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What does the parable of the dishonest manager mean (Luke 16:1-13)?

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In Luke 16:1-13, Jesus is teaching a lesson through the parable of the dishonest manager. When you read this parable, the question arises: why is Jesus commending the dishonest steward and what is the lesson He is revealing to us? This parable is one of the most difficult that Jesus taught, but it teaches us a precious lesson. Parables are often set to show a thing in a secret way and present truth through allegory.

This parable is distinctive from the others Christ taught since all the characters in this story are somewhat flawed. Christ uses this story of the unfaithful steward to teach believers how to live and conduct their lives as we pass through this world. The audience was twofold: the disciples to whom Jesus was teaching a lesson and the other were Pharisees who loved money (Luke 16:1;14-15).

In the parable, a wealthy man had a manager/steward (someone who is the manager of a household or household affairs). Charges were brought against him that he wasted the rich man’s possessions. When word came from others of his mismanagement, the master called him and asked him to turn in the account of his management, for he could no longer be the manager. The rich man’s anger towards the steward reminds us of God’s anger against Jerusalem and Judah in Isaiah 5:4, saying, “What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?” So far, the scribes and teachers of Israel have proved unfaithful to their trust continually, right through the Old Testament to the time of Jesus.

The dishonest manager then says to himself in Luke 16:3, “What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.” This unfaithful manager deliberates the situation because his dismissal means he would have to do hard labour or beg to survive. In other words, he spent time pondering his condition after his discharge and realised the requirement for careful planning. Otherwise, he will not survive. So, he decides what to do and calls his master’s debtors, asking the first how much he owed his master. The first debtor responds, saying, a hundred measures of oil. The manager asks him to sit down quickly and write fifty. The next debtor owed a hundred measures of wheat, and he was asked to take his bill and write eighty. By doing this, these debtors would be indebted to the unfaithful manager and would, in turn, help him in his time of need. Surprisingly, the master discovers this and commends the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.

Notice here that the master commends the wisdom of the unjust manager seeing that he was wise, and so praised him. He has not commended the unfaithful steward for his injustice, dishonesty, and evil dealing but because he had done wisely, being prudent, having the foresight and skilful adaptation of a means to an end (Luke 16:8). Jesus then says in Luke 16:8-9, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And 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.”

There is a contrast between those who belong to this age and who belong to the light (Ephesians 5:8, 1 Thessalonians 5:5). Believers are no longer of this evil world, but we belong to the kingdom of light. The lesson here is the skill and prudence of the people of this world in supplying themselves with friends for the day of need. The manager’s dishonesty was despicable, but his foresight and consideration of the interests of this life deserve our notice and imitation in regards to the important affairs of life. Unbelievers seek their portion in this world, yet we are to seek our inheritance and relationships in the Kingdom of God. 

Luke 16:9 says, “And 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.” When Jesus says, “make friends for yourselves using unrighteous wealth, ” he simply says that “wealth” is part of the unrighteous world. Most of the time, wealth is unrighteously obtained, even if it be the smallest of untruthful gain. It could be as simple as getting paid for a minute of work that you rightly should not be charging for or something similar. On the other hand, you could be using your wealth in an unrighteous manner, on the luxuries of this world, and fulfilling evil or selfish desires. Understand that Jesus is not teaching to gain wealth unrighteously and use it for good. Instead, Christ is focusing on how wealth produces unrighteousness and the evil influence it can have on people to commit unrighteous acts. 

In the kingdom of God, we are to turn this wealth into a friend and make friends by its means, not to waste it on our own but to use it as God’s resource in works of service and mercy. Then when it fails, or in other words, when you die, and money is no longer of any good to you, then they (those you have helped lead to Christ via means of unrighteous/worldly wealth) may receive you into the eternal dwellings (Luke 16:9). True riches never fail. Luke 12:33-34 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. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Believers are to use worldly wealth so that we can gain and build friendships for eternity. We are to do so by using the riches of this world and investing in the gospel, bringing deliverance to sinners. As we do so, and as each arrives into their eternal dwelling in heaven, the redeemed will be there to welcome us. This parable illustrates the wicked people of this world being shrewd and providing for themselves against the coming disaster. People of the kingdom of God ought to be more prudent and wise with kingdom matters. Use whatever resources you have in this world not only to save yourself from the coming judgment of God but to go one step beyond that to declare to the world there is a time coming of God’s righteous judgment. They need to turn from their evil ways and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ so they can secure a place in the eternal dwelling in heaven.

So Luke 16:10-13 says, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 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.”

Be faithful over the little Christ gives you by investing in kingdom purposes and not squander it on yourself. As you prove faithful, God will entrust true riches to serving the true master, Jesus Christ. Do not serve money or become a slave to money; instead, be devoted to Christ and use your wealth to serve Christ and gain friends by promoting the gospel for eternity. Amen.

Luke 16:14 says, “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him.” I encourage you not to follow the example of the Pharisees, who were lovers of money and ridiculed the teachings of Christ. By doing so, they were displaying their unfaithfulness and lack of stewardship to what God had entrusted to them. Instead, they ridiculed Christ, claiming to be wise and instead becoming fools (Romans 1:22). Heed the teaching of Christ and become wise stewards of all that He has entrusted to you for His kingdom. Amen!

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