The Parable Of The Dishonest Manager seems to show Jesus approving of dishonest and unethical business practices. But how can that possibly be?
The story centres around a man who is about to be fired for wasting his master’s property. He is not suited to physical labour and he is too proud to become a beggar, so he devises an ingenious scheme in order to secure his retirement. He goes around to each of his master’s creditors and revises their bills such that they end up in his debt. His master is a religious man and does not want it exposed that he was skirting the laws of usury, so for the sake of his own good reputation, he decides to let the matter pass. Jesus commends the sly manoeuvring of the manager saying:
“For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9 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. 10 “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. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 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.” (Luke 16:8–13 ESV)
Upon closer inspection, the point of this parable seems to be that a wise person understands that their season of strength, opportunity and wealth is fleeting. Sooner or later we all run out of vitality, our prospects dim and our wealth deserts us. Every person fades and fails but the wise man thinks about the future and orchestrates a plan.
A number of years ago, as part of a class I was taking on evangelism, I participated in a survey assessing the religious beliefs of “regular people”. I went into a Tim Hortons, where the “regular people” in my neighbourhood hung out and offered to buy free coffee for anyone willing to take the survey. The rules we had been given were very clear: we were to interview only – we were not to evangelize or to comment on the beliefs that people shared with us.
What I discovered was quite remarkable.
I interviewed a lady and her son, who like many “regular people” in this culture, identified loosely as some sort of “Christian”. They both believed in heaven and hell and they were 100% sure that everyone went somewhere when they died. I asked them what the criteria would be that would determine who went where. They were both sure that it would be the righteousness of God as expressed in the 10 Commandments. When I asked them if they could name any of the 10 Commandments they sheepishly admitted that they could not. The lady thought that recycling and taking care of the earth might be one of them as she had heard a great deal about that at the church she had frequented for a season.
These people needed to read the Parable of the Dishonest Manager!
The main point Jesus was making in that parable is that a wise person sees the end approaching and makes an intelligent plan! He or she takes what is known about the Master and develops a strategy that accords with the Master’s character and obligations. There is a great deal about the dishonest manager that cannot – and is not commended, but his concern for the future and his urgency in planning for that future is something that the people of this world would do well to imitate. New Testament scholar James R. Edwards puts it this way: “He is indeed a “son of this world,” but he is more prudent in planning for the only future he is concerned about than the typical religious person is in planning for his eternal future with God.”
I wish that I could find those two very ill-prepared people that I once met in that coffee shop in my neighbourhood. If I ever do encounter them again I would very much like to help them in developing their plan for the future. I want to tell them a few things about God’s character and obligations. According to the Bible, the God of the universe has obligated himself to his own word. He promised that men and women could live with him forever if they obeyed his commandments. Of course, none of us has done that perfectly, but the Good News of the Gospel is that Jesus has done what we could never do! He obeyed God entirely and loved all perfectly! Not only did Jesus do for us what we could not do for ourselves, but he also paid for what we have done in his body on the cross.
That’s the Gospel!
Jesus has kept our end of the bargain for us and now God is happy to deliver on all of his assumed obligations. The Bible says, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory (2 Corinthians 1:20 ESV).”
All of the riches and blessings that God promised to give men and women are now freely available in the person and Lordship of Christ. If you are in Christ through faith then you are co-heirs to every good thing of God.
That is an excellent retirement plan!
A wise person does what he or she needs to do in order to take advantage of that.
We should all be like the dishonest manager: we should come to grips with our true situation, we should study the character and obligations of our Master and we should execute an appropriate plan.
Pastor Paul Carter
To listen to the most recent episodes of Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. You can also find it on iTunes. To access the entire library of available episodes see here.
This article has been updated. To find the original see here.
 James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke, Pillar New Testament
Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 455.