The One You Serve
Jesus has much to say to the crowds who are surrounding him. To each audience, he speaks a word that is meant for them. While his teachings are for us also, the purpose of each lesson has a different problem in mind. His teachings come sometimes in parables and sometimes as metaphor and sometimes in straight talk. He aimed to teach but also for his audience to think hard to learn his message. We are told to make every effort to enter through the narrow gate. We are told, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (14:35) His teachings in this week’s section can be tricky to understand, however it will pay for us to have ears to hear and time to meditate on his purpose for teaching each part.
Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 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.’
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—4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’
5 “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’
6 “ ‘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.’
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.’
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. 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.
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. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?
13 “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.”
14 The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15 He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.
16 “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it. 17 It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.
18 “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
30 “ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”
17 Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. 2 It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3 So watch yourselves.
“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. 4 Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”
5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
6 He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.
7 “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? 8 Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? 9 Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ ”
This entire section has some very puzzling statements – shrewdness with money, a disjunct statement about divorce, a faith that moves mountains and so on. A shorter study should focus on either 16:1-15 or 16:19-31. However, a theme is spread across 16:1-17:10 regarding good management, duty and our rightful service to God. We’ll step through the passage to uncover the various pieces.
- 16:1-13 – Money as a means, not an end.
- 1-2 – The dishonest manager is busted
- 3-7 – What the manager did
- 8-13 – Jesus teaches on the parable
- 16:14-17:10 – Watch yourselves
- 14-18 – The evil of justifying yourself
- 19-31 – The story of a rich fool
- 17:1-4 – Watch yourselves
- 5-6 – Faith is faith, no matter how small
- 7-10 – Watch yourselves part 2
16:1-13 – Money as a means, not an end.
This section uses Verses 14 and 15 to transition into the next section. So, when studying 16:1-13, you may want to include those next two verses as well.
1-2 – The dishonest manager is busted
“There was a rich man…” There is a timeless attraction to ‘the rich man’ who sums up success in this world. The rich man in this parable, however, is not the focus of the story, but the manager who is entrusted with the rich man’s wealth. We’ll get onto another ‘rich man’ in Verses 19-31. The main characters change but the question of how you deal with your (or someone else’s) possessions is present.
“…whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions.” Here is the problem to the story, what will the rich man do and what can the manager do with this predicament. He was accused of mishandling the rich man’s property. He was unfaithful in his job. When the manager is confronted, he doesn’t show that he was not wasteful but looks for a way out of his punishment.
“Give an account of your management…” This is probably a very revealing line. Jesus is taking our minds to think about what we have done with the goods that we have. What kind of a manager have you been? The manager is put on the spot and needs to think or act quickly.
3-7 – What the manager did
“My master is taking away my job…” The manager has an internal dialogue in Jesus’ story. He lays down his options and he thinks he has three: 1) get a real job! But he is not a labourer. 2) Become a begger! But that seems below him. 3) See this rebuke as an opportunity. He win his way into people’s hearts.
“…when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.” He may have made an enemy of the rich man, but he intends to make friends and influence people with what he’s got. With the power still in his hands, he calls in two debtors and gets some money back for the rich man.
This manager is either a) returning less money to the owner and so making the owner look bad and generating friends for the manager, b) stripping away any excess interest and taking the final money back to a more reasonable value that equates with Mosaic law (commentators have looked long and hard into this and make a case here but not proven), or c) the manager removes his own commission from the rate so that everyone wins, except him, but he gains friends beyond this job. No matter which view, the motive of the manager is clear: to lesson the burden of the debtors and so create a better standing with them.
The first debtor owed, according to Darrell Bock’s commentary, over three year’s salary and the second debtor owed about 8-10 year’s salary for the average laborer.
8-13 – Jesus teaches on the parable
“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.” Since this is a story focused on the manager, and that the master stands in place of judge, his response needs to be treated carefully. It appears that Jesus is saying, good job, to the shrewd manager.
‘Shrewd’ – sharp powers of judgment; astute; clever. Often the same word in the Greek is translated as wise, but with particular sense of exercising foresight – acting now in preparation for what is to come. See Luke 12:42; Matthew 7:24; 10:16; 24:45; 25:2, 4, 8, 9.
So, what is Jesus getting at then? The parable itself concludes with the statement in Verse 8a. Jesus’ response to the parable is found in Verse 8b.
“The people of the world are more shrewd…than people of the light.” The two people groups are not hard to understand. Those who live for this world only, compared with those who have had the light of Christ shine on them. But what is Jesus’ accusation of them? It seems to boil down to this: People of this world are very good at forecasting their future and making clever deals to place themselves well. They show worldly wisdom. The people of light, on the other hand, can be accused of not being so clever with their own future – eternal future that is! Imagine what we could do in this world if we could allow ourselves to believe that we will outlive our money and possessions! We may then actually begin to be more shrewd with our possessions and use them for kingdom growth! I accept that Jesus has phrased this lesson in a confusing way. But I hope that boiling down to a) Jesus is praising the cleverness of the manager who saw the writing on the wall, b) he used the money to leverage the best outcome, and c) the people of the light have a vastly different view of the future than the people of this age. So, be a bit shrewd, wise with our possessions.
