We are going to look at a great passage in Luke 16 together today if you would like to have your Bible open to that passage. Luke 16. I don't want to bring up any bad memories but I do want to take you back in your thoughts for just a moment to the ending of the school year. I noticed a few weeks ago as we were approaching graduation time, our local newspaper had an issue that they published which had in it all the pictures of the academic all stars of this past year and of this graduating class. There were pictures of some real, real smart young people who had worked hard and who had come out at the top of their classes. They had led the way with their ability and intelligence through their high school careers - very, very smart.
Our passage that we are going to look at this morning tells about someone who is not nearly as admirable as those young people but who is also very smart in a different way. In fact, smart enough that even his master who has been taken advantage of a little bit by him, has to admire the guy's smartness. I want you to hear the story from Luke chapter 16. I am going to read the first 13 verses and this morning, in our assembly, we would like to ask you to stand to the reading of God's word, if you would. Just let me read from scripture and you stand and take this in as we hear our Lord speaking.
The Bible says, "He also said to the disciples, 'There was a rich man who had a manager' (a steward some versions will say), 'and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, 'What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.'" (In other words, you are not my steward any more.) "And the manager said to himself, 'What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.' So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he said to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' He said, 'A hundred measures of oil.' He said to him, 'Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.' Then he said to another, 'And how much do you owe?' He said, 'A hundred measures of wheat.' He said to him, 'Take your bill, and write eighty.' The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness." (That is the story, now Jesus applies the point of that story.) "For" he says, "the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth (mammon some versions will say), so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. 'One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.'" Be seated please.
I was looking through some things that I have collected about this passage over the years and I ran across a little note that someone gave to me way back when we lived in the great state of Arkansas. The note had written "Luke 16:1-3" and underneath it, it had an arrow drawn pointing to that passage from a statement written at the bottom of the paper. The bottom of the paper had the sentence that said, "Please try to explain this parable." That was a way of saying that this parable has been regarded as being quite difficult. It seems to place some commendation on a fellow who appears to have very little character and who does some things that most of us would regard as shady. That has made it a puzzle sometimes.
I want to point out to you that the parable is an illustration and the point of the illustration is made by Jesus himself down in verse 8. The point is that the sons of this world are sometimes smarter in their dealings with the world they live in than the sons of light are in dealing with their eternal hopes, their spiritual realm. That is what Jesus wants us to see. How smart are we in comparison to the actions of this dishonest steward?
Let's start by looking at the way of the commendation, the way the man is commended as this story is told here. The story is based on an economic system in which Jesus and the characters in this story lives. The system where, if a man had land or a man had wealth, then he would invest. There was not a market for him to go to like we have in our economic system. There wasn't a way of putting the money in the bank and letting it draw interest. So, you would hire for yourself a steward, someone to overlook your affairs and to manage them and then he would rent out your land. Those tenants who farmed your land would pay you with a certain percentage of the crop. And they would have to commit themselves ahead of time to the percentage that they would give for the privilege of using your land. Now the rich man in this story has a steward that he has put in charge of that business. This steward then has made agreements with the tenants of the man's land on how much they will give, how much olive oil, how much grain that they are going to owe for the use of the rich man's possessions.
Things go on for some period of time when the word gets out that this steward, this manager, is wasting the owner's possessions. When you manage, you are suppose to be making some money for the owner. But this steward is doing the opposite. The same word is used of his actions here as the word used of the prodigal son's action - off in the far country when he wasted his father's substance with wild living. I take it that this steward here is not as much stealing from his master as he is just skimming off of the top for himself, stealing really, from the tenants, and then disgracing his master by taking what would have been his master's and using it on his own soft, luxurious, selfish and wild way of life. The word gets back to the owner, though. And the owner says, "You are fired. You are no longer going to be my manager." You don't get wealthy by having people like this running your affairs for very long. And so he says to the manager, "It is time for you to bring the books. I want an accounting of where my business stands right now so that whoever takes over from here will be able to do well."
