:

Here are notes from the message by John Burke:

Everyone wants to succeed with money. But The definition of success in our culture is unattainable—it’s never enough. How much do you need to feel content?

  • Much more!
  • How much do you need to say “enough”, more?  
  • How much do need to feel secure, more?
  • It doesn’t matter how much or little, the answer is always, more?

But what if there’s a way you could really succeed with Money? To actually feel content, grateful, secure, generous, truly wealthy—that’s actually what God wants for you.  But how do you get there—not just for now, but for eternity?

Now you may think God’s goal, or the church’s goal, is to take more money.  But God wants you to succeed with money in every way—in ways most of us have never considered.  First, I’ll bet you never thought God would say “Make all you can” but I’m pretty sure that’s what he’d say.

John Wesley, started the Methodist church, concluded the same looking at a parable Jesus told—it’s top 3 in the most confusing of Jesus’ parables, because it’s about a very crooked, shrewd manager.  A parable is a lot like a joke, there’s a punchline, and if you miss the punch line, you miss the parable.

Realizing that, let me paraphrase Luke 16 — Jesus’ strangest parable. There was a very Rich Business Tycoon who employed a guy to manage his affairs. This Business owner had lots of people who were indebted to him, and one day, the Business Tycoon calls the manager in and says “You’ve been mismanaging my accounts—not looking after my interests, you’re fired.  But before you leave—I want a full accounting of all your dealings.”  So this crooked manager is not a good guy, but he realizes I’m about lose my job, my reputation, everything—I’ll have no home. What can I do. Then he comes up with a shrewd plan.  Now remember—Jesus is making up this story to make a point. Jesus says, “The crooked manager calls the guys who were in debt to his Rich Boss and says—what do you owe him?  

The man replied, ‘I owe him 800 gallons of olive oil.’ So the manager told him, ‘Take the bill and quickly change it to 400 gallons.’“‘And how much do you owe my employer?’ he asked the next man. ‘I owe him 1,000 bushels of wheat,’ was the reply. ‘Here,’ the manager said, ‘take the bill and change it to 800 bushels.’The rich man had to admire the dishonest rascal for being so shrewd. Luke 16:6-8

Jesus says “the Boss had to admire the guy—he was shrewd.” WHAT? He was lazy, unfaithful, dishonest, and self-centered as the days is long… Yeah, but he was shrewd, Jesus says.  

Is Jesus commending this guy? That’s why this parable is so confusing—so most just skip it. But they miss the punch line—the point—Jesus is saying “He’s shrewd” He worked the situation to secure his future…benefit his future.  By reducing the debts, he indebted everybody to him, so when it’s all gone, he’ll have friends to help him. Then to shock us even more Jesus adds…

And it is true that the children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with the world around them than are the children of the light. Luke 16:6-8

The children of Light are those who love God, who follow Jesus, who have received the free gift of forgiveness and relationship with God—Citizens of heaven (the Kingdom of Light).

We’ve been learning how our thoughts, motives and deeds on earth matter. They don’t earn us relationship with God—God loves you as is. But they do earn us Heaven’s Rewards.  

And that’s Jesus point—as children of Light, you still have to live in the world’s economy. You still have to make money, pay bills, keep up your house, provide for your kids—all that. And we should be shrewd—or smart about it.

In other words, I think Jesus would say “Make all you can” … but honestly, with integrity, not like the children of the world who use each other, are dishonest, lack integrity, do anything for money—but as children of light, working hard, being smart, honest and with integrity–but with a different endgame in mind.

So here’s the punch—Jesus is speaking to those who follow him, saying “Be Shrewd” be smart about worldly wealth.  This is a typical Rabbinic way of arguing from least to greatest. If a jacked up, lazy, dishonest, self-centered worldly guy is smart enough to use what he cannot keep to gain a secure future—are you? Jesus next words in Luke 16…

I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.10 Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.  Luke 16:9-10

Jesus is saying Make all you can… – that’s why he says “use worldly wealth” shrewdly.  To what end? With eternity in mind–use it to gain friends for eternity.  Why? —to help others erase their debts to God and be restored relationally. Because that’s just smart, shrewd, in your best interest—be shrewd enough to realize it’s all just play money—not permanent yet.  

