The shrewd manager


Sermon: Sunday, 29th May, 2022 Video
Speaker: John Johnstone
Scripture: Luke 16:1-14

Sometimes we can learn a lot from unlikely people. The Jehovah Witnesses are a cult, and do not believe Jesus to be God. There’s nothing positive about the way they spread their falsehoods. However, I can still learn from the zeal and determination of many of them, as they seek to spread their false religion. Many of them put us to shame in the zeal department, even though their zeal is misplaced and damaging. I wish more Christians would put as much effort in as they do at spreading the faith.

In this parable, Jesus wants us to learn from an unlikely person, a dishonest manager. Of course, it’s not his dishonesty which Jesus wishes to commend, but rather his ingenuity in preparing for his future. It’s as if Jesus is saying to us: ‘I wish my disciples would put as much effort into preparing for eternal futures as this man did.’

There’s a very wealthy absentee landlord who entrusts his whole estate to a manager. This manager, or steward, would have been in charge of all of affairs of the estate. In that sense, the manager’s role reminds us of Joseph’s job in Potiphar’s house: ‘So Potiphar left everything he had in Joseph’s care; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate.’ (Genesis 39:6) The manager had a respectable desk job, which would have provided him with a home on the grounds, and a good level of income.

However, everything is about to collapse in this manager’s world. He has been accused of mismanagement, of wasting his master’s possessions. Perhaps this involved being wasteful, or careless or lazy or even stealing from his master. He is about to get the sack, and his day of reckoning is about to arrive. What is he going to do? He’ll have nowhere to live and no means of earning a living. He isn’t used to manual labour and is far too proud to beg for money. Now that he’s been found out he only has a short window of opportunity to prepare for his future. His moment of crisis is on the horizon and he has no time to lose. He will do whatever he has to in order to ingratiate his master’s clients so that he will have many favours to ‘call in’ once he loses his job.

How will he do this? The parable tells us that he reduces the bills of his master’s clients. The sums owed are significant. Imagine one merchant owed his master £100,000 worth of olive oil, and then the shrewd manager invites him in and asks him, how much to you owe again? £100,000? Let’s call it £50,000. Can you imagine how delighted the merchant would be? I doubt it had ever happened to him before. He would be so grateful to the manager, which is the whole point. Jesus gives us examples of two men whose bills are slashed. However, he might have called in 10 or 20 clients, reducing the debts of each one of them, and with this cunning manoeuvring, his future might not be so bleak after all. Surely one of them would provide him with accommodation and another give him a job. The day of reckoning was just around the corner, so the manager does everything in his power to prepare for his own future, while he still has the chance.

There are a few aspects of this parable which I’m not sure about. Some people think that the amounts the manager cancelled out was the interest owed by the clients. If this is the case, it was an even more shrewd plan, because his master should not have been charging interest on the goods. Jews were forbidden to take interest from fellow-Jews. (See Exodus 22:25 and Leviticus 25:36) Were the master to accuse the manager of theft, he would be exposing the fact that he too has acted unlawfully. Other commentators think that when the manager reduced the bills, he was merely cutting out his own hefty commission, in order to set himself up for the future.

The point is, this manager uses all of his intelligence and creativity in order to secure his own future. He understands just how important the future is and so he acts accordingly. ‘The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.’ (Luke 18:18) Yes, he might have been a useless estate manager, who had made so many mistakes, but you had to admire his focus and foresight.

Jesus then goes on to say that many unbelievers are better at using money for their own purposes than Christians are at using money for our purposes, or rather for God’s purposes: ‘For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.’ (Luke 16:8)

What, then, is the main point of this parable? ‘I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.’ (Luke 16:9)

1. Jesus wants Christians to use their money and resources to benefit the Kingdom of God.
By so doing, after we die, we shall have treasure in heaven, and be welcomed into our ‘forever home’ by the Lord and by those we have helped during our lives on earth.

Jesus is saying to us this morning, we can learn from this manager. Like him, we have a day of reckoning coming, when we will all meet Jesus to give an account of our lives and to be rewarded. With this day in mind and with our eternal futures in mind, will we use our resources in this life for the glory of God, and in so doing prepare for our eternal futures? If the shrewd manager can do this in order to sort out his temporal affairs, how much more ought we to use our resources in order to have eternal benefits. We ought to benefit the Kingdom of God with our resources so that we receive a welcome into Heaven. We know that money can never buy us a place in heaven, but Jesus is using this manager to challenge us about how we use our money, because how we use it reveals our hearts.

