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Please turn with me in your Bibles tonight to Luke chapter 16. We’ll be reading together verses to 13. And we’re continuing, if you’re a visitor with us, we are continuing a series a here at Christ Covenant on Sunday evenings studying the parables that we find in Luke, parables that are unique to Luke.
So we’re here in this parable, chapter 16, verses 1 to 13, called the parable of the dishonest manager. So let’s read these verses together. As we read them, remember that this is God’s Holy Word.
“He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”
““One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for 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.””
Let’s pray now together for God’s blessing and the preaching of His Word.
Father in heaven, we do thank You for Your Word. We are thankful for the parables that we’ve been studying Sunday evenings. Father, here’s another piece of Your Word that we get to dive into. We pray that as the Lord Jesus taught His disciples, so Lord Jesus that You will teach us. Help us, Father, to be wise with the wealth that we’ve been given. We pray these things in Christ’s name. Amen.
Dear people of God, William Borden lived from 1887 to 1913. He was the heir to a wealthy family. His family owned the Borden Condensed Milk company. So he was a man of wealth, a man of means. He was Yale educated. In 1912 he graduated from Princeton Seminary. He was a devoted follower of Christ who had pedigree, education, wealth, and he gave it all up in order to bring the gospel to Muslims in Egypt. Randy Alcorn writes about him in one of his books. He says, refusing even to buy himself a car, Borden gave away hundreds of thousands of dollars to missions. After only four months of zealous ministry in Egypt, he contacted spinal meningitis and he died at the age of 25. The epitaph on his gravestone, after describing his love for the kingdom of God, and for Muslim people, ends this way. It says, “Apart from faith in Christ, there is no explanation for such a life.” Apart from faith in Christ, there is no explanation for such a life.
Think about Borden’s life and contrast that to the burial exhibit of King Tut at the Egyptian National Museum in Cairo. King Tut died at the age of 17, buried in a gold coffin within a gold tomb. His gravesite filled with many, many artifacts of gold, all of this meant to be taken with him into the afterlife. So the reason why he’s surrounded with all this gold stuff is that he might need it. He wanted to secure his eternal enjoyment, so pack this away with me when I die. But of course, as we know, all of it left behind in his tomb.
These two men are quite a contrast, aren’t they? One man tried to take his wealth with him to establish his eternal future, the other gave it all away to invest in spiritual good, to invest in things that will last forever.
People of God, the question that faces us tonight in this parable that Jesus taught is this: What will we do with our money?
It’s the very heart of this parable. We are going tonight from one of the most familiar and most well-loved parables that Jesus taught in Luke chapter 16, the parable of the prodigal son, to one of Jesus’ most difficult and confusing parables, the parable of the dishonest manager.
Yet there’s a connection between these two. It appears when you look at Luke’s Gospel that Jesus kind of just moved from one to the other. Taught that famous parable about the two sons, the loving father, and then moves right into this parable of the dishonest servant.
Luke 15, if we could say it, is a parable about the wrong attitude toward people. That’s what the parable of the prodigal son is about.
And when Jesus shifts to Luke 16, we see the wrong attitude toward possessions. Luke 15 was in response to the Pharisees grumbling about Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors, this parable directed at Jesus’ disciples, and yet the Pharisees are still in the picture, as you seeing the verse just beyond the text that we read tonight – the Pharisees are described as those who were lovers of money.
How relevant this parable is for us tonight. We live, as well all know, in a community and an environment of wealth and affluence. I think it was John Wesley who said that the last thing to be converted in a man is his wallet. It’s the hardest thing to change, it’s the hardest thing to give up, it’s the hardest thing to submit to the lordship of Christ.
Here tonight Jesus urges us to think about being wise with our wealth and to use it for heavenly investment.
First of all then let’s just simply look at this parable. It’s a puzzling one. Jesus said there was a rich man who had a manager who wasted his possessions. He squandered his boss’ wealth. The word that Jesus uses here for waste in that very first verse is the same word that is used to describe how the prodigal son had squandered his father’s wealth. So here’s two men, both squandering the wealth that they were put in charge of.