So Make All You Can – and be shrewd or smart about using it for things that last eternally.

Save All You Can – That’s the second thing I bet you wouldn’t expect God to say, but he really does want you to Save and not to lose all you’ve earned. Not just for the short run on planet earth—for eternity. But it too is a bit counter-intuitive. Because there are two ways to save—for this life, and the life to come. First, God’s wisdom tells us to stay out of debt, and instead save up at least enough for emergencies—that’s just wise living in a fallen world. The Proverbs, God’s wisdom for living, says,

[If in debt] free yourself, since you have fallen into your neighbor’s hands…Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, like a bird from the snare of the fowler.Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!It has no commander, no overseer or ruler,yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. Proverbs 6:3-8

God’s wisdom says, get out of debt as fast as you can. But that’s not our culture’s wisdom, which is why most of us are enslaved to debt and can’t save and don’t give. We host Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University and he has a proven method to get you out of debt and into saving—over 1000 people have gone through it at Gateway and paid off close to 5 million in debt, all told, and saved instead.

God wants us to be wise—like an ant that stores for winter, we must save for when the winter of life comes. Dave Ramsey teaches we ought to save up 3 months wages in a “do not touch or die” account that’s only for true crises—and your favorite band coming for SXSW is not a true crisis.

Okay, but if we stopped right here, you could save a fortune and end up losing it all—saving nothing in fact.  And believe it or not, God doesn’t want to take from you, but help you gain more than you’ve imagined.  See, you can save in this World’s Economy, and you can also save your money in God’s New Economy.  One is temporary Savings, the other is Lasting Savings. This is not a scam or joke, it’s Jesus trying to help you and me be Shrewd, Smart for our future when all this is gone. There are lots of places to save or invest money shrewdly—in property, stocks or bonds, in money markets—all have a risk reward profile.  But none are eternal, lasting investments. That’s why Jesus says:

“Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” 16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself…I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain [w/ Etrade]19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ 20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” Luke 12:15-21

Be Shrewd–be smart—for your own sake—save for yourself, yes, but don’t be a fool.  You can save up barn-fuls of money, possessions, but none of it will last if you’re rich in this World’s Economy, but not Rich toward God. What does that mean?  It means God wants you to use some of the monopoly money not just for more plastic houses, cars, boats that will all go back in the box—He wants you to Invest in people for His coming Kingdom—why?  Because that is Shrewd, Smart–savings for you that will Last. Have you ever thought—it’s for MY sake God wants me to grow in generosity and invest more in His Kingdom?

God wants you to save, but not just in a foolish way where fear and discontentment and ego drive you to save more and more but invest nothing in God’s coming Kingdom. One is definitely going to end, the other will definitely last.  You want to be rich—good, be rich toward God first.

Save All You Can – how?  

First, what I’ve practiced and taught my kids and many people here is the 10-10-80 Plan.  

  • First Give 10% back to God (save for eternity)
  • then Pay yourself 10% into savings (or debt reduction until it’s gone)
  • then learn to live on 80% of your paycheck. Adjust your expenses to 80%.  

If you do this, you’re starting down a road of incredible wealth building—in this life and the life to come.  But why 10% back to God first?  Because it’s God’s test of how Trustworthy you are with wealth that’s passing away, so He can know if He can trust you with lasting wealth.

After Jesus told the strange parable of the Shrewd guy, he says:

So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”Luke 16:11-13

This is why God tells us to give back to God first, investing in His kingdom purposes, first. Because money is a rival god, “little g” god, that we can easily make 1st in our lives—what we think about most, put all security in, count on most, trust in most…worship…that’s what worship is (what you give greatest worth to, worthship).  And so God tests us to keep us free from worshipping something that can’t save us, give us contentment, peace, love, joy or even security like God can—but it’s the main rival god.

Giving to God’s work loosens the level of control money has over us because we are giving Him control in how our money is spent.

Think about it this way—God needs nothing, and there’s nothing we can give to God that he hasn’t already given us (he made us).  What He wants is loving trust, and that’s demonstrated in obedience to his commands and promises.

