Shrewd as Serpents, Gentle as Doves

There are couple of instances when we read of Jesus instructing his disciples to use the world’s wisdom for heavenly purposes. We recently read from Luke 16:1-13 in our Wednesday evening Bible Study:

Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ “‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’ “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ “‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

What an interesting parable! At first reading is seems that Jesus is commending the manager’s actions, even encouraging the disciples to act just as deceitful in going about the Father’s business. Does Jesus really mean for us to use any method at our disposal, even lying and cheating, as long as we get the right results?

Of course not.

So then, exactly what is Jesus teaching us in this parable?

The key to understanding Jesus’ purpose for this parable is found in vv. 8-9. Jesus compares unbelievers with believers, saying that the “people of the world” are more shrewd and clever with the things of this world than believers are with the things of the Kingdom of God. This shrewdness is shown in the manager who, when faced with being banished from his master’s house, cheated his master by making friends with his master’s debtors, hoping that they would take him in to their homes and let him manage their affairs. Jesus tells us in vs. 9 to use the resources of this world to make friends, so that when our wealth runs out they will welcome us into “eternal dwellings”.

We should be just as clever with our wealth as unbelievers are. But instead of using our earthly resources for personal gain, like the unjust steward, we should use our wealth for the Kingdom of God, spreading the gospel and saving souls. When our life on earth ends, we will be welcomed into God’s eternal dwellings by those whom our giving blessed in this life. This does not mean that we can give or buy our way into heaven, but that when we enter God’s Kingdom those who benefited from our giving will welcome us home.

We often miss the point by focusing on our resources, being more concerned with how much wealth we have than how we are using it. Jesus reminds us in vs. 10 that how much we have or do not have is irrelevant. The point is that no matter what we have or how much we have, we are to recognize that everything we have is a gift from God and is to be used for His glory and the benefit of others. If we cannot prove to be trustworthy with earthly wealth, why would God trust us with the “true riches” of His heavenly purpose (vs. 11)?

We are often very clever when it comes to handling our own finances. Our purpose is to have whatever monies we have work for us, earning the most interest, so when it comes time to use it we find that we have managed it very wisely. This is a good thing.

How much more, then, should we focus on our heavenly investments! The steward in the parable cheated his master for his own benefit, and he used such cunning methods that even his master gave him credit for his ingenuity. If God is our Master, then we will recognize that everything we have truly belongs to Him, and we have the responsibility of managing His resources in such a way that honors and benefits our Master’s Kingdom. Therefore, whether we have been given little or a lot, we should be both shrewd and faithful in our stewardship of our Master’s wealth.

This is a difficult parable to grasp, but it is a great reminder of how God is concerned with both this world and His Heavenly Kingdom. God wants us to live this life as a precursor to the next life. In doing so, Jesus tells us to be “wise as serpents, yet gentle as doves” (Matthew 10:16). All for the glory of the Master.

Your servant in Christ

pastor mike