Sunday, November 11, 2012

Luke 16:1-18 - The Shrewd Manager

[ R ] Marinus van Reymerswaele - The parable o...
[ R ] Marinus van Reymerswaele - The parable of the unjust steward (1540) (Photo credit: Cea.)
Opening thought: 
“Thar’s gold in them thar hills!” That phrase actually was coined in the early 1830s in the Gold Rush in north Georgia which led to the removal of the Cherokees from their ancestral homeland, but that phrase reemerged in 1849 when gold was found in California. Across America, the news ran, and thousands of people came west. The Forty-niners were passionate about gold. They tried every method available to pull that glittering treasure out of the soil – burrowing deep mines, sifting whole river beds, eroding whole hillsides with hydraulic cannons. Nothing would stop their passion for gold. Unfortunately, very few of the prospectors, though, accumulated more than a sack of crumbling dreams. Spiritually speaking, the passage we have before us today speaks of what is real treasure and points us to what actually matters in life.

Key Truth: Luke wrote Luke 16:1-18 to warn believers to focus on what matters for the future and on one passion for the Kingdom.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about focus.
Key Verse: Luke 16:13 – Each must choose
Pray and Read:  Luke 16:1-18

Contextual Notes:
In chapter 15, Jesus tells three parables set in response to the criticisms of the Pharisees for Jesus’ association with “tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 18:1-2).  They give a theme of Luke’s Gospel, the Lord’s great love for sinners (Luke 15:1-2) in the Son’s great joy for redemption (Luke 15:3-7), the Spirit’s great search for the lost (Luke 15:8-10), and the Father’s great love for the rebellious (Luke 15:11-32).

While chapter 15 focused on God’s love for the lost and the poor, Jesus turns in chapter 16 to the spiritual dangers of the wealthy and powerful. Jesus tells two parables directed against the Pharisees’ love of money. The first, traditionally called the Parable of the Unjust Steward, makes the simple point that the value of money in this world is to make preparation for the next (Luke 16:1-12). Jesus’ second parable draws back to the veil for the sneering Pharisees to see the seriousness of the issue. In the hereafter, the roles the rich man and the beggar play in this life mane nothing. What means something is repentance and faith, and only those who respond to God’s Word through Moses and the prophets will be blessed (Luke 16:19-31).

Sermon Points:
1.   Focus on what matters for the future (Luke 16:1-12)
2.   Focus on one passion for the Kingdom (Luke 16:13-18)

