Faithfulness in the Use of “Unrighteous Riches”
“Make friends for yourselves by means of the unrighteous riches, so that, when such fail, they may receive you into the everlasting dwelling places. The person faithful in what is least is faithful also in much, and the person unrighteous in what is least is unrighteous also in much. Therefore, if you have not proved yourselves faithful in connection with the unrighteous riches, who will entrust you with what is true?”—Luke 16:9-11.
1. According to Luke 16:1-7, how and why did a certain steward make friends for himself?
AS A steward, the man held a position of great trust, for he was in charge of his master’s affairs. But this man became guilty of serious mismanagement and was about to be relieved of his stewardship, to be sent out of his master’s house with no means of support. While still having the authority of a steward, he acted quickly to ingratiate himself with his master’s debtors by greatly reducing their debts. In this way he made for himself friends who would contribute toward his support upon his being thrown out into the street.—Luke 16:1-7.
2. (a) What was the big point of Jesus’ illustration about the unrighteous steward? (b) What questions might this raise?
2 Jesus Christ used this example of shrewdness to teach an important lesson: “Make friends for yourselves by means of the unrighteous riches, so that, when such fail, they may receive you into the everlasting dwelling places.” (Luke 16:9) This gives rise to the questions: What are these “unrighteous riches”? Who are the possessors of the “everlasting dwelling places”? And how can we make friends with them by means of “unrighteous riches”?
3. What are the “unrighteous riches,” and how can this be shown from the Scriptures?
3 There certainly is nothing unrighteous about spiritual riches. But this cannot be said about material wealth. Both the possession of and the desire for material riches can lead persons to commit unrighteous acts. Wealthy persons may become oppressive, harsh and callous. Instead of responding compassionately toward persons in need, they may take unfair advantage of them. The Christian disciple James reminded fellow believers: “The rich oppress you, and they drag you before law courts, do they not? They blaspheme the fine name by which you were called, do they not?” (Jas. 2:6, 7) Some of such rich persons indulged their corrupt desires for pleasure while refusing to pay the wages due their workers. (Jas. 5:4, 5) Other people, because of a driving desire to gain riches, have resorted to fraud and deceit to attain their goals. In their case, the Bible proverb has proved true: “He that is hastening to gain riches will not remain innocent.” (Prov. 28:20) In view of all the undesirable factors that are so frequently tied in with material riches, Jesus Christ could rightly apply the term “unrighteous” to them.
4. What did Jesus say about the stability of “unrighteous riches,” and how can this be demonstrated by the facts of history?
4 It is also noteworthy that the Son of God indicated that these “unrighteous riches” could fail. Money, for example, may quickly lose its value through inflation or governmental devaluation. Also, wars, revolutions, floods, earthquakes and other disasters may reduce people to a state of poverty. How foolish it is, therefore, for anyone to put his trust in material things and to make the pursuit of possessions his main concern in life!
5. Who are the possessors of the “everlasting dwelling places,” and why is this so?
5 The objective of Jesus’ true disciples should be to use their “unrighteous riches” to make friends with the possessors of the “everlasting dwelling places.” Since no dwelling place on earth can be spoken of as being everlasting, manifestly the “everlasting dwelling places” must be heavenly. These are in the possession of the eternal God Jehovah and his Son. Jesus Christ told his apostles: “In the house of my Father there are many abodes. Otherwise, I would have told you, because I am going my way to prepare a place for you.”—John 14:2.
6. (a) Why do God and Christ not need our material things? (b) How can we make friends with God and Christ by means of “unrighteous riches”?
6 By reason of his Creatorship, Jehovah God owns everything, and his firstborn Son, as heir of all things, shares in that ownership. (Ps. 50:10-12; 2 Cor. 8:9; Heb. 1:1, 2) This means that there is nothing in a material way that we humans can give to them. Hence, to make friends with the Most High God and his Son by means of “unrighteous riches” would simply mean to use these riches in a way that brings Their approval. This includes one’s having the right attitude in using material things for the benefit of others. Jesus Christ counseled: “Do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, that your gifts of mercy may be in secret.” (Matt. 6:3, 4) And the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Let each one do just as he has resolved in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”—2 Cor. 9:7.
