A lesson to be learnt - Luke 16:1-8

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the morning service on 22nd February 2009.

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A few years ago I came across a story about a preacher in America who was given the task of preaching on the subject of giving. As the preacher began his message the congregation were very enthusiastic. “Brethren”, he said, “the church is on the move. She will walk to victory.” “Amen, brother, preach it” came the reply. “Brethren, the church is on the move. She will run to victory.” “Yeah, let her run.” “Brethren, the church is on the move. She will fly to victory.” “Yeah, let her fly.” “Brethren, if the church is to fly she must have money to fly.” “Yeah, let her walk” came the reply.

There are many places in the New Testament that we could turn to in order to contemplate how Christians are to use the money God has given them but I have always been fond of taking people to this parable in Luke 16. I think I love it for two main reasons. At first glance it seems very unusual. It seems such an odd story to hear from the lips of Jesus. Because at first sight he apparently commends the behaviour of a crook. Secondly, when understood properly I think this story of Jesus provides us with a heart warming motivation to be generous with whatever money God has entrusted us with.

Let’s see if we can understand the story.

We’re told in verse 1 that “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.’”

Here was judgement day for this dodgy accountant. The scoundrel has, at last, been revealed to be the self-interested shark that he really was. His employer has been listening to the rumours on the grapevine and is now convinced that his portfolio manager has been wasting his possessions. We discover from the rest of the story that this manager was not a stupid man and so I think we must assume that his financial mismanagement was not incompetence but deliberate and planned. This is what people have been telling the rich man.

What did he do? He summoned the manager into his office to sack him from his job. This was no dressing down. This was it. This was the big push. The manager is to explain what he has done and then he is to prepare to leave the company.

At this point the rich man obviously makes a mistake, a mistake that no big business makes these days. Suppose that a rich banker in London is exposed as a swindler and is called in to the boss’s office to be sacked. How long do you think they would be allowed to remain at their desk before they are asked to leave the premises? Surely they would be removed as soon as possible. They would be asked to clear their desk, collect their box of possessions and then leave the building immediately – all under the supervision of two large security guards. They would not be allowed to sit at their desk for a few hours knowing that their career was over.

However, this is exactly what the manager in Jesus’ story was allowed to do. He left his employer’s office and went back to his desk to contemplate his future. Which is where he had his big idea. Look at what we discover in verses 3 and 4. “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.’”

This guy was a wimp. He says to himself, “Look at my hands! For years and years they have been protected by Mild Green Fairy Liquid. So there’s no chance that I could survive a job that involved any serious manual labour.” But what is he to do? He’s too embarrassed to sell the Big Issue on the street and the Welfare State hasn’t been invented yet so he cannot claim his jobseekers allowance. What is this guy to do? He has an idea. He has a eureka moment. He knows that the only thing he is good at is dodgy financial dealings. So in the last few hours of his career he decides to prepare for his future.

At this point he had been sacked. He had lost his job and therefore his authority. However, he still had the accounting books and he still had the advantage that his sacking was not yet public knowledge. He used this situation to his personal advantage and devised the very clever plan that we read about in verses 5 to 7.

So verse 5, “He called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 “‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’ 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.’

There is disagreement about what he actually did and why it was so successful but let me tell you the explanation that makes most sense to me.

•    They don’t know he has been sacked. They still think he is operating on the authority of the rich man.
•    You can imagine the conversation. Me and the boss have been chatting and I’ve managed to persuade him that the bill is too high. He is such a generous man.
•    He has instructed me to give you your bill and ask you to mark it down and you’ll only have to pay the reduced amount.

These were substantial amounts of money. Someone has worked out that the oil would have cost three year’s of an average labourer’s salary.

Can you imagine the reaction of the debtors? They would have been overjoyed and spread the news quickly about the generous rich man and his faithful manager.

