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THE PARABLE OF THE SHREWD MANAGER

Luke 16:1-16:18
Key Verse: 16:9

Thank God that through the study of Luke 15 we could think of God’s love and his heart. God’s love is his heart poured out upon repentant sinners. May we grow in knowing his love by participating in both his broken heart for home-left children, and his joy in their home-coming. In life, heart is most important. Yet, we cannot ignore mind. Heart and mind should go together for a productive and fruitful life. Today’s passage is about mind and management. Management is a very popular word in our time. Let’s think about what Jesus says about management.

First, shrewdness for eternity (1-9). Look at verses 1 and 2. “Jesus told his disciples: ‘There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’” The rich man here seemed to be straightforward boss. But this situation was probably critical in the life of the manager; he probably worried about how to support his family and raise his growing children. What did he do? Look at verses 3 and 4. “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg—I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’” This manager really knew himself very well, about his health condition and his pride. Then, as his job loss was imminent, a brilliant survival strategy came to him . The strategy would result in people’s welcoming him into their houses.

Then what was his strategic plan and how did he carry it out? Look at verses 5-6. “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ ‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil (the yield of 146 olive trees),’ he replied. The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’” 50% discount in the case of olive oil. “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ ‘A thousand bushels of wheat (the yield from 100 acres),’ he replied. He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’” As for the wheat, 20% discount. Most probably, the manager went through all his master’s debtors one by one. He did not discount each at the same rate. Surely, he took into account the mind of each debtor, and also the mind of his master.

What was the result of his survival strategy? Humanly speaking, he was really dishonest, actually taking away his master’s possessions, even at the last moment. Did the master blow up at his manager’s long-lasting deceptiveness? Or did the master reprimand him sternly? No. Look at verse 8. “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.” The manger knew his manager’s dishonesty, but he commended the manager because of his shrewd act. Why is his shrewd act so commendable at this situation? It is because by acting shrewdly, he prepared for his future, which would have otherwise been so dark and hopeless.

Then what lesson does Jesus draw from this parable? Look at verse 8b. “For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.” It is true that the people of this world are very shrewd, astute and street smart for their lives in this world. Especially in our time it seems that anyone or any company cannot even survive without shrewdness. Apotex, where M. James works, is the largest producer of generic drugs in Canada. Several years ago the company was caught by American pharmacy regulation and went under inspection. Apotex had really a hard time, and many employees were cut. But the company overcame the difficult time and has even grown more prosperous According to M. James the company now has a 10 year vision and 20 year vision. M. James said that he was surprised by his company people’s shrewdness. These days, we see a severe competition between the Apple iPhone and Samsung smart phone. It is a competition in shrewdness. The people of this world are indeed shrewd.

But here Jesus compared the shrewdness of the people of this world and that of the people of the light. Undoubtedly, 'the people of the light' are meant the people of God. Yet, Jesus still wrote “the people of the light.” Why? For the people of the light are supposed to be more enlightened and do the work of God, God’s business, with all their wisdom and shrewdness, so as to light the dark world. But they are not. This must have been Jesus’ agony.

When God made man, God wanted man to be a steward or manager of the world. We know that stewardship (or management) is important in life. We believe that God wants each one to be a shrewd or wise manager for our life, family, church, campus and even our nation. One excellent example was Joseph. When he trusted in God in all his life situations, whether favourable or unfavourable, God lifted him up to be the prime minister of Egypt. In that position, he dealt with the seven years of abundance and then the following seven years of famine so shrewdly in God’s wisdom that he virtually saved the whole world at that time from starvation. Jesus once said to his disciples, “Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves." (Mt 10:16)

Yet, Jesus speaks further regarding this parable. Jesus now gives a clear direction to his disciples. Look at verse 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.” The people of this world are shrewd and they have a 10-, 20-year, or even longer-term vision. But they do not have a plan or vision for eternity. It is because their hopes are earthbound. The people of this world want to survive in this world and become richer and richer in this limited world by shrewdness. But the sad reality is that the money they earned and everything they acquired are gone from them at the moment they die. Worldly wealth seems to be powerful, but is in truth, fleeting. Jesus said in Luke 12:33, “…Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.” The same idea is here. Worldly wealth cannot itself prepare eternal security for us. But how we use worldly wealth can prepare us eternal security. Jesus said, “Use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” There are people who gain friends by any means and end up going through the way of eternal destruction together. Surely here, Jesus meant a different kind of gaining friends. It is to gain friends for eternal dwellings. Here what Jesus said does not mean that one can enter the eternal dwellings by using worldly wealth sacrificially for gaining friends. As we have learned, it is only through faith in Christ Jesus that one can enter the eternal kingdom of God. And faith in Jesus Christ is to produce the beautiful life of gaining friends for eternity by using worldly wealth rightly. Through this kind of life of faith we can be assured to be welcomed into eternal dwellings. We cannot be sure that all the friends we gain by using the wealth of this life in this world will be welcomed into eternal dwellings with us. Yet, if even one can be welcomed into the eternal dwelling place of the kingdom of God, how wonderful it will be! Again, Jesus is giving his disciples clear direction on how to use worldly wealth for eternity. If we use our worldly wealth, all our resources, all that God has given us in this world, to gain friend upon friend for eternity, what a shrewd life it will be! This is the real shrewdness and best investment in life. It is because one soul is invaluable, more valuable and precious than the whole world. Jesus said in Luke 9:25, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet lose or forfeit his very self?”

