The Parables of Jesus

Well, good morning. This morning, we are covering one of the more complicated parables of Jesus. I mean listen to some of the titles we've given to this parable: “the dishonest manager”, “the unjust steward,'' even “the unrighteous servant”. Just in light of those titles, we've got to wonder what Jesus is going to commend from this parable. As we get to verse 9, we will see that Jesus zeros in on one of his applications—“Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth.” Now this is a verse I've never seen on a poster in someone's house or on a coffee cup or as the background on a computer screen. You would likely never walk into someone’s house and see in big letters, “Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth.” 

I do think that would create some interesting conversation. When someone walks in and reads it, they are probably going to ask, “who said that?” Then, when you say, “Jesus”, I think there might be some interesting conversation to follow. 

I’m admitting upfront that we encounter some challenges when we first read this parable, but at the same time, there is plenty that is clear. We're going to see that you can serve God with your money, but you cannot serve God and money. Let me say that another way, you can use money for the kingdom, for eternal purposes. But you can’t love both God and money.

Whether you came in here and you have a lot of money or you have very little, this passage has something to say to you. It forces every one of us to ask, “how are we using our money, and how should we be using our money in light of the cross?” As we look at this parable, I think you will see what I mean by the fact that you can and should use your money to serve God, or that you should use what you have to achieve godly ends. 

The details of the parable are fairly straightforward. You've got this manager and someone's kind of ratted him out, saying he's not very good. So the boss man comes in and says, “Hey, you're fired.” 

The manager immediately begins to realize that his wealth is about to fail him. So he asks, “What am I going to do to secure my future?” Then, he comes up with this scheme—I'm going to go visit my master's debtors, and I'm going to take what they owe, and I'm going to just cut it down in half. The hope is that he would end up on their good side, and that they would look with favor on him when he’s out of a job. He can call in a favor so to speak. 

Well, the master finds out about it, and the surprising twist ending is that the master commends this manager for his shrewdness—not his dishonesty, but his shrewdness. That’s the end of the parable. 

We don't know what happens next. We don't know if the manager said, “Wow, that was very shrewd. Get out.” Or, “That was very shrewd, keep working for me.” We don't know. 

But what we do know is that this man looked out at the future and saw that his money was going to fail. And then he goes about securing his future in light of that. 

So what is Jesus going to focus on in this parable? Well he begins in verse 8:

“For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8).

Jesus is about ready to get really practical about how we should use money. But, before we go there, let me just pause and note that Jesus has established two different groups of people. The “sons and daughters of the world” and the “sons and daughters of the light”. The “sons and daughters of the light” are those who trust in Christ, who have their treasure in God, and the “sons and daughters of this world” are not saved.

If you are here this morning, visiting, and you are not a Christian, just hear me say, “Keep your money. Keep your wallet closed.” I’m not preaching this morning to get your money. Oh, far more than money we want for you to worship the king! I'm not here this morning as a tax collector, knocking on your door saying, “I don't care if you want to or not. You owe the king money.” Oh, hear me much louder proclaiming to you not that your taxes are due but that the king wants you as a son or daughter, and your greatest joy is to worship this king, not to give him money.

As a word to the sons and daughters of the light, I call biblical views on money, “blood-bought giving.” Don’t forget that Jesus died for your sins and that is the only ground of your salvation, not your giving statement in your 2018 tax forms. When we look at the fact that Jesus humbled himself, gave up the throne he had in heaven to be born among men, all in order to give all he had freely to us, that grace we have been given compels us to respond by being generous and gracious in our giving. This is blood-bought giving. We have been given much, so we give much. Not because we are forced to, but because we delight to. It overflows. 

So, sons and daughters of the light, Jesus first issues a rebuke to us. Let me read verse 8 again: 

“For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8).

What he's saying is that the sons of the world, they're able to look out at their future here on earth, and they're able to be shrewd in trying to make sure they are secure. 

In this parable, it's using the tactic of signing a new contract so he has a place to live when he is fired. Maybe someone is really good in the stock market or running a business. Whatever they're thinking about their future, they're doing what it takes to make sure it happens. 

Jesus is acknowledging that wisdom. The wisdom, very briefly stated, is the wisdom to look out at the future and be shrewd to secure it. But the problem Jesus is acknowledging is that the sons of light have an eternal future. But they are not being shrewd in preparing for that eternal future. Instead, they're getting caught up with the things of this world.