Well, that, of course, throws the main character of our story into a bit of a crisis. You can see the wheels turning in his selfish mind, "What am I going to do now?" He knows he is as guilty as he can be. He knows that when he has to make an account what it is going to show. There is no question. He has been cooking the books. He doesn't have long to come up with a plan. He is thinking, "I can't work! I have gotten so use to soft and easy living that I can't possibly go out here and work. Are you kidding? Disgrace myself by working! Well, what is the alternative? To beg? I can't beg. I am too proud to beg. What would people think of me if I begged? I am willing for them to think that I am dishonest and that I have wasted my owner's substance with wild living, but I don't want them thinking I am a beggar." Look at his character reflected in that way of thinking. And then as he stews over his problem, it comes to him. "I know what I will do! These people who owe my master don't know yet that I have been fired. They don't know yet that I don't have the authority to be the steward now. I know what I'll do. I will at least fix it so when I am without a job and have no place to go, I am going to have some friends who will invite me over to supper."
So, secretly now, one by one, so that nobody gets to talking among themselves, he begins to call the people who owe the rich man and make deals with them. The first one, he says, "How much to you owe?" And the guy comes up with a total that would have been about 875 gallons of olive oil, the product of maybe 400 olive trees. It was a big debt. And so the steward has him take that and cut it in half. What would you think of a guy who just took all of your debts and cut them in half for you? Would you invite him over to supper? Would you feel a little bit obligated to him? Would you trust a guy who knew that you had just had cancelled out half of your debts unfairly? When he wanted to come over and have lunch with you, would you have the courage then to say, "Not at my house," when you know what he knows about you?
He calls the second fellow and says, "How much do you owe?" And he tells him he owes about a thousand bushels of wheat. "Well, cut that down by 20 percent. Just reduce it." And we are not told about all the other debtors, but you can see the drift here. You can see his plan. And finally, word gets back to the rich man about what the guy has done. And this is what I want you to see. I want you to see who commends this unrighteous steward and why.
The unrighteous steward is commended not by Jesus, but by his master in this story. Notice that very carefully. It is the master who is a fellow worldling with this unrighteous steward who has to admire the man's shrewdness. And notice carefully, it is the man's shrewdness that he admires, the man's resourcefulness that he admires, and not the man's dishonesty nor his unrighteousness. He is not commending the fellow's ethics. He is commending the man's resourcefulness given his situation. He has to kind of admire the fact that the guy was smart enough to see his situation and then to do something about it.
This is the part of this that will help us, I think. Here is a man who is smart enough to face reality. He is smart enough to see his situation in life and then he is decisive enough to decide what he is going to do about his situation and then he is energetic enough to get busy and to do something about it right then while he could. That is what Jesus says the owner commends in this passage. He faces reality, understands his situations, decides what to do and then does it while he can.
Now when the fellow faced reality, observe carefully what he must have seen. This is where I've got to ask whether I am this smart. When this unrighteous steward looked at the situation, he saw, first of all, himself very, very clearly. You know it is hard for us to see ourselves, isn't it? It is hard for us to see ourselves like other people see us, and especially like God sees us. We can make the excuses, we can explain the reasons, we can compensate where we need to, we can kind of shade things our way where we need to, but this fellow looked at himself and he said, "I was a steward. I was only a steward. All of this stuff was not really mine, and now I am not a steward and I am going to be called to give account." That is what he saw about himself. "I am only using what belongs to somebody else. I won't get to use it forever and I'll finally have to give account." Folks, we all ought to be able to see that about ourselves. We are only using what belongs to somebody else. We won't get to use it forever, and we will have to give account for what we have done with it. The Bible teaches that about all of us. We are using what is God's for awhile and we will have to give account for what we have done in the body, good or evil, according to II Cor. 5:10.
Not only did this fellow see himself, he saw his master. His master had been a man, apparently, who had seemed to him to be sort of off there somewhere and not really involved, and not somebody that he is ever really going to have to face up to. He has been acting like he is on his own and had no master. Do you see that? But now all of a sudden, his master seems so very real. And he understand, "I'm dealing with somebody who means business." One of our problems is that we are worshiping and serving a Lord whom we can't see. And over time, he begins to fade from the real issues. We do need, as Jon led us in singing today, to "turn our eyes upon Jesus" and to remember who our master really is.
