Prepare our hearts, O God, to hear your Word and obey your will. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord, we pray. Amen.
Here’s another way of making the same point that John Ortberg makes when he says, “It all goes back in the box.” Author Randy Alcorn uses a bit of an insensitive, yet I think nevertheless, highly effective image when he says, “You’ll never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul.” A little jarring, but definitely gripping. Though I’ve been to a few memorial services, I’ve never seen it. And yeah, it didn't feel like a good one to use with the kids.
Whatever we've acquired, we’ll take none of it with us in the life to come. And so the question becomes - how should we think about and steward what we’ve been given in light of that reality? That will be in many ways our focus today as we consider this strange and perplexing and disturbing parable sometimes known as the Dishonest or Shrewd Manager.
If you were trying to figure out how to make sense of this parable that Matthew just read, you’re certainly not alone. It is indeed a truly baffling one. One commentator even quipped that Christians throughout the years have been making themselves go bald while scratching their heads trying to interpret this one. Another said that pastors and teachers typically avoid this parable like the plague. Kind of wish I read that last part before yesterday, but whatever ☺
Because here’s the parable in a nutshell. A manager mismanages his master's money and gets fired. And on his way out the door, he slashes the amounts owed by the master’s debtors as a way of making friends and preparing for his uncertain future as an unemployed man. And yet, here’s the kicker. The manager is not punished for his behavior, rather he is commended by his manager for his shrewdness. All of which leaves us with this disturbing and perplexing question. Is Jesus using a bad man as a good example for us, commending a man who was both a liar and a thief? And what are you and I supposed to make of all this?
We’ll answer these questions and more in just a few minutes. But first, before we dive into the thick of our scripture today, I feel compelled this morning to say one more thing. Because there’s another aspect to this story that might make you a little uncomfortable, and that is, we are yet again talking about money and possessions. To my count, it’s been a subject of conversation at least 3-4 times in sermons past as we’ve been making our way through Luke’s Gospel, with still 2-3 more sermons on the subject yet to come.
And given that, I think it’s worth taking a brief minute or two to discuss why Luke, as the human author of this book, and Jesus, as the divine author, continue to address this subject over and over again. My best hypothesis here is to borrow an image from Christian financial advisor, Ron Blue, where he uses a couple simple images to describe money’s significance in the Christian life, saying, first, that money is like a window. That is, money, and the way we steward it, reveals the deepest desires of our heart. How we think about and spend our money often reflects the things that we find our meaning and purpose in.
For example, if a stranger were to ask you, “What do you love, value, cherish?”, your first thought might be, “Hey, how about we get to know each other a little first?” But more seriously, you might have no clue how to answer that question. Yet here’s the thing, there’s a very good chance that the answer is right there on your credit card statement or budget. Where your money goes is often a reflection of what our hearts want most. And that can be kind of scary.
But yet, at the same time, here’s the beautiful thing about money. Money is not only a window, it’s also a door. Money not only reveals what the heart wants, but it’s also one of the means in which Jesus can get to our hearts. Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” That means that our hearts go where our money goes, and so trusting Jesus when it comes to stewarding our money is one of the ways Jesus makes our hearts right too. In addition, money, when rightly stewarded, is one of the ways in which we can bring Jesus' healing to our community and see his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
This, I think, is why the bible, why Luke, and why Jesus talk so much about money and possessions and stewardship. Yes, it may be a window that reveals our hearts, but it’s also a door, a way in which Jesus can change our hearts too. And so, if you’re sitting here this morning thinking to yourself, do we really need another sermon on money and possessions, I think that is the answer why.
Alright, let’s now dive in head first to our parable this morning. As much as I may want to, I realize I can’t filibuster any longer. So let’s get after it. There are believed to be at least 16 interpretations for this parable. I'm going to give what I think is the simplest and most straightforward one, one that I think is best supported by the text itself.
We’re going to work backwards on this one … starting in verse 8. We need to understand, what exactly was commendable about this manager? Well, Jesus tells us, saying, 8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. There you have it. He was not commended for his dishonesty, for his thievery, or for his tomfoolery. No, he was commended because he was shrewd. In other words, he acted boldly and decisively when it came to preparing and planning for his future.
And here’s what I mean: The manager has effectively been fired by his master. And as he realizes that his time in this role is quickly running out and that his access to his master’s money is coming to an end, he quickly pivots, realizing that he must figure out how he’s going to make it by and survive as an unemployed man.