So, the challenge is from a lesser to a greater. If the sons of this world can look at the future and act accordingly, how much more should sons of the light be able to look at their heavenly future and act accordingly today? 

Jesus is not commending dishonesty, but he's saying—if the sons of the world are shrewd and thinking about the future and their future is 80 years long and then it's just done and over with while yours at the end of 80,000 years, you've got 80,000 more and 80,000 more and for all eternity. If that is your reality, why don’t you act accordingly? 

Which moves him to his second point in verse nine, which is how you do that. Here's verse nine: 

“I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” (Luke 16:9)

“Unrighteous wealth” that’s the biggest stumbling block in this verse. It throws us for a loop. Let’s begin in its immediate context and look for clues for what it means. 

Well, by the time we get to the end of the verse, we have two clues that unrighteous wealth is not eternal: 1) it will fail, and we need to use it to 2) secure eternal dwellings. So it's not an eternal currency, if you will. 

Then you jump down to verse 11. 

“If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?” (Luke 16:11)

So we seem to have a consistent theme throughout this section. Jesus is comparing two worlds, the sons and daughters of the world and the sons and daughters of the light. You've got heavenly dwellings, and you've got earthly dwellings. Now we seem to have eternal riches and unrighteous riches—or wealth of this world. 

So unrighteous wealth is just wealth of this kingdom, of this world. So in the United States it’s the dollar bill or Nicaragua it’s the Cordaba. And it's not just the term for money and currency. It includes possessions, what we own, the brick and mortar house you live in, etc.

So Jesus uses this wording “unrighteous wealth” because it is not part of a holy realm, but rather is part of this fallen, unrighteous world. Then we go to Luke 12:33 to clue us in that we might be on the right track. We go there because our verse uses “when it fails” and so does Luke 12:33. I think this really helps clarify what is going on here. 

Here is what it says: 

“Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.” (Luke 12:33)

Once again you have these two worlds, your worldly possessions and heavenly riches. So I think “unrighteous wealth” means that it is wealth of this kingdom, this world. Furthermore, in light of the warnings in this passage about money, I also think Jesus calls it “unrighteous” wealth because it can steal your heart away from God. That’s where he is going next: “You cannot serve God and money.” 

So let me summarize verse nine in my own words to see if that helps: “I tell you, make friends for yourself by using the current, dangerous wealth of this world so that when it fails, they may receive you into eternal dwellings.” 

I think the point is that we should be using our wealth—our houses, the money that comes into our bank account, the gifts we've been given—we are to use them not to secure earthly dwellings—bigger houses, nicer cars, etc.—but to secure eternal dwellings. 

Now Luke 12:33 gets really specific about what “making friends” and “eternal dwelling” means. It says,

“Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.” (Luke 12:33)

When I said, “You can use your money to serve godly ends” this is what I meant. Luke is picturing that we would be generous with those in need. We would make friends by being generous with our money. We would give to the needy. We would open up our homes. We would be generous. The point is that we would store up our riches in heaven, and that that should be the drive of Christians. 

So we need to ask ourselves, “Are we freeing ourselves up to give as much as we can to eternal, kingdom purposes?”

I mean this on a very practical level. We should be asking ourselves this in our accountability groups—what we call Open Life. Is our life full of giving to those in need. Giving to missionaries? Giving to the church? Giving to our neighbors? Giving to our friends? Because we’re just overflowing in this desire to not store up luxury here on earth, but looking to the kingdom saying, “Oh, I want to store up treasures there.”

I think Paul helps us get really specific with what this means. He writes to Timothy saying, 

“But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” (1 Timothy 6:8–9)

The verse opens with the acknowledgement that you need to do what you need to do to cloth your family, to have your home. That’s totally fine. You need clothes, food, some date nights. Fine. I think we all get that. I don’t think most of us listen to a sermon about money and think we should never buy food and clothing or go on a date or see a movie ever again so that we can just give it all away. 

But we can so easily use a concept like that to stunt our generosity. We blur the lines between what we need and what is luxury and excess. I think the Bible is pushing us to ask, “are we giving sacrificially?” 

