Luke 16:1-8 contains what is perhaps one of the strangest parables Jesus ever gave, the parable of the dishonest manager. Jesus uses this story about a man who steals from his employer to teach us something about the kingdom of God and our responsibilities.
The man was a hired steward, or manager, and his job was to manage his employer’s estate and finances. His employer received an accusation that he was “wasting” his assets. The employer then calls the manager in and orders him to give a final accounting of his work before he fires him. The manager knows he has been caught and exposure like this would ruin his reputation to the point that no one would hire him, so he seizes a small window of opportunity to save his own skin. He calls in everyone who owes his employer money, and he cuts them a sweet deal. He cuts the first man’s debt in half, and gives another man a twenty percent reduction! His motive is to get on the good side of his master’s debtors so they will hire him when he is fired. This is shrewd thinking. Dishonest, but shrewd. Then the unexpected happens, his employer finds out what he has done and commends him. Why would he praise the man who is stealing from him? The master realized that even though his manager was dishonest, he was a shrewd businessman and he would be better off having him working for him than for a competitor.
The man didn’t repent of his dishonesty; he actually added more dishonesty to it. He wasn’t sorry for his sin, he was sorry he got caught. Why would Jesus use this despicable man as an example to his followers? He tells us why in verse 8, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” Jesus says that the world works harder and smarter in the business realm than the church does in the kingdom of God. While this dishonest manager is a poor moral example, he possesses some exemplary traits as a manager. We as managers of God’s assets ought to perk up and take notice.
He had discretion that helped him use situations for good. Where most would have panicked, he saw a bad situation as a small window of opportunity. “The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.” (Proverbs 27:12). We need to use godly wisdom and discretion to act productively in difficult situations.
Rather than pining over past failures, he cut his losses and moved forward. Many people are immobilized by their past failures and even successes to the point that they never move onward from today. Paul was progressive for Christ, “Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14).
He acted in advance of problems. He didn’t wait until he was on the street to wonder what he was going to do, he acted in advance. Much of what we do in ministry is a knee-jerk reaction to problems. Rather than being proactive, we wait until there is an emergency and we spend all our time putting out small fires.
Rather than leave his future to chance, he acted “on purpose” to secure income for tomorrow. He had a goal – future financial security – and he acted in ways to meet that goal. Paul was purposeful in his evangelism strategy (Romans 15:20-21). If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.
When he was caught in a bad situation, he immediately began thinking of how he could act today in order to better himself tomorrow. He maintained his composure and developed a practical (though dishonest) plan for the future. “The plans of the diligent certainly lead to profit, but anyone who is reckless certainly becomes poor.” (Proverbs 21:5). We see a great deal of godly planning in the Scriptures. Jesus even gave us a plan for evangelism (Acts 1:8). To fail to plan is to plan to fail.
The employer did not praise his manager because he was honest, trustworthy, or responsible. He praised him because he was shrewd. He had practical business sense and discretion which were valuable qualities in the business world. Jesus used this example to show us that the world is better at their business than we are at ours. If there’s a dollar to be made, people bring their best to the table; but when there are eternal souls in the balance, we settle for mediocrity. This manager used all of his savvy and abilities to secure his future, what are we doing to secure the future of the Kingdom of God? We are God’s managers (1 Corinthians 4:1, 2), let’s not be outdone by those who only manage earthly assets.