Swimming with the Sharks

This past Sunday began the eleventh season of ABC’s Shark Tank. On this show, five very successful businesspeople sit on a panel while hopeful entrepreneurs pitch their ideas. If one of the “Sharks” likes the product and the plan, they’ll agree to invest their own money and time into making the business a success. Many well-known companies have been launched with the help of the Sharks – Scrub Daddy, the Tipsy Elves clothing line, and the ever-confusing Squatty Potty. One deal that the Sharks passed on was Ring – the smart video doorbell. Jamie Siminoff came in asking for an investor at a $7 million valuation. After they let it get away, the business took off on its own and is now a billion dollar company. Now, on occasional episodes, Siminoff himself sits in the role of Shark listening for opportunities to invest his newly-created wealth.

            It’s hard to watch the show and not think, “Why can’t I come up with a million dollar idea like that?” Some of the products – like Scrub Daddy – seem so simple and obvious. The mind wanders to what it would be like to have the insane kind of money that would allow someone to take a $500k chance on a budding entrepreneur. Believe me, I don’t begrudge any of those Sharks what they have. None of them are Trust Fund Babies. They’ve all worked themselves up from nothing to what they are today. Now they find themselves in the position to use what they have to benefit others – all while making a tidy profit for their own bank accounts.

            In Luke 16, Jesus told a parable about a manager who was about to get fired. This news sent him into a panic. “I don’t know how to do anything else,” he said. “I’m too weak to dig ditches, and I’m not going to go around begging.” Then he got an idea. He went to his master’s debtors and began cutting their debts. “You owe a thousand? Make it five hundred. You owe seven hundred? Make it four.” His reasoning for playing fast and easy with his master’s money was to try to build friendships for after he got canned. I help them now; maybe they’ll help me later.

            When the master found out about this desperate favor-gathering scheme, rather than blow up he commended the manager. “I like the way you think! Pretty shrewd.” Unfortunately, Jesus cuts the story there, so we don’t know if the manager kept his job or if he still ended up out on his keister. The point, Jesus says, is that the world knows how to be shrewd with money – to use it to their own advantage.

Jesus said we should learn this kind of financial shrewdness, also. But then He flipped the whole point around. The key difference between the manager and us is that rather than using someone else’s money to our own advantage, we should learn how to use our money to others’ advantage.

“Wait,” some might say, “that seems like a pretty poor business model. I am ensuring that I have less so that others might have more. Good for them; stinks for me.”

According to Jesus, every part of that statement is wrong. First, it is a great business model if you are about the Father’s business. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33) Our business is first and foremost to be doing the things of God. If we are, then He’ll make sure that all that financial stuff we get so wrapped up in is taken care of.

Second, we may be ensuring that we have less money, but we are not ensuring that we have “less”. “More or less” in a Christian life should never be about bank account. Following the parable about the manager, Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Luke 16:13) In other words, if our eyes are on the cash, they’re not on God. If our eyes are on God, then they’re not on the cash. This “less is more” mindset is completely antithetical to our world’s view. That’s because this world’s values are completely antithetical to God’s. Jesus goes on to say, “What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.” (Luke 16:15)

The third statement – “Good for them; stinks for me” – misses both our mission and why God gives us money to begin with. Jesus tells us to use our worldly wealth to build relationships with others. It is through these relationships that we then have opportunity to show and share the love of Christ.

Jesus concludes this teaching with a practical example of someone who had his priorities wrong. There was a man who had a ridiculous amount of money and another man who had nothing. The man who had nothing, named Lazarus, used to sit outside of the rich guy’s gate. Every day the rich man would come racing home from work in his four-horsepower German built chariot and pull a hard turn through his gate, leaving a cloud of dust to settle on Lazarus’s shabbily clothed body. Never once did he help Lazarus – even tossing out his table scraps, rather than encouraging the beggar (“You know, you give it to them once, and they’ll keep coming back”). It was only after they both died that the rich man realized that Lazarus was the one had what was really important – a relationship with God – and that all his worldly wealth bought him was a one-way ticket to Hades.

There is nothing wrong with being rich. The Sharks are not sinful just because they have enough money to be Sharks. In fact, Luke 16 tells us that God will choose certain people to give wealth to, because they’ve proven that they can be trusted to use the money for His kingdom and not to build their own. But “rich” is not a goal. Being rich is simply a tool – a means to an end. “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much,” Jesus said (Luke 16:10). If you read that verse as a long-range spiritual get-rich scheme, then you’re missing the point. Jesus is simply saying that we need to quit making money the barometer of our wealth. True riches come when we invest the little or much that He gives into the lives of those around us. Then we can love them and mentor them as they discover who Christ is and begin their own lives dedicated to carrying out the Father’s business.