1 He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2 And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3 And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8 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. 9 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.
10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters, for 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 God and money.”
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
No getting around it. This parable is one of the most difficult texts in the Gospels and all of Scripture. A lot of pastor friends of mine were joking about how this text is the reason churches have associate pastors and interns so the ‘regular’ pastor can be protected from having to preach on this text. Unfortunately for me – and, maybe, you – I don’t have that luxury. Just so you know. I’m purposefully skipping Jesus’ words in v. 9. I’ve heard a few explanations and interpretations of v. 9 that may be right, but I’m not entirely convinced by any of them. So, I’m not preaching on it.
So, since the parable is already difficult to preach, I’m going to double down. I’ll deal with the parable first, and then I’ll preach about money, stewardship, and tithing. A double-whammy.
First, the parable. A rich man, who owns a lot of land and leases it out to farmers, has a manager who keeps the books, and the manager is a crook. He cooks the books and is swindling his boss, the rich man. When the manager is confronted by his boss, he has no response because he’s been caught red-handed. So, the rich man fires him, but the rich man is also generous. He doesn’t have the guy thrown straight into prison. Instead, the rich man is gracious and lets the manager head back to his office to get the books and turn them in for the last time.
On the way to his office, the manager is worried about his future well-being. He realizes that he’s too weak for manual labor and too proud to beg. But he recognizes that he has a window of opportunity which is only open until he turns in the books. So, the manager secretly calls in his master’s debtors and decreases their debts in order to make friends with them. It is interesting to note that the fifty measures of oil and the twenty measures of wheat are both roughly equal to the same amount of money – about five-hundred denarii (or 500 days’ wages).
This reduction was, of course, not legally binding. The rich man could have simply said, “Hang on everyone. I fired that guy before he lowered your debt. You still owe the original amount.” But that isn’t the character of the rich man. Instead, the whole town is singing the praises of the rich man because he is so generous. And the rich man isn’t willing to harm his reputation as a merciful guy. So, what does the rich man do in the parable? He tells the fired, scoundrel of a manager, “Dude, you’re shrewd. You knew I’d rather be known as a merciful person rather than hold on to my wealth. And by your shrewdness, you’ve helped yourself.”
That’s the key to understanding the parable. The rich man in Jesus’ parable doesn’t praise the sinfulness of the fired manager. Instead, he praises how shrewd the manager was. The manager put all his eggs in one basket – the basket of the rich man’s generosity and mercy. And it paid off. By betting on the mercy of the rich man, the manager made himself some friends before everything was taken from him.
And notice that Jesus wishes we were more daring with what we have been given. In the last half of v. 8, Jesus says, “The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.”Christian, you have been given mercy, forgiveness, salvation, eternal life, eternal hope, eternal joy, eternal peace, eternal love – all things that cannot be taken from you. But you still are careful about sharing those things with others. Repent!
Why are you so careful about sharing God’s love for you with others? Don’t be ashamed! Christian, you have Jesus, and you have the Gospel. You have God’s unfailing, unending love. You have been entrusted with the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Ro. 1:16).
Stop being afraid of losing friends if you share the Gospel with them. God has given you the perfect righteousness and perfect obedience of Christ. Be faithful with what God has given you for your life and salvation. Be willing to give it away. Be faithful in your stewardship of the Gospel. That’s the parable.
Now, we move on to stewardship because, notice what Jesus says (v. 12), “If you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?”
If you aren’t faithful with the grace you have been freely given in Jesus Christ, why would God trust you with lesser things, things like money? God is right to not trust you with money if you cannot be trusted with the Gospel. This is a shift in gears here, but stick with me.
God often deals with sin and idols by using those sins and idols to be their own punishment. In Daniel, some pagans planned on getting Daniel thrown into the lion’s den and killed for disobeying the king and praying to God. But they are the ones who end up being eaten by the lions (Dan. 6). Or do you remember the book of Esther? The wicked Haman plans on killing faithful, God-fearing Mordecai by hanging him on a pole, but then Haman ends up being executed on that very instrument of death. This happens with unbelievers, but it also happens with believers. David’s sin of lust plagues him the rest of his life after he commits adultery with Bathsheba. The same thing happens with the most common idol in the world – money.
There have been studies on income and happiness, and a correlation has been found about how much you make and how happy you are. The interesting thing is that once you make a certain amount, happiness actually decreases. What do you think the amount is where happiness starts to decrease? It’s probably lower than you think – somewhere around $70,000. If you have little money but think that just a bit more will make you happier, money is your idol, and you will always be discontent with how much you have. But if you idolize money when you have lots of it, you still aren’t happy and spend all your time trying to hold on to it.
Now, Jesus is absolutely clear, “You cannot serve God and money.”It can’t be done. If you trust in money, you do not trust God. So, repent of your love of money.
One of the best ways to protect yourself against idolizing money is to be generous – recklessly generous. Remember, everything you have – your life, your house, your clothes, your food, your finances, your money – everything is a gift from God. As Creator of everything, it all belongs to God.
You are merely a manager, a steward of what God, the Rich Man, has given and entrusted to you. And God is extremely loose and permissive in how much freedom you have in managing what is entrusted to you. God is actually pleased when you use the things that He has given you to manage and you take those things and use them to care for your family. God is even pleased when you enjoy things that might even be considered frivolous – like expensive coffee, or a gourmet steak and lobster dinner. God is pleased to give those things to you especially when you recognize that He is the One who has given it to you.
But God doesn’t want you to hoard everything He has given you to pamper yourself. He wants to use you and your management to provide for others as well. So, ask yourself, “What is the most important thing God wants to provide for others?” Yes, people need food and water and clothing. But the most important thing God wants people to have is the Gospel. The Gospel which provides for others not just in this life but for all eternity.
So, I would encourage you. Take a look at your finances. Yes, look at how you spend your money, but more importantly look at how much you give away – and where are you giving that money. Are you providing for people’s temporal needs by giving to the food shelf, the homeless shelter, etc.? Good. But you should be shrewd enough to give more to provide for people’s eternal needs. First, you should be giving to this congregation to make sure that both you and your brothers and sisters will be fed with the Gospel. Then, you should be giving to missionaries who call people to repentance and faith in Christ. Then, give to those other places as well.
I hope you know that what you give in the offering plate does go out from here too. As a congregation, we tithe 10% of what you give in the offering plate to provide for missionaries, the promotion of the Gospel, and to agencies in our community that provide temporal needs to others in our community.
If all this talk about tithing and money makes you squirm because you realize that you have not been a faithful manager of what God has given you, repent. Repent and amend your ways. And if you hear this and think to yourself, “I’m glad pastor is finally telling other people to give the way that I give.” Or if you’re thinking, “I wish so-and-so was here to hear this.” You repent too because this is law. And the law should always make us squirm. Your bank ledger isn’t what matters when it comes to your salvation.
The only thing that matters for your salvation is what Christ has done and completed for you upon the cross. Even when you are stingy and fail to be generous with what God has given to you, God was not. He gave what was most valuable to Him for your salvation. God, in His mercy, gave Jesus to die upon the cross for you. Don’t trust in your stewardship of what God has given you. Instead, trust in Christ’s giving of Himself completely for you and for others. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.