Wisdom from an unexpected quarter - Luke 16:1-12
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
Let me tell you about William Jones.
Mr Jones had worked his way up to being in senior management of the North of England branch of Sonkyo electronics, based in Hull. He earned a fat salary & was able to gain extra benefits through commission on certain contracts he secured.
One ordinary spring day William Jones was called in by the directors. They were terminating his contract immediately. The reason? Business malpractice.
Mr Jones was told in no uncertain terms that there was significant evidence against him & it would be for his own good that he went quietly. He had just a couple of hours to clear his desk.
Well this left the once powerful executive in a terrible situation. He had a big mortgage to pay off on his house in Kirk Ella & of credit card debt, not to mention the loan on the BMW & his children's school fees to pay. He knew full well that no one was going to give him a decent job in the field with the kind of reference he would get now. He also knew from his failed DIY projects that any work using his hands did not hold out much hope as he was rather unfit & not very dextrous. The humbling prospect of going on the dole loomed large over Mr Jones & his family
Then suddenly he had a moment of inspiration. "I know what I'll do" he said to himself. "Maybe I still have time to gain a bit of good will with people I have worked with elsewhere. It might just stand me in good stead in the future."
Mr Jones quickly went to his office & looked up a few files & began making a few phone calls. In the last few months he had set up some major deals with other companies for which he was due considerable bonuses.
He spoke to various contacts with whom he had done business & told them "It's William Jones here from Sonkyo. Look you still owe us if you can pay by next week make it just & to another "It's William Jones here (don't forget the name!) it seems you still have 50 grand outstanding on the flat screen TV deal we did with you if you can sort it out in the next few days we'll accept 35."
He did this several times thinking to himself; "This way I might win some companies over, they'll remember me & think well of me I might that way be in a better position to get work in the future to help me meet my financial commitments."
Just before he left the office for the last time with his briefcase bulging with papers & trinkets from his desk, he called in on one of the directors & explained what he had done. He wanted to reassure him it was not to the disadvantage of Sankyo electronics, as the reductions he had offered the companies were essentially his bonus payments he would not now be claiming.
The director sat back in his chair & shook his head admiringly "You canny old rascal, you crafty fella. You've certainly made the best of those 2 hours. What you did whilst you had opportunity now will certainly be of benefit to you in the future!"
If you hadn't guessed it, that is an attempt to retell the parable of the "Dishonest steward" as it is traditionally known as we read it from Luke 16 a few minutes ago.
Do turn to p1050, as we look at it this parable for I'm sure you'll find that in the words of the title of the sermon we genuinely do find wisdom from an unexpected quarter.
We find this teaching of Jesus in the 2nd half of Luke's gospel where Jesus is on a journey a journey to Jerusalem but more significantly than the route on a map it is a journey to Jesus' death, resurrection & return to heaven. (9:51 "being taken up to heaven").
In this phase of Jesus' journey we find his teaching centering on the Kingdom of God. We saw last week something of the importance of responding to God's invitation to join his Kingdom & the blessings of doing so (banquet) & just before our parable this eve there is the explanation of the wonderful gift of acceptance with God & therefore entrance to God's loving saving rule, acceptance that is available solely because of God the Father's undeserved love to rebellious children (that's the Parable of the Lost or "prodigal" son).
As we reach ch 16 it is the future dimension of God's Kingdom which is particularly in view, the reality of the fully present rule of God when Jesus returns.
It's fair to say that this parable has been one that has over the centuries caused people to scratch their heads & wrestle with its meaning more than most but then there is something about Jesus' use of parables which is intended to do that. Those who can't understand, or don't want to, simply see a quaint little story based on every-day life; those who really want to hear & understand will dwell on the meaning & think hard to work it out.
Now an important key to the parable is the 1st v (V1) This parable is spoken v1 "to the disciples". This is not teaching about how to enter the Kingdom of God but rather what behaviour is appropriate for those who have been enabled to enter on account of Jesus.
- This parable has provoked many questions because it appears Jesus seems to commend a very dubious figure. The manager is v1 accused of "wasting his masters possessions", then in v8 Jesus has the master commending the "dishonest" manager & adds "For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light."