HELPING THE AFFLICTED
7. How do Jehovah God and Jesus Christ view our unselfish expressions of generosity toward needy persons?
7 When we cheerfully and unselfishly come to the aid of persons in real need, Jehovah God and his Son view this as being done unto them. In the Scriptures we read: “He that is defrauding the lowly one has reproached his Maker, but the one showing favor to the poor one is glorifying Him.” (Prov. 14:31) “He that is showing favor to the lowly one is lending to Jehovah, and his treatment He will repay to him.” (Prov. 19:17) Similarly, Jesus Christ, in pointing out what differentiates the approved sheep from the condemned goats, stated: “To the extent that you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matt. 25:40) “To the extent that you did not do it to one of these least ones, you did not do it to me.”—Matt. 25:45.
8. (a) How important is concern for the poor and afflicted? (b) What responsibility do children have toward needy parents and grandparents, and how is a failure to fulfill this responsibility to be viewed? (c) How does a Christian’s responsibility toward fellow believers compare with his responsibility toward persons outside the congregation?
8 Accordingly, a willingness to come to the aid of the poor and afflicted is essential to one’s being a true worshiper of Jehovah. (Job 29:16; 31:19-22) The disciple James wrote: “The form of worship that is clean and undefiled from the standpoint of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their tribulation, and to keep oneself without spot from the world.” (Jas. 1:27) Such active concern for the afflicted and disadvantaged should start with one’s own relatives. For example, the Scriptures obligate children and grandchildren to care for needy parents and grandparents. (1 Tim. 5:4) A deliberate failure to discharge this responsibility constitutes a denial of the Christian faith. (1 Tim. 5:8) Further, since true Christians form an association of brothers, they must care for needy members in their midst before branching out to assist persons outside the congregation. This is in harmony with the principle: “As long as we have time favorable for it, let us work what is good toward all, but especially toward those related to us in the faith.”—Gal. 6:10.
9. Who would determine whether congregational aid should be given to individuals, and what would determine who might qualify for such aid?
9 Much in the way of Christian giving can be done on an individual basis. However, in some cases, the local congregation may have to draw on its contributed funds to provide financial aid for certain ones associated. The elders would be the ones to determine who might be entitled to monetary assistance, and to what extent. As is evident from 2 Thessalonians 3:10 and; 1 Timothy 5:9, 10, congregational aid, particularly when given on a regular basis, should be for those needy persons who are fine examples in Christian living.
LARGE-SCALE RELIEF WORK
10. What pattern do we have to guide us in handling extensive relief measures?
10 Furthermore, there are times when extensive relief measures may have to be undertaken in behalf of fellow believers in other congregations, perhaps even in other parts of the world. An examination of large-scale relief work in the first-century Christian congregation reveals just how this should be handled.
11. (a) Who originally looked after the relief work in the first-century congregation? (b) What kind of men were later entrusted with responsibilities in connection with relief work?
11 Initially, the apostles accepted voluntary contributions and then supervised the distribution of funds to those in need. (Acts 4:34, 35) As the congregation grew in numbers this did not continue to be practical. Later, seven men “full of spirit and wisdom” were appointed to make sure that no deserving widows were overlooked in the daily distribution. These seven men had the confidence of their fellow believers. (Acts 6:1-6) Great care was exercised that those handling contributions received for relief work were trustworthy men. Regarding those who would be taking the contributed funds from Corinth to Jerusalem, the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian congregation: “Whatever men you approve of by letters, these I shall send to carry your kind gift to Jerusalem.”—1 Cor. 16:3.
12. (a) How should relief measures be financed today? (b) What arrangements exist among Jehovah’s Witnesses for this?
12 In keeping with the example of the first-century congregation, relief work today should be financed through voluntary contributions. Also, trustworthy, coordinated direction is needed. So that relief efforts can be handled in an orderly manner, the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses send contributions to the Watch Tower Society, 124 Columbia Heights, Brooklyn, New York, or to one of its branches. In a time of disaster, the Society or the local branch organization makes contact with the representative elders of the congregations affected, ascertaining their needs for relief. Urgently needed supplies, provisions and funds are then made available for relief measures that are usually organized with the help of the elders on the local scene.
13. How should elders handle matters when they receive reliable information about a need for material aid?
13 As soon as reliable information is received about brothers coming into a situation of real need, the elders in each nearby congregation may make announcement of the privilege of contributing toward relief work. Then all will be in a position to decide just what they might be able to give. A Scriptural example of this is found at Acts 11:27-29, where we read: “Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them named Agabus rose and proceeded to indicate through the spirit that a great famine was about to come upon the entire inhabited earth; which, for that matter, did take place in the time of Claudius. So those of the disciples determined, each of them according as anyone could afford it, to send a relief ministration to the brothers dwelling in Judea.” Similarly today, so that funds for relief work might be available for immediate use, many congregations and individuals periodically send contributions to the main office of the Watch Tower Society at Brooklyn or to one of its branches.
