Shrewd Stewardship Luke 16:1-13


 On June 4th, 2014   members of the radical Islamist group, Boko Haram, posed as Christian ministers inviting the villagers to come and listen to them preach before opening fire on the crowd killing 45 people.  This followed an attack two days earlier when members of the same group dressed up as soldiers and attacked three villages slaughtering around 200 civilians.  The Boko Haram has announced their goal to wipeout the Christian faith from Nigeria. It is dangerous to be a Christian in Nigeria[1].  We need to pray for our brothers and sisters in Nigeria. And although it is dangerous to be a Christian in Nigeria, America is still one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a Christian.  Listen to Josef Tson, one who endured extreme persecution in Romania as a preacher of the gospel, he said, “Ninety percent of Christians pass the test of adversity, while ninety percent of Christians fail the test of prosperity.”


America is not one of the most dangerous places physically, but one of the most dangerous places spiritually. If our lives are taken for being Christians, we are safe in the presence of God.  Paul writes in Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Death is gain for the Christian.  We should pray for our brothers and sisters in the world who are facing the threat of death for the faith.  And although their lives may be in physical danger, our souls are in spiritual danger. Spiritual danger will always be greater than physical danger, because the consequences last longer.  Eternity awaits us. Our souls are in spiritual danger, because of our wealth. 
America is one of the wealthiest nations in the history of the world. Our wealth and our country’s love of wealth poses a serious danger to our souls.  Matthew 19:23-24,

And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.

And 1 Timothy 6:9-10,

But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.  It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

We are under constant attack to love money.  How does our country train us to love money?

Advertising – Marketing appeals to your desires to crave more material comforts. Whether it be a new speaker system, 3D Flat-screen TV, new furniture, or new lawn care equipment, they are appealing to your desires to get more.  Advertisers want you to spend your money and if you spend your money, you can easily crave more money so you can buy more stuff.

Social Media – Social media may be a place where you are tempted to covet or desire the kind of things or the kind of lifestyle that your friends have and lead you to focus more on this world than the world to come.

Education – The mantra in modern day education is to work hard in school so you can go to a good college and get a good job and make good money to provide a “good” life for your family.

Celebrities – The news that the media really cares about is the rich and famous.  And in constantly portraying the details of their life, the media is subtly implying that their lives are the pinnacle of success. Celebrities do not just abound in the media, but they are also a danger in Christian circles. 

There are other ways we are encouraged to pursue riches, but those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. Do you see the grave danger we face in America?

Our country’s love of riches is a danger for our souls.  Hebrews 3:12, “Take care, brother, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart leading you to fall away from the living God.” This morning, I want to exhort you to have a proper prospective of wealth and to use your wealth for the glory of God.  Jesus encourages us to practice shrewd stewardship.  Let us look at two examples of shrewd stewardship. The first,

Shrewd Stewardship for Earthly Wealth

Luke 16:1, “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.” The audience changes from addressing the Pharisees and the scribes in the previous chapter to the disciples. In, the previous story we see how the lost son was “wasting his possessions,” and now we see how the manager is charged with wasting his master’s possessions. And the response of the rich man is he believes the charges against his manager.  Verse 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 manger.

The manager is called to the carpet and given his notice.  This poses a problem for the steward.  At this point in the story there is no sign of immorality or dishonesty in the manager, but simply a wasting of the possessions.  It could have been the result of dishonesty or it could have been because of incompetency or neglect.  The text does not give us a reason here, but makes the manager start thinking about his future.

      In verse 3, we get a window inside the manager’s head,

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.

The manager does not want to return to physical labor or to plead with others for help so he devises a plan for his future.  Verses 4-8a,

‘I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘a hundred measures of oil.’ 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?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 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.”

There are many interpretative questions that this passages raises. In what ways was the manager dishonest? Does the master praise his dishonesty? What was taken off the bill to the debtors?  We could camp on these questions for weeks, but let me address each one briefly. First, what was taken off the bill? Some scholars believe the manager “removed his own commission, sacrificing his own money, not that of his master.” [2]Others believe the manager removed the exorbitant interest rates to bring the debt in line with the Law specified in Leviticus and Deuteronomy (Lev. 25:35–37; Deut. 15:7–8; 23:19–20). Others feel he simply cut the debt, costing the rich man money, but gaining him favor with the debtors. 

