The Commendable Cheat

Last Sunday I preached on Luke 16:1-13, the parable of the man known as the “dishonest manager” or the “unjust steward.” This passage has caused more than its share of head-scratching perplexity. For in it Jesus sets before us as an example worthy of emulation a man who is a scoundrel, a first-rate schemer and cheat.

In the parable a rich man fires his household manager when he hears he’s been “wasting his possessions” (v.1). The manager, knowing he’ll be out on the streets soon, and being unable to dig and unwilling to beg, concocts a bold plan to secure his livelihood. He calls his masters’ debtors to him, and in cahoots with them, he proceeds to “cook the books.” By doctoring the invoices to reduce the debt each one owes his master, the manager gains the favor of these men and insures they will act kindly towards him when he is out of work and in need.

After describing the manager’s underhanded scheme, Jesus tells us the master’s reaction which is, to say the least, surprising. “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness” (v.8). He didn’t “denounce” the manager, or “curse” him, but he “commended” him. And indirectly through the master, Jesus also commended the man’s shrewdness.

Without question Jesus wasn’t approving the dishonesty and thievery of the manager. But he put him forward as an example of the kind of forethought, resourcefulness, and industry believers ought to show in our stewardship of all God has entrusted to us. Just as the manager, a “son of this world,” was (wickedly) shrewd in securing his interest and treasure in this world, so the “sons of light” ought to be (righteously) shrewd in securing our interest and treasure in the world that is to come. We ought to show the same care and diligence in pursuing heavenly treasure that an unbeliever shows in pursuing earthly treasure.

So we have something to learn even from a lying schemer like the dishonest manager. The greater principle involved is that of stewardship. God has entrusted you and me with resources, talents, gifts, opportunities, and time. Will we be faithful to devote all we have received in this life from the hand of God to use it for the glory of God?

We will if we are convinced – by faith – that the only true riches are those found in Christ. The more we find Christ to be our heart’s treasure and delight, the more we’ll gladly devote all we have to serving him. And the more we can hope to hear him speak to us one day words that are a truer commendation: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21).

Soli Deo Gloria!

Pastor Scott