What Jesus Would Say to Jim Bakker
November 26, 1989
When the history of this turbulent decade is finally written, no doubt a large chapter will be reserved for the strange, sad story of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. It is the story of the rise and fall of one of the great religious empires of modern times. It is a story of how an obscure preacher and his wife rose to the pinnacle of success. It is the story of how their empire crumbled overnight.
It has only been 31 months since we first heard of Jessica Hahn. That was the beginning of the end. One revelation led to another as stories surfaced of immorality and runaway greed. Jim and Tammy Faye were thrust into the national spotlight on Nightline, the evening news, the talk shows, and finally in the cheap supermarket tabloids. They have become a safe target for our favorite comedians. These days you can hardly turn on the television without hearing Johnny Carson or Arsenio Hall or Jay Leno making jokes about Jim Bakker’s prison term or Tammy Faye’s makeup.
Things fell apart so fast. In 1986, PTL received $129 million in donations. In 1987, the PTL television show was seen on 180 stations and many more cable networks. But in September, 1989, Jim Bakker went on trial for 24 counts of fraud and conspiracy. The government accused him of bilking his followers out of $158 million and of diverting $3.7 million for his own use. He was eventually found guilty on all 24 counts and sentenced to 45 years in prison. He is currently serving time in a federal prison in Minnesota.
What has been the legacy of Jim Bakker? Unfortunately, the record is not positive. The Gallup Poll recently reported that public opinion of television evangelists is at an all-time low. A survey taken in September, 1989 found that most Americans doubt the honesty and integrity of TV preachers. The survey found that 79 percent of Americans believe that TV preachers cannot be trusted with money; 70 percent believe they are dishonest; 67 percent believe they are insincere; 67 percent believe they lack a special relationship with God; 62 percent believe they are uncaring. (Source: Evangelical Beacon, 11/2/89, p. 2)
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Before I go any further, let me make my own position clear. In preaching this sermon I have no axe to grind nor am I on a personal vendetta. Actually, I have profited over the years from watching Jim Bakker. I appreciated his presentation of the gospel and his clear stand on moral issues. I have no doubt that he and Tammy Faye have blessed and helped many people. And I take no joy in what has happened to him.
Yet, still the fact remains that Jim Bakker is in prison, PTL is bankrupt, millions of people have been hurt, other good ministries have been hurt, and the name of Christ has been dragged through the mud.
I wonder what Jesus would say to Jim Bakker?
I. The Story Jesus Told Luke 16:1-8
For a possible answer to that question, I would like to consider Luke 16:1-13. This passage is generally called The Parable of the Unjust Steward.
Let me say that this parable has generated an enormous amount of controversy over the years. On first glance, it does not appear to have any redeeming features. As we shall see, it is the story of how a man cheated his boss. To make matters worse, after Jesus tells the story, he in essence says, “You should do the same thing.”
In his commentary on this passage, William Barclay says that “it contains as choice a set of rogues as one could meet anywhere.” And it’s true. The hero of this story is really a villain. He is a cheat and a crook.
What happens here could have happened in London, New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago. It is life from a basement view. One man stiffs his boss and seems to get away with it. That’s what this story is all about. Jesus tells the story and then draws a good lesson from a bad example.
A. The Accusation 1
The story begins this way. Once there was a rich man who had a steward working for him. Now when Jesus said rich, he meant extremely rich. This man was a multi-millionaire. He was so rich that he never had to work for himself. He was rich enough to own a large estate and rich enough to hire a man to run the estate for him.
The man he hired was called a steward. We would have called him a manager. In Bible times the steward was a man of immense power. He had the absolute right to hire and fire. He had the right to set the salaries. He controlled all the business affairs of the estate—he made the deals, bought and sold crops and cattle, haggled prices up or down. The steward ran the whole show. He made all the decisions. He was answerable to only one man—the owner.
That meant the steward had unlimited power—Power to do things wisely; power to do things foolishly. That’s why the number one qualification for a steward was faithfulness. He had to be loyal, for if he wasn’t, he could cause a lot of mischief.
In the story that Jesus told, the steward had been accused of squandering his boss’s possessions. That amounted to a charge of deliberate mismanagement.
What had this steward done? We don’t really know. Perhaps he was skimming off the top for himself. Perhaps he was underpaying his employees or maybe he had put some of his deadbeat buddies on the payroll. Perhaps he was gambling with the money. We just don’t know.
B. The Confrontation 2
What we do know is this: The word got out. It always does, doesn’t it? You can cheat just so long before someone else finds out what you are doing. And when it happens, you almost never figure out how they caught on. But they do. Sooner or later, the cheaters get caught.
And that’s the whole point: This man has been caught red-handed. This story is not about how he got into trouble, but about how he gets out!!!
The boss is hopping mad. In verse 2 he plainly says, “You cannot be manager any longer.” He orders the man to give an accounting and then he says, “By the way, you’re fired.” No second chance, no appeal.
The purpose of the accounting is simple. The steward must total up all the books and clean up all the details so he can hand things over to the next man.
