The Shrewd Manager
We’re continuing our series on certain parables of Jesus that are recorded in the gospel of Luke, the third book in the New Testament. Scholars call them the “unique parables of Luke” because, whereas Matthew, Mark and Luke all record many of Jesus’ other parables, these are recorded only by Luke in Lk.10-19.
A parable is “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning” – a story or commentary about a normal event that illustrates a spiritual lesson. Because the same God who is the Source of spiritual truth also is the Creator of earthly life, earthly life can teach us spiritual lessons if we have the eyes to see them.
Fully half of these unique parables concern the relationship between our money and possessions and God’s kingdom. This is one of many ways the Bible teaches us that this area is inextricably connected to our spiritual lives. How we handle our money and possessions both demonstrates how spiritual we actually are, and promotes or hinders our spiritual development.
In Lk.16, Jesus teaches one of these parables to His followers (16:1a NLT) – the parable of the shrewd manager. Read 16:1b-9, concisely explaining background where needed. 16:8,9 is the punch-line of the parable. In fact, Jesus makes two important points:
16:8a,9 – What the master praises is not that the steward cheated him; it is that he acted shrewdly (phronimos - mindful of one’s interests [cf. Matt.10:16], here expressed in practical foresight). Namely, he used someone else’s material resources generously in order to prepare for his own future welfare. 16:9 spells out the application of the spiritual shrewdness that Jesus calls His followers to. We’ll look closer at each aspect of this application in a moment.
We need to look closely, because Jesus says in 16:8b that few of His followers incorporate this lesson into their lives. He says that non-Christians tend to (at least eventually) grasp this lesson with regard to their earthly future (i.e., financial preparation for senior years). That’s why Suze Orman (PICTURE) is popular with non-Christians - she teaches this kind of financial shrewdness. But most Christians sail right through their lives without ever connecting these dots with regard to their future in God’s kingdom. Let’s ask God to help us fix this blind-spot this morning!
Jesus’ lesson contains three 3 key truths, each one of which is taught clearly and often in the Bible, and each one of which is deeply counter-cultural...
We are managers of God’s material resources
The employer represents God and the manager represents Christians. Just as the money he managed belonged to his employer, so the money and material resources under our control are not ours; they are God’s. We are God’s managers, entrusted with some of His resources and responsible to use them to advance His purposes.
How counter-cultural this is! Yes, private property is valid and biblical in the sense that God entrusted these resources to you – not to me – so I have no business trying to control them or make you use them according to my will. But our culture says far more than this. It says that your money and stuff are yours exclusively, and that you have the right to autonomously use them however you wish. This message is constantly drummed into us through parenting, education, advertising, financial advisors, etc.
We aren’t surprised that non-Christians believe this lie, but when we Christians find ourselves believing it, we should consider the questions that Paul asks the Corinthian Christians (read 1Cor.4:7 NASB).
Our management opportunity will end soon
The manager was getting fired for mismanagement. The employer evidently gave him a few days to update his records. He knew that he had only a short time to manage his employers’ money – and then he would be in a whole new situation. It is because he truly believed that his situation was soon ending that he devised his plan.
How counter-cultural this is! Our culture constantly tells us that this life is all that is real, all that there is. In a thousand ways (e.g., youth adulation; death hidden), it weaves a “spell” of denial that our lives here are super-temporary, that in just a few years (1-70) none of us will be here. It provides no ultimate purpose for our existence, and it denies any real connection between the financial choices we make during our brief time here and our situation after we die.
But God reminds us that the duration of our earthly lives is very limited (Ps.39:5,6). It is soon going to end and give way to God’s kingdom in which we will live forever, or from which we will be forever banished. Therefore, this life is not an end in itself; it is the staging ground for eternity. As Harry Blamires says: “On the one hand is the assumption that... eating, sleeping, growing, learning, breeding, and the rest, constitute the sum total of things... On the other hand is the... belief that the thoughts and actions of every hour are molding a soul which is on its way to eternity.” The purpose of this life is first of to gain admittance into God’s kingdom by receiving Christ (Jn.3:16), and then to prepare ourselves to enjoy it fully. For this reason, we should not envy those who focus only on this life; we should respond like Paul did (read Phil.3:18-4:a).
We can enjoy heaven more by being generous now
That’s the bottom-line lesson of this parable, remember (16:9)? Don’t focus on the manager’s selfish, unethical pragmatism. That’s not the point. Don’t misconstrue this into teaching that you can/must earn entry into heaven by giving money to the church (SALE OF INDULGENCES THEN & NOW). That’s not the point. Entry into heaven is a gift paid for only by Jesus’ death for our sins and received only by faith apart from any meritorious works (Eph.2:8,9). The point is that he used his employers’ money generously during his brief period of employment – and his future would be more pleasant after he lost his job because of this. So we Christians should use God’s material resources generously to influence people toward Jesus – so that our certain future in heaven will be even more blessed (see 2Pet.1:11 NIV).
How utterly counter-cultural! We expect our culture to say to us (like the old Schlitz beer commercial): “You only go around once in life, so grab for all the gusto you can.” Our economy, which is heavily dependent upon non-necessary consumer spending, promotes this message. And we aren’t surprised when non-Christians follow this terrible advice. But Jesus says to His followers: “You only go around once in this life, so use your money and stuff to make all the eternal friends you can!” And when as Christians we find ourselves listening to our culture’s advice, we should listen instead to Jesus says, and to what Paul teaches Christians in 1Tim.6:17-19 (read and explain). There are so many ways to do this!