Saying to himself in verses 3 & 4, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’
And so he concocts a mischievous and clever plan. He slashes the remaining debts of the master’s debtors, allowing them to now pay a good bit less than they originally owed.
His thinking here is to curry favor with his customers and have them in his good graces. 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’
Even more, he’s likely thinking that he can get away with this because it would be bad business for the master, it would look stingy and rude of the master, to come back afterwards and negate the deal. So yes, this is rather shrewd on the manager’s part. Which is precisely what the master ends up commending him for.
All that said, we’re still left with this question, “What are you and I supposed to do with this story and what lessons or truths are we supposed to learn from it?”
Here we need to go to verse 9, where Jesus thankfully applies the parable for us, saying, 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
So notice the parallels here … a manager used his master’s wealth shrewdly in order to gain friends for himself so that when his employment had ended, he’d be welcomed into their earthly homes. In other words, he used his master’s wealth as a means by which he could plan and prepare for his earthly future.
And now here, Jesus says, we as Christians, as followers of Jesus, should do a similar thing.
We should use our worldly wealth in order to plan and prepare, not for our earthly future, but rather for our eternal future.
Notice Jesus says, “so that when it is gone.” In other words, everything we own and accumulate, all our wealth and possessions, will all go back in the box. We’re taking none of it with us. And because of that, we should use our worldly wealth to gain friends for ourselves, so that we will be welcomed into eternal dwellings, in other words, our heavenly home.
Through a shrewd use of his master’s wealth, the manager secured for himself his earthly future and you and I should do the same when preparing for our heavenly future.
Now, though we may at this point have a bit more clarity, this may still make us all feel a bit uneasy. It almost leaves you with this sense that we can buy our way into heaven through the proper use of our earthly wealth and stewardship. This of course, is not so.
However, as we mentioned before. Money is both a window and a door. Our stewarding of it is both a reflection of our hearts and a way in which Jesus changes our hearts and rightly reorders what we love. And so, no, our wealth and stewardship of it is not our ticket into heaven, and yet, how we steward what we’ve been given is a reflection of our heart. It’s a sign of where our true faith and trust is found. Is it in our money or in Christ? It’s in teasing out those connections that we can begin to understand wealth’s eternal implications.
So friends, once again. Let’s turn the corner. What does this look like practically speaking to “use our worldly wealth to gain friends for ourselves, so that we will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” I’ll give four things to consider, the first of which will not surprise you in the least:
Give your wealth away
One of the single best investments we can make with our worldly wealth is to simply give it away. In most every household, there’s someone who is more of a spender, and someone who is more of a saver, and both parties have to encourage the other to become more of a giver.
Of course, one of the primary places we should direct our giving is to the local church. Not only is it in obedience to what scripture calls us to, but even more, it’s a heavenly investment. We here are striving towards seeing more and more people introduced to and growing in their love and knowledge of Jesus, so that Lord willing, heaven continues to grow in its head count.
Give to the church and yet, give even more broadly than that, which I know so many of you already do.
One of the most encouraging things I’ve seen here in Dillon is that when I go to Barrett Hospital to visit people or to the HS gym for a basketball game or to Jaycee Park with my boys or to the YMCA for my annual workout, I see your names, a list of people who have donated to great causes here in our town. I just love that. We thank God for you and for your generosity.
Even more, give to the poor. We’ve seen this charge given multiple times throughout Luke’s Gospel and even more, it helps us make sense of that strange phrase that we should use our worldly wealth to gain friends for ourselves. At first glance, that sounds as if we should curry favor and make inroads with the rich and famous, wining and dining them to our own benefit. And yet, truth is, it is probably just the opposite. Time and time again, we’ve seen Jesus befriending not the rich, but the poor. Even going so far to once say, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
Give to the church, give in general, and give to the poor.
Here’s another way in which we can use our worldly wealth so that we will be welcomed into eternal dwellings, and that is, to …
Spend strategically and prayerfully
I wouldn’t want us to think that the only heavenly good we can do with our money is to simply give it away and I apologize if I’ve ever given you that impression, for I fear sometimes I do.
Truth is, one of the best things we can do with our wealth is to spend it strategically and prayerfully.