It seems that this was a matter of financial mismanagement more than a matter of immorality. So when we’re thinking about what happened with this manager and how he used his boss’ wealth, were not to be thinking really about something like embezzlement that he misappropriated the wealth. It’s probably more a matter of poor investment, a matter of mishandling of records.
The reason why we think that is because the boss comes along and says, “I want to see an accounting. I want to see the records. I want to see detail by detail what you have done with the wealth that I have given you.” As he asks for this, the boss also gives him a pink slip. He’s relieved of his duties. He’s no longer in the employment of his boss.
The manager seems to know that he was guilty. He didn’t put up any resistance, he doesn’t argue with the boss. He doesn’t say, “You’re wrong, I haven’t done these kinds of things.” All he does is being to scheme for his future, begins to think, “What’s next? How am I going to survive? How am I going to make it?” He says to himself, “What am I going to do? I’m not strong enough to dig.” He’s a white collar man. Digging is too difficult, too hard labor for him. “I can’t do that. Hmm, maybe I could beg. Maybe I could go around and ask for handouts from people.” Then he says, “Well, I’m too ashamed to do that. Too dignified for that kind of plan.”
Instead he comes up with shrewd scheme. He says, “I know what I’m going to do. I’ll make friends with my master’s money. I’ll decrease the debt that each of them owes my boss, then when I’m out of a job, they’re going to look on me favorably and they’ll welcome me into their home and I’ll have a place to live and a place to stay and someone will take care of me.”
So that’s the plan that he put into place. With the first debtor, he lowered his debt from 100 measures of oil to 50. You see a footnote in the ESV, 100 measures of oil, maybe something around 875 gallons of oil. So he cuts that in half, brings it down to maybe 435 gallons of oil. This was a debt of probably over three years’ salary and he brings it down to a year and a half.
You can imagine if somebody came along to you and said, “Hey, Nathan, I’m going to take a year and a half off your mortgage. Just like that.” Yes. Right? Wonderful.
Then he comes to the second debtor, 100 measures of wheat, and he brings it down to 80. Maybe 1000 or 1200 bushels of wheat down to something like 800, 900 bushels of wheat. Maybe 10 years’ wages down to 8 years’ wages.
Maybe he kept doing this with others. We don’t know. Probably other debtors, but these were representative of the rest.
Along comes the master and, people of God, what’s most puzzling is the master’s response to this. Look at his response, verse 8: “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.” This is the head-scratching part of the parable. Master, how can you be happy with what just happened with your manager? How could you go about commending him?
It raises the question, “What does Jesus think about what’s happening here?” Is Jesus commending dishonesty? Are we supposed to be like the sons of the world? Aren’t we supposed to be children of light?
When some people read this parable, they start thinking to themselves, well, there has to be something else going on with this debt if the servant is to be commended by the master.
Some have looked at this parable and they said, well, what the servant really was doing was he was forgiving the excessive interest that was part of these debts. The Old Testament has laws against interest against a brother and the master might have tacked some interest onto the debt that each of the debtor’s owed. Here comes the servant and he says, “Well, you still owe the debt, but wipe the interest off.” That’s why he’d be commended.
Others will say, well, he forgave the commission that he owed, so each of these people had a debt against the master, against the boss. The servant had kind of tacked on a commission that would be his and when he came along he wiped out the commission, the debt still needed to be paid.
People of God, I don’t think those are really worthy explanations of what’s happening. I think Jesus is far more direct, far more simple. The servant is still taking from his master, even if it’s one of those other scenarios, and notice what he’s called in verse 8. He is called the “dishonest manager.” There’s something sinister, something that isn’t good about what’s happening here.
Jesus doesn’t commend him for dishonesty, but for shrewdness. To be shrewd means to be astute. It’s a clever, discerning awareness. In fact, it can even border on wisdom.
Phil Ryken, I think, makes a great clarification in his commentary. He says, “There is a legitimate moral difference between saying ‘I applaud the clever steward because he acted dishonestly’ and saying ‘I applaud the dishonest steward because he acted cleverly.'”
