What are we to learn from the parable of the shrewd manager in Luke chapter 16?
James F. Pope
You are not the first to ask that question. Many people consider that parable to be one of the most challenging to understand. The key is grasping Jesus’ instruction at the end of the parable (v. 9).
Viewing money selfishly
In the parable of the shrewd manager, a man mismanaged his employer’s possessions. When the employer learned what happened, he dismissed the servant. But fearing for his future, the servant embarked on a new level of mismanagement: He contacted people who were indebted to his employer and singlehandedly reduced their bills. It was not concern for other people’s financial situation that prompted his actions. No, he cooked his boss’ books because he wanted to create a network of potential friends who might help him out in the future. The man wrongly used someone else’s possessions for his own earthly benefit.
One of the biggest surprises in the parable is the response of the employer. Rather than expressing outrage, he commended the dishonest manager! Even though he was a victim of someone else’s incompetent and fraudulent actions, he acknowledged how shrewdly his former manager had operated. It takes a person with a skewed worldview to appreciate getting ripped off like that.
Viewing money unselfishly
In contrast to the example of the dishonest manager, Jesus instructed his disciples: “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9). Rather than looking upon money with a “What’s in it for me right now?” attitude, Jesus leads us to view money with a “What’s in it for them in the future?” attitude. Jesus teaches us to use the possessions he has entrusted to us for other people—to gain eternal friends.
How can we do that? We can gain eternal friends by sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with others and by supporting the spread of the gospel with our offerings so that more might come to faith and become fellow members of God’s family. One of our hymns offers this encouragement. “May our zeal to help the heathen Be increased from day to day, As we plead in true compassion And for their conversion pray. For the many faithful workers, For the gospel they proclaim, Let us all be cheerful givers To the glory of your name” (Christian Worship 577:3).
Imagine someone in heaven walking up to you and thanking you for supporting the proclamation of the gospel that changed his or her life and eternity! Imagine that scene being multiplied countless times as your financial support of mission work brings the gospel into the lives of people throughout the world. Imagine all those “forever friends.”
Jesus’ parable of the shrewd manager holds contrasting attitudes before our eyes. One attitude sees money—no matter whose it is—as something to be used selfishly and only for this life. Another attitude sees money as a temporal blessing from God that is best used for the eternal welfare of other people. One attitude might be shrewd in the eyes of some people. The other is pleasing in the eyes of God. In this and every area of life, may God work in us what is pleasing to him (Hebrews 13:21).
Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.
James Pope also answers questions online at wels.net/questions.
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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 103, Number 9
Issue: September 2016
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