The boss stands up. The interview is over. The steward walks out with his head down. He has one more job to do and then he’s out of work. But what will he do? He’s in a desperate situation because there is no market for unfaithful stewards. Word had gotten around. Who would hire an unemployed crook?
C. The Alternatives 3
Verse 3 says he began to think about the possibilities. Two things come quickly to mind—Digging ditches and begging. But neither one fits his job profile. He is too weak to dig and too proud to beg.
Well, if you won’t dig and you won’t beg, you’ve still got to eat. They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and this man needs a good idea. And right then he gets one. And the good idea that he gets is the whole reason Jesus told this story.
D. The Scheme 4-7
The steward concocted a very simple scheme. He still had his job for the moment. He had been fired, but the firing had not yet taken effect. Time is short and his situation called for on-the-spot ingenuity. In verse 4 he says, “I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.” That last phrase is the key. He is looking for a way to take care of himself once he loses his job.
The plan is simplicity itself. As steward, he had absolute authority in making deals with the people who did business with the estate. By manipulating those prices, he could win friends for himself, friends who would remember him after he lost his job.
That’s what he did. He made two quick deals. The first was with a man who owed the estate 100 measures of oil—roughly 850 gallons of olive oil. The steward had the man take his bill, rub out 100, and write in its place 50. That’s a 50% discount right on the spot. The second deal was with a man who owed 100 measures of wheat—roughly 1000 bushels. He had him take his bill, rub out 100, and write in its place 80. That’s a 20% discount.
What it meant was obvious. These two men suddenly received a discount. One they hadn’t expected. One they didn’t deserve. The steward figured that a free discount would make them happy. He was right about that. The two men didn’t know why he did it, but who cares? They took it gladly. And suddenly the steward had become their friend.
E. The Commendation 8
And that brings us to the end of the story in verse 8. “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.” That suggests two things. First, that the rich man knew what the steward had done. Second, that the master knew a clever deal when he saw one.
But how could the boss commend this crook who had cheated him time and time again? Because the steward used his opportunity to prepare for the future. He was thinking ahead, taking care of tomorrow. That’s why the master commended him.
But the question remains. Why did Jesus tell this story at all? What possible point could be drawn from it? You can see why the parable is controversial. It is just a slice of life from the business world held up for our examination. A crook is caught, confronted, examined, dismissed. But before he is fired, he takes one last opportunity to feather his own nest. There is not a hint of Christianity anywhere.
Jesus’ own explanation is in the second half of verse 8: “For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.” You should circle two phrases in the text—”The people of this world” and “the people of the light.” You could simply say “the people of the world” and “the people of God.” There are two groups living according to two separate sets of rules. The people of the world live one way and the people of God live another.
But in some ways, the people of this age are wiser than the people of God. Why? Because they plan for their own future. And that’s what Jesus is commending. Not the steward’s dishonesty. Not his base self-interest. But the fact that he looked into the future, saw what was coming, and used his opportunities to make wise plans. Here is a fool who is wiser than the wise!
The surprise is that Jesus says unbelievers are better at planning their own future than believers are. They live in this world and make plans for their own future in this world. We who are the sons of God live in this world but we have seen the light of eternity. We know there is another world to come. But we don’t make any preparation for it.
Get it clearly. Unbelievers see only one world. But at least they plan for the future they can see. We see two worlds and live as if the next one does not exist. The point of the parable is this: We ought to use our present opportunities to prepare for the world to come. We are wise if we do and foolish if we don’t.
II. The Morals Of The Story 16:9-13
Just in case we missed it, Jesus added three morals to this story. The first one is found in verse 9.
A. The Moral Of Foresight 9
“I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” Some translations use the phrase “the mammon of unrighteousness.” It stands for money and all that money can buy.
This is Jesus’ investment advice. We should use our worldly wealth to make friends for ourselves. That’s what the unjust steward did. That’s what we are to do.
Notice the reason he gives—”So that when it is gone.” What is the “it” He is talking about? Money and everything money can buy. Money fails. It fails in the end. Five minutes after you are dead somebody else will have your money. Five minutes after death your checkbook will be useless to you. On that day, it won’t matter whether you lived in a mansion with a swimming pool or in a hovel on the wrong side of the tracks.
Think of it. All you live for, the accumulated wealth of a lifetime, everything you dreamed about, every cent you ever saved, every investment, all of it gone forever. It fails you in the end.
After a rich man dies, people often say, “How much did he leave?” The answer is always the same. He left it all.
The question is not, How much did you make? The question is, How did you spend what you had while you had it? Did you buy houses, land, stocks, furniture, new cars, new clothes? Is that all you did with your money? Was that the goal of your life? Or did you make friends for God with your money?
Those are your only two choices.
The issue is not getting rich versus staying poor. It isn’t between the stock market and Jesus. The issue is this: How did you use the money you made? Did you get rich for your own sake or did you use whatever wealth you had to make friends for God?
