Luke 16 is often thought of as one of the trickiest of Jesus’ parables to understand. But that doesn’t mean we should overlook it! What Jesus instructs will affect how will live every day of our earthly – and eternal – lives.
The three parables in Luke 15 tell us how God views us, why Jesus came into the world and the joy in heaven when one sinner repents and turns to Christ. In chapter 16, Jesus tells us that you can see if someone has a real faith in him by looking at what they do with their money.
Jesus uses the example of a dishonest steward who’s in charge of a rich man’s household. Given great freedom, the man squandered his master’s possessions. So he’s fired. He comes up with a brilliant and risky plan, creating an opportunity that will secure him an income after he is gone from his present employment. He does his master’s debtors a huge favour by giving them 20-50% off their bill - so they are now effectively also indebted to him.
When the master finds out, he is amazed by the man’s shrewdness. He’s not happy but he is impressed. In verse 8 Jesus comments, ‘For the people of this world (unbelievers) are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light (believers)’. Jesus recognises the cleverness of the man’s financial dealings and also that Christians are not always experts at making the most of financial opportunities. But Jesus thinks that’s OK! He goes on to tell his disciples what is a better use of their money: ‘use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.’
Jesus isn’t telling us to buy people’s loyalty or be dishonest and manipulative with our money, rather that one day worldly wealth will come to an end. We are to therefore invest our money in something that will last forever - gospel ministry. This is an investment that will help people into the kingdom of God for eternity. Then, when we enter into heaven, not only are we welcomed by the Lord, but also by those who, because of our investment, heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and repented.
Christians know that everything we have belongs to God. There are some people, however, who give out of obligation and others because that’s what good people do. But Jesus says in v13: ‘No servant can serve two masters. 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 both God and money.’
Our society elevates money to a status whereby it is the yardstick by which everything else is measured, such as position, relationships and happiness – it is money that gives us meaning. Jesus warns us that there is a particular deceptive spiritual power in money that says ‘I can make you happy and secure. Just bow down and worship me. Don’t listen to Jesus. You can worship me and God at the same time.’ We’re impressed by people’s financial shrewdness, like the master was impressed by his steward’s shrewdness. But Jesus tells us not to care about these things. He tells us that we cannot serve both God and money.
God made us to worship, but to worship him only. If we worship anything other than God, then we end up in slavery and lost from God. Later in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says that he has come to seek and to save what was lost. One of the most dangerous ways to be lost is to be a slave to money. Money has no power to give us meaning, nor forgiveness, it cannot do anything for us in eternity. But Jesus has come to free us from captivity by his death and resurrection. This is the power that frees us and makes it possible for us to join with him in the work of seeking and saving the lost.
We must therefore bring our finances to the cross of Christ. We must ask the Lord to help us resist the temptation of using his resources for our purposes alone. We must ask God to help us not worry about being a ‘shrewd investor’ in this age. We should ask God to help us give generously and cheerfully to the work of the gospel of Jesus. This is a really shrewd investment that will have an eternal impact.
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