This section of the gospel of Luke is continuing to ask and answer the question: who is in the kingdom of God? Who is receiving salvation? Who is experiencing the blessings that come from a covenant relationship with God? Jesus is going to tell another parable and verse 1 tells us that he is teaching his disciples. However, others are listening. Verse 14 tells us that the Pharisees also heard these things that Jesus is teaching. With this audience in mind, let’s study the parable.
The Parable (16:1-8)
First we need to understand what is happening in the parable so we can understand the point Jesus is making. The parable is of a manager who is running the property and possessions of a rich man. However, he has been mismanaging those possessions and is going to be fired. The manager finds out that the rich man knows how he has been wasting his possessions. Knowing he is about to be fired, he comes up with a plan, since he cannot do physical labor and is too ashamed to beg. He calls in the people who have debts to the rich man and discounts their debts. They do not know this manager is about to be fired. It appears to them that he is being generous and kind. So he instructs each debtor to cut his debt by a significant portion. You may have a footnote in your Bible pointing out how much or how expensive these debts were. The amount of the reduction would have been valued at about 16 months of wages. Now why does this manager do this? You can read all sorts of books trying to justify what this manager did, that the rich man was illegally charging interest and so he was cutting the interest or things like that. But this misses the point of the parable. The reason the manager reduced their bills was so he would have favors to pull when he got fired. He was going to go back to these people and tell them to remember how he saved them a year and a half of wages and to help him out financially. He is making preparations for the moment of his termination. He knows he will no longer have income but has come up with a plan to be financially secure when that time comes. Verse 8 sounds fairly shocking, but the master is not commending the manager for ripping him off. He is commending him for being clever. His dishonesty is not applauded, but his quick thinking and cleverness to make sure that preparations were made.
This is how unbelievers typically operate. The people of this world are very shrewd and clever in how they deal with each other. We certainly see this in our business world today. People are usually very skillful at doing things for their own advantage. Lacking a godly conscience or compass, the people of this world concentrate their energy on getting ahead in life. So is Jesus teaching his disciples to be more shrewd and dishonest like this manager so that you take advantage of others? Not at all. Verses 9-13 contain the explanation to the parable.
The Parable Explained (16:9-13)
Verse 9 lays out the point of the parable and the key teaching of Jesus. Use your worldly wealth and possessions in such a way so that you will be received into eternal dwellings. Do you see the parallel to the parable? The manager used the possessions in such a way so that when he lost his job he would have people who would receive him into their homes. In the same way, we are commanded to use our wealth and possessions in such a way so that we will be received into the eternal home. Please notice the certainty Jesus places on this commanded. Underline the phrase, “when it fails.” Your wealth and possessions are going to fail. We already experience this to a degree because it always seems like when we start to make headway with having money, something happens and it is gone. Notice Jesus does not say, “if your wealth fails.” He says, “When it fails.” Wealth and possessions are useless on the day of judgment. Therefore use your wealth so that you are received into the eternal home. Use wealth, but don’t worship wealth. It is an interesting irony to me that our money, one of our primary idols today, reads, “In God We Trust.” Today it would be more accurate if the words read, “In this god we trust.” The parable is teaching us to have the wisdom to recognize that wealth will fail us and therefore we must be shrewd to act so that we have a home on that day.
Verses 10-11 give the reasoning why we need to do this. If we have shown ourselves to be faithful with this material wealth (which is the “very little” in verse 10), then we will be entrusted with true riches (which is the “very much” in verse 10). Notice how verse 12 amplifies this thought. The wealth you have is not yours. It all belongs to God. If you have been shown to be unfaithful with this wealth now, then God will not give you your own reward at the end. Being faithful in small things like money demonstrates to God that we are ready to handle the more important things, the “true things” of God. If we are not good caretakers of what God has given us now, how can we expect anything from God in the life to come?
Verse 13 closes the parable with beautiful words. No slave can be a slave to two masters. It is simply not possible. You cannot pursue one without neglecting the other. As followers of Christ, our love for Jesus is going to cause us to miss out on opportunities for financial gain. We only can have one real pursuit. We will lose work, lose money, lose opportunities, lose promotions, and more because we serve only one master.
Life Lessons From The Parable
1. The inevitability of having to give an account to God. When we know our end is coming, it changes how we act. All of us talk about if we knew we only had a certain amount of time left to live, how we would live differently? In the parable, when the manager finds out he is going to be held accountable and fire, he starts acting differently, making preparations for the time of his accountability. We must live in the reality that we will each give an account to God. Further, we are going to give an account on how we used the wealth and possessions God gave us. Most of God’s people live as if there will not be a day to stand before him and give an account. This is an enormous mistake. Those who are unfaithful in discharging their duties on earth must not expect to have heavenly treasure.
2. How can I as one of the children of light make the best use of money now so that when I die I will receive an eternal home with God? We need to constantly ask ourselves what we should be doing with our wealth and possessions so that God will receive us into the eternal dwellings. When I know I am going to give an account, then this question will be at the forefront of our minds every day. What am I doing with my wealth to enter eternal dwellings? Am I using my wealth be make friends with God?
This is a very important consideration for a number of reasons. We need to see that giving loosens the grip that wealth has on our hearts. God is not interested in us just being good doers. There are plenty of people who use their wealth for good causes and to help people. That is not what Jesus means. He is not speaking merely of charity or philanthropy. Giving checks that we are not slaves to wealth. Giving to God and his purposes reveals that we are slaves of God. Does our use of wealth reflect our spiritual priorities? We need to ask ourselves how God wants us to spend his money. If Jesus set your budget, what would be different? How does God want us to spend his wealth that he has given you? One of the subtle but important points in these parables is that the parables always teach God as the master and giver of wealth. Everything belongs to him and we are simply stewards and managers of his blessings.
3. What is your response? Look at verses 14-17. The Pharisees heard this teaching and ridiculed Jesus because their hearts were corrupted by the love of money. You can fool people but you cannot fool God (16:15). God knows your heart. You can reject this message. You can choose to not believe this message. But God knows your heart. You are not going to force your way into this kingdom if your heart is captured by the deceitfulness of riches. God’s message does not change and does not pass away. The love of wealth, which is exalted by people, is an abomination to God. How we use our money reveals what is in our hearts. Do not reject or ridicule this message. Listen to the weight of Jesus’ words. God cares how you spend his money. God cares how you use his possessions. The wealth God has given to us must reflect our spiritual priorities.