THE SHREWD SERVANT
In the fifteenth chapter of Luke, Jesus delivered the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. I have often heard these parables taught and preached on to bring about the topics of repentance, accountability, compassion, and evangelism. However, in Luke 16 Jesus begins another parable that is not so often brought up from the pulpit: the parable of the unjust steward. Chapters 15 and 16 of Luke flow unbroken into one another without disruption or lapse of time. Jesus taught these parables together for a reason. There is a truth to the parable of the unjust steward that is vital for the progress of the Church. We can be compassionate toward the lost, we can understand the value of a soul, the joy over a repented sinner and the importance of accountability; but the application of the parable of the unjust steward is where that understanding and compassion begins to produce something.
Luke 16:1-8 describes a steward who had squandered his master’s possessions and was expected to give an account of his management. The steward, knowing that he would be fired and not willing to work, came up with a plan to provide for himself after his termination. He went to those who were in debt to his master and forged their accounts by decreasing their debts. His goal was to make friends with his master’s debtors, hoping that they might welcome him into their homes after he was fired. The first part of Luke 16:8 says, And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly.
Understand that the unrighteous steward was not praised because he had dealt unfaithfully in those things that he was entrusted with. His actions are not condoned in this parable; but his wisdom is. He was praised because he acted shrewdly. The steward cleverly devised a way to use the resources he had available to further his own agenda and provide for his future. Jesus went on to say in verse 8, for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light. Jesus taught this parable to demonstrate how those of the world will cunningly invest so much of their resources and effort into the matters of this world. What about the Church? If only the Church was as shrewd in furthering the Kingdom as we were in our earthly dealings. When it comes to the affairs of this world; we can be downright brilliant as we devise plans to provide and advance our own agendas. However, when it comes to the affairs of God we show up rather inept. There are three “problems” that the Church seems to always have; that never seem to stop us when it concerns our affairs in the world.
“We are just too busy”. No one ever seems to have the time to do what needs to be done for the Lord. The Church easily excuses itself from the Lord’s work because we just do not have any extra time in our busy schedules. This has never been a problem however when it comes to our worldly concerns. Think of a time in your life when you were really busy; and then something unexpected or tragic happened that trumped everything else you were doing. What did you do? How did you manage? Our first son was born on the 3rd of July; the day my wife and I returned from a week of Church Camp. He was not expected to be born until the middle of September. Being born so early; he remained in the NICU for nearly two months. During that time, my wife and I spent between eight and twelve hours a day there with him. When something like that happens it stops you in your tracks; but the world around you just keeps on spinning. The day before he was born I would have told you that I was so busy that summer that there was no way for me to add any extra time in my schedule. Yet, for the duration of his time in the NICU I found the time to be there with him and still manage to get everything done. We have all been in similar situations; and the point is that time is not a problem for the Church. We have enough time; the problem is how we are using it.
“We don’t have the money”. The Church never seems to have the financial resources it needs to accomplish what needs done; so we settle for doing nothing. Think of a time in your life when you were strapped for cash; what did you do? How did you manage? How many times have we been in situations where we had no extra money sitting around but something broke down, or an emergency came up and we had to find a way to pay for it? Almost always we find a way to come out of these situations on top. We work harder, stretch our budget, or “cut the fat” on the things that we do not need. When it concerns our homes, cars, health, or even our comforts we find some way to make it work. However, when it concerns the Church or an effective ministry that needs support; we usually just shrug our shoulders and say there is nothing more we can do. What people are giving for the Lord is not a problem for the Church; the problem is what we are doing with the money we are not giving.
“We don’t have enough people”. The Church never seems to have enough volunteers to do what needs done. If our Church buildings are not busting at the seams, we just assume we are too small to accomplish anything. Think of a time when you had to accomplish something and you did not have enough man-power or know how to do it; what did you do? Very seldom have I have seen this sort of “problem” stop anybody; except the Church. Nearly every difficulty we encounter would be considered over our head at first; but that is how we learn. The problem is that no one in the Church wants to take the effort to learn how to do anything. The Church is looking for the perfectly qualified person for every little task; but the only thing that can prepare someone for ministry is ministry. Nobody becomes a great teacher until they have taught; no one knows how to put together a Children’s program until they have done it, and you’ll never be evangelistic until you start evangelizing.
The parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the prodigal son in Luke 15 forces us to evaluate our own compassion toward the lost or backslidden and see the value of an individual’s soul. The parable of the unjust steward in Luke 16 forces us to ask the question, “What are we doing about it?” The truth is that most congregations do not have a plan. Most Christians never put any thought into how to use the resources they have available to further God’s Kingdom. We are not clever or shrewd when it comes to opening doors for the gospel in the lives of those around us. We are not coming up with brilliant plans to make inroads with the lost people in our lives. I know the Church is capable; because we do it all the time concerning the things of this world. Perhaps when we begin to see the affairs of God and the eternal state of the lost as important we will begin to consider every resource that we have with an eternal perspective. Perhaps then we will consider how to use our job, our possessions, our finances, our talents, and our time to the spreading of the Gospel and to glorify the name of God.