Exposition:   Note well,

a.   The Parable of the Unjust Steward (or Shrewd Manager) is an encouragement to use worldly wealth shrewdly for eternal purposes (Luke 16:9). The parable itself is one of Jesus’ most puzzling, possibly because of the cultural distance we have from it.
b.   Luke 16:1 – Manager: A rich man, possibly an absentee landlord, had entrusted the management of his riches to a trusted steward who proved to be faithless and had wasted his possessions. The man called in the steward to account for his management and was relieved of his responsibilities. The manager (oikomonos) was the person who managed funds or property for another person. In NT times he might be a slave or an employee. Notice the steward’s crisis (Luke 16:1-2), his concern (Luke 16:3), his craftiness (Luke 16:4-7), his commendation (Luke 16:8), and Jesus’ caution (Luke 16:9-12).
c.   Luke 16:2 – The master wants a written financial statement.
d.   Luke 16:6-8 – The steward knew he would not get another job like it. His prospects, to do manual labor or beg, were not appealing. The manager had enjoyed the privileges that had gone with his responsibilities, and because he was on the way out the door, he decided with the time he had left to make provision for his future comfort. So he decided to finish out his responsibilities with a view toward gaining a welcome into the home of newly found friends in the future. He therefore called in each debtor and asked him how much he owed. One owed 800 gallons (100 baths, 1 bath = 8 gallons) of olive oil. He cut that bill in half. The second owed 1000 bushels of wheat (100 cors, 1 cor = 10 bushels). He reduced that bill to 800. The cash value of each reduction, adjusted for cost of each product, is about 500 denarii, or 16 months wages of a day laborer. It was easy to change the figures since they used wax tablets, writing with an iron stylus. The stylus had two parts, a sharp pointed writer and a flat, thick blotter for smoothing out what had been written.
e.   Luke 16:8 – Commend him? The master commended the manager, not for his dishonesty. The manager has put the owner in good graces with his clients (who assume that the manager’s actions were at the owner’s command). And the manager also shrewdly helped himself. He used his present privileges to win friends for himself who would provide some employment for him when he lost his position. Some suggest that the amount the estate manager took off the creditor’s bill was graft he had dishonestly charged on top of what was due his master, but that has nothing to do with Jesus’ point. The manager is not commended for his dishonesty, but for realizing that he can use money to prepare for his future.
f.    Luke 16:8 – People of this world … people of the light: lit. “sons of this age … sons of light.” The children of the light are entering God’s glorious kingdom, God’s end-time community opposing the forces of darkness (John 12:36; 1 Thess 5:5). Jesus chose His words to make a point. The Pharisees, being a secret society, considered themselves to have the light and everyone outside to be in darkness. Jesus reversed it.
g.   Luke 16:9 – Use worldly wealth[1]: Jesus now applies the parable to the disciples. He points out that the people of this world were often more shrewd in using their material possessions and their position than those who belong to God. Christ said worldly wealth should be used shrewdly and with discernment with a view to the future, not selfishly only for the present (Prov 23:5; 27:24; Isaiah 10:3). One cannot buy his way into heaven with money, but by the right use of it for the service of God on earth he may lay up treasure in heaven.
h.   The business world knows the infallible principle that ‘he who is faithful in little is faithful in much’ and vice-versa. Therefore, Jesus asks, if you cannot prove faithful with the wealth of this world, how in heaven do you expect to be trusted with genuine riches in the Kingdom? If you cannot prove faithful with God’s money on earth, how do you expect that God will give you ownership over what is yours in the Kingdom? Earthly wealth is a trust, and misuse of it without regard for the Kingdom is unfaithfulness. We possess wealth permanently when we use it properly in the service of God.
i.    APPLICATION: Jesus urges us to be urgent in our pursuit of what matters. William Barclay says that “if only the Christian was as eager and ingenious in attaining goodness as the man of the world is in his drive to attain money and comfort.” Jesus calls us to pay attention to being faithful. The truth of our lives is revealed more in the little ways than in the up front and public ways. How we handle our money demonstrates our real character. God is not impressed with how good we look but by who we are on the inside and whether we are living out His purposes. The Bible views wealth like other special gifts, as a resource to be used in serving God and others. The whole parable reminds us that nothing we possess is truly ours, but it all belongs to God. He has entrusted it to us, and we are his oikomonoi, his managers, commissioned to use what we have in His service.
a.   God had promised that He would bless His people if they obeyed Him (Deut 28:1-14). The Pharisees, by perverting the principle, taught that material possessions were the sure sign of God’s favor. Like the prosperity teachers today, they said, “Whom the Lord loves He makes rich.” You see where this was going. In order to prove their acceptance and approval by God, they sought more and more material possessions. Jesus needed to correct this mistaken teaching.
b.   Luke 16:13 – Two masters: Commitment to serving God and money is self-contradictory, because the two motivate us to make very different choices. What people esteem, God doesn’t usually think too much of.
c.   APPLICATION: Jesus, third, urges us to make the Lord your full-time Master. We all serve someone or something. Jesus says that if you call yourself a Christian, then you only have room for one passion. You have to choose. Each person must make a choice between commitment to materialistic values and commitment to God (Luke 16:13-15) and covenant values (Luke 16:16-18). For example, a person owning housing occupied by the poor might experience conflict between a desire to maintain a profit from the property and to maintain it in decent condition. The motives are so contradictory that he must choose one (love one) and reject (hate) the other. We cannot serve God and money simply because we have to choose between vastly different trajectories each calls for (because they have vastly different goals.)
d.   Luke 16:16-18 – Promise and Fulfillment: These verses summarize the theme of promise and fulfillment running through Luke-Acts. Jesus says that John the Baptist stands at a transitional figure in the crossroads of the ages. The last of the Old Covenant prophets, like them he is a herald of the Messiah and the dawning of the Kingdom. The Law and the Prophets is a way to refer to the OT, denoting the first two of three sections of the Bible in Hebrew: Torah (law, teaching), Nevi’im (prophets), Ketu’bim (writings) (Luke 16:29; 24:27, 44). God’s Word lasts forever (Psalm 119:89, 160; Luke 21:33). Jesus’ statement on divorce (Luke 16:18) at first seems to be unrelated, but commitment in the Kingdom means commitment to Jesus’ authority and standards. He both explains and fulfills the OT.
e.   APPLICATION: The Old Testament remains as God’s Word because it prophetically points to Christ. Notice that while our Reformation heritage causes us to view the OT as “law,” Luke gives us a divine, inspired, and inerrant commentary on the OT by viewing it as “promise.” Because of this view, we see Christ’s warning not to miss the importance of commitment to Him within His Covenant.
f.    Luke 16:16-18 - Don’t miss commitment: In their drive to force their way into God’s kingdom by rigorous legalism, the Pharisees have missed the basic message of covenant commitment to God and others. Covetousness is not just in money, but in relationships, too. One can desire another person’s wealth or another person’s marriage partner.

[1] The KJV uses the literal “mammon of unrighteousness,” but it is not wealth gained from dishonesty or sin. Mammon is an Aramaic term referring to possessions of all kinds. “Unrighteousness” (adikia) carries the sense of “of this world” in contrast to “of God’s kingdom.”