But even in this, God is so loving and merciful and He knows how easy it is to trust in money instead of in God, so he gives a reminder with a promise to those struggling to obey this command: He says:

The Hebrew Scriptures teach a great deal on the idea of the tithe, “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ “In tithes and offerings…Bring the whole tithe into the local storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. Malachi 3:8-10.

God wants you to have plenty, and even blessing upon blessing, he’s not trying to take from you, he’s trying to break the power of money over you. So he says “Test me” – it’s the only place he says “Test me” in scripture.

Over the years, many of us in this room have taken God up on his test. Even if the math doesn’t work—you’re not figuring God into the math. Give the first 10% to invest in God’s Kingdom work for 3-4 months, and just see if you don’t feel more blessed—then keep on if you do. Every time, I have people come up to tell me “Last time you said that, I decided to test it—and then they tell some amazing story of how God showed up.

Jesus reiterates this in Matthew 23:23 “You ought to tithe, but not from a heart of proving your good—from a heart of mercy, justice, faithfulness.”

God set it up so that the first 10% of everything was to be given back to God—and that’s how He would get our hearts involved in His work–people. Notice something—it’s not us giving God “our” money. God says it belongs to Him—so this is not generosity, this is just trustworthiness—will we be a good manager of what He’s entrusted?

Giving 10% to God’s work through your local church isn’t being generous. He owns it all so allowing us to have 90% is generous!

People of faith have a different view of life and the life to come and the wealth of this world and the wealth to come.

Earn all you can…Save all you can…Give all you can.

Not give to get. It’s give to Love God by trusting Him and partnering with God to change lives. I’ve seen this in my own life, so many others—God really is faithful. It’s not just a monetary blessing, there are things money can’t buy like Love, Joy, Peace, Contentment, Security God blesses with. And by the way—When you are faithful, God doesn’t want you to feel guilty for every purchase—He wants you to enjoy His blessings with Thanksgiving.

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. 1 Timothy 6:17-19  

Thank God for all you have as you enjoy it—it combats greed, jealousy, envy and discontentment—if you’re gonna compare, compare down and be grateful. Not just this Thanksgiving, always.

Tithing is just being shrewd—really smart—we’re saving for eternity, building into people, and God will bless us more as we’re more faithful. Then as God blesses, you can spend more or save more in 2 Economies—it’s your choice—the more we will invest back into God’s Kingdom Efforts the more eternal rewards God promises–rewards that make E-Trade commercials of bling, exotic vacations, luxury lifestyles seem stupid and mundane in comparison.

We fear God wants to take from us, but it’s just the opposite. This World’s Economy will end. Jesus is giving you the best investment tip ever! Enjoy with Thanksgiving, save some, then Exchange as much as you can by investing in the Coming Economy of God. God created everything good–all the Rewards we love and desire on earth—guess who thought them up? God. And this planet is a screwed up version of God’s creation—in rebellion against God, so he’s allowed chaos to mess up every good gift.  When it’s made right, do we think it would be less rewarding?

I’ve tithed since I was a kid to whatever church I’m part of—because a Non-profit can raise money from anyone, a church is supported only by those who attend. But the more I realized what Jesus said is true, I realized I need a plan—not just a saving plan, or college fund plan, or retirement plan—but a giving plan—a way to both save more and give a greater and greater percentage as God blesses more.  Do you have a giving plan?

That’s Shrewd, that’s smart—for your own good, not just in this Economy, but in the Economy that lasts.

Jim Elliot was a young guy married to Elisabeth Elliot, they felt God calling them to go to an unreached people group among Equador’s Huaorani Indians—They used all they had to study linguistics to prepare to learn the language and translate the bible for them.  Jim’s team first contacted them by helicopter, lowering gifts to build good will. Then they built a camp upstream spent months making friends with 2 scouts from the Huaorani. But a Huaorani raiding party came and killed them all.  Elisabeth and their child were not there. Elisabeth Elliot stayed, learned the Huaorani language, and 2 years later, moved into the Huaorani tribe with their 3 year old daughter — many of the Indians who killed her husband became loving brothers and sisters in Christ. In Jim Elliot’s Journal was found this entry:

“He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” – Jim Elliot


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