Trust – Character

June 19 2024

Series: Relationships

Trust - Character

Calculating Character
Luke 16:1-13
A pastor was walking down the street when he came to a group of about a dozen boys
between 10 and 12 years of age. The boys surrounded an old dog. Concerned that the boys
were hurting the animal, the minister went over and asked, “What are you doing with that
dog?”
One of the boys replied, “This dog is just an old stray. We all want him, but only one of us can
take him home. So we’ve decided whichever one of us can tell the biggest lie gets to keep the
dog.”
The minister was taken aback. “You boys shouldn’t have a contest telling lies,” he said. “Don’t
you boys know it’s a sin to lie?” Then he launched into a 10-minute sermon about lying. The
clergyman ended his speech with, “When I was your age, I never told a lie.”
There was dead silence for about a minute and just as the minister was beginning to think he’d
gotten through to them, the smallest boy gave a deep sigh and said, “All right, give him the
dog.”
This story is something of a disclaimer for pastor types who may be perceived as above the
fray, when in fact, pastors struggle with matters of integrity every day just like every one else.
And, there is always someone, be it a bunch of little boys arguing over a dog or the receptionist
at the Health Care Center, who is calculating our character.
Folk humorist, Will Rogers once said, “Live so that you wouldn’t be ashamed to sell the family
parrot to the town gossip.”
Philosopher, John Locke said, “I have always thought that the actions of men are the best
interpreters of their thoughts.”
Poet, Carl Sandburg said, “There is an eagle in me that wants to soar, and there is a
hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud.”
Character is not being ashamed of the way we live.
Character is having values and thoughts that are reflected positively in observable behavior.
Character is knowing that we are capable of wallowing in the mud like hippopotamuses, but
making sure that we soar like eagles.
It isn’t easy to stay out of the mud and always soar above the realities of life.
And, it isn’t easy to conceal the fact that we’ve wallowed in the mud.
I. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to hide your true
character.
“A rich man hired a manager to handle his affairs, but soon a rumor went around that the
manager was thoroughly dishonest.” Luke 16:1
Presidential candidate, John McCain acknowledges that he has overcome his fears because of
an acute awareness of an even greater fear – remorse. He says, “Remorse is an awful
companion. And whatever the unwelcome consequences of courage, they are unlikely to be
worse than the discovery that you are less than you pretend to be.” (FastCompany, September
2004)
The man in our story was caught.
There was smoke and there was fire.
There was no disguising the fact that he had gotten himself a reputation for dishonesty.
And now, he was about to be confronted for his lack of character.
II. We are commended for our good character and held
accountable for our lack of it.
“So, his employer called him in and said, ‘What’s this I hear about your stealing from me? Get
your report in order.’” Luke 16:3
O.J. Simpson is back in the news and has died. We don’t know whether to believe he did it or
his book, “If I Had Done It”. We only know that his life is an incredible series of erratic and
questionable behavior. It doesn’t matter what he did 30 or 40 years ago… it matters what he
does today. It doesn’t matter if he is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame or the College Football
Hall of Fame or The Buffalo Bills’ Wall of Fame or if his jersey appears along with all the other
USC Heisman Trophy winners. What matters is what he does today. And today, all of his past
achievements are lost in what is perceived as deceitful and outrageous behavior today. (The
idea germinated from a column written by Christine Brennan in USA Today Sports, http://
www.usatoday.com/sports/football/default.htm)
God is not exactly silent on matters of character. Paul writing in Galatians said, “Don’t be
misled. Remember you can’t ignore God and get away with it. You will reap what you sow.”
One version puts it, “Don’t be deceived, God is not mocked. You will reap what you sow.”
We are held accountable for demonstrating bad character.
Commentator, William Barclay titled his explanation of this story, A Bad Man’s Good Example.
III. Sometimes a bad example is a good example…
“The rich landlord had to admire the dishonest manager for being so shrewd.” Luke 16:3-8
Te be shrewd means to be clever and discerning. Shrewdness is a good thing. But in the case
of the dishonest manager he was shaddy shrewd, which is not so good.
It was not uncommon in ancient Palestine and it is not uncommon today, for a person of
