Sunday, July 10, 2022

Are you using your time, talents, and treasure toward God's Kingdom? The Parable of the Shrewd Manager

"Charles Francis Adams, 19th century political figure and diplomat, kept a diary. One day he entered: "Went fishing with my son today--a day wasted." His son, Brook Adams, also kept a diary, which is still in existence. On that same day, Brook Adams made this entry: "Went fishing with my father--the most wonderful day of my life!" The father thought he was wasting his time while fishing with his son, but his son saw it as an investment of time. The only way to tell the difference between wasting and investing is to know one's ultimate purpose in life and to judge accordingly." -Silas Shotwell, Homemade, September, 1987.

How do you invest your time? How do you invest your money? What is of value to you? What do you consider pointless? What is your goal? What is the mission statement of your life?

In our illustration today Charles Francis Adams, son to John Quincy Adams, and grandson to John Adams spends a day with his son fishing. And he regarded it as a waste.

But his son Brook Adams considered it the greatest day of his life.

Charles was a famous diplomat, a historian, he served in the military, he wrote important works. Yet for his son, the most important day of his life was when dad went fishing with him.

Sometimes we can get so focused on big concepts, big ideas, big missions, that we may miss the details. We may miss the moments that individual people will never forget, because we spent time with them.

Or we can so focused on details, on fun trips, on quality time, on cards, and gifts, and fun things, that we lose focus on kingdom matters, big things, the gospel, discipleship, salvation and spiritual growth.

Growing up I was surrounded by people living out modernism, living the American good life. Working long hours, working on the car, attending public school, watching television, attending concerts, going on family trips, the latest toys, reading the newspaper, buying a nice house, marriage and children, picnics and cookouts, sports games, and videogames, family outings, and music recitals, and Disneyworld and doctors appointments, vitamins and proper exercise, politics and finance, business building, winning friends and influencing people, fine cooking, lavish meals, shopping trips, wine tasting, touring old buildings, visiting museums, and in all that, there was little room for God. But we even went to Catholic mass on Sundays, almost always, and we even attended Wednesday CCD classes. But during the week we didn’t practically make it part of our lives. We weren’t at work for the things of God, our money, our time, and our talents went to worldly pursuits. And in so doing, we were destroying ourselves with smiles on our faces.

Keep this in mind today: “Am I using my wealth, time & talents toward Kingdom pursuits?” Or are you living the American good life?

Which brings us to our parable today, the Parable of the Unjust Steward, or also commonly referred to as the Parable of the Shrewd Manager.

This parable is located in Luke chapter 16, and just prior to this parable in Luke 15, Jesus told the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. Particularly, the context in the prodigal son is that the son has taken his father’s wealth and squandered it on wild living, but when the son returns the Father welcomes him with open arms.

Then right after the unjust steward parable in Luke 16 we see the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. So we see Jesus outlining several different themes in regard to the kingdom of God that we’ll compare later. First, let’s look at our parable today, from Luke 16:1-13 says, “Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 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.’”

3 “The manager said to himself, ‘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.’

The manager has been dishonest and he’s in trouble. The master is done with him, he’s out of here. So he’s going to hatch a plan to improve his future prospects. He’s already going to be fired. So he’s got a plan. It continues…

5 “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

6 “‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.

“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’

7 “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’

“‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.

“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’”

So we see the dishonest manager is making friends for himself by cutting people’s debts and making them better deals. Then he’ll have some friends later when he’s on the streets and in need of money. This is what troubles many theologians who are confused by what happens next. Let’s take a look:

8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 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.”

The master in this parable represents God, and the shrewd manager represents you and me. And the master actually commends the dishonest manager. It’s surprising, because the manager basically cheated him out of money he was owed. Some theologians have tried to explain this by indicating that in ancient times, a manager or a tax collector would add on an amount above the cost the master was charging, and that’s how they made money. Like a tax collector would see that you owe $3,000 in taxes and would make it $3,500 so he could keep the extra $500. That’s why tax collectors were almost universally hated. I’m a bit skeptical of this explanation because you can see from the amounts that the manager is cutting off the bills, especially for the first, he cuts the bill from 900 gallons to 450. Some theologians think well, the manager was just removing his own markup on the products so he wasn’t actually stealing from the master. That’s how they resolve it ethically. I’m skeptical of that, are you telling me his mark up was 100%? He’s charging twice what the master wants? Hard to say, I suppose it’s possible. But I don’t think we necessarily need to resolve that aspect of the parable. The parable is really teaching us what comes next in verses 10-13.

It says, 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?

13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

So in the conclusion of the parable, we see that the shrewd manager is commended, because he was wise in planning for his future prospects. And this points us toward an interesting truth: people of the world are very clever in amassing wealth and shrewd in their business deals, and so they win many friends and influence many people, and get their products and services around the world. And the Lord Jesus is telling us through this, that people of the light, he says, aren’t even as shrewd or interesting in using their wealth to build the kingdom of God, as worldly people are in building their own influence.

And isn’t that true even today? We see many billions and millionaires who influence millions with their products and services, but do we see many Christians with that kind of power and influence? Not as many as we’d like I think.

