Sermon 09-18-2022: “God Loves Shrewd Stewards”

Scripture: Luke 16:1-13

Congratulations! You’ve come to church on a Sunday in which we are studying what is often regarded as the single most difficult parable of all of Jesus’ parables. One indication of its difficulty is that commentators can’t even agree on what to call it: Is this the Parable of the Shrewd Manager or the Shrewd Steward or the Wise Steward… or is it the Parable of the Dishonest or the Unjust or the Unrighteous Manager or Steward? It’s been called both, depending on which aspect of the man’s character you choose to emphasize!

To say the least, in this sermon, we need to figure out, as best we can, what’s going on in this parable—what it means… what it’s about. I’m going to say three things: First, it’s about salvation. Second, it’s about stewardship—which, I promise, is much more than money. And, third, best of all, it’s about our Savior, Jesus.

Salvation, stewardship, and our Savior. That’s what this sermon is about.

But first, salvation… 

And I want to begin by talking about something that made the news last week: Turns out, there’s a new company that launches rockets into outer space for the express purpose of sending people’s ashes into outer space. For the bargain-basement price of $12,500, you—yes, you!—can have your ashes—or those of your loved ones—sent into outer space. I mean, our church has a beautiful new columbarium to store ashes, but just think: you can send them into outer space instead!

I’m kidding. Don’t do that!

But what made news last week is that the ashes of some prominent people associated with Star Trek: the Original Series are being blasted into outer space. Ashes including those of Lt. Uhura, Nichelle Nichols, who died recently, those of Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott, “Scotty,” James Doohan, along with those of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and his wife—Majel Barrett Roddenberry—who was also on the show.

Not only that… hometown hero and Toccoa native DeForest Kelley, who played Dr. McCoy… His family has arranged to have a lock of his hair sent into space on that same flight alongside these ashes…

Listen to what the CEO of this new space venture, Charles Chafer, had to say about it: “We’re very pleased to be fulfilling, with this mission, a promise I made to Majel Barrett Roddenberry in 1997 that one day we would fly her and husband, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, together on a deep space memorial spaceflight.” 1

But, I’m sorry, who is Mr. Chafer kidding? He’s not flying these five people anywhere! Because they’re dead. Of course I’m sure it’s meaningful for family and friends who will memorialize their loved ones in this way—and I’m not disparaging that, I promise… But for these five? No… None of the five whose remains are being blasted into outer space will be there to enjoy outer space

But to say the least, there is a consolation: if, while they were still alive, the five of them were united with Jesus Christ through faith, then we can safely say that they are experiencing something infinitely better than even a trip to outer space! Amen?

I mean, a couple of years ago, William Shatner, who played the great Captain Kirk, actually did go up into space. But these other five… No. Time’s up… It’s too late. They ran out of time to go up in space!

And the first and most important point of this parable is along these same lines: Time is running out for all of us. We each have an appointment with death, unless Christ returns before then. But like the Shrewd Steward in the parable, we have an urgent need to do whatever we need to do in order to be saved.

This parable is, first and foremost, about… salvation!

But to see this, let’s first figure out what’s going on in the parable. First, you have a wealthy landowner who owns many properties. He’s hired a business manager to manage these properties—he might be the equivalent a CFO today. He handles the money. He keeps the books. He’s an accountant. He manages his boss’s investments. And he collects rent from farmers who lease his boss’s property and farm the land. And these are big farms. It’s a lot of land.

So this CFO, this business manager, is literally a “steward,” because he controls and manages the property, the assets, and the money that belong to someone else. That’s literally what being a steward means. This wealth that he controls doesn’t belong to him.

Anyway, the news gets back to his boss, the landowner, that this steward has squandered the man’s property—we’re not told how. Maybe the steward was lazy, maybe he was incompetent, maybe he was corrupt. We don’t know. But notice in verse 3, the steward doesn’t seem surprised that he’s getting fired. He’s not bothered that his boss was unsatisfied with his performance—he doesn’t try to defend himself—he’s only bothered that—once the word gets out that he’s been fired—he won’t be able to get the same kind of lucrative job somewhere else. His reputation will be ruined. And as he says, he isn’t strong enough to dig, and he’s too proud to beg.

So his boss calls him in and fires him… But it’s not like all the spreadsheets and account information are online somewhere. There are physical ledgers—accounting books—that the steward has to go and retrieve and turn in. So that’s what he’s going to do. He probably tells his boss, “My ledgers are at home. Let me go get them in order, and I’ll be back in a jiff.” 

Only… this guy’s clever… He hatches a plan, but he’s only got a short time to implement itSee, before he returns the ledgers to his boss, he goes to each of his boss’s tenants and cuts deals with them. They owe enormous debts to his boss, and the steward reduces—significantly—each of their debts. And has them write it in the ledger. 

Of course, the steward is not authorized to do this. And for this reason, many preachers and commentators try to interpret the steward’s actions in a more favorable light—in ways that exonerate him or make his actions seem less blameworthy and more honorable. For example, one popular alternate interpretation says that he was just giving the tenants back his own personal commission—so he wasn’t cheating his boss out of anything. He was sacrificing his own money. But I don’t buy it. It misses the point of verse 8: Jesus himself calls the steward “dishonest.” In other words, he is not a stand-up guy. He really is cheating his boss, he really is stealing from his boss, he really is cooking the books

And his boss finds out. Which is why it seems so strange to us that in verse 8, far from being upset, his boss commends the steward—not for the fact that he cheated and stole and cooked the books, but because the steward’s plan was just so darn clever

We should be able to relate to this!