There are some who call themselves Christians who behave as if they take this as an instruction that we should learn from the world & act like the world. "If this is what people are like nowadays we should not be out of step with popular opinion we should change our ideas to fit in. If people are dishonest at work we should not condemn them in fact we should be free to be like them." Sounds ridiculous until you hear some of the arguments coming from some church people about certain ethical & social issues!
But no! Jesus is quite prepared to tell stories using everyday illustrations & quite prepared to use in them people who are not necessarily wholesome people, not as a moral eg to be followed, but rather to drive home a truth he wants to teach about God's Kingdom.
In the words of v8 The manager is not a "child of the light" (one of God's people) he is a man who belongs to this age, this world (Lit "secular") & lives accordingly. He is hardly an ethical e.g. to follow but an illustration from everyday life from which to learn an unchanging truth. Incidentally is this not a sign of the reliability of the gospels? If you were making these things up would you have used a dubious character like this to teach something important? Probably not. The surprise value produced is a sign of authenticity.
What are we to learn from the "Shrewd" manager?
In a nutshell; Here's a man in a crisis he knows he has needs for the future so he shrewdly does what he can, whilst he can, with what he has in order to improve his prospects in the years ahead.
Jesus comments on the parable in v9 make clear what we need to hear from this story; 9I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
Jesus says: 9I tell you, use worldly wealth Christians are to make use of the resources they have in this world. The manager had resources available to him he was able to use positively what he had in the here & now the chance to reduce the bills of the master's debtors. Possibly, as in my retelling, the amounts knocked off may have corresponded to what was due to him as bonuses, but whether true or not he made the most of what he had he used his this-worldly wealth.
This was particularly important for the manager because he was going to lose his job. He was facing a crisis, the sack & no income. Jesus says to us 9I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings."
All our earthly wealth will one day have no significance to help us, it will be gone; we are all going to die or perhaps Jesus is going to return 1st. We have available to us resources that only have value in this life. Our time, our skills, abilities, gifts, our money. We can't take these with us, they will be of no use in the next life, they are not eternal.
It is in the light of this truth that we need to make sure that when the end comes we have used our wealth & resources to prepare for the future. We need to make sure that what we have now is to the benefit of then. 9I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings."
We need to use wealth to "gain friends" & be "welcomed into eternal dwellings" literally the "tents of the age to come" in other words we need to use what we have now for the benefit of the fully present Kingdom of God we usually call heaven.
In this manager then, there is a man who like all people of the world use their resources to prioritize their personal goals for him earthly security.
For Jesus' followers use of our resources should be used to secure our supreme goal the extension of God's Kingdom.
Or putting it another way; In the world the equation is self for wealth. Christians are to use our resources for God's causes.
This is why the shrewd manager is a good illustration for us. He put to use what he could for a bigger purpose (for him the self interest of his earthly survival after his sacking).
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.
Here we're reminded that secular, non Christian people are sometimes more sensible & shrewd in their own affairs, than God's people are about the things of God. Jesus is saying non Christians will use their material resources to prepare for their earthly future why cannot the children of the light use it to prepare for their & others' eternal future?
So how does this principle work out?
It means using our resources generously with eternity in view.
The immediate application is connected with money - it is "worldly wealth" that we are to use for eternal purpose according to Jesus. Most people who can save money do what they can to invest wisely so that they get the best returns. The best returns for eternity will be using money to enable the cause of the gospel to go forward.
It is interesting that Jesus has just told the parables of the lost sheep, lost coin & lost son where we're told "there is rejoicing in heaven one sinner who repents Using resources now for then will mean using what we have to enable the message that brings rejoicing in heaven & enables lost people to be found, to be spread.
As we considered during our Thanksgiving Day a month ago that means there are implications for our financial giving there is so much gospel work that is struggling through lack of resources. Giving money away to gospel causes is using current worldly wealth for future lasting purposes.
And this means practical generosity with our time, our encouragement, our possessions not just to help others hear about Jesus but also to build up & support our Christian brothers & sisters in the community of the King (Church family) this use of "worldly wealth" will also have echoes in eternity.
