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Parable to Live By
“Shrewd is Good: The Unjust Steward”
Watch on YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izRqMHh8ByA
This parable has always been somewhat of a mystery to many and why it was even taught by Jesus, so I’ve done multiple studies on it, especially with all the business failures over this past decade, as well as the financial mismanagement by top executives where today this story sounds more like it’s straight out of this week’s news than it does from the Bible.
In fact, it kind of reminds me of a story of a business owner who was interviewing candidates for chief accounting officer. He asked the first candidate, “What’s two plus two,” to which the candidate replied, “four.” And the interview was over. The same thing happened to the second candidate. But when the third candidate was asked, he locked the door, closed the window blinds, and leaned over the owner’s desk and asked, “How much to you want it to be?” He was hired on the spot.
The story that Jesus tells is a strange one, and it’s hard to get a really good grasp of it, especially in just a single reading when Jesus said, “The master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly,” or when Jesus said, “Make friends for yourself by unrighteous mammon.”
This is why this parable is troubling to most, and our first temptation after reading it is just to go on to the next story of the rich man and Lazarus, which we’ll look in our next time together. Yet, it is just these types of stories that we find within the Bible that we need to take time to think through, because they will have a great if not an eternal impact on our lives.
I’ve entitled this message, “Shrewd is Good.” Now this is not our first impression or understanding when it comes to calling someone shrewd, as this steward is deceitful in cooking his master’s books to his own benefit.
Yet, believe it or not, being shrewd is a quality that Jesus commends more than once. This same word in the Greek language has also been translated as being wise, as it was used by Jesus in describing the wise person who built his house on a rock in Matthew 7:24.
In this story, Jesus called this person shrewd because he built his life on the solid rock foundation of God’s word, and then compared him to the foolish person who built his life upon the shifting sands of human philosophy.
Shrewd is also what Jesus encouraged His disciples to be as he told them to be as wise or as shrewd as snakes.
“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore, be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16 NKJV)
Most translations have it as you see it; wise as serpents, but it is the same word as we have seen meaning shrewd. What Jesus does is couple it with being as harmless as doves. I believe He was saying that Christians are to be as shrewd as the serpent was with Eve in the garden, but at the same time harmless without deceit. Paul may have said it best when he tells us to be as wise or shrewd about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.
“I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil.” (Romans 16:19b NKJV)
We see Jesus using this word again in the parable of the ten virgins, in how shrewd five of them were at foreseeing the possibility that the bridegroom might be delayed and being wise they brought extra oil for their lamps (Matthew 25:1-13). Jesus then contrasted them with those who were foolish who had not anticipated a delay.
And so, in our story about the dishonest manager, Jesus again commended shrewdness, and how believers need to be shrewd with the resources God has given to them and to make friends now and for all eternity.
Now, to be totally honest, shrewdness in finances is not my strong point. How many times I’ve said, “That will never take off,” only to see it soar into the heavenlies. Like the Home Shopping Network. I had a chance to buy it as a penny stock but thought “Who would want to buy merchandise over the TV?” My worst may have been Evian water. I thought, “Who is ever going to buy water in a bottle that is free from the tap?” So, if I ever pass on something, it might be a good idea to invest in it.
The word shrewd means to be sharp and discerning. And so, when we read of the master applauding the steward’s shrewdness, what he was applauding was not his dishonesty, but rather the cleverness that he displayed in setting himself up for the future on the funds that weren’t his to begin with.
“He also said to His disciples: “There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. So he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.’ Then the steward said within himself, ‘What shall I do? For my master is taking the stewardship away from me. I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg. I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.’ So he called every one of his master’s debtors to him, and said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ And he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ So he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ So he said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home. He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own? No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Luke 16:1-13 NKJV)
Here we have a man who at this point in his life was scared out of his mind. He didn’t refute his guilt but knew his creative bookkeeping had been discovered. Further, he realized that once he was fired, there would be no future for him in the marketplace. I mean, who’s going to hire someone who can’t be trusted? Further, in those days, there was no welfare or unemployment benefits to fall back on.
So, he thinks of a plan that will help him once he’s fired. He calls several of his master’s larger debtors and reduces their debt, making friends in the process; friends that will help him in the future as he has helped them in the present.
Now, one of the quickest ways to empty a church is to talk about money. In fact, one of the top three reasons why most people don’t go to church is that it talks too much about money. But when I think about that I wonder if we say we need to teach the Bible and leave this one subject out, especially when one out of every six verses in Matthew, Mark, and Luke deals with money or material possessions, are we doing a disservice to those who are desirous to know the truth when we don’t talk about it.
This is brought out in an even greater degree when the Greek word for “steward” used here is not just a guardian, but one who manages finances, and it is where we get our English word, “economics.”
Another hint Jesus is talking about finances is when Luke goes on to say after Jesus finished the parable, “Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him.” (Luke 16:14 NKJV)
Now, before we go off on these Pharisees, it must be understood what wealth meant in those days. Having wealth was evidence of God’s blessings. In other words, wealth was considered a spiritual status symbol, as opposed to our own society which looks upon wealth as a social status symbol.