Here’s one of my all time favorite examples:
Many years ago, another family in the neighborhood I grew up in was looking to move - they had three kids and were in need of more space. They eventually found the house they wanted, bought it, and recognized it was going to require a decent sized remodel to accommodate their family of five. However, after they bought the house, they soon after learned that the house had some foundational problems and would need even more remodeling than they thought.
So the husband and wife were at this make or break point, thinking, “Gosh, are we really spending all this money on this house? All our kids are all going to graduate and move out in the next 10 years or so anyway.” So they started praying about it, and a friend even came over to bless the house. And the husband, Jeff, started thinking to himself, “I just feel like this house is going to be a sanctuary, a place of rest for people someday, somehow.” And so they continued on and invested in the remodel.
And throughout the years, they housed a number of church interns, all of whom have been incredible role models for their kids. And in recent years, after their kids graduated and moved out, some of Betsy’s family, Jeff’s wife, fell upon hard times and needed a place to live. And so, these days, you’ve got a divorced sister living in the basement and two kids from another sister living in the rooms upstairs. All because Jeff and Betsy spent strategically and prayerfully years before, and through their financial investment have done some incredible heavenly good.
Financial planner Art Rainer encourages Christians to, “Give generously, save wisely, and live appropriately.” I love those three, and yet I’d add one more. How might you in the year ahead spend strategically and prayerfully and through your investment do some incredible heavenly good?
That’s the second, here’s the third:
Steward everything you’ve been given for the greatest possible good
In addition to not wanting you to think that giving is the only faithful and obedient thing you can do with your money, I’d also hate to give the impression that you need to have a lot of money in order to honor God and serve others. As I say to Noah regularly, “No way, Jose.”
Jesus himself says as much when he says in verse 10, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much.” The point is, It’s not about how much you have, but rather how faithful you are with what you have.
Even more, I think it’s well within the bounds of this parable to think of wealth more broadly here, similar to how we think about stewardship as time, talents and treasure. How might we steward all that we have for the maximum possible good?
This might be especially relevant for our middle school and high school students, who (and I probably shouldn’t assume this), might be thinking, “I don’t have a lot of money.”
Well consider where you’re spending the bulk of your time these days – at school. Though it probably doesn’t feel like this most days, one of the greatest gifts we are given is the gift of education. And the question before students of all ages is, “What will we do with what we have learned?” In fact, I recently read a book that made this very plea with me as I read its conclusion saying, “You now have a stewardship of your own upon reading this book. What will you do with this knowledge you have gained?” What a fantastic and important question.
How can we steward everything we have for the maximum possible good?
I’ve already shared one example of a family opening up their home, here’s a second. And this one comes from our church. About a month ago, Shani shared a need with us – a young woman who was moving to Dillon and in need of housing. After the service, Krista DeGroot reached out and offered her home and this woman is now living with Brad and Krista. When I texted Krista to say thank you, here’s what she wrote back:
Why wouldn’t we open our home to a young single woman on a new life adventure, whose parents have asked for help from the church? … We have two lovely rooms that our daughters are not occupying right now. It’s a pretty obvious way to practice obedience—and a little answer to our prayer that God would redeem and repurpose our home for His will and glory. 😉
Amen and amen. I could not say it better myself.
Friends, how can you steward everything you have – your time, your talents, your treasure, for the maximum possible good?
That’s the third, here’s the fourth and final and this is where we’ll leave things for today:
Never forget – heaven, not earth, is your home.
It all goes back in the box. You’ll never see a hearse pulling a UHaul. Everything we have, everything we’ve been given is temporary. We must not forget that heaven, not earth, is our true home.
I’ll never forget walking into Bev Rehm’s room while she was staying at the Legacy while recovering from hip surgery. It was incredibly simple and boring. When I sat down and began to catch up with Bev, she began to share why. Saying that she had every intention of making her stay at the Legacy a short term one. So why bother decorating and hanging pictures on the walls? Rather than being cozy and comfortable, her room was rather spartan like. And that was just the way she wanted it.
What a beautiful picture of the Christian life. Friends, don’t get too comfortable here on earth. After all, it’s not your true home. Because of Jesus, we’re headed somewhere, far, far better.
Give your money away. Spend strategically and prayerfully. Steward everything you’ve been given for the greatest possible good. And never forget, heaven, not earth, is our true home.
Jesus says, “9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings