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Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg

with Tom Fuller

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Does Jesus Promote Cheating?

Luke 16:1-18

In Chapters 14 & 15, Jesus spoke to the religious leaders about humility before God. He spoke to the crowds about the cost of discipleship, and then to the scribes and Pharisees about their attitude toward the lost. Now He turns His attention primarily to His disciples (though the religious leaders were listening in). More than our attitude towards the lost, Jesus explores the methods we use to reach the lost with the gospel.

In the process Jesus speaks about the values from His kingdom that we should use in this world:

  • Astute use of methods found in this age (without them using or enslaving you)
  • Stewardship
  • Integrity

We begin with a parable that is often misunderstood.

1 – 9

The scene is this: a man has been employed as a manager for the owner of a business. Apparently the guy was a crook and would either inflate what was owed in business transactions in order to feather his own nest or charge exorbitant commissions. Eventually word got back to the boss that the manager was fleecing his customers and thus “squandering” his possessions.

The guy gets called to the front office and summarily fired. But as is the case when a director of a state agency retires or is let go, an audit is performed to figure out where the accounts lie and to give accurate information to the next person in that position.

So this guy realizes he’s getting fired and not going to get a reference letter. He realizes he’s no good at manual labor, and if he remained unemployed he’d have to beg, which he considered “beneath” him. His reputation with the boss and the company has been sullied, but he realizes that even if coming clean can’t impress the boss, perhaps it can impress his customers.

So the guy visits two customers he’d cheated. The consensus seems to be that he tells the customer to reduce what is owed by the amount of his commission. This wasn’t trivial either—one calculation of the 20 measures of wheat in verse 7 is equal to 16 months’ wages for a day laborer. The olive oil involved more than 800 gallons! He may have considered that cutting the commission to the customer might net him a position with them (“welcome me into their homes” vs 4).

His boss, though he doesn’t relent on his decision to fire him, at least recognizes that he’s being “astute” which comes from a Greek word that combines the idea of a thoughtful character with practical skill. The word can be thought of as “intelligent”.

So now to Jesus’ interpretation—and remember, as we’ll see, though it was directed at the disciples, there is a point for the eavesdropping religious leaders. First off, Jesus is not suggesting that we be dishonest in any way. The focus here seems to be:

  1. How we use money in this age and
  2. The results of that management

Jesus said a few chapters ago:

Luke 12:42 (HCSB) “Who then is the faithful and sensible manager his master will put in charge of his household servants to give them their allotted food at the proper time?

The word “sensible” there is the same word translated here in Chapter 16 as “astute”. It really seems that Jesus is talking about use of money in this age and how effective or sensible we are in using it to bring people into the Kingdom of God. In a sense, how we wisely use money (wisely, not dishonestly) may be one of the parts of the audit that Jesus performs when we stand before Him in the Judgment Seat of Christ (Romans 14:10, 2 Corinthians 5:10).

So what could that mean to us practically? First of all, I think the lesson is that we should use the things of value in this age to encourage the age to come because all the wealth of this age means nothing in the age to come, after all, they use a gold-like substance as paving material in heaven. Yet, we can be effective in using money to win people to Jesus. How?

  • Giving to those in need (showing selfless love reflects God’s character)
  • Giving generously to the ministry or ministries of your choice
  • Being honest when it comes to money (helps you grow spiritually)
  • Being an example with how to use money wisely (helps others grow spiritually)

So next Jesus applies this idea of stewardship here, equating to responsibility in heaven.

10 – 12

It’s almost like our use of money and possessions as a steward is training us for bigger responsibilities. I’m reminded of what Jesus will say in Chapter 19:

Luke 19:17 (ESV) And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’

 

Things of value here are only valuable because we imagine it so. It’s one of the things that sets us apart from animals: our ability to imagine. Governments and organization of people are only possible because of imagination. We place value on goods and services, represented by either a scarce commodity (like gold of silver) or a note of value like currency. But I think there’s some reason to believe that in heaven there are things that are “genuine” that have intrinsic value in themselves. We’ll probably only understand this when we get there but Paul the Apostle said:

Colossians 2:16-17 (ESV) Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

In the Book of the Revelation, the Apostle John talks about heaven describing things as “like” this and “like” that (Revelation 4:3, for instance where John describes the throne of God “like” jasper). So in a sense, being intelligent for the kingdom using this world’s fake valuable stuff is a training ground for how we will use the real valuable stuff in heaven.

