Taking a Lesson from the World

Wisdom, Shrewdness, Stewardship

I’ve read several hundred books in my lifetime. Most of those books have dealt with the knowledge of the Bible, understanding the Christian faith and the tasks of ministry (such as counseling). However, I do occasionally read books that are outside of the Christian venue. I’ve enjoyed reading a number of secular books on management, books on historical events, counseling insights from those outside the church, and biographies of great leaders. The reason I read these books is because I have learned that often the people of the world see some things more clearly than the people of the church.

This morning we are going to look at a parable that describes a man of the world. I’m going to tell you up front that you probably aren’t going to like this guy. He’s like a scam artist that is out to steal your identity and empty your bank account. However, Jesus draws some lessons from this guy that we need to hear. Lessons that could change the entire complexion of our church, and if embraced widely, could change the focus of the church as a whole.

The Dishonest Manager

“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.’

From time to time on the news we read about some rich person or celebrity who has made lots of money but claims to be broke because their financial manager has squandered their money on bad investments and ridiculous fees. This is the kind of guy we encounter in the Biblical text. This guy was squandering the riches of the man he worked for and his client learned of his actions and gave him notice that he was going to be fired. He asked for the accounting records.

The mis-manager was frightened. This was a day before there were golden parachutes and unemployment. The man was going to go from making a good living to making nothing! In all likelihood he would not be able to get another financial management job because he was not going to get a good reference from his former employer. He didn’t know how he was going to survive. He wasn’t the kind of guy that could/would do manual labor. He didn’t want to go to work at the local McDonalds and he didn’t want to have to beg (which was the only form of welfare available).

This man decided that he would generate goodwill with the clients of his rich client. He called in the various customers and rewrote the loans or notes they had with the client. One customer owed eight hundred gallons of olive oil and they rewrote the debt to be half that at 400 gallons. The debt was probably the equivalent of about three years salary for the average worker. This was cut in half. Think about what it would be like to be called into the loan office of the bank and be told that they were cutting your new car loan in half! Imagine how grateful you would be.

The second person owed a thousand bushels of wheat. One source said this would

have been the equivalent of eight to ten years salary for the average worker! The dishonest manager told him to rewrite the debt so it was 20% less. Again, let’s use terms we would understand. Suppose you went to the mortgage company and they offered to reduce the amount of your mortgage by 20%. Would you be grateful? Of course you would.  And that is exactly what this guy was counting on.

 He probably did this with every customer. The result was that all these people felt they “owed” him.  When he needed a job, a hand-out, or even a place to stay, they would be inclined to help the guy out.

The Rich Man’s Observation

We understand the story so far. There are many attempts to soften what this dishonest manager was doing. Some people suggest that they guy was reducing his own commission. Others suggest he was lowering the interest rate (that shouldn’t have been so high to start with). I don’t think either is the case.

The reason everyone is so concerned to explain the actions of this man who has already been acknowledged as a dishonest or lousy manager is because of what the rich man says, “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.” (v.8)  If this manager has just “ripped off” his boss then we expect the rich man to be furious and to take negative actions against the man. Instead, he commends him!” What in the world is going on here?

Note two things. First, note that Jesus is not commending the man for his actions, the rich man is. There is nothing here that indicates at all that Jesus approved of what the man did. Second, what the rich man said and did is the same kind of thing we do all the time. We may disagree with a scam someone has run but we may also admire the ingenuity. We may admire the thought that went into a theft or the smooth ways of a salesman.

Alistair Begg tells the story of a couple who had their car stolen. In the morning the car was returned with a note of apology and two tickets to the theatre. The note invited the couple to enjoy a night out as their way of apologizing for stealing their car. The couple took the tickets, went to the show, and when they returned their home had been cleaned out by the robbers!  Be honest. Don’t you just a little admire the creativity of the crooks?

One commentator remarks,

the renters, and the people of the village in general, are already celebrating, praising both the manager and the owner. If the owner should now tell these people what has really happened and should change the figures back to where they were originally, his reputation will go down to zero. This he cannot risk. So, he makes the best of the situation. He must have said to himself, “What a clever crook!”[1]

This dishonest manager made himself AND the rich man look good. It was the perfect scam. In the Oceans 11, 12, and 13 movies George Clooney (Ocean) and his team (who we are rooting for) rip off a casino. In the second move they were made to give the money back. In the third installment they had to work with this same casino owner in a project. When the plan is over they need to give the casino owner his share (70 million dollars) but they donate the stolen casino money to a kid’s camp in the owner’s name. To get the money back he would have to look into the faces of the kids and tell them he was doing so. The casino owner embraced his reputation as a philanthropist. The crooks won. So does the manager in this story.

The Lessons of Jesus

So what is the point? The point of the parable is seen in the words that follow

“For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. (8b)

Jesus is saying we can learn something from the example of this guy. This man used the means that were at his disposal to reach his goal. He was resourceful. We see this all the time.

  • A politician works for years to make the right friends that can help them get into office.
  • A businessman develops a business plan to reach a targeted audience (Do you think McDonalds has a business plan? You bet they do!)
  • A business does product research to discover what consumers want in a car, a vacuum, a home, a shoe, or a television program. They do this so they can develop or package a product in a way that will appeal to the consumer.
  • A parent cozies up to scouts and coaches in the hope of getting their child more playing time and perhaps a scholarship at college.

People all around us are working the angles. They put in late nights. They do their homework. And they do all this because they know this is the way to reach the goals they have set.

Now compare this with the average follower of Christ. We have a financial plan, we have a plan to save for something we want, we have a practice schedule for our favorite hobby, we plan our television viewing, we map out our vacation, but we are haphazard in our spiritual growth and in our witnessing to others!