“…when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” We must not believe that this verse means, win friends and you win eternal life. No. The future for us is eternal in Christ Jesus. So, use your resources here on earth with the kingdom in mind. Gaining friends is about doing good. Don’t do evil with your money! Don’t hoard it! Spend it generously on others. But this does not earn you eternal welcome in the kingdom of God. Rather, it is what is expected of someone who is born again into the kingdom.
“…worldly wealth…true riches.” Our interest is in eternal riches. Not coins stored in heaven but in the value of heaven itself – eternity at peace with God. Perhaps Jesus aludes a little here to all of our possessions on earth being borrowed possessions. How are you handling that? If the answer has anything to do with greed, dishonesty and untrustworthiness, then this is not the nature of someone who will inherit eternal life.
“You cannot serve both God and money.” So, what seemed confusing at the beginning with talk of shrewdness and dishonest gain has all boiled down to this simple and trustworthy saying: you cannot serve both God and money. Money is not evil, but worshiping it is. Our possessions provide us with potential for the kingdom of God. What are we doing with our borrowed money? How are we investing it for the future kingdom? It is an good act of worship to give all of you money, in thought, back to God and ask Him for wisdom, knowing what our future is, on what to do with it.
16:14-17:10 – Watch yourselves
The transition occurs in Verse 14 to move from this discussion of money and onto the Pharisees and their worldly view of things.
14-18 – The evil of justifying yourself
“You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others.” It is too common these days to hear people affirm exceptions to rules as if it is ok in your case to do xyz – anybody in your situation would have done the same. The question in a Christian’s mind ought always to be something like: what is the right thing to do here. The Pharisees are now accused by Jesus of being able to find loopholes to justify their actions. Like when someone says they do not ‘honour their mother and father’ because they decided to give their time or money to God.
“…but God knows your hearts.” We can justify our actions a million times over but God knows our hearts and the intentions behind our thoughts and actions. It’s useless to think that we get away with things – even poor judgment – because nobody saw it or noticed or was hurt by it. God knows. Deut 8:2; 1 Sam 16:7; 1 Kings 8:39; 1 Chron 28:9; Ps 7:1-; 44:21; Prov 21:2; 24:12; Jer 11:20; 17:9-10; Acts 1:24; 15:8)
“What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.” This should not be understood as God finding everything we like or love as detestable. The insinuation is that ‘people of this world’ love things which are detestable to God. We love the praises of one another. We celebrate evil. We love money! Wealth! Riches!
“The Law and the Prophets…” This is shorthand for The Old Testament. Sometimes the Psalms are included in this phrase. In the Jewish tradition, the Law refers to the first 5 books of the bible and the Prophets refer to everything else. The Law establishes who, what, how and why of God’s good promises, and the Prophets defend God’s actions in the context of blessings and cursings coming from the Law. Jesus said that the Law and the Prophets speak about Him (John 5:39; Luke 24:27, 44-47; see also 2 Corinthians 1:20; 1 Peter 1:10-12)
“…everyone is forcing their way into [the kingdom of God].” This is best to be understood as everybody is justifying their own right to be in the kingdom. In context, Jesus has spoken about the narrow door which is the only way and yet many are trying to get in through other means. And in the immediate context, Jesus is moving to make the point that people are reinterpreting the scriptures to show that their evil hearts are in the right. They are modifying or re-interpreting the Law of God to make their works righteous before God. But Jesus says…
“…easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.” Heaven and earth will indeed disappear, but at the command of God at the final trumpet (Rev 21). But no man will bring about either the new heaven nor a different law. Many Christians get stuck in this area, trying to work out then, which laws do Christians still keep and which are contextual to the Jews. This approach ignores the idea that the Law of Moses is much more than ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ – they are expressing the character of God, the outworking of grace, and the difference that holiness makes. The Pharisee will ask “what is lawful?” while the Christian will ask, “am I trusting in the goodness of God in every way?” What follows is just an example of how people can rework the word of God to justify their own desires, but we must remember what Jesus said in Verse 15: “God knows your hearts.”
“Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery…” This is a very sensitive issue which I am nervous to write only briefly about, fearing that I may be misunderstood. Here are some thoughts to help you develop your own understanding in this area.
- Jesus is laying out this statement in the context of Pharisees justifying their own decisions and calling themselves righteous. God knows our hearts. The question is more about why we come to a conclusion on the topic of divorce and remarriage more so than what your conclusion is. Are we wishing to justify our decisions or are we seeking to serve God and love him first (see Luke 14:25-27; 1 Corinthians 7).
