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God’s Word for You

Luke 16:5-9 Be shrewd

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, October 16, 2018

5 He summoned each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Quick. Take your bill, sit down and write fifty.’ 7 Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A thousand bushels of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eight hundred.’  8 The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the people of light.  9 I tell you, use your worldly wealth to make friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone they will welcome you into the eternal dwellings.

Before we apply this part of the parable, we need to understand that the master in the text, although he is called “lord” in Greek (kyrios, κύριoς), he is not the Lord God, or Christ, but simply the master of the house in the story. The point of this parable is not to cheat our master in heaven of anything. The point is that we need to be more shrewd, more crafty, more clever, more thoughtful, in the way we handle and use the things that are available to us in this lifetime.

This manager knew that his time of reckoning was at hand. According to the custom of his culture, while he was the manager of the estate, he had the right to do whatever he wanted to do, charge whatever he wanted to, in order to make his master the profit he needed. If he overcharged, and his master still got his money, that was fine. Many in that culture overcharged unspeakable amounts—hundreds of times what a thing or a service was worth. But in a culture where there was no communication, no transportation, no competition, the manager could get away with it. Pay up or die of starvation! Now, faced with unemployment, he decided to create some debts of his own to call in. “Did I charge you for a thousand? He only wants five hundred. Make your bill five hundred.” Wow! He just made a friend. “Did I charge you for a thousand bushels of wheat? You know what? He’s only expecting eight hundred. Make it eight hundred.” Another friend. Another favor. And so it went. The master, in the act of finally firing the manager, thought he was pretty shrewd (not honest, not moral, not upright, but shrewd) in acting this way. It meant that he made himself a better future.

Why don’t you act like this? Jesus wonders. There are still thousands, millions, who are children of darkness. You are children of light. Use whatever means possible so that by whatever means, somebody might hear the gospel and come to faith. As one pastor said, “They will say to us, ‘Thank you for using all that dirty money to tell us about Jesus.’” You aren’t winning a better future for you, but a better future for them—a future that includes life in heaven.

“People of light” (Greek, “sons of light”) is an expression used here and there in the New Testament (John 12:35; Ephesians 5:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:5). I haven’t found it in the Old Testament or the Apocrypha, but it is a common theme running through the non-canonical documents in the Dead Sea Scrolls. It’s a reference to believers; that much is clear. It’s usually set over against the “sons of darkness,” those who not only do not know the true God, but are openly opposed to him and to Christ.

We are the true people of light. If we are shrewd, we will use anything and everything at our disposal “so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22; cp. Romans 11:13-14). Money, especially the love of money, is troublesome and a cross that many, many people bear. “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). But if we use whatever resources and opportunities we have to do godly things, this is what Jesus means by “shrewd.”

I know a woman from Africa who used her sister’s diplomatic connections and a single unique opportunity while traveling as a tourist one winter from Cuba to Minnesota (!) to enroll her children in two of our Lutheran schools. I don’t know if I will ever know whether she understood or not that she violated her tourist visa by something like a whole year, but she got her kids into our Christian schools. She was confirmed. Her son was confirmed. Her daughter was baptized and was on her way toward being confirmed. Her mother came and heard the gospel. Her sister came and heard the gospel. She’s trying to make arrangements for some nieces and nephews to come and be enrolled. Now circumstances have sent her back to Africa, and I honestly don’t know whether she will ever be able to return. But her family heard the gospel, and I know that their time here changed their lives and mine forever.

How shrewd can you be with the time you have left in this world, and with the resources at your disposal? How creative can you be? What can be done for God’s kingdom through you?

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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