It is all speculation because the text does not make it clear. Although the text does not make clear what was taken off the debt, we do know the motivation of why it was lowered.  The debt was taken off so that the manager would gain favor with the debtors so he would be received into the debtors’ houses because he did not want to beg or dig. The motivation was selfish and sinful. Regardless of what was removed, we know that the manager acted immorally.  He was dishonest in his dealings, but was he commended for his dishonesty?  He did acting dishonestly, but was commended for his shrewdness.  The text is clear in verse 8, “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.” To be shrewd is to have or to show the ability to understand things and to make good judgments; mentally sharp or clever. The manager acted shrewdly in preparing for his future.  Jesus summarizes the parable, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.”  The point is that this man demonstrated shrewd stewardship for earthly wealth.  He dealt wisely as a son of this world in preparing for his future after being dismissed as the manager.  He is not praised for his dishonesty, but praised in taking action to prepare for his future. 

Jesus says that the sons of this world act more shrewdly in preparing for their future than the sons of light. The sons of light are referring to believers while the sons of this world are referring to non-believers. This passage is not, “If people of this world are preparing for their earthly wealth, then God’s people should be preparing for their eternal wealth.”  The second example of shrewd stewardship,

Shrewd Stewardship for Eternal Wealth


This point of this passage is not to encourage you to be wise in preparing for your earthly future, but to be wise in preparing for your eternal future.  Jesus says, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.”  He is rebuking his disciples in not preparing for the future.  If the sons of this world prepare for their future, then even more so, the sons of light should prepare for their future.  Believers are called sons of light or children of day to imply that our eyes are open to the reality of our future.  We do not live for this present world, but for the world to come. 1 Corinthians 15:32, “If the dead are not raised, “let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”  What Paul is saying is that if there is no resurrection, then we should live for today and enjoy ourselves for there is no pleasure later, but we are no longer the sons of this world living, but we have seen the light and now live for the resurrection. The manager lived for his pleasure so that he could avoid digging and begging. He was preparing for earthly pleasure, but he did not understand eternal pleasure. 

God does not want your heart focused on this world, but on the life to come. We know there is a resurrection, but we too often we spend our money as if there is no eternal life. Matthew 6:19-21,

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

God wants us to treasure Him. And isn’t he worth being our supreme treasure?

He is so glorious, holy and righteous. He is all that is good.  He is perfect in his character. He is worth all glory and honor and praise.  He created the world as a reflection of his good and benevolent character.  God created man in His own image to glorify Him. Sadly, man rebelled against His goodness and spurned Him as One who was worthy of being our supreme treasure. Our sin separated us from God. And God would have been just and good if He ended the world as soon as sin entered it. We were under condemnation deserving eternal hell for our sin, but instead of crushing us, God crushed his Son for us on cross.  God demonstrated his hatred towards sin by unleashing his wrath on His own Son. Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  Jesus was forsaken so that we could be accepted.  He died in our place. He took our sin and gave us his righteousness.  He has given us hope for the future in his resurrection from the dead.  He promises eternal life to whoever would turn from their sin and trust in Him.  Through faith, He rescues us from Hell and gives us the Hope of heaven.  Deuteronomy 7:6,

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.

God has made us his treasured possession by sending His own Son to die and be raised in our place, is He not worth being our supreme treasure?


God wants to be our supreme treasure, but He also wants us to treasure what he treasures.  I find it interesting how Luke through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit arranged this material. The end of chapter 14:33 Jesus says, “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”  Jesus is referring to our possessions and our treasure. Then in chapter 15 Jesus addressed the Pharisees showing God’s heart for the lost with three parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son.  The scene changes and Jesus is speaking to his disciples about a manager who is squandering the rich man’s wealth. 

