Luke 16:1-13

Shrewd Manager
"The Shrewd Manager" by Kazakhstan Artist Nelly Bube.


The entire chapter:

The Law says "Do" or "Don't" to show us our sins, the second use of the Law, and then to show us how to live by faith in Christ, the third use of the Law. The Gospel says "Done." The Christian is constantly living in a sphere which involves Law and Gospel. He never stops dead on either of the two. Both are necessary.

Luke 16:1 Jesus told his disciples: "There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions.

"He went on to say." This section is addressed to His disciples. The manager was alleged of wasting, the rich man had received complaints.

Luke 16:2 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.'

He was fired and told to turn in his books.

Luke 16:3 "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 --

He said this to himself. The last five words of this verse denote the man's inability and pride. He was too soft to do hard labor. He was too proud to beg. His circumstances were dire. That's the point.

Luke 16:4 I know what I'll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.'

Intended sense: "I've got it!" He found a solution. His shrewdness begins to unfold here. He is thinking about the destitution of being fired, but he wouldn't be left out in the cold. He was seeking mere temporal security.

Luke 16:5 "So he called in each one of his master's debtors. He asked the first, 'How much do you owe my master?'

Evidently his master's debtors did not yet know that this accountant had been fired. He shrewdly makes use of this ignorance. Note that at the end of the verse he shrewdly refers to his master as MY lord, though he had been fired.

Luke 16:6 "'Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,' he replied. "The manager told him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.'

The sole point in the difference between what the debtors are asked o pay is the shrewdness of the accountant. That's all. Some translations have 800, others have 1,000 gallons of olive oil. The point is that it was a huge debt in a commodity which was much in demand. "Take your bill" denotes deliberation; "sit down quickly" denotes speed; and "make it four hundred" denotes crookedness in changing the record.

Luke 16:7 "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.'

Luke 16:8 "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.

"Then" or "at that." The master does not refer to Jesus. The manager is called "the wicked manager." The text is talking about his shrewd and wicked dealings in verses 6-7 and not the charge brought against him in verse 1. The master praised the manager "because he had acted shrewdly" in verses 6-7. That's all.

By the way, the master plays a part only in illustration, not in application. There's an old erroneous explanation that says that here we're dealing with forgiveness. That would be turning a text of Law into Gospel. The sole point is that the manager is commended for acting shrewdly, though wickedly.

The parable ends middle of verse 8 and then Jesus makes a remark about the parable. "The people of this age" means "the unregenerate." "The children of the light" means "the regenerate."

"In dealing with their own kind" has been translated as "are in their generation wiser," "In dealing with their own generation," "in handling their affairs."

There are three explanations:

  1. Arndt says it refers to "this age" with no insult intended.

  2. Plummer says it means "children of this age are wise to their own than Christians are toward Christians.

  3. Lenski interprets it of both: "Children of this age are wise toward both pagans and Christians than are Christians."

The preacher is asked to look at all the translations to make up his own mind. The writer of these notes prefers the interpretation of Arndt.

Let's try once more: "The unregenerate are shrewder (in their wickedness) toward the unregenerate than Christians are shrewd (because they are not wicked) toward the unregenerate." It is meant as a compliment, not an insult, toward Christians.

Luke 16:9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

The first words in this verse denote the authority of the incarnate Christ. The verse is speaking about the money that's often used in wrong ways. Mammon is earthly wealth. In itself money is not wrong. It is often USED wrongly. Here the opposite sets in. Jesus means that Christians should use money just as wisely as did the wicked manager, but in a RIGHTEOUS way.

"When it fails" means "when you die." "You will be welcomed" is a better translation than "they may receive" in the KJV and RSV. God is the Receiver. The subject is the Triune God. On this thought look at Matthew 25:31-46. Jesus is not speaking of shrewd, meritorious deeds. He is speaking of wise, selfless use of money, a test of one's sanctification, a fruit of a true and living faith in Himself. Such people will be welcomed into the EVERLASTING habitations, not "houses" as in verse 4.

Luke 16:10 "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.

This verse is axiomatic. Everyone understands it. It is Hebrew parallelism. The second part elucidates the first. Common to both statements are "least-much." But they differ in the words "faithful" and "dishonest." The application, by the word "least" Jesus means how we handle our earthly wealth. By the word "much" He means how we handle our spiritual life. The former is a test of the latter. This is stark Law.

Luke 16:11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?

"In view of this axiom." In verses 11 and 12 we have two fact or particular conditions by which the reader is to examine himself. "In your use of money which is often used for wrong purposes..." "Genuine wealth" means "spiritual wealth." In other words: "If you can't wisely use money to your advantage (in the way that God wills) how can you claim to be receiving the real wealth?" Starkest Law.

Luke 16:12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own?

"Furthermore." Note the similarity of this conditional sentence to that in verse 11. But there's a difference. "That which belongs to another" is compared with "that which is yours." The first denotes money and wealth which is loaned to us while on earth. The latter denotes God's permanent gifts to us, forgiveness of sins and everlasting life.

Luke 16:13 "No servant can serve two masters. 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 both God and Money."

The first sentence is plainly an axiom. Everyone understands it immediately. This is followed by correlative "either-or" introduced by explanatory "you see." "Hate-love," "cling to-despise" are strong opposites. But that is precisely what happens when one tries to serve two masters. It won't work.

Jesus purposely uses "the other" twice. It means "of a different kind." That becomes clear in the last sentence. God and Mammon are masters of a different kind, but masters they are. If you serve God as Master, you will hate and despise Mammon as master and vice versa. You simply cannot have both as equal masters. It won't work. Starkest Law.

Lenski: No other parable has caused as much perplexity and has received as many interpretations as this one. . . . One interpretation alone is sound, the one Jesus himself gives . . . . This interpretation is derived from the parable as a whole, not from its details. And the other point in Jesus' interpretation is the fact that it is confined only to the disciples, even as Luke emphasizes this at the start, verse 1. Not until one becomes a disciple can this parable mean to him what Jesus intends it to mean. . . . The fully developed unrighteousness we see in this man as regards the unrighteous mammon is to help us to see and to inspire us to attain the complete contrary, the fully developed righteousness with which we are to handle this unrighteousness: first in the use to which we put it, verse 9; secondly, in the estimate we put upon it, which underlies any use we make of it, verses 10-12; thirdly in the resistance which we offer it, this underlying both the use and the estimate, verse 13. . . The comparison is one of opposites.

If preached rightly, this text will linger in the memory of the hearer and make him conscious of proper stewardship of Mammon.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series C Gospel Texts, Sundays After Pentecost, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1979, pp. 54-56. Used with permission.

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