A Complete Guide to Prosperity

Financially Savvy

If you care about money you’re normal. But if you care about what God thinks about your money you’re in the minority.

I’d like to take a look at one of Jesus’ parables that cuts straight to the heart of how we interact with money.

Money Makes the World Go Round

Liza Minnelli sang the song with the words, money makes the world go round. The song tells us that if you’re rich with problems, you can forget your worries by paying for a good night out. If you find yourself heartbroken you can take it on the chin and recover on your yacht! But if you’re poor, cold and hungry, your fat little pastor might tell you to love evermore but love soon goes out the window when you realise it won’t pay the bills! Because it’s money that makes the world go round!

I recently sat in a hotel lounge enjoying a coffee where two of the staff were having a meeting with the manager. It was clear that they were so involved in their conversation that they were unaware that I was within earshot. Either that or their conversation was highly unprofessional for public airing. I was not deliberately listening (honestly!) but what I did learn about that hotel was where all the leaks in the roof were, where infestations had been dealt with, which staff had been fired and why. One member of staff had been taking a bottle of wine up to his room every night. It seems some contractors were also being ‘let go’ for more economical solutions to maintenance and repair. Money dominated the whole conversation. But it would wouldn’t it. It would have to. However much you enjoy the service, however ‘at home’ you feel, you know the whole thing is set up to make money for someone who that manager works for.

Money makes the world go round.
But followers of Christ are not of the world.

In this amazing parable, Jesus challenges us to think bigger than the world.

The Shrewd Manager: Luke 16:1-15

1 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 ‘“Three thousand litres of olive oil,” he replied.

‘The manager told him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifteen hundred.”

7 ‘Then he asked the second, “And how much do you owe?”

‘“Thirty tons of wheat,” he replied.

‘He told him, “Take your bill and make it twenty-four.”

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.

Let’s look at this parable character by character…

Character Studies

The Rich Man

He…

…HIRES a manager to look after his wealth (v1)

…FIRES him for mismanagement (v2)

…ADMIRES his shrewdness later on (v8)

This is your typical boss I guess!

The Manager

He had one final task of giving an account of affairs. But he did more than is asked. All he had to do was write a report and leave. But he turns his attention to self-preservation. He negotiates.

5 ‘So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?”

6 ‘“Three thousand litres of olive oil,” he replied.

‘The manager told him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifteen hundred.”

After a bit of crude research I estimated that today on the international trade market, using bulk prices with no bottling, packaging, or transport fees this was around up to £8000 worth of olive oil, now slashed to £4000 worth of oil!

7 ‘Then he asked the second, “And how much do you owe?”

‘“Thirty tons of wheat,” he replied.

‘He told him, “Take your bill and make it twenty-four.”

At today’s prices this amount of wheat is worth around £6000 and just went down to £4800, meaning a £1200 saving to the debtor. It was normal for people to pay in kind rather than using actual money which is why the rich man was owed oil and wheat. However, it’s likely that the manager was also taking a commission, so the values would be higher than those I’ve just estimated. But for now let’s at least work with around a £5000 combined saving to the debtors.

Taking a commission…

It is argued by some (including the IVP New Testament commentary) that the way that the manager slashes the debtors’ bills represents the commission he would have received. Thus he did not do his boss out of any money. As I understand it, it was normal for a manager to have a different rate of commission for different products, hence the 50% cut of oil and 20% reduction in wheat. This is not referred to in the text and is of course conjecture. But it also would not be mentioned to the debtors in the story as they probably wouldn’t know about the commission. It would be highly irregular for the manager to provide such a breakdown: You don’t find out the cost price of an item when you buy from a shop.

This idea that the bill reduction is based on the manager’s commission is more likely than the manager just slashing his soon-to-be ex-bosses invoices in a final act of madness because the master himself commends the manager’s shrewdness. The manager has sacrificed his own £5000 (?) cut. But he would probably never have seen it if he was getting fired that day, so it’s a win-win situation, hence the shrewdness.

He says, ‘quickly’ to the debtor in v6 because he’s out of a job soon and can’t sign this new deal off any other time but now. It’s now or never.

This is shrewd because…

Now, in cutting the price to the debtor he’s also increasing the likelihood of the debtor paying up, especially if this was an old debt (possible under a wasteful manager). Doubly shrewd.

The manager doesn’t hope to redeem himself or get his job back but he has had a final stroke of genius in gaining favour with others as well as doing his boss a favour.

So…

  • The manager had already lost his commission because he was fired. So in effect he lost nothing.
  • The owner would never have seen the commission anyway. It would have gone to the manager.
  • The debtor just considerably reduced his debt.

This, I believe, is what the rich man admired.

8 ‘The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.

The master was only commending the manager for being shrewd. He was not commending him for being dishonest. Shrewd and dishonest are not synonyms. Shrewd is good!