So, several take-aways here.

First, even if you have very little in this life, be trustworthy with it before God. Because if God sees that you’re trustworthy with a little, he’s going to entrust more to you. But if he sees he can’t even trust you with a little bit, well, then why should he give you more responsibility, or more wealth, or more influence?

Second, it’s interesting that Jesus notes here that we can’t serve two masters. We can’t serve both God and money. One will become dominant always. So use your wealth to serve and honor God. Don’t let your devotion to God become secondary to your worldly wealth. It won’t ever work that way.

So think again about our question for today: Am I using my wealth, time & talents toward Kingdom pursuits? Who do you serve?

Are you taking everything in your life, your finances, your abilities, your family, your time, your creative abilities, and applying it all to winning people to Christ? Then when you arrive in paradise, you’ll have many friends surrounding you there.

I always imagine one day when I get there. It’ll be a big celebration, because another saint made it home safely. And I think to myself, maybe all the people who I helped win to Christ will be there. And they’ll come up to me and say hey, thank you for giving me that gospel tract, thank you for posting that sermon online, thank you for talking to me at the store that day, and I’ll realize that all those little things I did actually did make a difference for God’s kingdom. And we’ll give all the glory to God. But I wonder, will they be there, when we arrive in paradise, the people we helped win to Christ? That would be a really special moment.

Imagine if every person here today, was as shrewd as the dishonest manager in winning friends to Christ? Imagine if they worked with the kind of effort that people in the business world do, working day and night 40, 50, 60 hours a week, putting every effort they possibly can into gaining wealth for their company, and setting up good deals, and cornering the market, and developing new products, imagine if we took all that effort and zeal and drive and passion and applied it spreading the word of God.

We could spread the gospel around the world in no time. But too many Christians set their desires before the kingdom of God. They are shrewd in trying to get what they want, trying to get money, trying to get pleasure, trying to get entertainment, trying to get romance, but the goals of God’s kingdom always seem to come in a distant second.

Well it shouldn’t be that way. So let’s make some changes in our lives. Let’s be like the shrewd manager who the master commended because he used his wealth to develop connections.

But this parable is interesting, isn’t it, because it fits right in with several other parables in Luke. First in Luke 15, the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the prodigal son. The value of the person to God, God seeking after the lost and rescuing them. Then the parable of the shrewd manager. Be shrewd about God’s kingdom, but don’t love money either. Then the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the people of God often find themselves outcast and in sorrows in this life, and no amount of evidence seems enough to convince certain people, like the wealthy.

A lot of these parables actually connect to money and the love of money. Think of the prodigal son, what led him out and into trouble, getting his inheritance and then spending it. The rich man and Lazarus, contrasting a wealthy person with a poor sickly man. And this parable about a shrewd manager that threw away a lot of money to gain friends for himself. A lot of it deals with money,

And to conclude the parable of the shrewd manager, it says in verses 14-15, “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 others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.”

That explains a lot, the Pharisees, the religious leaders had a high value of money. I think a fair amount of preachers in America today also have a high regard for money, unfortunately. So a lot of this was for the Pharisees, and the people, who were being led astray from the Pharisees. The Pharisees sneared, but Jesus says, hey, you’re the ones who are always trying to show the people that your special and holy and godly, but God knows your heart.

A lot of the things we value in our lives, very highly, God doesn’t value at all. Ever think of that?

Think of the illustration of the day of fishing with dad. To the father it was a waste, to the son it was the most important day of his life.

What in your life is mixed up? What do you value highly? What do you value lowly? That’s a good question isn’t it. I wonder if I checked in your homes, would I find you reading your Bible daily, would I find you spending quiet time with God everyday? What are you valuing? God? Or television? God or money? God or social media? God or work? That is the question. Analyze yourself. Judge yourself. The body of Christ are told to judge themselves in these days, so that we don’t fall under God’s judgment on the day of the Lord. 

“But if we would examine ourselves, we would not be judged by God in this way.” -1st Cor 11:31

In any case, as we conclude today, how can we put this into practice today?

Let’s take a look.

1. Examine yourself – Am I building God’s kingdom with my life?

2. Write up a mission statement for your life

3. Write down some goals prayerfully, of ways you can help bring Christ to people in unique ways, using your gifts and talents

4. Budget your money carefully and make sure you are setting aside money to tithe, give offerings and to provide for those in need

5. Analyze how you use your free time – What takes priority?

6. Make a plan – new ways to share the gospel in your life

7. Develop intentional friendships and relationships in which you guide people to Jesus Christ and the word of God

In conclusion, this really comes down to your heart. It’s a heart issue. In the depths of your heart, what choices do you make? Are you using your worldly wealth gifts and talents shrewdly for God’s kingdom? Or are you self focused? Selfishness must die in us as Christians, plain and simple. And God does that in the process of sanctification. Can you surrender self seeking and selfishness to him today? Analyze yourself. Who are you really? What is your goal in life? What is your mission statement? Maybe it’s time to reflect on what you’re using your sacred time, talents, and wealth for.