One Shrewd Dude

by Doug Batchelor


An Amazing Fact: The U.S. Commerce Department says about 4 million people are caught shoplifting each year, but for every person caught, an estimated 35 go undetected. If these statistics are accurate, it means that 140 million shoplifting incidents occur each year in a nation of 260 million people.

According to a study in Washington, few shoplifters steal out of need; 70 percent are in the middle-income bracket and 20 percent have high incomes. Only 10 percent would be considered poor. Hotel managers count on one of every three guests stealing something.

Furthermore, according to insurance statistics, 30 percent of all business failures each year are a direct result of internal theft. Security officials estimate that 9 percent of all employees steal on a regular basis and that 75 percent of all employees in retail establishments steal to some degree, taking three times as much as shoplifters.

In Luke 16:1-9, Jesus tells His disciples a parable about a man who today would likely be described as "one shrewd dude." He was employed by a wealthy citizen who had hired him to be the administrator, or manager, of his farm and all of his goods.

In what is better known as the parable of the unjust steward, Jesus said that this wasteful servant had been squandering and mismanaging his master's resources. One day an accusation was brought against the man, and apparently there was substantial evidence that he wasn't doing his job very well. So the master of the estate called his employee and told him that he was about to be dismissed.

In addition, the landowner set a date for judgment. There would be an audit-something like a meeting with the Internal Revenue Service. The master would get out the records for review, and at that time the steward would have an opportunity to present records to defend himself against the charges.

This ominous news struck fear into the heart of the incompetent servant, for he knew exactly what the outcome of the investigation would be. Quickly he formed a plan whereby he hoped to salvage his future.

Evidently this manager didn't know the books very well, because when he called together all of his master's debtors, he had to ask each one, "How much do you owe?" He was supposed to know that. The financial records were obviously a total mess.

The master might have had scores of debtors, but only two are mentioned in this parable. As each reported the status of his account, the shrewd steward told him to reduce the bill drastically, in one case cutting it in half. In this way the man was able to engage his master's debtors to participate in his dishonesty. That way, when he later stood in the unemployment line, they would have no choice but to be friendly to him and receive him into their homes. Otherwise he could expose them as accomplices in his crime. Needless to say, he made a lot of shady friends outside his master's household using the master's resources.

Praised for His Dishonesty?
Next comes the part of the parable that many Christians find difficult to understand. The Bible says that after the master reviewed the books and saw what his dishonest employee had done, he commended the man "because he had done wisely" (verse 8).

This statement mystifies a lot of people. They say, "Wait a second; is Jesus condoning dishonesty and stealing?"

Definitely not. The steward wasn't commended for his sloppiness and dishonesty. After all, that's why he was being fired. Jesus said that the master commended him for being shrewd. This man had been calculating and clever, making plans for his future security at his master's expense. I believe the reason Jesus said this scoundrel behaved "wisely" is because he was utilizing his master's resources to secure his own future. That's exactly what Christians should be doing as we see the day of the Lord approaching. Jesus is telling us in this parable that we need to think ahead in order to be prepared for the future.

A Wise Investment
At the end of this passage, Jesus says, "And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail [this phrase is sometimes more accurately translated "when it fails"], they may receive you into everlasting habitations" (verse 9).

This is probably the most difficult part of the entire parable for many people. Consequently, I'd like to share with you an important Bible-study principle. We must not read into any parable a meaning that goes contrary to the rest of the Word of God.

Some have thought that Jesus was talking about Christians trying to buy their way into heaven. However, it is clear throughout Scripture that it's impossible to use money to pay for our sins. The Bible says, "What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?" (Psalm 116:12). Salvation is a gift (Romans 6:23). It is an insult to the Lord to think that we can buy everlasting life. Besides, God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10). No matter how hard we try, we can't give Him anything He doesn't already own! We shouldn't try to compensate Him for purchasing our redemption. A contrite heart is what the Lord wants from you and me.

Jesus wasn't telling His disciples to follow the example of the dishonest servant by making friends with people who are scoundrels and crooks, either. For one thing, that wouldn't be an effective way to build a secure future! I can say with assurance that crime does not pay, because I was a thief many years ago as a teenager in New York City. Most of my friends were thieves, too, and I would not have wanted to rely on them to take care of me when times got tough. As a matter of fact, we all wasted a lot of our time and energy stealing from each other! There is no honor among thieves.

I should also point out that when the Bible uses the term "unrighteous mammon," it isn't saying that money is evil. It is the love of money that Paul identifies in 1 Timothy 6:10 as the root of all evil. Jesus had earlier warned His disciples: "Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth" (Luke 12:15).

In the parable of the shrewd steward, Jesus was emphasizing the importance of utilizing our resources while we are still in this world in order to win souls, do good, make friends, and ultimately be received into everlasting habitation. Too often we get so caught up in the affairs of this life that we lose this crucial focus. Jesus was referring to this fact when He said that "the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light" (Luke 16:8). Many people in the world work very aggressively to acquire fame, friends, and fortune. By contrast, many Christians invest so little of their time and means in that which is eternal. If we would put the same enthusiasm, interest, and energy into winning souls and looking good in God's eyes as the world puts into earning money and looking good to those around them, we would have a mighty church.