And so, Pharisees, as well as many in our day, were and are concerned about their image, and as such took and take great pains to attain and maintain wealth.
However, I believe that we do a disservice when we think that this parable speaks only to money. The term, “Mammon,” does not only refer to money, but also possessions. Therefore, I believe Jesus is talking about all the resources God gives to us
Notice something else, as to whose possessions the steward wasted. The steward oversaw the master’s property; therefore, it was easy for him to use the goods for his own purposes. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that God has given to every believer His own resources like life, talents, house, property, money, and the rest. And as such it is our responsibility to use them in our Master’s best interest.
“As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” (1 Peter 4:10 NKJV)
So, how has our stewardship been? G. Campbell Morgan, who pastored in the early 1900’s at Westminster Chapel in London told a story about one of his son’s comments concerning Morgan’s prayers.
“Dad, I like to hear you pray for the missionaries. But do you know what I was thinking when you were praying is that if I had your bank book, I would answer half of your prayers.”
We must understand that what we have is not our own. It has been given to us to use as good stewards to further God’s kingdom. Far too often we pray for God to use someone else to do what we should be doing.
If any of us claim to be followers of Jesus Christ, then nothing we truly have is ours to begin with, and in the end, it all belongs to God. And once we understand and remember that, then we should use the resources God gives us in a way that counts for all eternity.
Further, consider that Jesus calls the possession and wealth generated in this world as minuscule, that is, it’s nothing when compared to the eternal blessing that awaits us in Heaven. And the point Jesus was making is that if we aren’t faithfully handling the stuff of this world, then how can God trust us with the really big stuff of heaven.
This brings us to Jesus’s main point.
“For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home.” (Luke 16:8-9 NKJV)
The practices of this steward were very dishonest and should not be emulated by believers in any way, and Jesus was in no way endorsing them. Rather, what Jesus wants us to look at is the ingenuity and creativity involved in what this steward did. As believers we should use this same ingenuity in helping people come to know Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord.
In other words, instead of using it to further the world’s unrighteousness, we should be using what God has given to us to further His kingdom.
And so, Jesus tells us to use the worldly possessions that are in our control to further His Kingdom. As an example, it would be in our giving whatever is needed that opens the door to sharing the gospel, and if that person accepts Jesus then we’ve made a friend forever, and a new brother or sister in the Lord.
So, to put this as simply as possible, we’re to use our wealth, resources, energy, gifts, and talents in this present life with an eye on our eternal future. We are to use what God has so graciously given not only for ourselves, yes that is permissible, but also for the benefit of others.
And so, Jesus calls for us to be shrewd stewards of His provisions, that is, we are to develop our talents, resources, opportunities, education, and all the rest, including our money and possessions to their fullest potential for the Kingdom of God
But know this, that there will come a day of reckoning where our books will be audited. And this brings me to our last verse.
“No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Luke 16:13 NKJV)
Jesus talked a lot about money precisely because money can so easily become a greater object of our affection than the Lord, in other words, money and possessions can become an idol.
This reminds me of a story about a young man who confessed to his girlfriend, “Honey, I’ve lost all my money. I haven’t a penny to my name.” She replied, “That’s okay darling. It won’t make any difference to me. I’ll love you justas much even if I never see you again.”
Without much effort, money can become a primary factor in not only how we live, but also in whom we love. I’ve seen a lot of friendships blow up because of a bad bottom line. Marriages have dissolved because of the balance in the couple’s bank account. Families have gone to war against one another over an inheritance. And I have seen people leave a church over issues of finance. Money has become far too dear to our hearts.
But if we are shrewd, then we will use our resources for what they will bring to the Kingdom of God. We need to start investing for eternity by sending our resources ahead of us by being generous and trustworthy servants of God, fully devoted to Him and Him alone.
Now, if you would, take a moment and think about three people that you know that do not attend church, and write down their names. What I’d like for each of you to do is to be shrewd over this next month and find ways to invite them to church.
Where can you be shrewd with the resources given to you? Maybe you can pick someone up and bring them to church or a Bible study. Or take them to lunch afterwards or have them come when we have one of our Potlucks or BBQs.
Be shrewd for the sake of the Kingdom of God. We need to be wise, discerning, and creative in what God has given to us for His Kingdom and not just your own. This is what is at the heart, and the meaning of this parable.
I’d like to end with the first and last stanza of a poem I once heard.
“I’m looking forward to a day,
the day of eternal rewards
When Christians shall be given crowns
from the hands of Christ our Lord;
Oh, what a glorious sight to see
the redeemed ones all march past
With wonderful, heavenly dividends,
the riches that will last.
Yes, I’m looking forward to that day,
the day of eternal rewards
And I am working, and praying, and giving,
that I might receive from Christ the Lord;
Some trophy, some crown, some dividend
to show I’ve not lived in vain
Right now, I’m rather pressed for time,
for soon He’ll come again.
Wednesday Evening Bible Study