Ben Witherington III: True Riches, Trustworthiness, and Reputation

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“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? Luke 16:10-12

“The real litmus test of trustworthiness is what one does with someone else’s resources. In an honor a shame culture, where being shamed was worse than being poor, there was a profound concern with reputation: thus we see here that it matters more how one handles people’s property than how one handles one’s own. The second half of this saying suggests that even when what is one’s own is in fact something that is given to a person. This is ambiguous but probably reflects Jesus’ general view that all material creation belongs to God, so even what we might count as our own is in fact given to us by God. We are merely stewards of what property belongs to us.”

Ben Witherington III in Jesus and Money: A Guide for Times of Financial Crisis (Brazos: Grand Rapids, 2010) 69.

In the Faith and Finances class here at Asian Theological Seminary, I deliver the material in discussion format by showing short videos of myself teaching (so students realize they have that resource to use in their contexts long after I am gone), then with the aid of Anjji Gabriel, we enjoy rich discussion. I let them do most of the talking because I have found that’s how adults learn best.

The ideas of true riches, trustworthiness, and reputation have come up in our dialogue. For example, Anjji shared a powerful story of almost losing his reputation and his job as a partner with a prominent accounting firm linked to the possibility of being labeled untrustworthy. Everyone sat at the edge of their seat as he testified to nearly losing everything.

Thus, he often proclaims this core question with passion: Can God trust you? He says it to wake people to the reality that God sees all we are doing: whether we relate honestly to money or not, whether we accumulate it or give generously, and whether we treat it like it belongs to us or not. Riches test our trustworthiness.

Though you are not enrolled in the class, you too must pass this test. Will you? Can God trust you? The paradox that comes into view is that only those who are honest with themselves and demonstrate that through faithfulness to using riches as the Master instructed will attain true riches.

Feel convicted to chart a new course? That’s where the students are at right now. The good news from the Parable of the Shrewd Steward (Luke 16:1-9), which immediately precedes this text, is that what matters for dishonest stewards is not how we start (because we all start out as dishonest squanderers of money), what matters is how we finish.