means to entrust the management of his or her resources to another. In ancient Palestine,
many of the landowners were absentee landowners, so they appointed servants or hired
managers to oversee their estates.
In rural America today there are many, many absentee landlords. Some of you may own
farmland somewhere and because you are not there to manage the farm, you rent it to
someone who will farm that land for you. Those who rent farmland today will either cash-rent
the land, which means they pay the landowner a specified amount of money per acre to farm
the land. If they do well that year, they make money but, even if they loose money, they are still
obligated to pay the landowner his or her cash-rent. More common is for a renter to rent
farmland on a crop share basis… either one-third to the landowner and two-thirds to the renter
or two-fifths of the crop for the landlord and three-fifths for the renter’s share.
In our story, the shrewd manager is overseeing the crop-share arrangements with the renters.
So when he gets in a jam with the landowner, he calls the renters in one by one and asks,
“How much do you owe the landlord?” And then the renter says, “I owe him eight hundred
gallons of olive oil.” So the shrewd manager says, “Give me a check for four hundred gallons
and we will call it square.”
Another renter is asked, “How much do you owe the landlord?” And he answered, “I owe him a
thousand bushels of wheat.” So the shrewd manager says, “If you will write me a check for
eight hundred bushels of wheat, I’ll call it even.”
He figured that if he falsified the books, rewrote the debts, and collected the money he would
be in good shape when he lost his job.
In our story, the characters of three people are at stake: the shrewd manager and both renters.
They are all dishonest.
They are all cheating the landowner.
But the shrewd manager figures that if he cuts these deals with the renters, when he is fired,
someone will look out for him and give him a job.
But, there seems to be a problem.
How do you admire someone for being dishonest?
The shrewd manager is not commended for being dishonest, he is commended for being
shrewd.
IV. Christians need to work as hard at being good as a
dishonest persons work at being bad.
“It is true that the citizens of this world are shrewder than the godly are. I tell you, use your
worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. In this way, your generosity lays up a
reward for you in heaven.” Luke 16:9
I read a story about a study conducted in 2004 at Temple University. They found through MRI
brain studies that when asked a series of questions, liars used seven areas of their brains while
those who told the trust used four areas of their brains. They concluded that it takes more brain
energy to be deceitful than it does to be honest. (Reuters, “Lying Makes Brain Work Harder”
from www.wired.com, 11.29.04)
We can explain this verse in a couple of ways but I like to keep it simple.
If we would work as hard at being generous as we work at getting money, it would be a better
way to live.
The Rabbis had a saying, “The rich help the poor in this world, but the poor help the rich in the
world to come.”
In the words of our verse, “In this way your generosity stores up a reward for you in heaven.”
This verse is about being wise stewards of our energies and our resources.
It is about being as shrewd in managing our resources for the good of ourselves, the well-being
of others, and the glory of God as the shrewd manager was in looking out for his own hide.
But it is also about being faithful in little things so that you may be entrusted with greater
things.
It is about being a person of integrity, so you will be perceived as a person of character and as
such, trustworthy in all areas of life.
V. In matters of character and integrity, we cannot be
persons of divided character…
“No one can serve two masters. For he will hate one and serve the other, or be devoted to one
and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Luke 16:10-13
In matters of character, as in matters of stewardship, we cannot be both people of integrity and
people of deceit.
In our culture, we may work a full-time job and a part-time job on the side.
Or we may do one or two or more part-time jobs to make ends meet.
In those cases, we may serve one or two or more bosses and manage to keep our loyalties in
perspective.
But in the world of spiritual life and the practice of Christ like living, we cannot be mostly good
Christians and a little bit not-so-good.
Christ calls us to be Christians of integrity all the time.
Conclusion
As God and others calculate our character, may we be perceived as people of integrity… good
and faithful in all things.

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