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Poor Management

Luke 16:1 -- 15

Lesson audio

It seems that the ancients were plagued with poor management technique just like we are – and for much the same reasons.

Now He was also saying to the disciples, "There was a rich man who had a manager, and this manager was reported to him as squandering his possessions. "And he called him and said to him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an accounting of your management, for you can no longer be manager.' "The manager said to himself, 'What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig; I am ashamed to beg. 'I know what I shall do, so that when I am removed from the management people will welcome me into their homes.' "And he summoned each one of his master's debtors, and he began saying to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' "And he said, 'A hundred measures of oil.' And he said to him, 'Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.' "Then he said to another, 'And how much do you owe?' And he said, 'A hundred measures of wheat.' He *said to him, 'Take your bill, and write eighty.' "And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light. "And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings. "He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. "Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? "And if you have not been faithful in the use of 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 else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth." Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him. And He said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.

(Luk 16:1-15 NASB)

The Unjust Steward

We should begin with this: the parable is taught to Jesus’ disciples – not the crowd, not the Pharisees. We may therefore take its meaning to apply to ourselves, for all Scripture is profitable – how much more, then, when it is addressed to us?

The parable explained

In this dark parable we may make certain identifications:

  • The rich man represents God, who owns all things.
  • The manager (steward, in older translations) represents us.
  • The other debtors are other sinners like ourselves.

Now we can begin to see the parable’s meaning. We are, like this manager, stewards over what God has given us. This might be money, other riches, talent, time – all that God has provided. Stewards are held accountable for their trust. Eventually the day comes when we will no longer manage those things – for death will take them from us. After death, the judgment; so our accountability audit is simply deferred.

What is the manager to do? Management largely consists of evaluating the options and (very seldom) picking one. This manager runs true to form; in his evaluation he gives no thought for his master; everything is based on what’s best for him. So it is that Christ is appealing to us to do what is best for us. It’s just that we have a different idea about “what’s best.” He examines his options:

  • It faintly occurs to him that he might try manual labor. A look in the mirror convinces him that this is not going to work. Indeed, in this parable we see that our works alone will not lead us to God’s kingdom.
  • Of course, having reached such a height, being a beggar is not something he even wants to contemplate, for all who passed by would soon know why he is begging. Pride prevents this option; a warning to us, too. Those who live in pride should know that God humbles the proud.
  • But he sees a third option: He will give his master’s debtors a break. They’ll know who their friend is, and he can survive on the banquet circuit.

At this point the story troubles many Christians. The master (who represents God) praises the unjust steward – for his shrewdness! Would God do the same with us?

I submit that he will:

  • We see the unjust steward as a wicked man, as compared to ourselves. We would see his actions as defrauding his master.
  • God sees it differently. Both the steward and the debtors are sinners; not one is righteous. All that exists is his; we are his stewards.
  • Note that the praise is for his shrewdness. Christ is not commending business fraud.

Now we can examine the punch line: if this is how the unjust steward obtained praise from his master, what should we do with the things God has given us? Should we not use them in securing things eternal? Indeed, Christ’s command is quite clear on the point. God holds us responsible for our actions. Over and again the Scripture tells us that God rewards those who help the poor. Here, he reminds us that some of those poor will be rich in the kingdom – and it never hurts to have such powerful friends.

On Faithfulness

Your mother was right; character counts. If you are faithful in little, you are faithful in much. Character is tested in small things. There is a reason why your parents taught you manners along with right and wrong. Good manners are the sign of a gracious heart.

Our supreme example of this is Jesus Christ himself. Consider how he descended to our level. He through whom all things were created comes to us as one of us. And what example did he set for us? In all things he did his Father’s will. Even in the form of man, trivial to him, he is diligent.

The contrapositive is Judas. The man who pilfered the money bag entrusted him by the disciples is the man who would sell his Lord for 30 pieces of silver. The issue is not about money; the issue is, are you a faithful and righteous steward of what God has given you?

It boils down to this: God gave you talent, the circumstance around you and all things material. He expects you to do two things:

  • He expect you to do things right. In whatever worldly endeavors you are in, you are to be the one who does the job right.
  • He expects you to do the right things. As matters arise, he expects you to be so devoted to him that only his choice occurs in your mind.
Faithful in unrighteous, faithful in righteous

Have you ever wondered why it is that some people just seem to have all the blessings and others get the rocky road? There are several reasons for that; but one which is key for adults is this: what would you do with them?

  • Why would he trust you with money when he knows you will spend it unwisely? And is it not the case that when you spend it unwisely, you go broke? (Which came first, the chicken or the egg?)
  • Ask the same question about your job; why is it that some people get a good job and others don’t?
  • The same thing can be asked about other possessions.

If you can’t handle the worldly things in a Godly way, why would God entrust you with anything in the way of righteousness?

We are so often taken in by the “If I had a billion dollars, I would…” No you wouldn’t. You’d spend it pretty much like you do today. Indeed, what about those things that money can’t buy?

  • Why would he entrust a loving wife and obedient children to one who does not love his neighbor and refuses to obey God’s commandments?
  • Why would he work his providence for our blessing if we do not honor him?
  • Indeed, would he give you the privilege of serving in his church, his kingdom, if you have shown yourself incapable?

He pursues this theme with us. If you have not been faithful in handling the affairs of others, how can you be expected to be given wealth of your own? We recognize this in our children. When they are young, we trust them with very little; when grown, they may inherit. But there is a use for a spendthrift trust. So how do we perform this trick? I give you three examples:

    1. Like Moses, be humble.
    2. Like Solomon, ask for wisdom
    3. Like Christ, do the Father’s will.

The question of lordship

If this is the case, how come all Christians aren’t driving Mercedes? I submit that the answer is a question of lordship. Human beings do not feel right without a goal, without a purpose. We were designed to serve a purpose. So which one do you serve?


Most would tell you that being your own master is the most desirable. (Think of Henley’s Invictus: “I am the master of my fate, the captain of my soul.” This one is easy – for a while. It does have a couple of disadvantages; first, it is greatly dependent upon other people NOT doing the same. The trick is to be the only one with such a view when all the others are looking for a leader. Then it can be very satisfying. But there is a grave danger in this: you might not be so wise as you think you are – and then you’d have to go get help in setting your directions. That’s why this lordship is easy to subvert into the lordship of the world.

The World

We rather quickly find that being our own lord does not produce the desired results. We soon find that all the others using this method see no reason to allow you to succeed. And they have the power to prevent it. This is why so many books are written on the subject of how to achieve your worldly dreams. Titles like, “How to make any woman love you” or “The Road to riches quickly” sell very nicely. The disadvantage is simply this. You get suckered into doing things which gradually – but very surely – turn your desires into your lord. First the flesh, then the worldly things and if needed pride. Ultimately this leads you the illusion of control and the reality of slavery.


Christ’s way is the one that works. It looks rather difficult when you hear about it; it does not promise the things of this world in abundance – but Christ promises you life abundantly. What does this lord ask of you? All things; all that you are, all that you were, all that you could be. What does this lord give to you? Abundant life here and now, life eternal as well. Indeed, in this world he tells you that you will indeed do things right, and do them rightly.

You are going to have a lord in your life. I suggest you pick the one who loves you.

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