I remember as a boy growing up in North Carolina someone once showing me a stack of old money that they had found in their attic. There was enough money there to make a person rich. There was only one problem. Printed on the notes was the words the Confederate States of America. It was money that was printed in the South during the Civil War. A lot of people in the South were paid for goods and services or for serving in the Army of the Confederacy with those bank notes. But when the Civil War was over, those bank notes were worthless. And so when I was growing up in the south you used to see them framed up and hanging on a wall, or stored away in an old chest. You couldn’t buy anything with them anymore. It was useless currency.
I believe that this parable that Jesus taught concerning the unrighteous manager is teaching us that investing in the things of this world is a bad deal. Because in the next world, in the kingdom of heaven, this world’s currency is worthless. This money we work so hard for here on earth, is useless currency in heaven. It’s not valid in that government. This world is passing away. One day all that we see here will be burned up and all that we worked so hard to build will be destroyed. And only what is done for Christ will last.
That is why our Lord Jesus in Matthew 6: 19 said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust doth corrupt, where thieves break through and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not corrupt, where thieves do not break through and steal, for where your treasure is there will your heart be also.” Here is what Jesus is saying; you want to know where a person’s heart is? Then see where their treasure is. Look at what they treasure. Look at what’s important to them. Look at what they invest in. That is indicative of their heart.
Now I’m not going to use this parable today to preach about money per se. It seems that is the focus of most messages and commentaries on this parable. I don’t necessarily think that was the focus of Jesus Christ. Money in this case is only a symptom of the condition of the heart. It’s an outward manifestation of one’s inward nature.
There is nothing wrong with money in and of itself. We all like to point out all the rich people in the Bible that were godly men. Abraham, for instance, was very rich. But consider what Hebrews has to say about Abraham. Heb. 11:8, “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” And then in vs.13, “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth….they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.”
The issue wasn’t how much money Abraham had. The issue was that Abraham’s focus wasn’t about building an earthly kingdom. He was concerned about building a heavenly kingdom. And because he was faithful and obedient to God in the earthly matters of his life, he could look forward to receiving an inheritance in the heavenly kingdom, the city of God.
Now this parable comes in the middle of a long string of parables and teachings that Jesus has been given. And the way Luke presents them is almost like a layering affect of certain truths concerning the kingdom of heaven. Someone has said that Jesus spoke about 40 parables that we have record of. And many of them I’m sure He used more than once to different audiences. But what is special about the gospel of Luke is that Luke presents an historical narrative, but at the same time positions the events and teachings in such a way as to build one upon another. So as I say each week, it’s important to remember the context as we consider these parables and remember that they are part of a greater message.
For instance, if you were here last week, we looked at the end of chapter 15 and the parable of the prodigal son. And what became apparent out of that study was that both of the sons received their share of the estate. One son went away and squandered what had been entrusted to him, and the other son stayed home and used his share for his purposes. But they both were given a share of the estate. But Jesus made the point that the celebration belonged to the son who went away because he had eventually come to his senses and returned home to serve the father. He realized that the father was the source of life and joy and sustenance and as a result the father welcomed him into the home and gave him a great party to celebrate his homecoming. The point of the story wasn’t about the money the son had squandered, but it was about coming to the point of being willing to renounce the world and leave behind the pleasures of sin and return to the Father. To come to the point of being willing to serve the father even as a slave. And for that kind of commitment, the Father was willing to not only accept the son back as a servant, but as a son and restore his inheritance in the estate. So the parable of the prodigal taught that being in the kingdom required something. It requires repentance.
If you go back another chapter to ch.14, Jesus tells another parable about counting the cost of becoming His disciple. And He concludes the analogy by saying in vs.33, “So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.” The principle that Jesus was teaching is that entrance into the kingdom of heaven costs you something. And what it costs is the world. Giving up what is considered gain in this world for gaining the kingdom of heaven.
Just prior to that in 14:16, Jesus had given another parable to teach a similar principle. He talked about a big feast which was a picture of the kingdom of heaven. And when the invitation went out, everyone said they fully intended on coming to the feast on the appointed day. But when the master sent his servant out to bring them in on the appointed day, everyone was busy doing something else. They were all working or marrying or buying and selling and they did not have time to come to the feast. The principle was clear, to enter the kingdom of heaven you need to make the kingdom of heaven your priority. Your career or your family or your wife or your possessions cannot be first and the kingdom of heaven somewhere down on the bottom of the totem pole. No, Jesus makes it clear that the kingdom of heaven must be the first priority. The kingdom of heaven demands something. And that which it demands is to be first place in our lives.
Jesus makes that principle really crystal clear in vs. 27, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” He is talking about dying to your personal agenda, dying to the world’s agenda, dying to working for your personal fortune or fame or glory, and living instead for the glory of God.