Let me say that again. There’s a legitimate moral difference between saying ‘I applaud the clever steward because he acted dishonestly’ and saying ‘I applaud the dishonest steward because he acted cleverly.’
You see, it’s the latter that he’s commended for. He’s not commended for his dishonesty, he’s commended for his shrewdness, for thinking ahead, for being wise in his use of wealth, planning for the future.
You see this in the application that Jesus makes. Jesus goes on here, in the middle of verse 8 and carries on into verse 9. He says, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into eternal dwellings.”
What’s Jesus saying? I think He’s saying simply this – use worldly wealth for eternal investment. Use worldly wealth for eternal investment. Be shrewd, be clever, like the people of this world, not in using money for yourself, not in padding your own pocketbook. They use wealth for short-term gain, you make sure that you use wealth for long-term eternal interest. Use it for spiritual good. Use it for spiritual gain. Invest your worldly wealth. Take it, use it, to bless others and to bless a kingdom that will last forever. Invest it and send it on ahead, as it were. Take your worldly wealth and use it to bless the kingdom and to bless others.
Now Jesus, what He does is goes on here, and He teaches us a series of lessons that build upon this parable, or support this parable. He gives us four lessons, I see here, in wise and faithful stewardship.
Here’s lesson number one. He reminds us that faithfulness with our wealth begins with small things. Faithfulness begins with small things.
So He says in verse 10, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.”
What Jesus is poking at here, what Jesus is prodding in terms of our own hearts, is this thought, the thought that we would be far more generous with the kingdom if we just had a little bit more to give. I would be faithful like that brother, like that sister, if I was blessed like they are blessed. If I just had a little bit more, it would be so easy to be faithful with worldly wealth, for eternal matters, if God had given me a lot of wealth. If I just had more.
Well, people of God, you see there’s an easy way to find out if that’s true. To find out if we’d be faithful, more faithful, if God had just given a little bit more. The way to find out if that’s true or not is to see what we would do with more is by looking at what we’re doing with what we have. To know whether we’d be faithful if we had more, check out whether you’re faithful with what God has given you now.
Jesus is saying just be faithful with what you’ve been given.
Because, you see, if you’re not faithful with a little, you will not be faithful with much. If you are dishonest with a little, you will be dishonest with much.
So small things, small decisions, small details, matter. It’s easy to see across our life, isn’t it? What we do with our time matters. Not just the hours of time that we have, but the minutes of time that we have. Jesus is calling us to be faithful, not just with the hours but with the minutes.
Or think about job responsibilities. You want to be given big responsibilities at work and the boss says, “Well, be faithful with the little tiny ones first.” Because if you’re faithful with the little things, the little details, then you’ll be faithful when more is put on your plate.
It’s also true with our wealth. The time to be faithful with your wealth is now where God has put you today with what you have. I think this is a wonderful lesson, of course, for all of us, but it’s a wonderful lesson, I think, for our children and our young people. Be faithful right now with what the Lord has given you. Be faithful with your allowance. Then someday when you have more, be faithful then.
Be faithful in giving with a part-time job that you have. If your giving is only a couple of dollars, mom and dad are throwing in a big check, you’re a high school student, you’re earning a few bucks and you throw a dollar or two into the plate, it’s fine. It doesn’t matter. Jesus is simply saying to you, “Will you be faithful with the little that you have?” Because if you’re not faithful with the little that you have, how will you be faithful when you have much? So faithfulness begins with small things.
Second. Faithfulness comes from having an eternal perspective.
Jesus is urging us to have that kind of view on life. Because you see, when it comes to using our wealth, we need to see beyond the temporal to the eternal, especially in regards to the security of our wealth and its power to give meaning in our life. Do we have an eternal perspective?
Jesus is calling us to this in a couple of different ways here, reminds us of a couple of different things. In verse 8, He compares the sons of light, God’s people, believers, with the sons of this world. The sons of this world actually can be read another way, it can be read this way: The sons of this age.
