Luke 16:1–18 . . . Bible Study Summary with Photos
The Parable of the Shrewd Manager
(a.k.a. Dishonest or Unrighteous Steward Parable)
What if we spend our lives climbing the ladder of success only to find out that it's leaning against the wrong wall? What if we get rich, only to discover that we're really poor? In chapter 16, Jesus tells two parables — The Shrewd Manager and (next week's) The Rich Man and Lazarus — to show that God's perspective on riches is diametrically opposed to ours. If we want to be truly rich, we need to know and follow God's perspective on money.
Jesus tells the first parable to his disciples (v. 1). But the Pharisees, who loved money, were listening in and scoffing at him (v. 14). So the ensuing instruction and the second parable are both aimed primarily at the Pharisees. The entire chapter should make us all stop and think carefully about our attitude toward money. God's ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9), especially regarding money. Since we're all prone to the world's ways, we need to think carefully about what Jesus is saying so we follow God's way to true riches, rather than the world's way to deceptive wealth and ultimate, eternal poverty.
Today's parable of the shrewd manager is confusing. Jesus seemingly praises a scoundrel. But a careful look reveals that Jesus is not praising the man's crookedness, but rather his shrewdness in using a present opportunity to provide for his inevitable future needs. Jesus calls the man "dishonest" (v. 8), thereby condemning his wrong ways. But he's saying that we can learn a valuable lesson from this pagan scoundrel, who's wiser than many "people of the light," in that he saw what was coming and used what had been entrusted to him, while he could, to prepare for the future. The hearty lesson for us is this: A faithful steward will use his Master's money shrewdly to provide true riches for eternity.
The first contrast (v. 10) is between "the one who is trustworthy" and "the one who is dishonest." Jesus is saying, Do not be dishonest or unrighteous as the steward in the parable was, but be trustworthy faithful stewards, as those who will give an account to the Master. There are two crucial concepts here: (1) Stewardship and (2) Accountability.
God owns it; I manage it Implicit in Jesus' teaching, here and elsewhere, is that God owns everything and we're stewards or managers of what he entrusts to us. We are stewards of our time, our abilities, and our possessions and money. In the parable, the steward was squandering his master's possessions (v. 1). There's much debate over whether his action of reducing the bills of his master's debtors was illegal or legal. We don't know, but it's likely that the steward wasn't doing anything illegal, otherwise, the master would have prosecuted him.
And yet, while staying within the letter of the law and acting within the authority given to him, the steward wasn't acting in his master's best interests, but in his own. Even though the master lost a lot of money through the steward's actions, he grudgingly had to praise him for his shrewdness. But the fact is, although shrewd, the steward was still unrighteous or unfaithful because he was using his master's money for his own selfish ends, not for the master's profit. One of the key concepts of stewardship is that a steward doesn't own what the master or owner has entrusted to him; he merely manages it for the owner's purposes. If the steward begins to act as if he owns it, i.e., spending the owner's resources for his personal betterment rather than for the owner's benefit, he is an unrighteous, untrustworthy steward.
One day, I must present my stewardship history to God Crucial to being a good steward is understanding the owner's purpose for his business. In today's world, the purpose usually is to make the most money. But what's our Master's purpose? Jesus tells us in v. 9: "Use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings." Jesus means that, just as the shrewd manager used his master's money to make friends for himself, so that when he got fired they'd welcome him into their homes, so we should use our Master's money to make friends for us in heaven. When earthly riches fail, as they surely will when we die, we'll have friends in heaven who are there because we gave to world evangelization's cause.
Each of us must ask ourselves this sobering question: Am I managing the resources that God has entrusted to me with a view to giving an account some day, in light of his purpose to be glorified through spreading his gospel? God is a generous and gracious Father, who gives to us not only enough for our basic needs, but also for our enjoyment. So, it's not wrong to enjoy many things beyond the bare essentials. But, if we grasp the two concepts of faithful "stewardship" and "accountability," our focus won't be on "our own financial success," but rather on the "financial success of God's enterprise," namely, the gospel.
Temporal vs. Eternal, God vs. Money, Shrewd vs. Stupid
The second contrast is made up of three, all pointing to the same thing: temporal versus eternal, or worldly versus spiritual. In vv. 11–12, Jesus is saying that the faithful steward will provide true riches for eternity, in contrast to this unrighteous steward who provided himself only with temporal provisions. It's ironic that money is a big deal to us; but to God, it's "a very little thing"! If you don't think that money is a big deal to people, even to God's people, just ask a believing pal of yours to part with his riches for the sake of God's work!