Jesus says we need to be as shrewd in the spiritual realm as the people outside the church are in other areas of life. If most businesses had as little success at as great of an expense as the church, they would be out of business! The world, when seeking to produce material prosperity is too often more “on”, or productive, than those who are supposedly seeking spiritual gain and prosperity.

The agents of darkness in the world have slowly, deliberately, and steadily dismantled the morality of Scripture. They have normalized people living together outside of marriage; they have made homosexuality into a “cause” worth fighting for; they have made abortion a matter of personal preference; they have called greed “ambition” and made it noble.  They have convinced people that saying “Jesus is the only way to Heaven” is actually a form of hate speech. They have systematically and patiently sought to marginalize Christian values. And what has the church done in response? When we get really riled we have called these people names!

Jesus is summoning us to diligent, strategic, focused discipleship. He calls us to take action.

  • Develop a plan to grow personally. Set aside a time to read in your Bible, to journal, and to pray. Set goals for books you will read and classes you will take. Get involved in a study group. Put spiritual growth activities on your calendar. Be intentional about growing in your faith.
  • Develop a plan to reach those who are outside of the gospel. Learn the answers to common questions; practice your testimony so you have it down to just a few minutes. Learn how to explain the message of salvation clearly.
  • Intentionally look for ways to demonstrate the love of Christ to someone who is hurting.
  • Make plans to connect with people who have no religious background
  • See the coming financial crisis and work diligently to get out of debt and to live more simply so you are prepared.
  • Be informed on the issues of the day so you can voice your opinions in loving yet strong and reasoned ways (not near as easy as it sounds).

I think we can draw some principles from Jesus. Principle 1: Live in the Present in Light of the Future. A Financial planner must convince us to give up stuff now so that we can meet our goals and needs for later. Jesus is calling us to something even more significant: we should use what we have now to gain what is spiritual and eternal.

You hear people say, “It doesn’t get any better than this!”  But it does! This is what we need to remember. A better day is coming and we should be focused on that day. Jesus said,

I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. (9)

When someone dies today we often want to know: What did they leave behind? Jesus says the question we should ask of other and of ourselves is: “What have we sent ahead?” As soon as the prospect of eternity grips our heart; it changes everything. It changes the way we view our age, our purpose and our possessions. We are to live now….in light of then. Let me give you three practical reasons to live this way.

First, we can impact the lives of others if we will make an effort. We are the richest country in the world. We have resources that can save lives. If we will live to make an impact rather than simply to have a good time we can change the world! Don’t underestimate what you can do.

  • You can sponsor a child
  • You can labor in prayer for lost people
  • You can start a needed ministry
  • You can reach the youth in our own community
  • You can offer comfort or support to the elderly
  • You can do something as simple as bringing your grandchildren to church, Sunday School and Youth Group
  • You can have cook-outs, dinners, and other gatherings where you invite some of your non-Christian friends so they can be exposed to your Christian friends and the message of Christ
  • You can write letters and make phone calls

Yes you are just one person, but the Bible is filled with stories about how God used one person to make a profound difference.

The second reason to live now in light of then is, one day our stuff will be gone. We need to remind ourselves that the only thing we get to take with us when we die are the people who have learned of Jesus through us. No matter how much surgery we have, no matter how many vitamins we ingest, or how many miles we run, we will not live forever. All that stuff we thought we needed will either be consumed (in medical expenses or estate taxes) or divided up among others. We don’t get to keep any of it.

The third reason, somehow we enrich our eternal future by living now in light of then. Jesus seems to say we can impact our eternal enjoyment by how we live and what we do right now. I don’t know how this works but I don’t need the details. We are being taught that if we invest in the advancement of the Kingdom of God the return is better than anything this world can offer.  Hear these words of 2 Corinthians 4,

Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Let’s be honest, most of us would rather go to Hawaii than go to Heaven! We are more excited about meeting our favorite celebrity than we are with meeting Jesus. We are more enthusiastic about a sporting event than we are the worship of the King of Kings! Jesus calls us to think about Heaven; to consider what is at stake. Once we truly catch even a glimpse of Heaven it should forever change the way we live on earth.

Principle 2: We Learn This Gradually

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. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? (10-12)

God does not usually drop someone into a position of great influence in the community of faith until they have proved themselves faithful in other things. Think about someone who wants to be a teacher. First, they learn in a classroom then they are placed in supervised teaching situations. Only after this are they put in a classroom. We become wise through the experiences of life.

Many of have no idea what God wants us to do. We don’t have any big plans or great ideas. The message here is: start where you are. Be faithful in the everyday tasks of life. Look for ways to serve God in your home; Serve Him faithfully on the committees on which you serve (wherever they are); Be a person who does what they say; keep your promises; Look for ways to invest your money in things that will pay eternal dividends; Be on the lookout for ways to reach others for the gospel. Show kindness in your own home.

Principle 3: You Can’t Have it Both Ways

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.” 14 The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15 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. (13-15)

Jesus reminds us that we must make a choice. We must choose how we will invest our lives. You can’t live pursuing the things of the world and lay up treasure in Heaven at the same time. It is one or the other. The question this morning is a simple one: which master will you serve: money or God? Will you seek the applause of men or the “Well-done” of the Father? Will you put your focus on the earth or on Heaven? There are many who believe you can do both. Jesus says they are wrong. It is one or the other, there is no in between. We make a choice consciously or unconsciously.

Take a good look around you. Notice the people who are making a big impact in business, politics, and in the Kingdom of Christ. Notice their vision, their focus and their creativity. They know where they are headed and it effects every decision they make. They have a plan for growth. Jesus suggests that we learn from their example.

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Scripture:

Luke 16:1-15