Exploit Your Friends

| Luke 16:1-12

Week of May 26, 2019

The Point: Be wise with resources and opportunities.

The Parable of the Dishonest Manager: Luke 16:1-13.

[1] 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. [2] 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.’ [3] 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. [4] I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ [5] So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ [6] He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ [7] 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.’ [8] 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. [9] 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. [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. [11] If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? [12] And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? [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.” [ESV]

“Parable of the Crafty Steward [16:1-13]. The parable of the “unjust steward” is one of the most difficult of Jesus’ parables to understand. The story centers on a steward who is fired but has the temerity to forgive at least some of the debt owed his master. This is followed by an exhortation grounded in the steward’s use of money, contrasting the children of this age and the children of light – the reason and point of which are not immediately clear. Particularly troubling to interpreters has been the master’s praise of his steward in 16:8a. It seems as if the master has lost money and yet praises the steward’s crooked action. The details of the thrust of the parable and how its argument works are much debated. Regardless of the view taken, the chapter is not intended merely as an explicit criticism of the Pharisees, since the parable is addressed to disciples. It is also an exhortation to the disciples not to be like the Pharisees in the way they handle money [16:14]. Do not use money for self, but use it generously for others. The Pharisees are frequently a negative example in Luke’s central section. The criticism links nicely to the critique of the Pharisees’ attitude toward sinners and tax collectors in Luke 15. The parable that closes Luke 16 also elaborates on this passage with its negative picture of the rich man’s handling of his wealth. So Luke 15-16 together shows that the righteousness that Jesus calls for is altogether different than the values that the Pharisees tend to display about sinners and money. An absence of concern about social status is implied in all of this teaching. Luke seems responsible for bringing these parables so closely together. Finally, several additional exhortations conclude the parable, each making a slightly different point: (1) be generous [16:9]; (2) be faithful even in small things, whether small things tied to money or any area where one is a steward for another [16:10-12]; and (3) serve God first, for one cannot serve God and mammon [16:13]. These exhortations work together to make the point that one serves a master no matter what, so make sure that it is God. Serving God means that the disciple will be filled with generosity and faithfulness.

The Parable Proper [16:1-8]. Setting [1]. There is a shift in audience in this periscope, though whether the occasion shifts as well is not clear. He also said does not give a clear indication as to when Jesus taught this parable. This phrase can suggest a conceptual relationship to what precedes, but not necessarily a temporal connection. Jesus is now teaching His disciples by telling them another parable. There are two main figures: a wealthy man and his steward who is responsible for the administration of the estate. The wealthy man may not live at the estate the administrator manages. Reports are coming in to the owner about the steward, and they are not positive. According to these reports, the steward is incompetent. He is wasting the owner’s possessions. Clearly, it is in the owner’s best interest to act. The Steward’s Firing [2]. The master asks about the complaints in a way that suggests that he believes the charges. He also asks for an inventory of the servant’s stewardship so he can verify the charges. The master does not seem to anticipate that the records will exonerate but confirm the charges, since he dismisses the steward. Interestingly, the request for the prepared inventory implies that the steward kept good records of his activity. Thus the problem may involve monetary mismanagement more than outright immorality. The steward has only to wrap up his affairs and those of the estate. After that, he is on the streets. Once he is dismissed, he can only hope to find somewhere else to work. The steward’s failure to reply may indicate that he knew he was guilty. The Steward’s Response: Lessening Others’ Debts [3-7]. The parable uses soliloquy to portray the steward’s dilemma. The steward knows that his job is gone and that his options are not appealing. He is unwilling to do any digging, the toughest form of manual labor. He had a white-collar job and does not feel capable of returning to menial labor. But the remaining option is to beg, which would be even more shameful for one who was used to doing the bidding of a wealthy person. The steward needs to devise a solution that will leave him with the possibility of finding work from sympathetic business associates. He must act to clean up the situation as much as possible, or else his future will be full of pain. The steward devises a plan in light of his impending unemployment, designed to create a favorable response from those who owe money, so that when he is let go they will take him in. The steward’s fate with the master is sealed, so he seeks to improve his status with others. The steward’s plan recognizes what his future entails, so he prepares himself for the difficulties of unemployment. He acts in a way appropriate to a steward wrapping up his affairs. He recognizes that his long-term interests lie outside his current home and job. The steward systematically goes through the inventory of bills, one debtor at a time. Each debtor is asked to declare his debt, and the steward determines how much to lessen the debt. By having the debtors declare how much they owe, they will better appreciate the reduction they receive. As 16:6-7 shows, the debt was agricultural, indicating that the master either sold food or lent money in exchange for commodities or rented out land and was paid in produce. It is not entirely clear how the steward was able to reduce the debts. Three possible options are: (1) he lowered the price his master was charging; (2) he removed the interest charge from the debt; and (3) he removed his own commission. But the clear motive was to create broad appreciation for the steward so that he would be treated with sympathy upon his release. The time to discount has come. The amounts owed show that the debtors are wealthier than tenant farmers would be. The difference in the rate of reduction between oil and grain may reflect that oil was more precious than grain and thus received a higher commission. We can assume that the steward instituted an array of other reductions like the ones illustrated by oil and grain, in anticipation that they would return the favor. The Master’s Commendation and Jesus’ Observation [8]. Luke 16:8a closes the parable, while 16:8b gives a necessary explanation revealing the story’s point. Thus in 16:8a the parabolic master commends his recently shrewd, but formerly unrighteous, steward, while 16:8b gives Jesus’ explanation of the point. The reference to the dishonest steward alludes back to the charges of 16:1. What 16:8 commends is the steward’s acting shrewdly in his particular situation. For introduces Jesus’ rationale for noting the master’s reaction, thus pointing to the parable’s lesson. Jesus is saying that the master’s remark is right because of the principle of 16:8b. In the parable, a normally unrighteous man acts to his benefit. He has been shrewd. Jesus’ remark is that those of the world (the sons of this world) give more insight to their future, they are more shrewd in their dealings with people than are God’s children (the sons of light). God’s children should be shrewd with possessions by being generous. Such acts show charity and foresight. In pointing to the children of this age, there is an inherent comparison with God’s children as the children of the age to come. Jesus is saying that God’s children who have a heavenly future, should be as diligent in assessing the long-term effect of their actions as those who do not know God are in protecting their earthly well-being. Christians should apply themselves to honor and serve God in their actions as much as secular people apply themselves to obtain protection and prosperity from money and the world. The point is not so much the means chosen to do this, though that is important, as it is the wisdom of having such a concern. In making this remark, the parable shifts from story to application.

