Finances, Faithfulness, and Friends
What did Jesus mean when he said "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 ... the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it." (Luke 16:9,16)?
Well we first read in Luke 15:2 that Jesus was originally addressing the self-righteous and unmerciful heart of the Pharisees revealed in their complaining that Jesus ‘receives sinners and eats with them’ (v.2). So he uses three parables about lost things (lost sheep, lost coin, and lost sons) to teach them that they’re lack of joy in life is a direct result of their lack of mercy towards those who are lost. But God the Father enjoys showing mercy to those who are lost and rejoices when they are found.
Then we read in the beginning of chapter 16 that Jesus addresses his disciples and begins with a parable of a rich master and his shrewd manager. Jesus now switches the subject and instead of confronting the Pharisees heart towards sinners and their lack of mercy, he now confronts their heart towards possessions and their love of money. Jesus wants to teach his disciples about the correct way to view and use money and possessions (a theme already quite extensively developed in the gospel of Luke by this point). But now lets look at the parable and the application …
Jesus tells the story of an unfaithful steward who, in view of losing his job because he squandered away his rich master’s possessions, now uses the people who owe his master money to serve his own interests and they become ‘paid off friends’ to prepare for his own future. The surprise of the parable (and Jesus’ parables usually end in some sort of surprise) is that the unfaithful steward is praised by his master in the end (8a). This is shocking, but Jesus is making a point. Both the rich master and the unfaithful steward represent the unbelieving world and their view towards money – willing to do whatever it takes to get money and use it to protect their own interests. So, in essence, the old phrase rings true, ‘it takes one to know one.’ The rich master is basically saying, ‘I would have done the same thing if I was in your situation.’
Then comes Jesus’ commentary and application of the parable in the end of verse 8 and following. And the only way we can make sense out of what Jesus is saying is by first looking at the surrounding context. Notice in verse 10 and 11, Jesus is highlighting faithfulness versus dishonesty. That’s the reason Jesus gives us the parable of the manager who acts shrewd only because he was originally unfaithful. And so the emphasis that Jesus is trying to make is that what characterizes the world’s way of dealing with money is dishonesty which to the world may look like shrewdness, while the Christian way of dealing with money is faithfulness which to the world may look like foolishness. Shrewdness is the vice, while faithfulness is the virtue.
We can see then the overall emphasis of Jesus is to contrast the rich man and the unrighteous manager with the way we ought to use our possessions, but He does begin by drawing some similarities that we can compare to and model after in a godly way.
1. Our Minds and Money
The first principle that Jesus draws is that just as unbelievers use their minds to love themselves and think and conjure up ways to use the people in their lives to serve their own purposes, so believers (sons of light) should use their minds but instead to love God and think hard about how we can give our money to others in serving God’s purposes.
2. Our Friends and Finances
The second principle that Jesus draws by way of comparison is that just as the dishonest and unrighteous steward, seeing ‘his days’ were numbered, used his master’s money to make friends because he knew they would outlast his money, so Christians should understand that their days on this earth are numbered, and yet we have an opportunity to invest our Master’s money (God’s) in a way that makes ‘friends’ who will one day gladly receive us in heaven.
Jesus’ point is that just like the shrewd steward understood the basic truth that friends outlast finances, so we should remember that heaven is where our friends are. Our friends outlast our finances. So the question becomes … are we going to serve God and sacrifice our money for the salvation of others who will gladly receive us in heaven (see 1 Thess. 2:17-20), or are we going to serve money and use people to save our skin and pad our own comfort here on earth? That’s why we see in the next few verses (13-14) why the Pharisees could not love God as they should, because they lacked mercy and they loved money.
Although shrewdness may seem more appealing and win the approval of the world, God calls us and challenges us to sacrifice which will look stupid to the world, but in view of this parable and in light of eternity will eventually be seen as wise.
The Forceful Entry
Then, in verse 16, Jesus is explaining to the Pharisees that if you were truly on board with the Master’s mission of mercy and use of money in opening the kingdom of God to all who repent and believe no matter what they have done or haven’t done, then people would be ‘drawing near to hear you’ (15:1) as well. Jesus’ point is that the rush of sinners that you see near me are like a heard of poor people forcing their way into a narrow door that they understand leads into a great banquet of free food (mercy and grace). In other words, the gospel is being proclaimed, and the sinners you see around me are eagerly, intently and purposefully pursuing entrance into it. These sinners understand their need and are not afraid to push their way to get to me … the door of the sheep (John 10:7).