“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. 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. (Luke 16:8-9, ESV)
I’ve been mystified and intrigued by this particular account in Scripture which always seemed at first glance to reward or at least commend the dishonest behavior on the part of the manager spoken of in the parable this passage comes from.
Numerous commentaries I’ve consulted over the years–or just plain people I’ve asked their opinion on this–have all had conflicting and contradicting opinions.
As a manager who stewarded all the belongings of his master, this man implicitly would have had the power of attorney for his boss in being authorized to cancel debts owed to his master, and carry on the affairs in his name. It is impossible to not notice some Biblical principles that are laid out here in the concept of stewardship.
Jesus the Son said that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Him (Matthew 28:17-19) by God the Father, and Christ has given the believing Christian His authority (Luke 10:18-20, Mark 16:15-20, 2 Peter 1:3-4), by filling us with the indwelling presence of His nature, His own Spirit–Who is no less God than the Father or God the Son are. We represent The Master to the world. His servants are enabled to carry out His will so that it may be done on earth as it is in heaven. We know from other similar parables Jesus taught, that all of us in the kingdom of God have been entrusted with talents that we’re going to have to give an account for (Matt 25:14-30, Luke 19:12-28). The manager in this parable is a servant, who after a likely significant amount of time, got fired after being found out for his dishonesty with the master’s assets. Specific details are lacking from the text, but that is the jist we’re given.
It’s the opinion of this writer, that the man probably had been doing this for a long time, perhaps his whole adult life and had no other backdoor job he could go do at his age. In the culture of his time, if you weren’t practically born into the laborious workforce, you weren’t physically up to the job because you’d not have been using your muscles to chop down trees or construct large edifices–hence his pondering ‘I’m not strong enough to dig‘ (verse 3)–indicates he probably had been doing something like stewardship and accounting for a significant amount of time prior. His physical body had only known the work of pushing pencils. Subsequently, after being the go-to person many of his master’s debtors would go to regarding their debts, he would naturally be ashamed to be seen begging on the street as well.
It should be noted, that although the details are mentioned briefly as to two of the people who he spoke to here, it might sometimes slip our notice that verse 5 says he summoned all of the master’s debtors one by one. The total debt he wiped clean from all of the master’s debtors totaled the equivalent of a year and a half’s worth of pay. He used his power of attorney–power of being able to represent and speak on behalf of the master as though he were the master himself regarding matters of money (interestingly enough, in the Spanish Bible, it says that the servant asked the first person “how much do you owe me“). He used his authority not only to shrink those peoples’ accounts significantly and cancel some of their debts, but to garner himself favor with each of them, and this is what the master was commending–and not the dishonest and shrewd act itself, but the foresight this servant was operating with.
Make Friends For Yourselves By Unrighteous Wealth
‘I say unto you‘ usually indicates Jesus is speaking to the listeners. He’s making a point specifically, and so since He’s telling us something directly, it’s best to listen and understand! Therefore, as odd as this particular verse seems, it can’t be ignored, but the context we’ve just been exploring sheds light on it.
All of mankind is indebted to The Master. For all intents and purposes, none of us are able to approach God the Father except we be forgiven of our sins by Him, which is what Christ’s work on the cross was intended to do–and did–accomplish–but only for those who choose to receive it and accept it. Because God has chosen to use fallen, but redeemed members of mankind in order to accomplish His purposes in the earth, we are then like the servant in this parable in that we are wretched and dishonest at heart until our prior debt to Christ has been cancelled through faith in Christ coupled with repentance. Once we are born again into the kingdom of God, we’re then His servants, and His ambassadors (2 Cor 5:20) in this world, carrying out His will on the earth. It is in this regard the parable is speaking to the disciples and followers, bearing in mind His audience was both his disciples and the pharisees who were listening (verses 1, 14).
God wouldn’t tell us the children of darkness are wiser than us, without going into detail as to how we can be wiser than they. Verses 8-9 of this chapter contain the application that is being set forth throughout the story shared in the verses prior to it. Jesus gave parables so that He could put something into our spirits to have a spiritual application made understandable to our mental faculties, in order to penetrate our spirits with it. Therefore this phrase or verse is like the punchline, or the point He has been making with this illustration.
