Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Feb 1 2020 - Luke 16:1-18 – Worldly wealth

The parable Jesus told concerning a manager who squandered his master's money presents the interpreter with a series of difficult issues. Why would the master commend his servant for giving away the master’s money?

There are two main interpretations of the steward's action. The traditional interpretation is that the manager acted corruptly at every point in the story. Having wasted his master's goods while acting as steward, he finally proceeded to falsify the accounts of his master's debtors by reducing the amounts owed in order to obtain their goodwill. A second interpretation suggests that, in accordance with the master’s command and custom, the steward had included in the original accounts the interest due on the deferred payments. But God's law forbade the charging of interest – a point we have often forgotten! What the steward did was to reduce the debtor's accounts by the amount of the interest due. In this way he pleased the debtors, acted legally himself and put his master in a good light. Not only could the master not condemn his servant, he had to acknowledge that he had done what is right. More than that, the steward had gained friends for himself in the process.

Whatever the interpretation of the parable, we have to acknowledge that it's easy to be generous with someone else's possessions. The manager in the parable wrote off part of the debt that was owed to his master to win friends for himself. He had no resources of his own but, in effect, gave away the resources of his master. Jesus says that we should do the same; "I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings" (Luke 16:9).

We should recognise that we have nothing of our own; all that we have has been entrusted to us by our heavenly Father. This recognition will help us to be generous with all that has been entrusted to our care. It’s given to us not that we might accumulate more for ourselves but that we might be generous to others. Be open-handed rather than tight-fisted. Such generosity is a reflection of the character of our God displayed in the Lord Jesus:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)

In this passage, in which Paul encourages the Christians in Corinth to be generous in their giving, Paul goes on to quote from Psalm 112:9:

They have scattered abroad their gifts to the poor;
their righteousness endures forever. (2 Corinthians 9:9)

Those whose character has been reshaped to reflect that of the living God will be owned by him as his children and will "be welcomed into eternal dwellings."

It’s interesting to note that Luke follows this parable with a comment that the Pharisees were lovers of money and scoffed at the things Jesus said (Luke 16:14). Legalism destroys generosity for it breeds a spirit of self-sufficiency rather than dependency.

Be open-handed today. After all, you're not giving away what is your own; it all belongs to God and is to be used as he would wish.

Father God, forgive me when I think that what I possess is what I have earned and that it is mine and mine alone. Transform my understanding that I may see that I am a steward of all that you have placed in my hands. May my single-minded love for you keep me from the love of money. Help me to be open-handed and generous. As you have richly blessed me in the Lord Jesus, may I bring blessing to those around me.

Feb 1 2019 - Genesis 40:1-23 – Joseph interprets dreams

Joseph has been unjustly accused of attempted rape and thrown into prison. He was soon joined there by two of Pharaoh's officials, his chief cupbearer and his chief baker. Both had offended Pharaoh in some undisclosed way. Joseph, as a trusted prisoner, has access to these officials, perhaps bringing them their daily food.

One day he noticed that they both seemed troubled. In response to Joseph's enquiries they told him that they had both had strange dreams and there was no-one to interpret them. By this they probably mean that here in the prison they did not have access to the 'magicians' and 'wise men' of Pharaoh's court who were considered to be gifted in interpreting dreams. Joseph does not claim to be like those magicians; he simply claims that if these dreams have a meaning, God alone is able to disclose what that meaning is. Moreover, in inviting these two men to tell him their dreams, Joseph is claiming to know the living God and to be in communication with him.

His fellow prisoners tell Joseph their dreams, and he is able to give each man its interpretation. In three days, the chief cupbearer will be restored to his job at Pharaoh's side, but the chief baker will be executed. Joseph pleads with the cupbearer to remember him when he regains his position in Pharaoh's court, since he (probably unlike the cupbearer) has been unjustly imprisoned.

It all happens just as Joseph had told them. But, when the chief cupbearer was restored, he "did not remember Joseph; he forgot him."

We should not suppose from such Bible passages that all dreams have a deep meaning requiring interpretation. Most of our dreams are forgotten before we are fully awake and those we remember are the construction of our uncontrolled minds rather than a revelation from God – though I would not wish to deny the influence of God, or of Satan, on our unconscious life of dreams. Speaking for myself, the dreams I do remember when waking are often a highly peculiar and incoherent pastiche of various scenes from my childhood mixed with others arising from a demented imagination.

But these particular dreams were clearly given to these officials by the living God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and of Joseph. And this God was also the one who gave Joseph their interpretation. Despite the chief cupbearer's forgetfulness, God was at work to fulfil his purposes through Joseph – purposes that will unfold in the subsequent chapters.

Before we leave this passage it is helpful to highlight a notable contrast with an incident from the New Testament. Joseph, the innocent prisoner, asks the guilty cupbearer to remember him when he is restored to his place at the side of the king; but Joseph is forgotten. The guilty, dying thief, asks the guiltless Christ to remember him when he is restored to his kingdom; he is not forgotten. Jesus promises freedom from the imprisonment of sin and death and a place with him in Paradise. He never fails to remember his promises.

Living God, I recognise that, left to myself, I am a prisoner of sin and under sentence of death. Thank you that the Lord Jesus left his throne in glory to come and share my imprisonment. Thank you that he suffered my fate that I might go free. Thank you Risen Saviour that you have returned to glory and there remember all those who have placed their faith in you. Our names are written on the palms of your hands and you plead our case in the courts of heaven. Because of your promise and your faithfulness I know that I shall be brought safely at last into your presence.

Peter Misselbrook