What Jesus is simply doing by calling people of the world that, the sons of this age, He’s reminding us of where they belong, where their mind is. Their mind is on this age, not that age. Not the age that is to come, but in everything that just happens here, everything we can see and touch and feel and experience now. There’s another age to come but they can’t see it. They don’t acknowledge it. They live for the immediate. Jesus, of course, is saying we ought not be like that.
He reminds us in verse 9 of what happens to unrighteousness wealth. He says there unrighteous wealth, when it fails, then others may receive you into eternal dwellings. Unrighteous wealth is always going to fail us. It doesn’t matter how much money you have in the bank, how great your life insurance plan is. It doesn’t matter how strong your investment portfolio is. Our money cannot save us and our money cannot keep us from facing God and eternity. It will fail us in the end.
Remember how Jesus put it in other places in the Gospels? Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust consume and thieves break in and steal. It won’t last. The stuff we have will not last.
But so often it’s through our wealth that we try to find meaning in life. Isn’t it?
There’s a Calvin & Hobbes comic where Calvin and his imaginary friend Hobbes are contemplating a snowman that they’ve made and Hobbes says, “This snowman doesn’t look very happy.” Calvin says, “He’s not. He knows it’s just a matter of time before he melts. The sun ignores his existence. He feels his existence is meaningless.” And Hobbes asks, “Well, is existence as meaningless as the snowman thinks it is?” And Calvin says, “No. He’s about to buy a big screen TV.”
Right? He says, “Well, I’m going to melt, but run out and buy that big screen TV because then you’ve got something to hang onto.” Right? Then you’ve got some meaning in life.
I mean, haven’t you experienced that before? You go out and buy something. For me, it’s usually some kind of technology. I’m not a big technological guy, but buy some sort of piece of technology and ooh, life feels really good for a while. Yeah!
Well, that stuff is going to fail. We will up our lives with it, but Jesus is calling us to look beyond. Calls the wealth of this world unrighteous wealth. Probably calls it that because how easily money can own our hearts and lead us into all kinds of sins.
There’s one word, actually, one word for unrighteous wealth here in the text, the Greek word is mammon. You’ve heard it before. Mammon. Everything that we have that we can’t take with us. That’s mammon.
Jesus asks what are your sights on when it comes to your wealth. Are you just looking at this world, what your stuff can give you? Or do you realize it’s going to fail? There’s another age coming.
Third point. Jesus says God uses wealth to train us.
Ron Blue said once that money is a tool, a test, and a testimony.
It’s a tool. God wants to teach us things through our wealth. Maybe teaches us the joy of giving. Maybe He’s teaching us to trust.
It’s also a test. How we use our resources below is a test to see if we can be trusted with riches in heaven. Jesus points that out very clearly in verses 11 and 12. How we handle our wealth is a spiritual statement about the condition of our hearts and a test for riches that are to come.
It’s also a testimony. Our values, when it comes to wealth, can be a witness to the world. How we use our wealth can say something to other people out there.
You take all of this, and Jesus brings it down to just one more lesson about wise financial stewardship, and that is He reminds us that we can only serve one master. This is how He closes in verse 13: “No servant can serve two masters, for 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.” Jesus is asking, “What are you mastered by?”
Wealth is a funny thing because the tighter that we grip it, actually the more it grips us. The harder you hang onto it, the more it’s hanging onto you. The more that we think we’re in control, the more we are controlled by it.
Jesus says there’s no middle ground. You cannot serve both God and money. It’s either/or. There can only be one God in your life.
So often we’re trying to the very thing that Jesus says we cannot do. We’re serving God with some of our wealth and serving ourselves with some of our wealth, or maybe more often we’re serving ourselves and then we give to God some of what’s left over so we can serve Him, too.
People of God, that will not do. That simply shows who are master is. But Jesus says there is a choice to be made. Your heart, my heart, has room enough for only one master. It doesn’t have room for two. It’s either God or money, and of course it must be the Lord.