How are the children of this world wiser than the children of the kingdom of God?
This man had tremendous foresight, and knew to do something with the ‘power of attorney’ he had to cancel significant portions of peoples’ debts, in order that when he no longer was this Master’s servant, he would have many people who might receive him into their homes when he needed somewhere to go, because they were now indebted to him, the manager, with gratitude for what he had done for them. Jesus called this manager wise, because he used this power he was given–to serve and prepare for his final end. Jesus is teaching here, that the world is better at thinking long term for their lives in terms of unrighteous wealth in just this earthly temporary realm, than we are about eternal righteous power in money. When I look at how Hollywood can make $200 million dollar budget movies just for us to be entertained by, but churches using bake-offs and garage sales to fund the spreading of the Gospel, I tend to agree.
However, Jesus said all that in the parable, about the natural, in order to make His point in the spiritual. He is saying to make friends to ourselves using the not specifically the money itself, but the power that it’s in it. The persons in this parable all had debts they owed, and one way this servant made friends to himself, was using what they needed–freedom [from their debts]–and made them ingratiated towards himself. Jesus is telling us to do the same thing.
Steve, this sounds like name it and claim it, blab it and grab it to me. I’m surprised you of all people would take any time to post something like this or imply that’s what a Scripture is teaching.
You would be right about how this sounds…until you read the phrase “so that when it fails” or depending on the translation “when you fail, they may receive you into eternal dwellings” (KJV). Most prosperity and faith teachers I’ve heard of don’t have the word ‘fail’ in their vocabulary, so hear me about where I’m going with this:
God would represent the master, and the servant, as–already stated–is us. Unbelievers, the sons of the world are indebted to the Father and as His ambassadors, we represent Him and mete out his judgments and authority, and cancel peoples’ debts with His name as we proclaim the Gospel and sinners get saved. When we proclaim liberty to the captives. When we lay our hands on the sick and set them free, using the power of the Master that is in us, to see them healed. When we cast devils out of people and set them free. To them who have been forgiven much, they also love much (Luke 7:47) The slave, and debtors in this parable, are those of us bound by sin and held captive by the afflictions the Master has given the Christian believer authority to set people free of.
When we carry out this authority, and proclaim the Gospel to people and they get saved; or when we do some amazing act of generosity towards someone in a manner that they could never repay us for such as given to the poor, and the light of God in us shines through in a way that makes an impact on them so as to remove their blinders that they would be open to receiving Christ; or when we lay hands on them or a loved one and see them healed of terminal disease–all these examples leading to them having an encounter with the living God and putting their trust in Him, and being set free from their debts owed but paid for on the cross of Christ at Calvary–these pave the way for them to one day receive us into the eternally heavenly dwelling when we too get there.
How are you impacting people?
Therefore, we’re given a mandate for the proper way of using the power that’s in money, for eternal purposes. One day, all of heaven and earth will have passed away, and there will be no more currency being exchange between men. There will be no more buying and selling, indebtedness or borrowing. No more stock market crashes and fluctuating commodity prices. Those who will have gone on to eternal life will be there and those who didn’t accept Christ and put their trust in Him, eternal damnation. And when our earthly bodies have passed away, and all the elements of this natural realm have been dissolved and nothing remains but the eternal, we will be ready to enter the eternal dwellings. Those that you’ve had an impact on, using the proper use of money and the power in it, will have people there waiting for you when you get there, to thank you for having led them to Christ or seen them set free from their unforgivable debts towards Him. It is these people who are ‘they’ who are going to receive you into eternal dwellings.
In closing, let me challenge you with your eyes towards eternity: how are you using your money, resources, and your gifts, calling and talents to store up treasures for yourselves in eternity? Will there be people to receive you into the eternal dwellings for the impact you’ve helped have on getting them there? Will there be people in eternity who will thank you not necessarily because you led them to Christ, but because you wisely stewarded into places, people, ministries and causes who did in ways you weren’t able to yourself?
If so, you are just as much a part of that, by using and stewarding the power of money, your resources, and your talents and enablings God’s endowed you with for the use of the Gospel in evangelism or other manners–in appropriate kingdom ways–for the glory of eternal God.