Three Additional Implications of the Parable [16:9-13]. Be Generous with Money [9]. The applications get specific. Prudence is not the parable’s only lesson. Jesus exhorts the disciples to be generous. Most parables have an explicit application, which 16:9 supplies. Luke introduces the verse with the solemn And I tell you to stress the applications’ importance. Wealth is not to be hoarded and used selfishly but to make friends. It is not just alms to the poor that is in view here, but the general use of one’s money. The way to make friends from money is to be generous. Jesus parallels the disciple’s situation with the parable. One should use money in such a way that one is received into eternal dwellings. Why is wealth called unrighteous? Probably because the pursuit of it can make people selfish, cause them to take advantage of others, and cause them to be unfaithful to God. Wealth, being so attached to the world, tends to produce “worldly” responses by keeping one’s focus on this age and on self, not on the age to come and God. The reference to they may receive you is (1) a reference to friends who receive the benefit and welcome the generous one into heaven, (2) a reference to angels who represent God, or (3) a circumlocution for God Himself. God responds to disciples who love their neighbors with concrete action, even down to the use of money. Such disciples evidence an active walk with God that is a product of a faith commitment to Him. The disciple is aware of heavenly reward and will respond appropriately. This yields a better way to take the remark than seeing the friends as the subject, since they could not provide eternal habitations. God will reward the person who is generous with money. Money ultimately fails, a point also made in Old Testament wisdom literature and New Testament teaching elsewhere. Money can and does run out, so one had best be prepared for when it does. Whether this refers to money becoming useless at death, as in 12:20, or to the exchange of temporal treasures for eternal heavenly treasure at Jesus’ return cannot be decided and is ultimately irrelevant. The end, in either case, is the same. The idea is that money does not last. Rather than rely on it, one should put it to beneficial use. Use money in a way that pleases God and serves Him. Zacchaeus [Luke 19:1-10] is a positive example of the application: the rich man [16:19-31] is the negative example. Jesus probably intended this remark for the wealthy among the disciples. A concern to be received by God into one’s eternal habitation will influence how one looks at and uses money. To know God and to be generous is better than to know the greenback and risk spiritual bankruptcy. If we know that God watches our stewardship, we will be sensitive to use the resources God provides in ways that are pleasing to Him. Be Faithful with Money and in Stewardship [10-12]. The attention shifts to a second application. Character is character whether one is dealing with little things or larger issues. If one is unfaithful in small things, one will handle large things in the same way. If, however, one is faithful in small things, one will also handle large things in a similar way. What one is, one is. The association of faithfulness and stewardship is natural [1 Cor. 4:2]. All of one’s activities matter, for they reveal the nature of one’s character. Whether the area of responsibility is big or little has no bearing from a moral standpoint. Selfishness in little things reveals one’s character and can indicate how big areas will be handled. A specific illustration follows in 16:11. A specific example of faithfulness is the handling of money, unrighteous wealth. There are things greater than money, but if one cannot handle money, who is willing to let that one administer greater riches? The point here is that being faithful in a small thing like money demonstrates that one is ready to handle more important items, the true riches, which most see as the spiritual blessings of future service in the kingdom. The one who commits such true future riches to people is God, and the reference pictures future reward for faithful service. Jesus’ next example broadens the scope beyond money to caring for another’s affairs. If you cannot be faithful in caring for someone else’s things, who will give you responsibility for your own things? If one cannot care for things when there is no risk to them, why give them things to care for that put them directly at risk? Most see a spiritual allusion in this verse. If one cannot care in this life for what God has given, how can one expect anything from God in the life to come. This earthly life is a God-given stewardship for which one is responsible. It is a preparation for life to come and in fact helps determine how much the person will possess in the age to come. Given, the spiritual-physical contrast in the context, such a reading of the verse makes sense. The exhortation is to be faithful now, so that one may be given greater responsibility in the life to come. Serve God, Not Mammon [13]. The last illustration is the most distant of the implications. Money is not and cannot be the ultimate priority. A steward cannot be faithful to two masters at once. There comes the moment when one must choose a priority: loving and being devoted to one, while hating and despising the other. Mammon here is personified and treated as if it could be an idolatrous threat to God. The parallel structure equates the paired verbs love and hate with each other and produces a rhetorical contrast. The thing loved has priority over the thing hated. It is impossible to serve both God and mammon, for there are times when the pursuit of money will necessarily mean that God is slighted. Or there will come a time when a choice for God will mean that the pursuit of money is slighted. There might even be a time when a choice for God is a choice not to have money or not quite so much money. In this context, money is a litmus test about greater issues and responsibilities, and it is clear that one should choose to serve God. Indeed, to be generous with money – as the basic parable advises – is a way to choose God over money. One can serve God by putting one’s resources to use for others. The attitude of giving, sharing, and meeting of needs as exemplified in the Book of Acts pictures such service through money. It may well be that the relationship between money and service is why this final remark is present. One always serves something; it had better be God, not the things of the creation.