But that’s not all the text says. It says that you should use your money to gain friends who will welcome you into “eternal dwellings.” That’s heaven. Jesus is saying that we should use our money to make sure people get to heaven so that they will welcome us into heaven when we get there.
Let me ask you some questions. Will anyone be glad to see you in heaven? Will anyone hug your neck and say, “Thanks for making sure I got here?” Will anyone be there because you made friends for God with your money? When you pass through the pearly gates, will there be a standing ovation from the people you helped in this life? Or will all the things you spent your money on be left behind? And all the people you knew be gone to some other place?
B. The Moral Of Faithfulness 10-12
“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.” (10) What is the “very little” Jesus is talking about? It is the money we make and the wealth we accumulate in this life. To God, it is “very little.” In light of eternity, it amounts to pocket change. Even the man who has millions of dollars has “very little” as far as God is concerned. To us, a man like Donald Trump is unbelievably rich. But to God, it’s just peanuts. It’s not how much you have but what you do with what you have that matters to God.
That’s where the “much” comes in. The “much” refers to eternal wealth. Jesus is saying, “If you have messed around and wasted your worldly wealth, why should I trust you with the stuff that’s really important?” That is, our future wealth depends on how we use our present wealth. What we have now, we must someday give up. What we have then, we will keep forever.
And that brings me to what I think Jesus would say to Jim Bakker. Listen to verses 11-12: “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?”
Today is November 26. In just a few days most of us will receive a paycheck. We’ll put it in the bank and most of it will be gone before we leave the parking lot. What difference will it make how you spend your next paycheck? What difference will it make today? Tomorrow? In 10,000 years?
As the child is the father of the man, so time is the father of eternity. What we are today is what we shall be in eternity. If God can’t trust you now with this piddling stuff we call money, how will He ever be able to trust you with true riches?
The point for Jim Bakker is the point for us as well. Everything we have received has been given to us as a trust. Jim Bakker got his through contributions; we get ours in a paycheck. That’s the only difference. The money we have is loaned to us. Someday we’ll give it back and God will give it to someone else. The question is not, How much did God give us? That varies from person to person. Some have more, some have less, but in God’s eyes it is all “very little.” The bigger, all-important question is, What have we done with what God has given us? That’s the question that God will ask us someday. We’ll have to live with the answer for a long, long time.
C. The Moral Of Fidelity 13
Here is the end of the story. “No servant can serve two masters. 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.” This is the test of fidelity, which means “fixed loyalty” and “exclusive allegiance.” You can have Christ as master or money as master, but you can’t have both. The two masters will never agree. You must choose whom you will serve.
I’ll tell you what our problem is. We’re spending our money as if we’re never going to die. We’re living as if there were no tomorrow. We’re investing as if this world were the final world.
But we are blind to reality if we live that way. One day you are going to die. We’ll put you in a box, wheel you in here, say a few nice words, cry a little bit, and then wheel you out to the hearse. We’ll take you to the cemetery, say a few more nice words, have a prayer, drop you into a hole, throw in some dirt, shake hands all around, and then we’ll go over and have a party at your house.
That’s it. That’s reality. But some of us think that’s never going to happen. We’re living as if we were never going to die. But we are.
That ought to make you stop and ask a few sobering questions.
—What am I living for?
—What am I working for?
—What am I investing in?
—What will I have to show for it in the end?
Folks, don’t be afraid to give your money away. You can’t keep it anyway.
A Checkbook Checkup
And that brings me back to Jim Bakker. I think he has a lot to answer for. But that could also be said about you and me. His sin may seem greater because the amount is greater, but his sin and our sin are really the very same sin. When I spend my money as if I am never going to die, then I am doing the same thing he did. He just did it in public and he got caught. That’s the only real difference.
Some of you may be wondering why I bring all this up. It’s because the way we spend our money is a crucial issue. Our church covenant puts it this way: We do, therefore, in his strength promise … that we will cheerfully contribute of our means, as God has prospered us, for the maintenance of a faithful and evangelical ministry among us, for the support of the poor, and for the spread of the gospel over all the earth. That is a sacred promise. We have obligated ourselves to keep it. And God will hold us to it.
There are two steps I want you to take by way of application: First, I want you to go home and think about what I have said. Go back and read the text for yourself. Evaluate my words. Decide for yourself if I told you the truth this morning.
Second, I want you to do a Checkbook Checkup. To do that, you take a blank piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. Label the left side “This World” and label the right side “Eternity.” Study the checks you’ve written in the last 30 days. Each one will belong in either the left or the right column. How much of your money in the last month has gone for this world and how much has been invested in eternity? I’m not suggesting what the proportion should be, but I do think you should find out where your money is going.
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Once upon a time there was a crook who was smart enough to use his opportunities to prepare for the future. Jesus said we should do as much for ourselves.
Lord, Your Word is so simple, so clear. We know what it says and what it means. But Lord, sometimes it’s so hard to put into practice. Save us from investing in things which will not last. Help us to live so that in 10,000 years we will have no regrets. Amen.