For example, recently we had an opportunity to give to the work of Steadfast Global in order to support persecuted Christians around the world. If we gave to that cause sacrificially, do you think we will regret that in Heaven? Of course not! In fact, we might even meet those helped in Heaven and discover how the emergency food given or trauma counselling given was an enormous blessing and led to the growth of the church. Or we might give to Wycliffe and their work of Bible translation. Those who have more money can give more, and those who have less money can give less. What’s important is to give sacrificially, and not just the dregs of what we have left after we have prioritised ourselves. Imagine meeting in Heaven believers from the Mbembe tribe in north west Cameroon, who became Christians because of the gifts you and others made so that the Bible could be translated into their language. Would that be a better use of money than spending it on things we don’t really need? This is a really challenging parable!

David Gooding: ‘If when accounts are rendered and it becomes known in heaven that it was your sacrificial giving that provided the copies of the gospel of John which led a whole tribe out of paganism to faith in Christ, will not that whole tribe show towards you an eternal gratitude which they will not show towards me who spent my spare cash on some luxury for my own enjoyment.’

The dishonest manager used his resources in order to be welcomed into temporal homes. We must look beyond the here and now and look to find a warm welcome in our eternal home.

‘So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’ (Matthew 6:31-33)

‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ (Matthew 6:19-21)

Friends, don’t we all want to hear our heavenly Father’s commendation when we leave this world and arrive in the next? ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’ When we use our money and make financial decisions, do we have eternity in view? Jim Elliot did when he said: ‘He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.’

J C Ryle: ‘The diligence of worldly men about the things of time should put to shame the coldness of professing Christians about the things of eternity.’

Let’s get down to some practicalities. What does Jesus want us to do with our money?

He wants us to be generous to Kingdom work. If you want to prepare yourself for your future in Heaven, says Jesus, then be generous to the Lord’s work. In other words, to be rich in eternity, give away your money sacrificially.

But we like to make excuses and say: ‘Surely that’s only a teaching for the rich and I don’t have much money to spare.’ But this is not a teaching for the wealthy. It’s Jesus’ teaching for the poor, and for those with a moderate amount of money and for those with a lot. The point is, we ought to give sacrificially.

What are we doing with our money? If we have our eyes only on our pensions, ISAs, mortgage, car repayments and our businesses but spend little time thinking about how we can invest in Kingdom work, then our horizons are limited to earthly things, of little eternal consequences. However, when we start to invest in things which last forever, like church planting, church revitalisation, mission overseas, helping those in prison, helping the persecuted and helping the vulnerable, then our investments will have an infinitely better return.

2. Next, Jesus teaches us that the way we use our money gives an index of our character.
Christians who can be trusted with the smaller things in life, such as money, can be trusted with more significant responsibilities in the life of the church. The opposite also holds true. If we are loose in the use of our money, cheating on our taxes, not paying proper wages, or not paying our bills on time, then this reveals a character unable to handle greater responsibilities. Judas is perhaps a helpful negative example of this principle. He was in charge of the money box, but siphoned off money for himself. He could not be trusted with money. And his betrayal of Jesus reveals he could not be trusted with greater things than money.

This principle can also be seen at work in the family home. Timothy tells us that if a man cannot be trusted to manage his own family, then he ought not to be managing the church as an elder. (See 1 Timothy 3:5) Whereas evidence of faithfulness in the nuclear family gives the church confidence that a man will be faithful in the church family.

3. Finally, Jesus gives us a clear warning that it is easy for money to become our idol.
Remember, an idol is anything which takes the number one place in our hearts, a place which ought to be reserved for God. Again, all of us can idolise money, whether we have little money, a moderate amount, or a lot of it.

What is Jesus saying here? He’s saying that it’s easy for us to become enslaved by money. You think about it far too much, especially about things you can buy for yourself. If money is your servant, then you will be happy to give it away to bless others. But if it is your master then it will start to suffocate our love for Jesus.