Summary. Luke 16:1-13 argues that life is a stewardship from God. This parable pictures the example of a man in dire straits who assesses what the future holds. By thinking ahead, he acts prudently to maximize his future interests. Jesus exhorts disciples to be prudent and use money generously, so that God will richly reward them in the life to come. He notes that people of this world are often wiser in preparing for future realities than are God’s children. Jesus also notes that character is established in little things. What one does with little things is what one will do with larger concerns, so that if one is a poor steward of money or of other affairs in this life, how can one expect great things from God in the life to come? One needs to make a choice to serve God or money, for one cannot serve both. A choice to serve God is a choice to be generous with money. Divided loyalties are prohibited. A generous stewardship now will yield a rich reward later. The disciple, just like the dishonest steward, should look ahead. The disciple should consider what God can do and what he has done. The follower should use money not selfishly, but generously and faithfully, so that one may possess all the future riches God has for the disciple. Once again, Luke makes the options crystal clear.” [Bock, pp. 1323-1343].

Questions for Discussion: 

  1. In the interpretation of parables, we are to focus on the one main point that Jesus intends to teach us. In this parable, Jesus tells us the main point in 16:8b. What is this main point? What does Jesus want the disciples to learn from this parable?
  2. Jesus then gives three applications of this main point. What is the first application Jesus gives the disciples in 16:9? Why does Jesus call wealth unrighteous? What does Jesus tell His disciples to do with their wealth? Apply this teaching to your life.
  3. What second application does Jesus give in 16:10-12? Note the contrast Jesus makes between wealth and true riches. What does Jesus mean by true riches? How does the disciple receive true riches? What is the degree of your faithfulness in the “little things” of life concerning your character?
  4. What is the third application Jesus gives in 16:13? Note the contrast Jesus makes here between hate and love. Who do you serve in your life? How do you decide priorities for your life? What do your priorities in life show that you love and are devoted to? What changes do you need to make in your life in order to serve God and not money?

References:

Luke 9:51 – 24:53, Darrell Bock, BENT, Baker.

The Gospel According to Luke, James Edwards, Eerdmans.

Luke, David Garland, Zondervan (ebook).

Luke, vol. 2, Philip Ryken, REC, P & R Publishers.