Yesterday, I preached a sermon on the Parable of the Dishonest Manager, or more commonly known as the Parable of the Shrewd Steward. The passage is found in Luke 16:1-13 and reads as follows:
He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
This is an interesting passage of Scripture because it surprises us that the dishonest manager is “commended” for his shrewdness. Jesus then goes on to tell his disciples that they are to be shrewd as the “sons of this world” are “shrewd in dealing with their own generation”. Jesus says his followers are to be as shrewd as the ungodly in their dealings.
What does Jesus mean by this? To be shrewd means to be artful, cunning, creative and/or wily. In our modern terminology, we might say it means we can think outside the box. Jesus does not say we can do unethical things, as the dishonest manager did in reducing his master’s bills. He says we are to be shrewd in our dealings. This point is made more clear in Matthew 10:16 where Jesus tells his disciples, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” The word translated as “wise” in Matthew 10:16 is the same word translated as “shrewd” in the Parable of the Dishonest Manager. We learn from Matthew that while Jesus’ disciples are to be shrewd, they are also to be innocent. They are not given license to act unethically to accomplish their task.
So, Jesus says his disciples are to be like the dishonest manager in their shrewdness, not his unethical behavior. How do we apply that? Well, let’s think through the task that all Christians have been given. We are told in Matthew 28:19-20 that our responsibility is to “make disciples”. The passage tells us that we are to do this through evangelism (baptizing) and training (teaching). We are supposed to share the gospel with unbelievers and help fellow Christians grow in their faith. That is the primary responsibility of the Church and every Christian.
So, we need to ask ourselves, are we shrewd in how we do this? Does anyone look at how churches function or how Christians live and think “they sure are shrewd”? I mentioned a few examples in my sermon on where churches fail to be shrewd (you can download audio here). I will not mention them now, but I would like to ask you to comment on how you think churches and individual Christians could be more shrewd in our task of reaching unbelievers with the gospel and then helping fellow Christians grow in their walk. Leave your comments below.
Good observations, Tim. When I think of the word “shrewd” I think of having insight that most people don’t perceive. The quality of seeing more possibilities in a situation than others are able to see; therefore, more possiblities and/or options.
It is an interesting concept to apply to evangelism. I’ll have to think about that. I do know, however, that the “if you were die tonight…” scenario doesn’t appeal to me. Do you know of anyone that has actually been saved by a tract? I think the main purpose of tracts is to relieve Christians… including me… of the guilt they feel from not actually speaking more about their relationship to God with the unsaved.
HI Jeff. I like how you put it: “When I think of the word “shrewd” I think of having insight that most people don’t perceive. The quality of seeing more possibilities in a situation than others are able to see; therefore, more possiblities and/or options.”
Of course, to go along with seeing the possibilities is also the ability to choose the most effective of the options. I agree that our approaches to evangelism often fall short of being our most effective options. Yes, I am sure that people have been saved through a tract, but does that make it our best option? Are there more effective approaches? I am not against using tracts, but I agree that tracts often are used to relieve us of our personal responsibility to actually speak to people. Maybe a more shrewd use of tracts would be to speak to people about the topic the tract addresses and then leave the tract with the person so they can remember what you said.
Thanks for your thoughts.
Having just listened to the news, I would imagine the church in Florida that wants to burn the Quran and made the news last year with the “Islam is from the Devil” teeshirts is probably in the Not Shrewd group. This is probably not going to convert anyone….