CONTRIBUTING TOWARD THE EXPANSION OF SPIRITUAL INTERESTS
14. (a) What is the primary responsibility of God’s servants today? (b) How has the printed page been of assistance in fulfilling this responsibility? (c) How has money for building and maintaining printing plants become available? (d) For what other purposes have contributed funds been used?
14 While providing material aid for those in actual need is very important, the primary responsibility of God’s servants is to give spiritual help to persons inside and outside the congregation. In modern times this has been greatly facilitated by means of the printed page. Contributions and interest-free loans made to the Watch Tower Society and its branches have made it possible to build and maintain printing establishments where Bibles and Bible literature can be produced at a cost far below the price that would have to be charged by commercial firms. Thus, even very poor persons can receive publications either free or for a nominal contribution. Additionally, contributed funds are used for the support of missionary activity and to assist other full-time workers, including traveling elders, to have basic necessities.
15. What do the Scriptures show about the propriety of helping financially those who are devoting themselves fully to caring for the spiritual interests of others? (1 Cor. 9:6-18; Gal. 6:6; Phil. 4:14-18)
15 That contributed funds can rightly be used to help those who are looking after the spiritual interests of others is made clear at 1 Timothy 5:17, 18: “Let the older men who preside in a fine way be reckoned worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard in speaking and teaching. For the scripture says: ‘You must not muzzle a bull when it threshes out the grain’; also: ‘The workman is worthy of his wages.’” This does not mean that elders should receive a salary for their work. But in agreement with Scriptural principles, it is appropriate that the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the branch organizations use contributed funds to assist materially those who are enabled thereby to devote themselves more fully to spiritual work.
16. What expenses does the local congregation incur, and why is it important to care for these?
16 Additionally, the local congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses incur expenses in connection with their meeting places or Kingdom Halls. Besides bearing the cost of electricity, water, fuel for heating, cleaning supplies and repairs, they may have to make monthly rental or mortgage payments. Contributions are needed to cover these expenses so that the congregation does not bring reproach on God’s name for failure to pay its bills. Both as individuals and as a congregation, those who serve Jehovah should heed the admonition: “Do not you people be owing anybody a single thing, except to love one another.”—Rom. 13:8.
A RESPONSIBILITY TO BE SHARED BY ALL
17. How should each Christian view the matter of contributing toward the advancement of spiritual interests and helping needy ones?
17 Use of “unrighteous riches” for the advancement of spiritual interests and to help needy persons is basic to one’s being a Christian. Whether having much or little, all have the privilege of contributing something. Note, for example, what the apostle Paul recommended to the Corinthians: “Every first day of the week let each of you at his own house set something aside in store as he may be prospering.”—1 Cor. 16:2.
18. (a) So as to be able to contribute to the advancement of Kingdom interests, what Scriptural admonition could help us? (b) Is the amount contributed the all-important thing, and how is this illustrated in the case of the needy widow?
18 In harmony with this inspired admonition, a person may wish to set something aside early in the week that he could contribute. The amount, of course, will vary considerably with individuals, but this is not the all-important thing. The truly vital aspect is the willingness, the eagerness, to make a contribution. The apostle Paul put it this way: “If the readiness is there first, it is especially acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what a person does not have.” (2 Cor. 8:12) This readiness to give according to one’s means is what counts with Jehovah God. For example, a needy widow observed by Jesus Christ donated a mere two lepta at the temple in Jerusalem. With this small amount, a person back then might have been able to buy half a sparrow, not enough for even one meal. Yet, this widow’s contribution, made in expression of her love for the true God worshiped at the temple, was most acceptable. In fact, compared with her means, her gift was greater than that of the wealthy who contributed much out of their surplus.—Mark 12:42-44.
19. What are we demonstrating by using our “unrighteous riches” properly, and so of what can we be certain?
19 Truly, then, we want to prove ourselves to be friends of God and Christ by using our “unrighteous riches” to help those in need and to further spiritual interests. (Prov. 3:9; Gal. 2:10) If we continue to use our “unrighteous riches” properly, we demonstrate that we are faithful in what is least. Therefore, Jehovah God and his Son can continue to use us as fine stewards to dispense the far more valuable spiritual riches to others. Our record of fine works will be as treasures deposited in heaven, yielding rich dividends in the form of divine approval and blessings now and life eternal in the new order of “new heavens and a new earth.”—Matt. 6:20; Luke 16:10-13; 2 Pet. 3:13.