You see, Jesus teaches us all these finer points to back up what He’s been saying in this parable. Use unrighteous wealth, use worldly wealth to invest in the kingdom for heavenly, spiritual gain. Yes, use it, use what God has given you, not to bless yourself, but use it to bless others.
Finally, He gives us a promise, that’s here, and the promise is of a heavenly welcome. He says, verse 9, “I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”
What an interesting statement from Jesus. It’s important to understand, of course, what Jesus is not saying, and then to understand what He is saying.
He’s not saying you can buy your way into heaven. He’s not saying use your worldly wealth in such a way that ching-ching, you’ve got a reservation there because of what you did here. You somehow earned it. You can’t make an earthly mortgage payment on a heavenly home. It doesn’t work that way.
Our heavenly reward is always a gift of grace. The only way to get into heaven is by faith in Christ Jesus. As the old Evangelism Explosion asked it so well, “When you stand before God one day and He asks you, ‘Why should I let you into heaven?’ the only answer that really can be given is because of what Christ has done.”
You won’t be able to get your wallet out and say, “See, God? Here’s why I ought to get in.” That won’t work.
Nor is Jesus saying others have eternal dwellings to give us. You know, we get to heaven, your friend, a relative or something, says, “Hey, I got some reservations for you.” No, one can do that but Jesus. Only Jesus can save.
Here’s what Jesus is saying. Jesus is saying this, that what happens to us in glory does have something to do with how we handle what we have now. What happens to us in glory has something to do with how we handle what God has given us now, the wealth that we’ve been given. Especially the welcome that we may hope to receive one day.
You see, like the manager used wealth to gain friends below, Jesus says be shrewd in how you use wealth, not to gain friends below, but actually to gain friends above.
Some have said, “Well, I think He’s talking about God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, that those are the friends. They’re the ones who are going to welcome us into the kingdom.”
Friends, I think that obscures a simple comparison that Jesus is trying to make here between the manager and us and the use of our resources. Jesus is teaching something a lot more simple and direct than that. The friends Jesus, I think, is talking about are those who were helped, those who have been blessed, by our giving, those that we befriended by helping in a time of need.
If that’s the case, think about this. Think about a student who’s been discipled through Campus Outreach at one of the university campuses in our city. Or think about a young woman who’s been converted through a church plant that you support, that we support as a church. Maybe Redeemer PCA in downtown Detroit. Or a group of pastors in a presbytery in Africa or Asia who are planting churches and they’re trying to get a presbytery going to build a denomination of faithful churches and we’ve been helping them out as a congregation. Or a young mom who kept her baby because of the work of the Queen City Pregnancy Center. Or family who heard the Gospel and received help when their house was destroyed by a tornado and ministries of the PCA came along to help them.
Or how about this. A man whose hope in Christ was restored through the assistance of the Covenant Fund after he lived through the deadly shootings that happened in Nashville.
You know, most often we’ll never meet the people that we’ve helped, the people that we’ve used our resources to bless. But we may when we get to glory. They might say to us, I don’t know, just speculating, they may say to us, “You don’t know me, but friend, you helped change my life because you gave of your worldly wealth for kingdom blessing.” I wonder if that’s what it will be like.
So, people of God, what will we do with our money? Will we give to bless others? Will be as shrewd as the world in the worldly wealth we’ve been given, shrewd not to bless ourselves in some way but to bless many other people, to bless the kingdom?
Jesus says use your wealth to make friends in the kingdom above. Give to the glory of God. Why would we do any of this? We are reminded through the Scriptures, we were reminded in our prayer tonight, that we have a Savior who gave. A Savior who was rich, who became poor, so that we who are poor might become rich. A Savior who gave His life as a ransom, a Savior who reminds us that no greater love has any man than this, that he would lay down his life for his friends. For his friends. That’s why we give.
Let’s pray together. So, Father, help us to take a good accounting of what You have blessed us with, worldly wealth and righteous wealth. Father, may we be as shrewd as the world, not so that we somehow are blessed here below, but rather, Father, we could bless others and we can serve Your kingdom. May we be givers and give because You first gave to us. We pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.