We can give money regularly to influence people toward Jesus in many ways:
We can support our local church and missionaries, who are committed to and effective in leading people to Christ and discipling them toward spiritual maturity (WEBSITE SLIDE).
We can also give money regularly to the poor (local and extra-local) by supporting ministries that do economic relief and development as they lead people to Christ and disciple them toward spiritual maturity (HADF SLIDE). We can fast two meals a week and use the money saved toward this end (IGL).
We can creatively cultivate personal generosity into our lives in many other ways:
We can practice hospitality – hosting Bible studies and outreach parties, hosting IFI students for a week, having home group members over for meals, having people live with us for longer periods of time (B.A.M.’s FEEDBACK), etc.
We can help people out in very practical ways – using our cars to give Renegade kids rides to Bible studies, using our trucks to help others move, lending our tools to others for housework and yard-work, providing meals for convalescing neighbors and home group friends, giving extra food to the food-bank, etc.
We can give financially to specific needs and opportunities – paying for a home group member’s retreat, helping to pay for a home group member’s car repair, donating to short-term missions trips, etc.
Many of you have already embraced this way of life. Keep going, and keep taking new ground! You will reap a rich reward very soon – the joy of seeing how your generosity caused a ripple-effect of good in people’s lives, and the joy of hearing God not only welcome you into His kingdom, but also praise you for being a faithful servant.
Many of you have recently started down this path. That’s why you feel the battle with your flesh, the difficulty of saying no to old spending habits, even the regret of past mistakes in this area, etc. The battle is a sign of health! Don’t waste energy beating yourself for past mistakes – just keep moving forward! God will help you turn this into a lifestyle.
My main concern is for those of you who belong to Jesus, but who aren’t moving down this path. You’re not alone. Remember who Jesus’ audience was (16:1a). You have a lot of company today, too. Tragically, there is virtually no difference between American Christians and other Americans in charitable giving. Why is this? You know what Jesus teaches on this subject! Your time as a manager will soon be over! It must be because of a lie that warns you not to start down this path. Which lie is it?
Is it: “God won’t provide for me if I start being generous?” See Phil.4:19; 2Cor.9:10,11. It is awesome to experience how God cares for you as you trust Him by being generous!
Is it: “Unless I can give a lot, it’s not worth starting?” Read Lk.16:10-12. It is faithfulness with what you have that counts and will be rewarded, not the amount compared to others. My Mom had very little, but she was generous. I know she is blown away by the rich welcome from her friends now that she is in heaven!
Is it: “I might go overboard on this and become financially irresponsible?” Is this the extreme to which you are presently tempted? When was the last time you fell to this temptation? Do you spend as much time and energy thinking/praying about how to do this as you spend shopping for the best deal on clothes and toys? Wouldn’t it be better to make a start down this path and trust that God will warn you if you are being irresponsibly generous?
Is it: “Generosity may lead to eternal reward, but I will miss out in this life?” Jesus practiced what He preached. He lived simply so that He could be generous, He gave everything so that we could be eligible for eternity – and His life was full of joy that drew others to Him. He promises the same to us (read Acts20:34,35). Generosity is simply a specific way of giving God’s love away to others – and God promises to bring joy to our souls in this life as we do this (quote Jn.15:11,12)! I have never heard generous Christians complaining about how they wish they could get out of this miserable way of life! The truth is just the opposite – being greedy and selfish will prevent you from true happiness in this life (1Tim.6:9,10)!
Don’t let these lies imprison you and make you a slave to debt and prevent you from having the joy that is your birthright as God’s child! Decide to trust God’s promises and take a specific step toward generosity today!
“The amount of American giving to charitable organizations of all kinds remains relatively constant at somewhere between 1.6% and 2.16% of a family’s income. American Christians do only slightly better, averaging somewhere around 2.4% of the national per capita income... In most... suburban Western communities, it is impossible to detect any outward differences between the expenditures of professing Christians and the religiously unaffiliated who surround them in their neighborhoods.” Craig L. Blomberg, Neither Riches Nor Poverty (InterVarsity Press, 1999), pp.19,20.
“Vast numbers of us have been seduced into believing that having more wealth and material possessions is essential to the good life... (But Kasser’s) formidable body of research highlights what for most of us is a quite counter-intuitive fact: even when people obtain more money and material goods, they do not become more satisfied with their lives, or more psychologically healthy because of it. More specifically, once people are above poverty levels of income, gains in wealth have little to no incremental payoff in terms of happiness or well-being. (Moreover) merely aspiring to have greater wealth or more material possessions is likely to be associated with increased personal unhappiness... People with strong materialistic values and desires report more symptoms of anxiety, are at greater risk for depression... use more alcohol and drugs, and have more impoverished personal relationships... Thus, insofar as people have adopted the ‘American dream’ of stuffing their pockets, they seem to that extent be emptier of self and soul.” Richard M. Ryan in Tim Kasser, The High Price of Materialism (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2002), pp.x,xi.