Jesus’s Teaching of Finances in Luke’s Gospel
Most know it to be true that too much of a good thing can quickly turn into a bad thing. The child who longs for candy soon finds that too much candy leads to a stomachache. Likewise, those who long for great financial gain soon find that great finances lead to a greater desire for even greater gain, and it is not long until greed consumes the individual. They find themselves bowing at the altar of money. This can happen to the rich and poor alike. For this reason, Jesus taught a great deal about finances. While they were never the center of His teaching or central to what He did or commanded His disciples to do, He was quite clear how financial resources are to be understood and utilized within His Kingdom.
Those struggling with finances will benefit greatly from seeing how Jesus utilized them personally, how He prohibited an ungodly use of them, and how He commanded a godly use for them.
The Finances of the Lord: No Hindrance to the Gospel
Jesus was not hindered, one way or another, by His financial resources. No one could ever accuse Jesus of having accomplished His tasks with the use of riches or for having performed His public deeds for financial wealth or gain. His self-emptying (Phil. 2:7) included putting off His eternal riches during His physical incarnation. As a human, Jesus could not be said to have had very much at all compared to His Heavenly riches.
It is not correct to say He was poor, nor is it correct to say He was rich; rather, His needs were regularly provided for. Consider, as Hays explains, “Indeed, if Luke 22: 35-38 is any indication, the disciples typically did travel with some provisions (Hays, 93). In addition, the disciples enjoyed sufficiently regular meals that they could be indicted for neglecting to fast (Mk 2: 18-19), and Jesus himself was called ‘a glutton and a drunkard’ (Mt 11: 19 // Lk 7: 34).”
Luke’s Gospel record of the life of Jesus begins with the impoverished family of Christ offering for His dedication, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” Every first-born child was to be dedicated to the Lord as holy, and the typical offering was to be a lamb in place of the child. A pair of turtledoves and two young pigeons was for those who could not afford a lamb—this was the offering for those who were poor. Luke 8:1-3 plainly teaches that, “During his itinerancy, Jesus depends on the support of others.” But this support never led to “riches” in any meaningful sense. Rather, Luke quotes Jesus as saying, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Lk. 9:58). Jesus hardly enjoyed a life of ease or luxury.
Yet, despite His poverty, Jesus was rich in mercy, grace, love, and compassion toward others. He regularly demonstrated care for others, encouraging His followers to care also for the needs of others while comforting them with the fact that the eternal reward of the Kingdom of God far surpasses all earthly riches and treasures. Luke 12:32-34 says:
Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
The problem, of course, is not riches themselves, but greed for riches, which leads to idolatry. This is why Jesus is adamant about the eternal riches prepared for the saints in Heaven. He knew that those who treasured the things of the world would be committed to the ways of the world, while the one whose treasure was found in Heaven would be committed to the Kingdom of God. What could be better than receiving an eternal Kingdom from God? These promises were meant to encourage the godly use of earthly resources while remembering that the eternal treasures promised to the children of God far exceed the worth and value of anything on earth.
Greed: A Destructive, Green-Eyed Monster
Perhaps one of the most famous accounts in Luke’s Gospel is Jesus’s interaction with the Rich Young Ruler. This young man comes to Jesus, in Luke 18:18-30, asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus commands him to keep all the Commandments, and the rich young ruler boasts that he has kept them all. But Jesus challenges this statement by calling him to give all that he has to the poor to follow Jesus. Rather than obey, the young man goes away sorrowful, proving that he loves his money more than God. Jesus duly notes, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Lk. 18:25). The point is not that the rich cannot be saved but that those who greedily lust for wealth will have a hard time repenting of that idol to serve the Lord.