We don’t have time to backtrack over the last several chapters, but the principle is pretty much the same in all the parables. Jesus just keeps changing the story to give you a different perspective, but the principles never change. He says in chapter 13:24, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” He’s talking about entrance into the kingdom of heaven! Not many will be able to enter. Why not? Because their priorities were wrong. They may have sang the songs, they said they believed in God, they may have said they were Christians, but they never renounced the world. They thought that Christianity was a means of worldly gain. Being a Christian to them meant that God would bless your career, God would give you a big house, God would make it possible for you to be wealthy, healthy and wise. I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this folks, but God never promised you heaven on earth. God promised you the kingdom of heaven, a future eternal home in which you will rule and reign with Christ. But only as you are willing to suffer with Him here first.
Rom 8:16, “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” What we suffer is the loss of this world, to gain the glory of the next. As Jesus said in Matt. 16:25, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”
Here’s the deal folks. Let me make this clear. There are three stages to salvation. Various elements of the evangelical community like to camp out on one extreme or the other, but you really need to realize that there are three stages to salvation and all of them are necessary to enter the kingdom of heaven. First is justification. This is where I come by faith to Christ and confess that I am a sinner, and I repent of my sins and I trust in the promise of God that He will transfer my sins to Jesus and transfer Jesus righteousness unto me. That’s justification in a nutshell. But that is not the end of the gospel. A lot of us want to stop right there. The next stage is sanctification. And this stage is where the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in me, to rule over my spirit and soul and body, to conform me to the image of Jesus Christ. This is where I day by day die to myself by taking up my cross and follow Him, doing as He did, living like He lived, for the will of the Father, to the glory of God. And the third stage to salvation is glorification. This is when one day Christ comes back for me as His bride, and either resurrects me if I am dead, or I join Him in the air if I am alive, but in either case I will be changed, in moment, in the twinkling of an eye. And I shall be like Him for I shall see Him as He is. And I will live with Him forever in the eternal city of God which He has prepared for those that love Him.
Unfortunately, most so called Christians today think that they can have stage one and stage three without stage two. They think it is possible to be justified without being sanctified. But God doesn’t see it that way. If you are truly saved, then all three stages must happen and will happen. They are irrevocably connected. Rom. 8:29, “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son,[that’s sanctification] that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” Hebrews 12:14 says that without sanctification, no one will see the Lord.
So the parable that we are looking at today is teaching some key principles of sanctification. If you have become a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, then these are principles of that kingdom that you need to apply. This is the sanctification process that characterizes those who are born of the Spirit.
First though let’s look at the parable. It’s interesting that Jesus uses a rabbinical style of teaching here. He is teaching from the lesser to the greater. He is basically saying, if a lessor principle is true, then it must be even more so that a greater principle is true. And so to make that comparison He uses an illustration of an unrighteous person. It’s important to note though that Jesus isn’t condoning the unrighteous manager for his wrong business practices. No one should think from this parable that God winks at sin. But Jesus is using this example of a worldly way of thinking and producing results as a comparison to what we should be doing in the spiritual realm. In other words, if you do this in the worldly realm to achieve results, then so should you do this in the spiritual realm to produce results.
Now this unrighteous manager was squandering his master’s estate. And you should note right there the parallel between the parable of the prodigal son and this parable. In the parable of the prodigal son, the younger son squandered his share of his father’s estate. In this case, the manager has squandered his master’s estate. Now in this case, the rich master calls him and says he is going to fire him as manager because he has been mismanaging his funds. And furthermore, he wants the manager to give an accounting of what he has done with the money.
Now it’s difficult for us to put this into a 21st century perspective. We don’t know exactly how this sort of business that Jesus was referring to operated. But if I can conjecture a moment, I would suggest that the manager was more or less like a debt collector for the rich man. Perhaps like a banker who would arrange loans for people and then charge them a percentage as profit. And the customary arrangement was for the one who collected to add his percentage on top of what was due to the master. So somehow this manager had been playing fast and loose with the loans. Maybe he was charging exorbitant rates. Maybe he was taking all the money and spending it on himself and not paying back the rich man what was owed him. Jesus doesn’t make it clear.
But the story progresses with the manager finding himself in a dilemma. He has to give his boss an accounting. That means that he has to show how badly he has mismanaged the funds and in those days that meant that he could be required to pay him back or be thrown into prison or both. And he doesn’t have the money to pay it back because he squandered it. That means he spent it foolishly. And there is an even greater predicament. He is also out of a job. He will be penniless and without a job. Furthermore, debt collectors were hated people. They were like loan sharks. They added outrageous fees on top of your debt so that you could never pay it back. So when he found himself penniless and without a job he wouldn’t be able to find another one because everyone in the community hated him for taking advantage of their indebtedness to his boss.
So this manager comes up with a brilliant plan to not only appease his boss but ingratiate himself with the community. He goes to the first debtor and says “How much do you owe my master?” And the guy looks at his bill which has all the interest and fees attached and says, “One hundred measures of oil.” And the manager says, “Well here is a great deal for you. Let’s do a cash settlement. Pay me 50 measures of oil and we will consider it paid.” He does the same to the next debtor. That guy hasn’t had the loan as long, so the settlement is only a 20% discount instead of the 50% discount he gave the other guy. But it’s still a good deal. And the implication is that the manager does this with all the people that owe money to his rich master.
