Text: Luke 16:1-13
A rich land-owner, his manager who had complete responsibility for the estate, and certain tenants who owed rent to the land-owner. The land-owner accuses his manager of fiddling the books, and tells him to fetch the books and hand them in. The manager realises that he is about to become jobless and homeless, but he’s not prepared to do manual labour or beg, so he hatches a cunning plan. He calls in each of the tenants. He takes out each one’s contract, filled out in the tenant’s handwriting and signed by himself. The manager gets each tenant to reduce the amount owed, signs it himself, and feels thoroughly satisfied that although he may have lost his home and his job, he has made some new friends who now owe him substantial favours. Because, as everyone knows, the ‘reciprocity ethic’ was very highly developed in ancient Greco-Roman culture (!)
The General Application – Shrewdness
Luke 16:8 “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.”
It’s still true today, that the people who only live for this world, with their worldly motives and their worldly methods, are often more shrewd in managing their lives than are the people of the light, we who have much nobler motives and methods at our disposal. The people of this world have their 5-year business plans, their schemes to reduce costs and their strategies to maximise output. They study, work, save, calculate, assess, and predict, in order to achieve their aims. They seize every opportunity that is available, and when none is available they create opportunities. They will often sacrifice not only their time and energy, but even their health and relationships, in order to achieve their ambitions. They are often very shrewd. And what about us, we who are called ‘the people of the light’: what enlightened plans, what carefully thought-out strategies, what concerted efforts, what noble sacrifices are we engaged in to further the work of God’s kingdom? We who have a clear mandate to do good, to oppose evil, to resist temptation, to relieve suffering, to spread the word, to promote unity, to raise our children for Christ, to support honest practices in the workplace, to manage our time, to influence public opinion, – how do we compare to that manager for shrewdness, or are we just leaving it all to someone else?
Our Lord once said that his disciples needed to be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. The manager in our parable was certainly not as innocent as a dove, but he was as shrewd as a snake, and in this one respect he is held up by our Lord as an example to us all. That’s the general application of this parable – be a Shrewd Dude.
The Detailed Application – Money
Someone has pointed out that “sixteen out of thirty-eight of Christ’s parables deal with money; more is said in the New Testament about money than Heaven and hell combined; five times more is said about money than prayer; and whereas there are five hundred-plus verses on both prayer and faith, there are over two thousand verses dealing with money and possessions.” Clearly, the Bible has much to say about money management.
Martin Luther astutely observed, “There are three conversions necessary: the conversion of the heart, mind and the purse.” Of these three, it may well be that we moderns find the conversion of the purse the most difficult. Our Lord’s teaching in this passage compels us to ask some searching questions about our use of money:-
1. Am I using money wisely, as a resource?
Luke 16:9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
There are, of course, severe limits to what money can buy. It has been said that money will buy a bed but not sleep, books but not learning, food but not appetite, fine clothes but not beauty, medicine but not health, luxury but not culture, amusement but not happiness, a crucifix but not a saviour, a temple but not heaven. Or, as an ancient philosopher put it: ‘Money has never yet made anyone rich.’ (Seneca) But money does have its uses, even in the kingdom of God, and our Savour would have us use it wisely, as a resource.
Luke will shortly record the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (vv19ff). In that parable we meet a man who had plenty of worldly wealth and used it all to secure comfort and good cheer for himself in this life, giving no thought to the life to come. The time came when he died, and he would have been very glad to have even one friend to welcome him into eternal dwellings, but there was none. Yet he had had every opportunity of securing such a friend. There at his gate lay Lazarus, destitute and covered with sores, only too glad to eat the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. If the rich man had used a little of his wealth to help Lazarus, he would have had a friend to speak up for him on the other side. ‘This man,’ Lazarus could then have said to Abraham, ‘showed me the kindness of God on earth.’ But Lazarus had no reason to say any such thing. The rich man in Hades found himself without a friend when he needed one most and he had no one to blame but himself.
This, then, is the meaning of v9:- Use whatever wealth you have wisely, to do good, to relieve suffering, to support God’s people and advance the work of the kingdom. When these resources are gone, and earthly life is finished, there will be a welcome for you in heaven from the very people you have assisted.
2. Am I using money faithfully, as a trust?
Verses 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. 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?”
It is clear from this that money is not so much something that we own, as something with which we have been entrusted. In the words of the old hymn:
We give thee but thine own,
Whate’er the gift may be;
All that we have is thine alone,
A trust, O God, from thee.
We are not owners, then, but stewards. Moreover, the teaching of the Bible is that stewardship this present life is best viewed as an apprenticeship, a preparation, a training ground, for stewardship in the life to come. Faithfulness and trustworthiness in the here and now will be rewarded by greater responsibility in the hereafter.
‘All our pieces of gold are legal tender until we reach the grave; but they will be worthless in the world to come. Therefore as travellers change their money into the currency of the country to which they are travelling, let us do good with our money while we live, so that when we die, by a blessed bill of exchange, we will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. To part with what we cannot keep, in order to gain what cannot lose, is an excellent bargain.’ (Thomas Adams, adapted)
3. Am I using money as a servant, rather than as a master?
Luke 16:13 “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 both God and Money.”
‘God’ and ‘gold’ may be found on the same page in the dictionary, but they cannot occupy the same place in your heart.
Money may be a useful servant, but it’s a terrible master.
Money is a demanding master, because it is never satisifed. Ask any person – rich or poor – how much money they would need in order to make them happy, and the answer will always be the same: ‘just a little more’.
Money is a disappointing master, because you can’t take it with you. When one of the world’s richest men died, his chief accountant was asked, ‘How much did he leave?’ The reply was instant: ‘Everything.’
A Christian businessman wrote down these four rules for his own guidance, and embodied them in his practice for fifty years. “If rich, be not too joyful in having, too solicitous in keeping, too anxious in increasing, nor too sorrowful in losing” He had learned to use money as a servant, and not as a master.
Ultimately, of course, the best way to love money less is to love the Lord more.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace.
What can money buy that can compare with what God freely gives us in his Son? Psalm 16:11 You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
Psalm 73:25f Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Let’s be shrewd in all our dealings. Let’s use our money wisely, as a resource. Let’s use it faithfully, as a trust. But above all, let’s cultivate the knowledge of the Holy, and we shall know what it is be rich indeed.