Owner of the World
I've found that the parable of the shrewd servant contains several important lessons for us in regard to stewardship.

First of all, the rich man in the parable represents God. He is our Master and the rightful Owner of everything in the world (1 Chronicles 29:11; Job 41:11). The Bible declares, "Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the Lord's thy God, the earth also, with all that therein is" (Deuteronomy 10:14).

We humans often act as though we own the world, but in reality we are merely stewards of our heavenly Father's resources. When God created the Earth, He made man in His own image and gave dominion of every living creature to Adam (Genesis 1:27-28). Birds, beasts, fish, and even plants were placed under his care. God planted the garden of Eden, and man was to tend and to keep it (Genesis 2:15).

Sadly, though, mankind has been unfaithful to this weighty task. We are all guilty, in one way or another, of mismanaging this sacred trust. Our unceasing demands on the planet's natural resources have impacted earth, sky, and sea in ways that most of us never pause to consider. New roads, housing developments, and corporate or agricultural expansion sometimes transform the earth's natural landscape in ways that make it inhospitable to a variety of plants and animals. In addition, pollution caused by automobiles, buses, airplanes, industry, and construction reduces air quality and destroys the planet's ozone layer, which protects both people and food crops from harmful radiation. And despite advances in recycling and incineration, 80 percent of the nation's waste is still disposed of in landfills. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that about 23 million tons of hazardous waste are land-disposed annually, which puts both soil and ground water at risk for contamination. As the Bible says, "the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now" (Romans 8:22).

Held Accountable
A second key point we can learn by studying this parable is that the steward realized he was going to be audited. He was told by his master that there would be a day of reckoning. In the same way, we need to realize that there will be a day of judgment. The Bible says that "we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ" (Romans 14:10, emphasis added). You cannot send somebody else in your place.

Some people don't like to talk about this because they feel it is a denial of salvation by grace to say that we are judged by our works. The Bible is very clear that we are saved completely and only by grace through faith, but it is equally evident that we are judged by our works (Revelation 20:12; 22:12). A person's actions bear witness of whether or not he is saved.

All of us will someday appear before God while He's on His white throne, and every deed we have ever done will be reviewed (Ecclesiastes 12:14). The good news is that our record of sins can be blotted out if we confess them and allow Jesus to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:7-9). If we invite Jesus to enter our lives and permit Him to remain in control, He will be right there beside us in the judgment day, serving as our Advocate (1 John 2:1).

Time and Money
All of us are stewards whether we want to be or not, so this parable speaks directly to each one of us. There are two primary things for which we will each be held accountable: what we do with our time and what we do with our means.

As we have already seen, the Bible tells us that 100 percent of our resources belong to God. Some of us tend to think that 90 percent of our money belongs to us and 10 percent to God. We may even struggle with returning that 10 percent, which the Bible calls "tithe." The Lord in His infinite wisdom asks us to return to Him 10 percent of what He gives us as a constant reminder that He owns 100 percent and as a demonstration that we believe it.

Methodist minister John Wesley said that as stewards of God, Christians should "gain all you can, save all you can, and give all you can." That might sound a bit vague at first, but it's actually a good principle. We shouldn't be ashamed of earning and investing. As a matter of fact, the Lord tells us that the servant who buries his talent without investing it is going to be judged as unfaithful (Matthew 25:14-30). Christians should be faithful in investing their means and in using the natural talents and spiritual gifts He has given them. As stewards of these things, we're responsible to God for developing and improving them.

All of our time is God's, as well. The Lord asks us to acknowledge the fact that 100 percent of our time belongs to Him by honoring Him with one day in seven as a holy day. Incidentally, He tells us which day it is. It's not just any day of the week; it's the seventh day (Exodus 20:10). He sets the amount as well as the day.

People periodically tell me, "You teach that Christians should worship God only one day a week"-as though they are more holy and do nothing except worship God seven days a week. I do believe that we should worship God seven days a week, but He doesn't tell us to rest all seven days a week. If you rest seven days a week, you're not holy; you're lazy. God set aside one day as a day of special rest-a day for spending quality time with the Lord.

In addition, it is very important that we make time for worship and ministry every single day of the week-not just on Sabbath. It is a mistake for us to think that we can keep so busy during the week with work or studies that we have little or no time for God, family, or our fellow man. Every love relationship depends on people spending quality time together.

How to Take It With You
The most important point Jesus was trying to make in the parable of the shrewd steward is that from an eternal perspective, money is worthless unless it is used to enlarge the kingdom of God. The only way we can take our money with us into heaven is to invest it in winning souls while we are still living here on earth. Using our God-given resources to help bring the lost around us into a saving relationship with God is the way to "lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal" (Matthew 6:20).

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