Then, third, this guy saw his need, his situation. He got down to the point where he had to ask himself the "What am I going to do?" question. A lot of us don't ever get down to asking those crucial questions of "what am I going to do about my situation." If this is not mine, if I can't use it forever, if I am going to give account for it, if I have a master to whom I am obligated, and if I am guilty, what am I going to do? We act sometimes as if the impossible questions of the Bible are the "What must I do to be saved" questions. That is just not so. Those questions have clear answers. The more difficult questions for 21st century Americans who want to act as if things are going to always go on like they are, are "what am I going to do? Why do I even need to do anything?" This guy could see. He could recognize his need.
Now having faced reality, having been able to see some things, his shrewdness came in. His shrewdness is the thing that we want to ask ourselves how we measure up to. Jesus said, "The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light." The point of that statement is that people who are of the world, who know they are of the world, often devote more enthusiasm and more interest and more ingenuity to their worldly pursuits than those who are sons of light and citizens of the kingdom of light are willing to devote to their eternal citizenship in heaven. Jesus' point is that we need to learn from this old boy and what he did and ask ourselves whether we can see our situation enough to decide and then to act wisely.
Look at what Jesus counsels us to do here and let's draw two or three applications from this for us. Verse 9 makes the point that we need to be using the here and now to prepare ourselves for eternity. If we are smart, we will be using the opportunities that we have now to prepare for eternity. That is what Jesus is saying to us here. Notice carefully in this passage in verse 11, unrighteous mammon is simply the opposite of true riches - it is not saying that money is wicked or that possessions are unrighteous in and of themselves - it is saying they belong to this worldly realm as contrasted to the true riches which are eternal. And Jesus is saying that if we are smart, we will understand the need to use what belongs to this world in order to prepare ourselves for a home in that world, which is eternal. We will be using the temporary riches to provide and to prepare and to lay up true riches. It seems to me the apostle Paul comments on this in I Tim. 6 right toward the end of his first letter to Timothy. Beginning in verse 17, Paul said, "As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future that they may take hold of that which is truly life." Use what you have, whether it is wealth, or whether it is wealth in talent or time, use what you have to lay up and store good things for the time to come. If you are as smart as this man who saw that he needed to use the opportunity he had while he could to take that action.
Secondly, Jesus says, "Start where you are now." One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much. Faithfulness is not a matter of quantity. It is a matter of quality, of character. And so Jesus is saying, "don't say when I get to be a wealthy landowner or when I get to be a steward or a manager for a wealthy man, then I will begin to use that opportunity." No, Jesus is saying, "Use the opportunity you have now. Start where you are. Start with what you have." And recognize that the only thing that is truly required of a servant of the Lord is that he be faithful or trustworthy, I Cor. 4:2. Start with what you have at your disposal now in terms of money, or time, or talent. Use your opportunity while it is yours by using what you have.
And then third, Jesus said, "Keep clear who it is you are trying to please. Look down the road and think about your ultimate goal." Is it eternal and are they true riches? Use what you have, beginning where you are, and keep clear in your mind who your master really is. Jesus says in verse 13 something that he said in Matthew 6 when he was talking about worrying. Here, he is dealing instead with the course of our lives. He is saying that it is psychologically impossible for a person to serve two masters. You can't be trying to please with your whole heart two people at the same time. It will be one or the other. In this case, it is God or material things. What Jesus is saying here is that if you are going to use your opportunity to prepare for eternity, then you have to keep clear in your mind who it is you are seeking to please. Who is your master? Who is that you want to honor and please and serve?
This story does search our hearts. It causes us to ask, "Am I smart enough to think of eternity? Am I smart enough to be preparing for true riches? Am I wise enough to see that I can't walk two roads at the same time? I can't please two masters. And then if I can see that, can I decide quickly like this man did and take action?
Maybe you are here this morning and you have decided that you want to follow Jesus and that you need to take action. Maybe you are ready to confess your faith in the Lord and to be baptized into Christ this very morning. Maybe you are a Christian who has forgotten some of these things and you need to come back to the one and only Lord and Savior. If we can help you in some way to do that this day, we would love to if you would come while we stand and sing.