So then the day comes when he has to meet his master and give an accounting. And because of all of his creative financing, he doesn’t look quite as bad. He has actually done well at collecting the money for his master, and at the same time he has made friends for himself in the community because he took off so much interest on their debt. And Jesus says in vs. 8 that the master praised the unrighteous steward because he acted shrewdly. The master got his money back and the manager made friends in the community which would help him out in return when he didn’t have a job anymore. He was a shrewd person and the master praised him for it.
But the principle Jesus is making is found in the second part of the verse. “For the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.” First we need to understand who Jesus is talking about. Sons of this age simply means sons of the world. And sons of light means those that have been born again into the kingdom of heaven. So you can say it like this; unsaved people are more shrewd in relation to earthly things than saved people are shrewd about heavenly things.
In other words, people of this world are great at investing for the future, planning for retirement, networking for the sake of commerce, building a business or using money to influence people. Men are very shrewd in regards to worldly things. Jesus doesn’t condone worldliness, but he recognizes it for what it is, and says that men are good at doing it. They are good at using their resources to further their means. But in contrast He says that the same can’t be said for the saved person. Though we have been born again, a new creation, yet He is saying we aren’t shrewd in relation to the kingdom of heaven. We fail to plan for eternity. We fail to invest in the kingdom. We don’t network for the sake of the kingdom. We fail to use money or resources to influence people to enter the kingdom. Now Jesus has already referenced in another parable many reasons why that happens. We get sidetracked by careers, or families or possessions. Jesus has made that clear in previous parables.
So Jesus gives three principles which are to be applied for those who are sons of light so that we might be wise stewards or righteous stewards. Just as the manager was given a stewardship so we too are given a stewardship. And we need to apply these principles if we are to be found good stewards. Jesus said back in chapter 12 that to those who have been entrusted with much, much shall be required. He said in the parable of the rich fool who died after building more and more barns to house more produce here on earth, that there will be a day of accounting. 2Cor. 5:10 says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”
So then principle number one is found in vs. 9. “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.” What Jesus is talking about is using earthly things, earthly resources for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. There are a number of ways you can do that. God has entrusted you with a stewardship of money, time, talents and resources to use at your disposal. And if you are going to be a faithful, righteous steward of God’s resources, then first of all you recognize that they aren’t given to spend on yourselves, but they are tools to use for the kingdom of God.
Paul says it like this in 1Timothy 6:17; “As for the rich in this world, [or those that are rich in the things of this world] charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on uncertain riches but on God who richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous, thus laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed.” Whatever God has given you employ in the furtherance of the kingdom, so that when this world fails, those people that you have benefited will welcome you into heaven. That’s how you invest in the kingdom of heaven. That’s how you employ earthly resources for heavenly gains. You have resources that God has entrusted you with to build up the kingdom of God. And when you do that, you will be laying up treasures for yourself in heaven by virtue of the souls that are in heaven whom you have helped.
The second principle is found in vs. 10-13; “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?” You know, I really think that this is one of the most important principles in the life of a Christian. To be found faithful in the little things. Oh, we all want to receive the big important jobs in the kingdom. We all desire the greater gifts. And so we should. But before we get the greater gifts, the greater responsibility, God often tests us with the little things to see if we will be found faithful.
So many people I’ve met want to be a teacher and yet can’t be faithful in the little things like prayer, attendance, personal devotions, or helping with the little things of ministry. The humble things of ministry go before the exalted things of ministry. 1Pet. 5:6, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time.” And Paul said in 1Cor. 4:2, “Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” When you look at all the great saints of God like Daniel and Abraham and Moses, the common characteristic of all of them was that they were found faithful in the little things. Be faithful in the little things; be faithful with your money, be faithful to support your church, be faithful to attend church, be faithful to pray, be faithful in your devotions. It takes a certain amount of discipline and committment to be faithful to the kingdom, but above all else, be faithful.
Finally, the last principle is in vs. 13; “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” The point is simple. You are either going to be employed in serving the interests of the world or serving the kingdom of God. They are not compatible. In fact, they are at odds with one another. This passage if nothing else shows that the prosperity doctrine that is taught so often today is a lie from hell. The devil knows that if he can occupy your interest in the things of the world then he can enslave you by the things of the world. And you will not have time for the things of God. You cannot serve God and the world. You cannot serve the Almighty God and the almighty dollar. One excludes the other.
When Joshua was about to lead the children of Israel into the promised land he called them together and said in Joshua 24:14, “Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” Five times Joshua says serve the Lord. Serve the Lord.
Listen, that is the same choice before you today. You can either serve the god of this world, the things of this world, the money of this world, or you can serve the Lord. The choice is yours, but you can’t serve both this world and the kingdom of God. But like Bob Dylan sang, “it may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” I trust you will commit to serve the Lord with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength. That you marshal all your resources that God has entrusted to you and employ them faithfully in the furtherance of the kingdom of God. One day soon He is coming back and He will demand an accounting. I pray that you will be found faithful. Jesus said in Mark 8:36 “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
I pray you might lay up treasures in heaven and not on earth so that when one day you stand before God to give an accounting of your time and resources here on earth, that He might say, “well done, My good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master.”