Jesus draws the third contrast (v. 13), that we either serve God or money, not both. We must make a basic decision as to our choice of masters. Clearly, the shrewd manager or unrighteous steward was living for money. But disciples of Jesus should instead be serving God. It's a delusion to think that you can own money. That's not one of the choices. Either God owns you, including your money, or your money owns you; those are the only choices. Most of us would like to think that there's a middle ground where we can mostly serve God while keeping one foot sunk into in worldly wealth. But Jesus draws the line in the sand, making us ask, "Who is my Master: God or money?"
In the fourth contrast, the shrewd manager got it right while the people of light tend to get it wrong. Jesus is saying that unbelievers are often more shrewd in figuring out how to secure temporal wealth than believers are in figuring out how to secure eternal riches. By shrewd, Jesus does not mean dishonest. He means "clever, discerning, practical."
How was the manager shrewd? In at least two ways. First, he was shrewd in that he seized an opportunity while he still had time to act. He saw the handwriting on the wall: his days were numbered; he was going to get fired. So he quickly took action, using his authority while he still had time, to get on the good side of his master's debtors. The application for us is, if we hear of a window of opportunity for the gospel, we should do all we can to seize it while we can. If we hear of a good investment opportunity that is reasonably certain to earn a decent profit and we have the funds to invest, we would probably jump at the chance. In the same way, if we hear of an opportunity for the gospel, and God has given us funds to invest, we should go for it.
Second, the manager was shrewd in that he used his present resources to provide for his inevitable future realities. He knew that he was going to be fired. While many would have despaired, he took action, using what he had to provide for his future security. The application for us is, we know that the time is soon coming when we'll die or Christ will return, and money won't do us any good in heaven. But we can use our money now to store up treasures in heaven by making eternal friends through the gospel.
Scoff or Submit (vv. 14–18)
Americans generally aren't inclined to submit to authority, even when that authority is God. Our text deals with the authority of Jesus, although the flow of thought is difficult to track. But the overall theme has to do with the authority of Jesus and God's Word versus the self-proclaimed authority of the Pharisees, who are rejecting Jesus and God's Word. They'd have protested that they kept the Law, but Jesus brings up "divorce" to show them an example of how they keep the Law only when it fits their desires. When it doesn't fit, they invent ways to dodge it. Thus, while outcasts (15:1) are flocking into the kingdom, the Pharisees will be cast out, condemned by the very Law they proclaimed to follow.
To give the flow of thought of vv. 14–18, Jesus is pretty much saying: You Pharisees pride yourselves on keeping the Law, but God knows your hypocritical hearts. What you're missing is that the old dispensation came to a climax in John's ministry, since he introduced the good news of the coming of God's king and kingdom. Ironically, while you scoff at me and my kingdom, the very ones who you despise, i.e., the poor and the notoriously sinful, are stampeding to get in. When I say that there's been a transition from the Law to the Gospel, I don't mean that the Law is set aside. Rather, it's been fulfilled in me. For example, I uphold the true intent of God's Law regarding divorce and remarriage, but you Pharisees neatly set it aside with your liberal interpretations.
So, the issue is Jesus' authority versus the self-proclaimed authority of the Pharisees, who were scoffing at him. The application message for us: Since God's kingdom comes in the person of Jesus, we must submit to his authority, not scoff at it or ridicule it.
It Makes You Wonder . . . .
- Q. 1 How can we know where to draw the line on spending on ourselves versus investing in God's kingdom purposes?
- Q. 2 Agree/disagree: If Christians were committed to the Great Commission, most could give far more than 10 percent.
This Week's Passage
The Parable of the Shrewd Manager
16 Jesus told his disciples: "There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2So he called him in and asked him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.'
3"The manager said to himself, 'What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I'm not strong enough to dig, and I'm ashamed to beg — 4I know what I'll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.'
5"So he called in each one of his master's debtors. He asked the first, 'How much do you owe my master?'
6"'Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,' he replied.
"The manager told him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.'
7"Then he asked the second, 'And how much do you owe?'
"'A thousand bushels [about 30 tons] of wheat,' he replied.
"He told him, 'Take your bill and make it eight hundred.'
8"The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 9I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
10"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. 11So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own?
13"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."
14The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15He said to them, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God's sight.
16"The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it. 17It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.
18"Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.