Praising Dishonesty: Luke 16:1-18

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Of all the parables and illustrations Jesus shares in the gospels, one stands out above the rest when I think about those that are overly negative. On one hand, many of Jesus’ parables are meant to challenge individuals to live more Godly lives, but what if the parable Jesus shares appears to endorse or support some pretty negative and dishonest characteristics?

For those of you listeners who are familiar with Jesus’ parables in the Bible, you may have guessed that I am describing the Parable of the Dishonest Manager, and this is a parable that bothered me a little until I read it with an analytical frame of mind – looking specifically for why Jesus might have shared it.

Let’s read the parable together and discover why Jesus may have shared it. This parable is found in Luke’s gospel, chapter 16, and we will be reading from the New Century Version. Starting in verse 1, Luke begins by saying that:

Jesus also said to his followers, “Once there was a rich man who had a manager to take care of his business. This manager was accused of cheating him. So he called the manager in and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give me a report of what you have done with my money, because you can’t be my manager any longer.’ The manager thought to himself, ‘What will I do since my master is taking my job away from me? I am not strong enough to dig ditches, and I am ashamed to beg. I know what I’ll do so that when I lose my job people will welcome me into their homes.’

“So the manager called in everyone who owed the master any money. He asked the first one, ‘How much do you owe?’ He answered, ‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil.’ The manager said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and write four hundred gallons.’ Then the manager asked another one, ‘How much do you owe?’ He answered, ‘One thousand bushels of wheat.’ Then the manager said to him, ‘Take your bill and write eight hundred bushels.’ So, the master praised the dishonest manager for being clever. Yes, worldly people are more clever with their own kind than spiritual people are.

Let’s pause reading for a moment because it is here at the conclusion of this parable that we get a hint about why Jesus told us this parable. Along with describing how the master praised the dishonest manager, Jesus tells His followers that “worldly people are more clever with their own kind than spiritual people are”.

But while we might be tempted to stop here and think Jesus simply wants us to be cleaver and sneaky for God, He continues by telling us exactly why He shared this parable, and the lesson we should learn from it. In verse 9, Luke tells us that Jesus continued by saying:

“I tell you, make friends for yourselves using worldly riches so that when those riches are gone, you will be welcomed in those homes that continue forever. 10 Whoever can be trusted with a little can also be trusted with a lot, and whoever is dishonest with a little is dishonest with a lot. 11 If you cannot be trusted with worldly riches, then who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you cannot be trusted with things that belong to someone else, who will give you things of your own?

Pausing our reading again, it is important for us to realize that Jesus does not praise the dishonest manager, and nothing implied in what Jesus described would indicate that this manager was able to keep his job.

Jesus actually describes the opposite when He says in verse 10 that “Whoever can be trusted with a little can also be trusted with a lot, and whoever is dishonest with a little is dishonest with a lot”.

In this parable and explanation, Jesus tells us that we are responsible for how we manage our lives and wealth on this earth. It is like Jesus is describing God looking down from heaven at those living on the earth, and He is specifically looking for people who are managing their lives, their money, and their gifts well and He chooses to give these people more of these blessings.

And before moving too far ahead, Jesus gives us instruction and guidance for how to use our earthly wealth in the best possible way. He tells us that the best use for it is to use it to make friends. However, before thinking Jesus is telling us to buy friendships, which is ironically impossible to do, Jesus describes a situation where the wealth is temporary, but the relationship lasts beyond it. The only way for this to happen is if the relationships and friendships we grow are not dependant on money.

What is the goal of these friendships? Jesus continues by stating something that might sound completely off topic, but His words actually contain the answer to this question.

Picking back up in verse 13, Jesus continues by saying:

13 “No servant can serve two masters. The servant will hate one master and love the other, or will follow one master and refuse to follow the other. You cannot serve both God and worldly riches.”

In this simple two-statement illustration, Jesus subtly sums up two big conflicting motivators for people. Some people are motivated by serving God; other people are motivated by money. This list is nowhere near mutually exclusive, because we all face other things that can motivate or demotivate us, but God and money happen to be two of the biggest motivators. Looking a little deeper at the motivation for serving God, it is true that we cannot be serving money at the same time.

How does this relate to our friendships, you might ask?

When our lives are serving God, we use our earthly money to help support and enrich friendships with others here on earth with the goal of being able to share Jesus and God with them. Money makes a great tool to help with relationships in many cases, but it makes a horrible foundation for a relationship to be built on. Jesus describes money being used as a tool and nothing more, whereas our Master and focus is on God.

We are not given license to use our money in dishonest ways, but instead to be creative with it while holding ourselves to the highest standards of integrity. Whoever is dishonest with a little will be dishonest with much, while whoever can be trusted with a little will be given more.

While Jesus does continue speaking and sharing, this seems like a good place to conclude, and with that said, here are the challenges I want to leave you with this week:

Continue seeking God first and placing Him first in your life. Learn to see money as a tool and know that if you have money in your life, it is only through using it wisely that you will be blessed with more.

Remember Jesus’ words in verse 11: “If you cannot be trusted with worldly riches, then who will trust you with true riches?” Use this as a guide to challenge yourself to live more trustworthy, with the highest standards of integrity and honesty that you can think of, because while this is a challenge Jesus shares, it is also a promise we can claim in our own lives.

Also, be sure to study the Bible for yourself. The Bible has a lot to say about money, and one reason for this might be because God knows that money is a sensitive topic for many people. God loves you more than He loves your money and He values your heart and soul more than your net worth. With regular prayer and Bible study, we can grow a personal relationship with Him.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never sell yourself short, back away from, or chicken out of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Season 3 – Episode 31: Cam looks briefly at the Parable of the Dishonest Manager and he discusses several reasons why Jesus may have shared this parable with His followers.

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