            The American church has been mismanaging God’s possessions. He has given us so much so that we could reach the lost, but we have spent it on our comforts rather than on the cause of Christ.  We do not really understand what sacrifice is in our country.  We have to go outside our country to get a proper perspective.  John Piper shares a story from Stanford Kelly of a Haitian man named Edmund,

The church was having a Thanksgiving festival and each Christian was invited to bring a love offering. One envelope from a Haitian man named Edmund held $13 cash. That amount was three months’ income for a workingman there. Kelly was as surprised as those counting a Sunday offering in the United Sates might be to get a $6,000 cash gift. He looked around for Edmund, but couldn’t see him.  Later Kelly met him in the village and questioned him. He pressed him for an explanation (for missing the festival) and found that Edmund had sold his horse in order to give the $13 gift to God for the sake of Gospel. But why hadn’t he come to the festival? He hesitated and didn’t want to answer. Finally Edmund said, “I had no shirt to wear.”[3]

Edmund sold his horse and gave it all for the sake of Jesus Christ.  He didn’t attend the banquet because he didn’t have a shirt.  Beloved, Edmund gave his $13 for Christ, but he did not lose $13. He sent it ahead of him to heaven where moth and rust do not destroy and thieves do not break in and steal. Edmund lived like he believed in the resurrection. Do we?

            We are squandering God’s wealth if we are using it only for earthly comforts.  I have been looking at my life this week and around my home and I have been blessed with so much and I have been asking myself, “Am I spending my money for eternal or earthly pleasure?”  And I am not referring simply to my tithe.  A tithe is the minimum we should give to God. If you don’t tithe and/or are not working to tithe, you need to repent and get right with God.  What I am talking about is whether I am demonstrating a shrewd stewardship with my wealth.  God does not own my 10%, but my 100%.  Jesus says unless you renounce all that you have, you cannot be His disciple.  All my money belongs to him. 

Therefore be:

Generous


Verse 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.

The beginning of the verse says, “And I tell you,” showing the importance of what comes next. This verse can be a little confusing.  Who are the friends we are called to make? What is unrighteous wealth? Unrighteous wealth is not wealth made dishonestly, but the wealth of this world which so often produces worldly responses keeping one’s eyes off of God.[4] The friends that Jesus mentions is most likely referring to God because He is the only one who can receive us into eternal dwellings.  Jesus wants us to shift the use of our money. He wants us to be generous managers of the resources He has given us. Proverbs 11:28, “Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf.” Worldly wealth will fail. It will not last. As children of light we should know this and practice shrewd stewardship. We should invest our money for eternity and we do that by giving it for the cause of the gospel.

Faithful

Verse 10-12,

“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is so also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?”

The question is not how much money we have but how we handle the money we do have. We are trained by the world to focus more on how much money we have, whether it is a little or a lot, but God wants us to focus on how we handle what we have.  What we do with little is what we will do with much. Are you faithful with what God has given you?  If you are not faithful with little, how can God entrust you with true riches?

This principle transcends money.  It is about stewardship.  How are you stewarding the things God has given you? How are you stewarding your money? Your time? Your family? Your body? Your gifts? Your mind? Beloved, this life is only preparation for the life to come. If we are faithful on earth, we will be given true riches by God for all eternity.  He has promised us an inheritance, but if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?

 A Wise Servant


Verse 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.

Money is a barometer of spiritual health.  The reason America is so dangerous because our culture encourages you to live for today rather than for eternity; for yourself rather than for God. Who is master?  Who are you serving?  Not who you should be serving, but who you are actually serving. What does your spending say?  Is your money serving God or are you serving your money?

Remember what Romanian Josef Tson has said, “Ninety percent of Christians pass the test of adversity, while ninety percent of Christians fail the test of prosperity.” Many Christians are failing the test of prosperity.  We need to take an honest look at our budgets and our spending both as individuals and as a church so that we can be sure we are not wasting our master’s wealth.  Do not fail the test of prosperity; practice shrewd stewardship, use your wealth to prepare for eternity.




[2] Bock, D. L. (1996). Luke: 9:51–24:53 (Vol. 2, p. 1330). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
[4] Bock, D. L. (1996). Luke: 9:51–24:53 (Vol. 2, p. 1334). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Steven Brazzell

Charlotte, NC