- God allowed divorce of marriages to occur lawfully. This does not mean that he praises divorce. It is God’s desire that a marriage be a commitment for life (1 Cor 7:10-11). However, God has permitted divorce in cases where there are no other options. If God hates divorce (NB that this is a very poor, incorrect translation of Malachi 2:16), it is not because it is unlawful, but because it demonstrates the brokenness of humanity in sin. Deut 24:1ff.
- When Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well in John Chapter 4, he did not degrade her for her multiple husbands/partners but led her to a new life in him.
- If a man or a woman is in a marriage and entertaining the idea of loving somebody else, this is already adultery and they should repent and ask God to strengthen their commitment. Matthew 5:27-28.
- The scriptures endorse commitment that consists of an other-centred love for one another. Remember the wife of your youth. Do not neglect the wife of your youth. Rejoice in the wife of your youth! Proverbs 5:18.
- Jesus’ statement in Luke 16 is a comment on a divorce-for-the-purpose-of-remarriage situation. A man cannot divorce his wife purely on the basis of no longer being pleased by her and then seek a new marriage.
- While God’s design for marriage is to be permanent in this life, domestic violence is unacceptable and everybody should have a safe home to live in. Anybody who feels unsafe in their own home ought to seek help.
- The staff at our church are available to discuss this important issue with anybody (especially members of our church).
- Most importantly, the goodness of God begins and ends with grace. The world that he created is under the curse of sin which includes a strain on relationships (Gen 3:16) and our first priority is to be reconciled to the God who pours out his mercy on sinners. He is the God of relationships and the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about repentance and forgiveness. This last point applies to all readers in whatever situation they find themselves in.
19-31 – The story of a rich fool
I will not go into the details of this parable but make a few simple statements.
- This parable is very different to others that Jesus tells. He does not introduce it as a parable (the kingdom of heaven is like…). He also rarely, if ever, gives characters in his parables names. He calls people farmers and rich men and labourers but he names the poor man Lazarus.
- Lazarus means: God is my help. He is probably named because the poor man does not trust in his riches but in God.
- It is interesting that Jesus seems comfortable to use imagery of the after-life that is found the Jewish traditional writings we call the apocrypha. That is to say that we don’t need to take Jesus’ imagery as revealing anything new or literal of the afterlife but he is using existing Jewish writings to make his grander point. He adopts well known language to make his spiritual point.
17:1-4 – Watch yourselves
We can be in the wrong by leading others into sin and we can be a stumbling block in allowing people to be restored through forgiveness. Paul talked about using our Christian freedom only in the context of loving others and not causing others to stumble (Romans 14). We must also watch our self-righteous judgment on others and not allow for forgiveness to repair relationships.
5-6 – Faith is faith, no matter how small
The question from the apostles (Luke refers to them as apostles since he writes after the resurrection), may come because Jesus has instructed them to forgive over and over again!
Faith is not like muscle growth. It is about the object of our faith. Jesus is not declaring that we can have super-powers if we have enough faith but saying: you are putting your trust in God, so trust in God. Even small faith is still faith in a huge and mighty God.
7-10 – Watch yourselves part 2
Finally, Jesus puts our discipleship in the position of humbleness rather than privilege. We will follow Christ because he is LORD of all, not because he deserves us to be in his kingdom.
“Watch yourself” is quite a brief but ample summary of this section. Christians may very well mismanage their borrowed wealth by failing to view it with eternity in mind. Likewise, the Law of God, or the Scriptures, point us to the heart of God and reveal the heart of mankind. It must not be misused to justify our own sin. God is our help and our faith in him will help us to act with clarity for the future, and humbly for today. Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16).
Topic A: My money is borrowed from God. As the manager in Jesus’ parable was in charge of looking after the rich man’s property, we have been given all things by God. The truth of this is communicated right through the Scriptures as we learn about the God who made everything from nothing and who makes a nation who were slaves to be a great nation with many blessings. We too, can look at our bank balance and our net worth and declare in an act of worship that all things belong to the Lord. Then, we can begin to treat our possessions, not as ours, but as assets of the Lord that we are managing. Job 1:21.
Topic B: Ideas on being clever with money. The shrewd manager was praised for being wise and clever with his money – he was NOT praised for being dishonest. With that in mind, what are some ways that we can use our money for the good of others and the building up of the kingdom of God?
Topic C: Do the means justify the ends? Almost conversely, Jesus states that we can try and justify our actions by saying that all is done for God or that God’s word does not strictly forbid it, etc. The character of God does not change and these are displayed in the character of the Christian as fruit of the Spirit who lives within. Pray for God to look at your heart and lead you into righteousness. You might use Psalm 139:23-24 to base your prayer around.