Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Shrewd Manager

There are so many instances where I am quick to come down hard on the disciples for not “getting it.” It just seems like they were thick-headed so much of the time – at least with the benefit of our hindsight and the ump-teen versions of the New Testament we have available to consult.
But then I run across a parable like the “shrewd manager” (see Luke 16:1-9) and I understand that maybe I am the one who is thick-headed. It seems that Jesus is commending “shrewdness,” and that the manager’s apparent dishonesty is what “saves” him. And then, does Jesus actually say that we can “buy” friends on earth who will then welcome us into heaven?
Jesus’ commentary on the parable is what really gives me pause:
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. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. (vv. 8-9)

But, as I’ve spent a lot of time this week studying this parable and meditating on it, I think I’ve been able to apply it in a way that makes sense to me.
First of all, although we normally consider “shrewd” to have a negative connotation, it is not necessarily to be so limited. The best definition I’ve found indicates that “shrewd” is a practical, hardheaded cleverness. (And Jesus told his disciples to be “shrewd” as snakes when he sent them out (Matthew 10:16).)
We normally think of “shrewd” negatively because we see people being “shrewd” to get the better of someone else, to unjustly benefit themselves, or to ‘con’ or trick someone else. But, in the context of this parable, think of “shrewd” as being an “astute planner.”
And that is what Jesus said this guy did – he astutely planned for his future. This “shrewd manager” was being very astute in planning for his future - and he was using someone else’s property to do it! He used his master’s property to ‘invest’ in his future well-being. And, as Jesus pointed out, the ‘world’ is usually much more in tune with such ‘planning for the future’ than believers are. That’s probably because the ‘future’ they are planning is much more concrete and foreseeable.

Over the past several months, so many people have been so very concerned about the stock market, jobs, retirement funds, etc. And do you know why? Because that is where they have done their ‘astute planning.’ They have shrewdly made investments, calculated returns, anticipated promotions, etc. And then, unfortunately, the bottom fell out.
They have been managing THEIR money and THEIR assets in the hopes of securing their future in THIS world. That is what people of this world do. That’s what the ‘shrewd manager’ did.
But what about “people of the light?” Well, first of all, they should realize that the “possessions” in their care are not really theirs. Those things belong to Someone else.
Secondly, rather than investing for their future in this world, “people of the light” should be ‘managing’ what they control for their future in His world. Often that means ‘investing’ in the lives of others.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21

Does God expect us to manage His possessions in such a way as to guarantee a comfortable retirement for ourselves? Or does He expect us to manage His possessions in such a way as to bring others into His kingdom, to eternal dwellings?
Yes, we can use money to make friends. The ‘shrewd manager’ used it to make friends who would take care of him in the future. But ‘people of the light’ can use it to make friends who will be taken care of for all eternity.

Even the shrewd manager understood that ‘you can’t take it with you’ – especially when ‘it’ belongs to someone else. But the ‘shrewd believer’ should understand that you can send it on ahead of you – especially since it was His to begin with.
Are you shrewdly managing His assets for His purposes?
Are you investing His portfolio in the lives of others to point them toward Him?
Are you shrewdly building up your worldly wealth? Or are you shrewdly making deposits in your heavenly treasure account?

Trying to manage shrewdly,
Craig Hollingsworth


  1. Thank you for this post! I was reading the parable this morning and had the same initial shocked thoughts that you had, so I searched Google and found your explanation. It's so good to have the reminder of financial responsibility to God rather than for ourselves. It's hard, with so many things in the world screaming to us that we 'deserve' wealth and happiness, and inviting us to selfishly put together such a future for ourselves. This makes me think also of the warning in Luke 12:13-21, the parable of the rich fool. Thanks again!

  2. I would also like to thank you for the truth about the parable, its very interesting to know what God really like to teach us in this world full of selfishness such that we can not gain souls utilizing resources God ever gave us.