But there’s a warning attached to this.

13

There are two words translated by the HCSB as slave in this verse. “Household slave” is the word oy-ket’-ace which suggests the position. But the word “slave” is “dool-yoo-o” which is the fact that person is in bondage and cannot just quit and get another job.

The valuable things of this age act like an enslaving master. If you aren’t careful you will love the things of this age more than God. You will become enslaved to the model instead of the real thing. It’s happened more often than we’d like to admit to ministers of the gospel. Just think of Jim Bakker who got caught pilfering the millions sent in by his followers and you get the idea. Frankly to see ministers flying about in private jets or being driven in luxury automobiles and living in mansions gets my dander up. And even if you’re not in vocational ministry you can let the bangles and baubles of his age cloud out what is of real value—that is loyalty to the Lord.

So now Jesus uses this very tendency to drive home His point to the Pharisees. They made it look like they were doing God’s work, but in reality didn’t love Yahweh half as much as they loved the things of this age.

14 – 15

The Pharisees were huge justifiers of themselves. They made themselves seem so holy, but in fact were so evil. They loved power and pushed others down to keep it. They justified it by claiming to represent God. They created huge legalistic burdens and justified it by claiming it helped people follow the Law, but in reality only made people more dependent on them. In fact, they only followed the Law where it fit their needs, not God’s.

Luke add this parenthetical phrase that the Pharisees were “lovers of money”. They heard the point that money shouldn’t rule us but “scoffed” Jesus. It means: “to sneer outright.” They made fun of Him. Just try to make fun of loving money in this age and you’ll get lots of scoffing too.

Jesus calls them out because all the things they loved: power, prestige, wealth, honor, and control—are actually “revolting” to God. The word comes from the idea of stinking. God’s values are often the exact opposite of the values espoused by the Pharisees and by this age. It’s no wonder, who is the author of those values? Satan, who hates God and loves himself.

God’s character is other centered and seeks to fulfill the needs of others at any cost. Satan’s character is self-centered and self-fulfilling at any cost.

The next three verses are a little difficult to interpret but I think fall right in line with the point Jesus is making: God has always been about love and purity—He made it plain from the beginning, but those who were supposed to represent God twisted those values to match their real master: Lucifer.

16 – 18

The “Law” (Genesis through Deuteronomy) and the “prophets” (all the test of the Old Testament) were the way God communicated His character to the world. John represented the last of the Old Testament in that he was the last prophet. John handed off the baton to Jesus who is prophet, priest, and King.

Hebrews 1:1-3 (HCSB) 1 Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. 2 In these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son. God has appointed Him heir of all things and made the universe through Him. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of His nature, sustaining all things by His powerful word. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.

So Jesus is the focus and the real representation of the character of God communicated through the Law and the Prophets. Yet here in Luke Jesus says that the though the baton has been passed to Him, the Law doesn’t go away. That’s because the Law is fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus represents God’s Law perfectly.

Yet the Pharisees, who should have been keepers and upholders of the Law themselves broke it when it suited them. They did this through serial divorce and remarriage. A man could divorce his wife for having burned her husband’s dinner. They did it to cheat their wives out of their dowry—thus serving money rather than God.

Conclusions

  • Money can be useful for the Kingdom, and teach us how to be good stewards
  • Money can be a trap and can actually pull us away from serving God, so use it carefully, intelligently
  • Your flesh will deceive you into thinking you are doing okay, when in reality you are not (the Pharisees were self-justified but actually hypocritical)
  • God’s values and character are permanent. They don’t morph with our changing culture, nor do they adapt to our fleshly nature
  • We shouldn’t react to what Jesus said about divorce with shame or legalism—but in humility realize we all fall short of God’s glory but that’s why Jesus came to overcome our weaknesses.

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