Perhaps one of the most famous parables Jesus taught precedes this encounter, in Luke 16:19-31. Here, Jesus tells the story of Lazarus and the rich man. Lazarus is described as poor, and the rich man does nothing to help Lazarus in his distress. When the great equalizer of death comes for both, the rich man finds himself in Hell while Lazarus is in Heaven. When the rich man spots Lazarus with Abraham, he requests aid. But, Abraham responds, “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish” (Lk. 16:25). The rich man’s sinful greed has led him to this fiery fate. Abraham continues, “And besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us’” (Lk. 16:26). Through this, Jesus warns His listeners that those who serve idols, like money, will not have a chance to repent and be saved in the afterlife.
Even before the appearance of the rich young ruler or the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, Jesus very plainly taught that “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Lk 16:13). Again, Jesus intends to teach that a servant of God cannot also serve the false god of greed for riches. In another place, Jesus calls for His disciples to “Renounce all that he has,” or he, “cannot be my disciple” (Lk. 14:33). When Peter claims to have done just that, Jesus responds, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life” (Lk. 18:29-30). Yet, from other Scriptures like 1 Corinthians 9:5, it is made clear that Peter did not renounce his wife but actually brought her with him on his journey to preach and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It can hardly be said that Jesus called His disciples to a purely ascetic, celibate life, nor can it be concluded that Jesus made his disciples literally give up everything they had if they would follow Him. Instead, it is better to understand Jesus as having demanded total allegiance from His followers. They could not look to riches as their Lord. Instead, Christ alone would be Lord of their lives. Green explains that, “For Luke, wealth is a temptation to prestige and security apart from God (e.g., Lk 12: 13-21, 33-34), and one’s use of possessions is a barometer of one’s faithfulness to the good news.” Christ demands complete fidelity from His disciples; the one who looks to both Christ and money as his gods cannot truly follow Jesus.
Wealth: Not Inherently Evil, but Able to be Used Rightly for Gospel Purposes
While Jesus may not have been “rich,” and while He offered warnings about the destructive forces of greed, He also was not afraid of wealth. He did, after all, depend upon the financial support of others to complete His earthly ministry (Lk. 8:1-3). Likewise, Green mentions that, “He joins dinner parties with prominent people, participating in ways that lead to his being labeled a glutton and a drunkard (Lk 7: 34; cf. Lk 7: 36; 11: 37; 14: 1-24; 19: 1-27).” Jesus had finances and resources, but He used them wisely and holy. He commanded the same from His disciples.
It is interesting that, after sharing the story of the rich young ruler who could not stop the worship of his riches to repent of sin and follow Christ, Luke then introduces Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus may not have been as rich as the rich young ruler, but he still had considerable resources as a chief tax collector. He is even described as being “very rich” (Lk. 19:2). But, evidently, not all his resources were gained in a godly manner. Thus, when he comes face to face with Jesus and experiences salvation, a wonderful exchange occurs:
Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:8-10).
This behavior is the opposite of the rich young ruler’s and demonstrates how resources can be utilized to further the gospel. The restoration of stolen finances would offer Zacchaeus the opportunity to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with those whom he had previously wronged. In so doing, they would have the opportunity to repent of their own sin and trust and follow Jesus.
This, ultimately, is how Jesus commands us to use our finances. They are, after all, entrusted to us by God, so they must be used wisely for the furtherance of His gospel. Greed will cause us to serve the false god of money, making us unprofitable in Christ’s Kingdom. But, those who know that the Kingdom is theirs in Christ are far from tight-fisted. Rather, we use the resources entrusted to us to meet the needs of others, care for the poor, support gospel work, and utilize it in such a way to do all we can to see the gospel of Jesus spread across the world and see His Kingdom come.
 C. M. Hays, “Rich and Poor” within Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (The IVP Bible Dictionary Series), ed by Joel B. Green, Jeannine K. Brown, and Nicholas Perrin (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013), 802-03.
 Unless otherwise specified, all Bible references in this paper are to the English Standard Version Bible (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016).
 Joel. B. Green, “Luke, Gospel of” within Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (The IVP Bible Dictionary Series), ed by Joel B. Green, Jeannine K. Brown, and Nicholas Perrin (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013), 548.
 Joel. B. Green, “Luke, Gospel of” within Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (The IVP Bible Dictionary Series), 548.