Here’s a way to think about it: 

We can ask ourselves, “Are we giving in such a way that we are not able to buy some things or do some things because we've given away the money?” Now, I didn't say that we can't buy anything, or we can't do anything. That's not my point. The point is that we should be feeling we can't buy that. We can't do that because we're giving the money away. We feel a loss. 

The mindset seems to be: “Okay, I've taken care of my family, and I just want to give the rest away.” That's the vision that Jesus is casting. You can use your money to serve godly ends. Use that unrighteous wealth for eternal investments. 

But the motivation is not guilt, but reward. The drive is that it is far better for us to store up treasures in heaven than on earth. We have to get the motivation right. The motivation is a glimpse of heaven and realizing that it is far better to invest there than here. 

Picture a traveler who just got back from the most incredible vacation, let’s say to the Bahamas. They come back saying, “I have got to go again. The food is tastier there. The fun is funner. The sun is brighter. The smiles bigger. I am putting every extra penny away so that I’ll have treasures to use.” Jesus is calling us to have a similar perspective only we are those who have travelled to/or tasted the glories of heaven. And we think to ourselves, “I want to use every extra dollar I have to invest in that kingdom.” Use the means of this world for the eternal world.

Okay, that’s the first point: You can use your money to serve God. I know I spent a lot of time there, but I hope it was helpful to wade through the more confusing parts of this verse. Let’s look at the second point. I said earlier, “You can use your money to serve God. But you can’t serve God and money. You can’t love God and money.

The warning sounds at the end of verse 13. And then we see in verse 14 and 15 that the Pharisees are Exhibit A of those who love money:

“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.” The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:13–15)

But we must not fool ourselves into thinking this was just a Pharisee problem. 

You might think, “I don't have a lot of money, so I don’t struggle with this.” But the Bible not only warns against those who are rich, but those who desire to be rich.

You may think that this is not your principle sin. And that’s fine. But we must heed the warnings of Scripture that money is dangerous. The Bible mentions that you can’t serve God and money because money can so easily become what we serve. None of us are immune from the trap of money.

It’s not that money or houses or paychecks are bad. We are called to earn them. It’s that they are dangerous. They are useful but dangerous, in the same way fire is. We use fire to cook our food, to heat our houses, to move our cars. But we also have firefighters whose sole job is to respond to fires that have gotten out of control. Money management, left unchecked, has the potential to distract us, destroy us, and dismantle our joy.

So when we sign over our paycheck or it enters our bank account, the first thing we should think is—that’s dangerous. Treat it like when you’re taking something out of the oven. You put on the oven mitts. You know where it’s going on the counter. I say to Landin, “Stand over there. This is hot.” Think to yourself, “money is dangerous, not neutral.” 

Jesus wants us to hear this because what's at stake is our very joy. Listen to how Ecclesiastes says it:

“He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 5:10)

It's never going to satisfy. Instead, what Jesus wants us to rejoice over is that money is just another tool to plow the fields of heaven and reap heavenly rewards. The point is to use our money to glorify God, which is our joy. 

Listen to how 2 Corinthians captures just that. Listen to how it captures the joy: 

“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” (2 Corinthians 8:1–2)

Then, of course, you've got Jesus, and his words recorded in Acts: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” 

This is not a sermon that is meant to guilt you into rewriting your budget. This is a sermon that if you did need to rewrite your budget, you would do so for your joy. That you would eagerly ask, “How can I give more?”

In closing, let me say these few things— 

First, Ask yourself, “Am I giving sacrificially?” 

You might wonder what that means. I’m thankful the Bible doesn't spell it out. We have to get on our knees and figure out what it means. 

Second, do you ever grieve over materialism? 

As you grieve your sins of anger, or frustration, or harsh words, does materialism ever make the list? How often in our lives do we just pause and grieve when we see our ugly, old man rearing its head in materialism. Do we ever grieve that we can be moved to love things like this: an iphone? We should grieve that.

Finally, do you rejoice that money is temporary, your home in heaven is not, and therefore give generously to godly, eternal ends?

That is our motivation. Christ died so that God would be glorified, and we would have joy. Our greatest joy is not in treasures of this world, but treasures in the next. Are you driven to rejoice over that and put all the energy and money you can towards investing in that kingdom. 

We can serve God with our money. But we can’t serve God and money. We can use our money for godly, eternal goals. But we cannot love God and money. And loving God will satisfy, while money will leave us empty.