Text: Luke 16:1-9; 10-13
The manager in our text was in charge of his master’s estate. He had oversight of the household supplies and budget – much like Joseph who was put in charge of Potiphar’s household and of everything that he owned (Genesis 39). The difference here is the Lord was with Joseph and he prospered – meaning that his master prospered as well. In fact, Potiphar did so well that “he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate.”
The manager in our parable however is dishonest, and as a result, his master’s possessions go to waste. His mismanagement finally catches up with him and he is fired. Here we see the biblical principle (spiritual physics) of reaping and sowing illustrated (Gal. 6:7).
How does the manager react when confronted? Unlike David’s confession in Psalm 51, there was no confession. There was no acknowledgment of sin; there was no crying out for forgiveness. Just like Adam and Eve in the garden, the manager’s default reaction of self-preservation kicked in. That is the sin nature that resides in all of us; when confronted by our sin, our default reaction is to hide from God and to try to fix things ourselves.
This manager who had abused his position and squandered his master’s possessions, continued to look out for himself; his interest was in preserving his lifestyle. He had a position of status with the business people in the community and he probably had a nice room in the main house, if not his own quarters; he wasn’t about to give that up.
He rules out manual labor, and he rules out begging because of the shame; he’s a proud man.
Instead, he finds a way to keep those who are indebted to his master indebted to him; by discounting the debt owed to his master. In the business world, we call this a “win-win;” were all parties come away with something favorable: the master of the house recovered some of the money owed to him; the debtors got a break on the amount owed, and the manager found a way to keep his relationships. His shrewdness draws praise from his master – not that the master approves of his deeds; he is admiring the manager’s ability to look out for himself.
Before we go off thinking of how we can emulate this man in our own practices, let us also remember that receiving the approval of men doesn’t mean that we have approval from God. And as we will see a bit later, you cannot have both.
In his explanation of the parable, Jesus is drawing a contrast between the people of this world and the people of the kingdom – and to call his followers to account.
“For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.”
This is not a compliment; Jesus is letting us know where we fall short.
“I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”
He is telling us that the people of this world (unbelievers) do a better job of using their money to advance their own (selfish) interests than the people of God use money to advance the kingdom of God and his purposes.
Put another way, when Jesus says to “use worldly wealth…” he is reinforcing his teaching from the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6:19-24).
It’s important to remember that there is much encouragement here. We have the promise and reassurance that God knows what we need and promises to meet those needs. As the people of God, we have been freed from worrying about the material needs of life. God has freed us so that we can concern ourselves with building the kingdom of God and live a life of faith that is pleasing to him.
If our priority is to accumulate treasures on this earth, then Jesus says that our “eyes are unhealthy, and [our] whole body will be full of darkness,” meaning that if we see everything in terms of what we can get for ourselves, that view will affect or infect every area of our lives as we make decisions with ourselves at the center of our thinking.
We have to ask ourselves some questions: How are we handling our worldly wealth? Are we using it to enrich ourselves and to elevate our own status and lifestyle? Or, are we using it to advance the kingdom of God and to build up the people of God? Are we using it to bring increase to our Master, or do we bury it in the ground to try to preserve it? (Matt. 25:14-30)
The early church (Acts 2.44-45; 4:32b) beautifully illustrates this principle of using money to advance the kingdom of God and build up his people:
“All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.”
“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.”
The concept of “mine” took a back seat to the purposes of God. No one was working to accumulate wealth or to store up treasures on earth. By sharing and giving, the believers were working to store up treasures in heaven. They understood that worldly wealth will someday be gone (Luke 16:9), but it can still be used to build eternal things.
We can take this passage and use it to examine our own lives. How we handle worldly wealth reveals what is in our hearts: if we are dishonest with little, we will be dishonest with much; if we’re not trustworthy with worldly wealth, how can we be entrusted with true riches?
Don’t deceive yourself into thinking that you can serve both God and money. Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) thought they could do both. They were wrong.
Jesus said it plainly: “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.”
What can we take away from this parable?
- Money and wealth are not inherently evil. It is the love of money that is a root or source of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). The Pharisees were lovers of money (v.15) and they viewed Jesus with contempt when he spoke this parable. Their love of money caused them to void the commandment of God and replace them with their own traditions (Matt. 15:3-6).
- God wants us to see money differently. Instead of using it to secure a lifestyle for ourselves, we can use it to build his kingdom, bring him glory and build up his people. (Acts 2.44-45; 4:32b, 34)
- God has freed us to do so (Matt. 6:25-33). He has promised to meet our material needs; he tells us not to worry about these things, so that we can be free to serve him fully and joyfully.