The Book of Luke, The Shrewd Steward, The Clever Crook!, Part I - Lesson 183,
Luke 16:1-9, And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods. 2And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward. 3Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. 4I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. 5So he called every one of his lordís debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? 6And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty. 7Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore. 8And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. 9And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.
The overall theme of this discourse of the Lord is the wise use of money.
We have studied Chapter 15 in detail which concerned attitudes toward people and now we are given instruction regarding attitudes toward money.
In fact the entire chapter revolves around a personís attitude toward and use of material possessions.
This discourse by our Lord Jesus Christ begins with an introduction of several characters.
The first being a rich man, the second being the manager of his properties, here called a steward, and thirdly every one of the rich manís debtors.
Just two of the many debtors of the rich man are described, the first owing about 100 measures of oil, about 875 gallons and the second owing 100 measures of wheat, about 1000 bushels.
This tells us that the debtors were most likely sharecroppers who occupied and farmed the rich manís land.
So we can conclude that the rich man was the owner of an landed estate and the steward was in charge of the estateís business affairs.
We see from the passage that the debtors were obligated to pay the rich man a fixed amount from the proceeds of their harvest.
No doubt a contract had been written in the past which specified the amount to be paid the owner.
We also see from this discourse that the steward had full control of the financial matters of the estate.
The steward, while getting the accounts in order during the final period of his employment, conducted negotiations with each of the debtors and had the authority to establish the amount each sharecropper owed the rich man.
The steward seems to have been trusted by the master for he has had liberty to make decisions quite freely.
But his decisions have resulted in benefit to himself to the detriment of the estate of his master.
This man was consuming much of his masterís wealth, but producing very little profit.
Today you would see this conduct played out by padded expense accounts, lavish meals, first class accommodations, perhaps even to the extent of using the most expensive vehicles during travel.
But be sure your sins will find you out and because of this, word got to the stewardís master, who fired the man, effective at a future date.
During this short time, the steward was expected to get his masterís accounts in order so that he could be replaced.
This short period of time was not intended for the stewardís benefit, but for the masterís.
But this steward, soon to be out of work, continued to be motivated toward self benefit and self benefit did not include the digging of ditches or begging on the street.
He was motivated to think of some way that he could make use of his masterís goods during the short time he had left in exercising his authority as a steward.
What could he do in the short time left to enhance and prepare for his own future?
There is nothing given by the Lord as to a reply to the masterís accusation of mismanagement but the stewardís mind immediately goes to work regarding his predicament and how to recover from such a set back.
He thinks of possibilities and immediately discards manual work such as digging and even gives some thought to the ultimate shame, that of begging.
But these are not for such a shrewd manager and all of a sudden we hear him saying, 4I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.
I know exactly how to feather my nest for the time when Iíll be out of a job.
5So he called every one of his lordís debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? 6And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty. 7Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore.
So this shrewd manager, this self serving manager, quickly comes up with a scheme to make these sharecroppers personally indebted to him.
In so doing he achieves his purpose in such a manner that they would not complain or refuse hospitality to him after he has lost his position for what he is doing is of great value to the renters.
Donít you suppose that in these negotiations there was the wink of the stewardís eye to the sharecropper that a return on this arrangement was expected?
I know your back is itching now but I also know that my back will be itching later.
Perhaps this agreement could of even have been a long term agreement and encompassed several years of crops so his comfort was assured for several of his future years, enough for him to get on his feet.
While his position and his masterís possessions would be taken from him, he could make friends who would take care of him.
And so he set out to do it.
He called in each and every one of his masterís debtors.
Each seems to have been a party to this ďscam,Ē but each debtor is benefited by a considerable reduction in the debt they owe the stewardís master.
So he ensures that all the debtors are indebted to him as they become co-conspirators.
We see then in this arrangement a verification of the unrighteousness of the steward both at the beginning of the story and at the end.
The steward was not just unrighteous as a person, he was unfaithful as a steward.