(If it was not commission that was cut, the rich man is admiring the manager for losing the rich man money. The point here could be that the owner was so in love with money and selfishness that he was glad to see another devoted follower to self and mammon. He admired the man who knew how to look after himself. He’d lost the owner money but he’s gained favour with the neighbours. Well done old chap! But for me this argument contradicts its first premise that the boss loved himself and loved his money. He would be cross! It would be a very twisted from of admiration for him to commend his ex-employee in this way!)

People of light / People of this world

V8b: “For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.”

Frankly, Jesus is saying that people of this world handle money better than Christians. Thanks Jesus.

But then, they would, wouldn’t they. They are people of this world. What makes this world go round? So what will be the number 1 priority of the world? (Those were rhetorical questions. If you didn’t know the answers you need help.)

The people of the world have an unspoken mutual understanding that money is god, money makes the world go round. Within the world system there is an underlying respect for those who do well for themselves.

And people of the light are to meet them in this environment and show them true riches.

Jesus continues:

V9 “I tell you, use worldly wealth* to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

* NRSV: ‘Dishonest wealth’; Greek: ‘Unrighteous mammon’

Jesus expects his followers to think differently from people of the world but they are also expected to be able to work within the world system. “Use unrighteous mammon.”

Money cannot come with us to heaven. So recognise its limits and use it for others, not selfishly. You will gain friends as people recognise your stewardship and generosity.

Use money to win souls but also despise money. I used some italics back there to illustrate that the more modern translations are way too soft. Jesus is not talking about ‘material resources’ as if we could ever have a detached, unemotional response to physical stuff. He’s calling it unrighteous mammon! Mammon is a negative word for money, it could even evoke the idea of a pagan god of money. So to the original audience this would have come across much more harshly than it does in the NIV. But in case you’re not convinced, jump to verse 13 and you’ll see that followers of Christ are expected to despise the stuff! Let’s balance this off with the idea then that money in itself is not evil. It is indeed neutral. But our attitude to it can rarely be neutral, if ever.

The best approach towards money is to have it and hate it. If you find that too harsh but still like the alliteration, try, have it and harness it. But I prefer the former. Or a blend of both.

But you are going to use it somehow. You can’t avoid it unless you live the ‘good life’ by going off the grid and living self-sufficiently off the land. Almost impossible, and certainly not my calling. For Jesus’ audience this was not likely. They would be using money some time soon.

So this instruction on the use of money is not based on an assumption that money was hitherto unused by Jesus’ audience. It’s from the context what we’re already using money so while we’re at it, let’s evaluate how we’re doing it. Let’s use it to win friends and bring them into an encounter with God.

True Riches

Jesus is asking us to redirect our money towards eternal treasures. This will increase our influence with others and is the kind of activity that is represented by those who will be welcomed in heaven.

V10: “‘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.”

Be honest with money. Then you will be trusted with more – by people and by God. Perhaps this is how verse 9 works. As you are seen to be trustworthy with mammon, as you show you can handle this monster, you gain respect with others, as well as showing God you are capable of shouldering more responsibility.

V11 “So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?

What are these true riches? Heaven? Bigger barns? It’s perhaps not a coincidence that this passage follows on from the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. Maybe there’s a link. The true riches in the preceding parables were repentant sinners. This was the greatest price that Jesus was willing to pay. People are of ultimate value and infinite worth.

People are true riches.

This is why the best use of money is to connect to people. If my use of money allows me to make a new friend, then I’ve connected with someone Jesus was willing to give up the riches of heaven for. And if they come to know him then that ultimate price will have gained the ultimate reward.

But if God can’t trust you with money, to redirect your thought life away from material things, he won’t be able to trust you in the marketplace, because you can’t serve two masters and you’ll end up serving money. A Christian in the marketplace who has not truly laid every material possession on the altar will find the spirit of mammon creeping in and taking a hold of his heart. Ultimately he will bring the gospel into disrepute. So why would trust such a person with the ultimate prize of someone else’s soul?

V12 “And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?”

Here, Jesus reminds us that this world is not our home. Money belongs to this world and ultimately the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, but your home and your true riches lie in heaven. My property investment portfolio cannot be seen in this world. I want to be trustworthy here on earth with the money I have stewardship of.

So we come to the famous verse.

V13 “‘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.’”

You cannot work for both systems. You’re either employed by heaven or working for the world system. There are a lot of grey areas in life. But this is not one of them.

All I know is that the Pharisees in the audience were not impressed.

The Pharisees & God

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.

So these guys sneer at Jesus’ teaching. They turn their noses up at the idea of money being their god. But Jesus knew that they only cared about what other people thought. As long as they were justified in the eyes of those around them they were fine. This is how it looks when religious people live by world’s standards. God’s not impressed. God looks at the heart.

And my prayer is that when he looks at me he sees a man after his own heart, a guy who is working against my non-spiritual side in order to reconcile my thinking to his.

How about you?

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