By Alexis Busetti

You’re at a backyard barbeque on a sweltering Texas summer evening.  You’re chatting with friends, happily enjoying yourself, sipping your tea when all of a sudden your tablemate smacks you on the back of the arm.  You spin around and before you can get out what you want to say, she claims she just barely missed destroying that pesky mosquito. It had been buzzing around and landed on you, but you didn’t feel it – promise!  That jolt was the kind I felt a few years ago going through a Bible study.  A verse from the gospels was the culprit.  I realize this happens to all of us from time to time.  In fact, just this week I was discussing the same phenomenon in a Zoom study with some of my closest girlfriends from college.  But this time those years ago wasn’t just one of those, “Oh wow, I knew that was in there, but now it’s speaking something special to me” kind of times. Like I said, it was more like a kind, but very intentional slap!  You know, for your own good.  Someone you know well enough to do it just hit you, but you’re not sure if the claim is real.  That’s how it was when I encountered this verse:  “So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” Luke 16:11 NIV. Wait, what?  It seemed like Jesus, the text was in red after all, was telling anyone who was listening that being reliable with their finances was in a way, a pathway to spiritual riches.  To other kinds of “true” riches.  To the things that really mattered.  This couldn’t be right.  Or could it?

Let’s back up a bit.  At the time of that reading, I was helping lead a small discussion group for a women’s Bible study under the leadership of some amazing and wise women of God.  The gals were pretty diverse in many senses of the word, but especially financially.  There were a couple of millionaires as well as some women from single income households struggling to pay their rent and almost everything in between.  We had all sorts of varied pasts and present situations when it came to money and resources.  How could the word of God really be indicating that that mattered when it came to any measure of spirituality?  Instinctively I knew Jesus didn’t mean we had to be “rich” to gain those true riches He talked about.  I had the Sermon on the Mount and the rich young ruler as examples to negate that idea.  Even Jesus didn’t own His own home and His cousin the prophet didn’t exactly come from a trust fund family or have a 9 to 5 with a retirement account.  So, if Jesus didn’t mean that, what exactly did He mean?  

Maybe just like you, growing up we didn’t talk that much about money in our house.  The more people I meet of my age range, the more I realize that was often par for the course.  Then I went to college and became a typical young adult of my era.  Okay I don’t mean to brag, but I was more than typical.  When I finally finished after 5 and a half years of undergraduate study, I had managed to rack up about twice the average amount of student loan debt.  Overachiever, I know.  But then, I had to pay it all back.  My husband and I were broker than jokes (it’s a technical term) when we got married and that state lasted for the first several years.  Then he graduated with his doctorate, we had our first babies (twins!), and I quit my job in state casework.  At that point, we attacked what was left of those loans with a vengeance and paid the remainder off in less than two years.  Our prerogative was to not swim in debt and the word budget was part of our vocabulary from the first month we were husband and wife.  Since then, we have learned a lot more and I even started formally coaching others in their personal finances with the knowledge we learned through that whole experience and the wisdom we begged God for along the way.

But what does any of this have to do with spiritual riches?  Why does how we treat our money matter for any purpose other than tithing and paying our taxes (give to Caesar what belongs to him)?  As you can imagine, when I was confronted with this verse I went straight to the leader of our Bible study.  I wanted to convince her to tell me I had read it all wrong or there was a misprint in my version or at least it was code for something else, you know, culturally.  But she didn’t do any of those things.  The commentaries I’ve read don’t either.  Even one of the resources we used for Christian money management all those years ago has a blog article on this very verse confirming just what I thought*.  If we can’t be faithful with our money, we’ll be hard pressed to gain true riches.  The real, substantial, spiritual meatiness of life.  But why is this?  

The answer may lie in the context surrounding that hard verse.  It follows the parable of the shrewd manager (another tough one) and immediately preceding it is a verse we’re all familiar with that tells us if we want to be trusted with much, we have to be faithful in the little things first.  The section ends with the admonition that we can’t serve two masters – either we will love one and hate the other or vice versa.  We can’t serve God and money.  Then the Pharisees get mad because Jesus reads their mail and they realize they’re being called out.  Again.  

The whole passage is known to us and even though it may be difficult to swallow, we’re at least familiar with it.  The message is this – the little stuff matters.  Unfortunately for people like my husband who hate details, they matter.  But it’s not details for the sake of details or the small stuff as in draining a gnat but letting the camel pass through.  It’s more about paying attention to how we conduct ourselves even in the small things in life like our finances.  In our financial lives the small things matter, not necessarily because money matters all that much, but because responsibility matters all that much.  Integrity matters all that much.  Monitoring what comes in and out of our households matters that much.  How we get along with money is a litmus test of sorts for how we’re operating in our daily, mundane lives.  How are we obtaining and then maintaining?  If we can’t be trusted with the small things how can we be trusted with the big things?  How will we show we’re faithful?  Money often feels like a big thing, but compared to the true riches I believe Jesus was referring to, it’s small potatoes.  As weird as it seemed to me that day in the middle of Bible study, I have learned the truth that one of the ways we can show Him we’re ready for our next step, our next good thing, is by handling our money well. 

This doesn’t necessarily mean getting or keeping more of it and making yourself gain the worldly wealth he mentions.  But it does mean paying attention to your actions with money.  Being intentional.  Practicing generosity.  Budgeting.  Paying bills on time.  Taking care of the stuff we have because we used our money to buy it.  Not being wasteful.

Pretty soon all of the above becomes a lifestyle. You’ve exercised your faithfulness muscles, your spotter notices your growth and trustworthiness and starts to add more weight.  Then, it becomes like a cycle.  But instead of the cycle you might have grown accustomed to where slip ups breed bad decisions that breed worry and anxiety over how you’ll pay for the next big thing; this cycle moves you forward in your faith as well as your finances.  Jesus takes that wheel and steers you toward true wealth.  Now please don’t mis-hear me.  I am not saying you can buy your way to spiritual health and wealth.  What I am saying, and I think I echo Jesus here, is that deep seated intentionality in your finances and other small, worldly areas of life lead to habits that breed deep seated intentionality in all areas of your life, including those areas where we want true riches – spiritual, relational, familial, communal, theological, and the list goes on.  It’s not a transactional or reward based system.  It’s more like a strength from the numbers system.  The stronger we become, the more we can handle, so the more we can take on, and so forth.  So what I ultimately learned from that unexpected smack on the arm way back when (and what I am sharing with you, to save you the smack) is that being faithful in the little things leads to trustworthiness in the big things – and money is a little thing.

*True Riches by Chuck Bentley on the blog at Crown Financial

Photo by Daniel Öberg on Unsplash

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Podcast Episode 020 – Money Conversations with Tiffany (Singles)

Podcast Episode 008 – Money Conversations with Rachel (Testimony!)

If you’d like to talk about money with someone, please let me know! I would love to hear your story and help you get to where you’d like to be in your relationship with money.

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