After the execution of this plan, what was the rich man to do? He had two choices. He could reveal all and explain that the manager had no legal authority to make the changes. He had been sacked. So the people involved would have to pay the full amount back. But if he did this all the parties in his honour would be stopped and his reputation would suddenly change from being Mr Generous to being My Scrooge. The alternative was to still sack the manager but say nothing of his last crime. Perhaps let him go because personal difficulties. And still bask in his reputation as the generous rich man. What would he do? Well, in fact he had no choice. His reputation was far more important than his bank balance so he had to simply grin and bear it. Put on a cheesy smile for the cameras and accept the praise for his ‘generosity’. 

What are we to learn from this parable? Look at what we are told in verse 8. ‘The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. [And then Jesus says…] For the people of this world are more shrew in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.’’

Notice that the manager was not commended because he was a crook but because he was smart. We are not to make the mistake and think that the ethical behaviour of this dodgy geezer is an example for everyone to follow. The rich man still calls him a dishonest manager so he is not happy about his business ethics. However, even the cheated rich man must acknowledge the cleverness of his manager’s plan. He would still be losing his job but given this certain future he had acted wisely to secure the friendship of the debtors who would now look after him in his new unemployed status.

Why did Jesus tell the story? What are we to learn from it? His point is very simple. The people of this world [non Christians] are often much smarter than the children of the light [Christians] are preparing now for a future they anticipate. The manager was shrew because he knew what was coming and acted appropriately. Jesus is saying that his disciples are not always so shrewd. He wants us to consider the certain future that awaits us and to live differently as a result.

What is this future? It is to be with God and with God’s people forever in the New Creation. This is where we will be in 100 years time if we are followers of Jesus Christ. This is the future that really matters. Jesus says we are to act differently now on the basis of that certain future to come. Different aspects of our behaviour that are to change as a result of our future destination but, in verse 9, Jesus focuses on how we use our money. He says, “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.’’

Wealth is called worldly for at least two reasons. It can lead to great worldliness and exert great power over someone and put them in a godless direction. Also, money will not be a feature of our heavenly future. Jesus says use it while you can. But how are we to use it? He says, use it to gain friends so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

What does this mean? It’s not about buying your way into heaven. This is not leaving a big legacy to the church to guarantee you an entry ticket beyond the heavenly gates. Jesus is talking to disciples (see verse 1), those who have already chosen to follow him. So this is not behaviour that makes you a disciple and hence a citizen of heaven but behaviour that is appropriate for those who name themselves as disciples of Jesus. We are to use our money to gain friends so that we will be welcomed into heaven.

The key question is who will welcome us into heaven? We can expect to be welcomed by the Lord Jesus but in this verse the welcome seems to be from the friends we have made here on earth by using our money shrewdly.

How can the use of our money gain us friends who will welcome us into eternity? Let me give you a few examples of how this might work.

I’ll start with an obvious one. If you give personally to support a Christian worker. You should make a friend for life. Money talks.

Perhaps if you support a Christian in financial need.

Less obvious ways. Surprising friends.

Money is required to enable the gospel to be communicated.

•    The people the gospel worker encounter.
•    Suppose we talk about general giving to the church.
•    The children’s work here at St John’s. Many volunteers but we also have two full time workers who reach many hundreds of children with the gospel.
•    The Identity course. It costs to run this. Refreshments and booklets.
•    The website.

I don’t know if you ever imagine the welcoming party that will greet you at the gates of heaven. Who do you think you will be in the crowd? Perhaps the work colleague who you witnessed to over many years. Perhaps that friend you prayed for until they finally accepted Christ as Saviour.

But what if I told you that when you give your money to further the advancement of gospel communication many other people will be waiting to greet you when you enter into heaven? Just imagine the conversations on that final day.

The manager prepared for his certain future. The question is, will we?

Jesus says, “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

I love being part of a generous church but what struck me about Graham’s finance presentation is what more we could do if we all gave 10% of our money to fund gospel work. It would be incredible.

I understand that not all 10% may be given to the local church but suppose 5% was. How much we could do.

So let leave this motivation with you and ask you to act now on the basis of this certain future.

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