For this purpose Jesus called Simon Peter with the words of promise, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will catch men” (Lk 5:10b). This is the reason Jesus called Levi, a tax collector, saying, “Follow me.” Thank God for Maryam’s confession, “I surrendered my life to God.” May God take hold of it to mould her into a woman who keeps God’s clear calling and is made fit for his calling purpose.

Consider the example of Apostle Paul: he invested everything in his life to gain Christ and also to gain friends for eternity. Paul wrote it this way in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22, “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” Certainly, Apostle Paul learned from Jesus. John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus, the eternal God, became flesh to gain friends in this world and bring them into eternal dwellings. For this he revealed God to them, serving them with grace and truth. And Jesus said in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” We thank Jesus who gave even his life to gain friends, including you and me, so that they would be welcomed into eternal dwellings. In this grace may we follow our Lord Jesus' example, obeying his command.

Second, shrewdness and trustworthiness from a very little thing (10-18). Look at verse 10. “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.” This is a biblical principle. In Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew’s gospel, the master said to the one who made a profit of 5 additional talents from 5 talents, “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.” (25:21). The master said the same thing to the one who made 2 more talents from two talents (25:23). And in the parable of the minas in Luke, to the one who gained ten minas with one it is said, “Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities” (Lk 19:16). It is true that anyone who is not faithful or trustworthy in a very small thing cannot be trustworthy in a great thing. On the contrary one who is faithful in a small matter can be trustworthy in a big matter. To learn being faithful and trustworthy by doing right from a very little thing, or from the beginning of Christian life, is very important. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” In other words a good habit formed in childhood can go to the end of his life. And the opposite can be true. It can be applied to Christian life, too. The right way in doing a small thing should be learned at the right time. Otherwise, the learning will be harder and harder as time passes.

Look at verse 11. “So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” In the flow of the passage, worldly wealth can be “very little” and “true riches”, “much.” Here, true riches can be invisible spiritual blessings while worldly wealth is the visible blessing related to this world. We should not limit God’s blessing to this world only. He wants us to be trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, that is, to bear God’s blessings, so that he can trust us with more blessing and with true riches.

Look at verse 12. “And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?” When David was trustworthy in taking care of his father’s flock of sheep, God gave him the whole of Israel as his own. When Joseph was trustworthy in the house of Potiphar, the captain of the guard for Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, God gave him property of his own, the whole nation Egypt, raising him as the prime minister of the nation.

In this way Jesus emphasized the importance of being trusted and trustworthy. In this world shrewdness, can go without honesty and trustworthiness, like the manager in this passage, who was shrewd but dishonest. However, Jesus wants us disciples to be shrewd and trustworthy, beginning with handling very little things, worldly wealth, and someone else’s property, so that we can be trusted with much, true riches and the property of our own.

Look at verse 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.” Through these words Jesus made the teaching of this parable clear: that he wants his disciples to be shrewd and trustworthy to serve God, not to make more money and fall into mammonism. We should learn to be very clear about money, material things.

Look at verses 15 and 16. “The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, ‘You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.” The Pharisees loved money but justified themselves in men’s eyes and pretended to serve God. But God knew their hearts. It is shocking that what is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight. We should really learn to live before God, even if we cannot be valued and counted in men’s eyes. Being shrewd and trustworthy is definitely related to living in God’s sight. We should be clear about both material things and people.

From verses 16-18, we should know that Jesus' disciples are entrusted with the gospel, the good news of the kingdom of God, and are to be administers of the gospel, sanctified through obeying the law, and are to keep purity in heart.

In this study we pray that God may help us to be shrewd and trustworthy people of God and such managers for God’s work. May we keep Jesus’ command, “Use worldly wealth to gain friend for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings”, and live by it in this world.

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