“Those who stake their all on the coming kingdom”

Methodist preacher’s kids at the Wesley statue in Savannah

I enjoyed spending a lot of time last week with a difficult parable, the Parable of the Shrewd Manager, in Luke 16:1-13. Before I leave it behind completely (at least until the next time it comes up), I want to share an insight from John Wesley’s commentary on v. 8, which reads (in the King James): “And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.” In my view, he gets it exactly right. He writes:

And the lord commended the unjust steward – Namely, in this respect, because he had used timely precaution: so that though the dishonesty of such a servant be detestable, yet his foresight, care, and contrivance, about the interests of this life, deserve our imitation, with regard to the more important affairs of another. The children of this world – Those who seek no other portion than this world: Are wiser – Not absolutely, for they are, one and all, egregious fools; but they are more consistent with themselves; they are truer to their principles; they more steadily pursue their end; they are wiser in their generation – That is, in their own way, than the children of light – The children of God, whose light shines on their hearts.

We Christians should show the same “foresight, care, and contrivance” for heavenly concerns that the steward showed for worldly concerns. We should work at least as hard pursuing God’s kingdom as the steward did pursuing his own interests. If we don’t, then, unlike the steward, we’re not being true to our own profession of faith, our own principles.

In his commentary in the the New Interpreter’s Bible, Alan Culpepper, a Southern Baptist scholar, said as much:

Instead, the parable turns on the steward’s shrewd response to the urgency of his situation and invites hearers to understand that they are likewise in the midst of a crisis that demands an urgent decision if disaster is to be avoided. Faced with loss of his position, the dishonest steward acted decisively to provide for his future. One who hears the gospel knows that just such a decisive act is required of those who will stake their all on the coming kingdom of God.[†]

“Those who stake their all on the coming kingdom”? Who are those people? Not me, unfortunately. Don’t get me wrong: I want to stake my all. I should. But do I? Does all mean all?

I had a friend in church years ago who sang in choir. He said that whenever the choir sang that classic hymn of invitation “I Surrender All,” he felt tempted to walk out of the choir loft. He didn’t want to be a liar in church. “I don’t surrender all!” he said.

I totally get what he meant. Needless to say, this parable, like many others, kicks my butt.

R. Alan Culpepper, “The Gospel of Luke: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. IX (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995), 310.

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