This seems to be what is behind the idea in v9 of "gaining friends" & being "welcomed into eternal dwellings". If we have been involved in using our time, prayers, money, homes, support to help others in need hear about Jesus they will be friends indeed (though we might not meet them all in this life). They will be there in heaven giving us a welcome when we get there having been rescued by Jesus.
-This parable is essentially an encouragement to make the most of what we have now to further God's Kingdom. And it is also an encouragement that what we do now in this life with the resources we have, can have a positive effect for what really matters. So many people in this world simply live for now but the thrill fades & they have nothing left or they spend hours & hours doing things merely for themselves, for their own reputation, for personal financial gain & yet all this will disappear in a flash when they die or when Jesus returns.
Christians who use their money for the gospel, who do their work, bring up their families, support friends for the glory of God, who seek to make the most of their privileges, the advantages of marriage, the freedoms of being single, will find that they have invested in something that is eternal. That gives a whole new dignity to life here, a whole new perspective on the routine of life that we all face.
May be you're here tonight & you know you're not yet a Christian, you've not yet let yourself be drawn into God's loving rule remember this parable is spoken to disciples but quite a few others were probably listening in, so well there is a challenge in this parable there is a need now to respond to Jesus so that then you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. It is good to think through the gospel & ask questions & explore but not to put off for ever, putting your trust in him The decision about Jesus we make now have eternal consequences.
It has to be said that living now with eternity in mind as Jesus teaches us this parable is utterly different from the world in which we live. Eric Hobsbaum a German historian now working in America has written powerfully of the way modern people are dominated by the "now" of life.
Writing 10 years ago he says "The destruction of the past, one of the most characteristic & eerie phenomena of the late 20th C. Most young men & women at the century's end grow up in a sort of permanent present lacking any [organic] relation to the public past of the times they live in. one who has been asked by an intelligent American student whether the phrase "2nd World war" meant that there had been a "First World War" is unaware that knowledge of even the basic facts of the century cannot be taken for granted" p3 Age of Extremes The Short 20th C 1914-1991 Michael Joseph 1994.
Lack of awareness of the past illustrates the current fascination with the "permanent present". All that is significant happens now, so the future who needs the future? But as Christians we are essentially people of the future what we know now is only a faint glimpse of what will be then when Jesus returns & God's kingdom fully comes we want to be people who live with that future in front of us in the present.
What Jesus goes onto say shows further how this life & how we use it has consequences for the future life. 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. 11So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?
Trustworthiness in small things is a measure of trustworthiness in large things. How we use our resources now is a measure of our faithfulness & our fitness for the great wealth of heaven.
There is a true story of a man who started out in his youth as a poorly paid helper in a department store.
One rainy day when business was slow, the employees gathered in a corner to discuss the latest sports results. When a woman came in, wet and bedraggled from the weather, they all continued talking except this young man. Quickly he walked over to the customer and asked courteously, "What can I show you, madam?" He promptly got the merchandise she requested and explained its features in a pleasant manner.
A short time later, the firm received a letter from this lady ordering complete furnishings for a large estate. "I want to be assisted by the polite clerk who waited on me a few weeks ago," she wrote. The head of the company responded by saying that the one she asked for was young and inexperienced, so the manager would be sent instead.
But when her reply came, it stated that she wanted the person she had designated and no other. So the courteous employee was sent to advise in furnishing a famous Scottish palace, & this was the big break in his career. Having been faithful in small things he went on to deal with large & responsible things.
Jesus said 12And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property (in this life), who will [reward you with]property of your own (in the next)?
I expect that many of us have come across products made by the giant multinational cheese processor Kraft. I discovered recently that the founder of the Kraft Corporation, a certain L. Kraft, was a keen Christian. Mr Kraft made it his practice to give away 25% of his enormous income to Christian causes for many years. On one occasion he spoke of his attitude to using his "worldly wealth", "The only investment I ever made which has paid consistently increasing dividends is the money I have given to the Lord."
The same could be said of any of our resources that we have in this world, if we make the most of what we have now money, timeto forward the cause of God's Kingdom & his gospel well we shall find dividends in heaven & many friends already there to welcome us for helping them.
As Jesus says in v13 "You cannot serve both God & money" but you can make the money you have to deal with, serve God - with eternal benefits.
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