He was unfaithful to his task and to his master and his masterís welfare.
This unfaithfulness is what drove his shrewdness in preparing for his future.
Because of this the steward did not change for the good, he only became more shrewd in doing evil.
The stewardís attitudes and actions were all motivated by self‑interest.
And He involved others in his sinful ďscamĒ in order to benefit himself and he knew that the rich manís debtors could easily become co‑conspirators for he knew that he could appeal to their greed.
Now the response of the master to this stewardís deceit is interesting and somewhat hard to understand.
And also it is surprising that the Lord Jesus uses the example of the actions of a crook to teach us of what our actions ought to be.
This masterís response from the Amplified Bible reads like this:
And [his] master praised the dishonest (unjust) manager for acting shrewdly and prudently: for the sons of this age are shrewder and more prudent and wiser in [relation to] their own generation [to their own age and kind] than are the sons of light.
Now in the telling of this parable, Jesus did not minimize the evil this man did, nor did He in any way commend him for doing evil, but His master did commend him.
Probably, the biggest surprise of the parable is that the master, who has just been scammed by his steward, is able to praise his steward.
This praise is not for the good that he has done his master, it is not for the good that he has done the sharecroppers, but simply for the shrewdness which he displayed.
That is what we concluded in the three stories that I read at the beginning of this lesson.
We all have a tendency to think highly of clever acts.
Think about the times when you have been one-upped by some clever maneuver of a friend or acquaintance.
Perhaps you have been out jockeyed which means you were also jockeying.
It is natural that you think of yourself more highly than you ought and perhaps you think that no one can out maneuver you, you who are so capable.
But when someone comes along and does this, you who are so prone to do acts like this, will think highly of the one who one-upped so astute a fellow as you.
This is what is taking place here. It is a gotcha moment!
The master saw in his steward this clever arrangement made solely for the stewardís benefit using his waning authority to pad his own pocket and he complimented him for being so shrewd.
He admired his stewardís precautions which he made to offset the dilemma caused by his loss of employment.
The rich man admired the fact that the steward was so clever by making arrangements for a comfortable future using his Lordís money.
The owner praised him not because he had been so crooked but because he had planned ahead.
8And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.
The lord in this verse is the master of the steward not the Lord Jesus Christ.
But the commentary regarding the masterís praise are the words of Jesus Christ. for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.
His comments are to compare what the children of this world do with what the children of light do as regarding wisdom and prudence.
Both the unrighteous steward and his master were members of the group which our Lord described as ďthe children of this world.Ē
The master could recognize and appreciate ďshrewdnessĒ because he valued it and most likely he practiced it, and as such he was ďoneĒ with his steward.
Most likely the master would have done the same thing given the same circumstances.
Now the message is clear here, Jesus is not praising the steward for his cleverness nor for his shrewdness but for his planning for the future by using his Lordís money.
Jesus is saying that His children are not so astute in their use of his money.
So his instruction is clear.
Emulate the unjust steward, not in his unjustness but in the use of the Lordís money to enhance your future.
9And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.
In other words make friends with the money that the Lord gives you as a steward.
This does not mean buying friends but it means to use the money in such a way that the friends that come will be saved and in heaven.
And that upon your failing, which means your death, they will welcome you as the friend who used the Lordís money on their behalf.
This passage infers that Godís children are mismanaging the Lordís money and not using it as an eternal investment but are using it up in temporal things.
The steward figured out a way to use his lordís money for his own benefit.
Jesus is saying to his children to do the same with the money they are given to steward.
He is stating the obvious fact that in worldly matters worldly people often show more astuteness or shrewdness than Godís children do in matters affecting their eternal salvation.
This is the same message that the Lord gives us regarding the use of money in:
Matthew 6:20-24, But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: 21For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. 22The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. 23But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! 24No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
We are to be as wise as the unjust steward who used his masterís money, in conjunction with his masterís debtors, as an investment in his future.