I mean, many of y’all are old enough for me to say with certainty that, at one time in your life, the prime-time soap Dallas was your very favorite show on TV back in the ’70s and ’80s. And you loved it in part because you loved J.R. Ewing, and you were kind of rooting for J.R., even though he was a terrible human being! Even if you hated him, you still kind of loved and admired him. He was your favorite character… not that goody-goody Bobby Ewing! 

So the Shrewd Steward is like the “J.R. Ewing” of Jesus’ parables!

Regardless, the steward cheats his boss out of the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars. But what does the steward care? It’s not his money, after all.

And why does he do it? The steward is banking on the fact that these tenants will be so grateful to him for saving them all this money that of course they’ll welcome him into their homes—they’ll give him room and board—when he’s unemployed. The steward likely figures that he can spend the rest of his life calling in favors, mooching off these new friends that he’s made. He may never have to work again!

And you may say, “Yes, but wouldn’t the steward know that his boss would find out what he’s done. In which case, couldn’t his boss have had him arrested? He was only fired before; but now that he’s embezzled from the company, he might be facing jail time.”

Well, yes… That could happen. But the steward was wagering that if the landowner took legal action against him—and against the many tenants who were complicit in the steward’s illegal scheme—the landowner himself would be deeply embarrassed and humiliated… because, after all, the landowner hired this dishonest manager in the first place. The landowner was supposed to know what was going on in his businesses… He was supposed be in charge, after all. The landowner should have prevented this manager from cooking the books in the first place.

So, to save face, the landowner couldn’t risk taking action against his steward.

And if that’s what the steward was betting on, well… based on the landowner’s response to him, he was exactly right!

And here’s what I need for us to notice: There’s no change in setting between the three beloved parables that Jesus tells in chapter 15—the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the Prodigal Son—and the parable of the Shrewd Steward. In other words, Jesus has just told three beautiful stories, which communicate the very heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ—what it means to be reconciled to God through faith in Christ. (We looked at two of them last week.) And then, notice the first verse of chapter 16 says, “He also said to his disciples…” 

Keep in mind, Dr. Luke, the author, didn’t insert chapter breaks when he wrote this gospel originally. Our chapters and verse numbers were added centuries later. So even though today’s parable begins a new chapter in scripture, we shouldn’t imagine that Luke is simply changing the subject and moving on to some entirely different teaching of Jesus… I agree that the new chapter number makes us think that’s what he’s doing: Like, “Jesus was talking about God’s mercy and grace and salvation through faith, but now he’s talking about stewardship.” 


Consider, after all, how much the Shrewd Steward has in common with the previous parable, the Prodigal Son. In each case, you have someone squandering someone else’s property, facing unemployment, facing financial hardship—possibly even facing starvation—and each devising a plan to avoid disaster by going back to the person whose possessions they’ve squandered in the first place and hoping for or expecting forgiveness.

And here’s my point: each of us must become like the Shrewd Steward in order to be saved! 

Time is running out. As with the Shrewd Steward, our Master, Jesus Christ, has warned us that Judgment for our sins is on the way. Each of us, apart from Christ, is facing a disaster far worse than anything that can happen to us here on earth: we’re facing God’s judgment for our sins. Like the Shrewd Steward, we face losing everything… Except it’s even worse than that… Because of our sins, we risk losing our very souls. 

So if we are shrewd like this steward in the parable, we will do literally whatever is necessary to solve this crisis

So my first and most urgent point from this scripture is this: Some of you may need to become like the Shrewd Steward and save yourself… while you still have time. And the only way to do that is to throw yourself upon the mercy of God, and receive his forgiveness, which is made available only through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ, as you believe in him.

Time is running out, and tomorrow isn’t guaranteed! What are you going to do about it? Be wise. Be shrewd. Think about it. Think it through. Act with urgency. Act now.

Do you  know Roger McGuinn? He sang and played the electric 12-string guitar for the Byrds, that great West Coast band from the ’60s. They had hit songs like “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Turn, Turn, Turn,” “Eight Miles High,” “So You Wanna Be a Rock and Roll Star,” “Chestnut Mare.”“And I’ll probably feel a whole lot better when you’re gone.” Even if you’ve never heard of McGuinn, you’ve probably heard of his bandmate, David Crosby, who, after he got fired from the Byrds, became part of Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Well… McGuinn sent Crosby a tweet a few years ago, in which he said the following:

@thedavidcrosby please make sure you are right with Jesus Christ before you take your last breath. After death you do not get a second chance to repent, that’s only for this life. It’s important that you call on Jesus to save your soul.

I got a lump in my throat when I read that. 

But not everyone liked it… Shortly after McGuinn sent this tweet, David Crosby blocked him on Twitter. Someone tweeted at McGuinn: “It’s because you’re so preachy toward him. You’re always talking about Jesus.” And McGuinn was like, “Nah, I’ve been talking to David about Jesus for years. That’s nothing new. He blocked me for some other reason.”

But McGuinn’s point in sending Crosby that tweet is the same point Jesus is making: Time is running out… for all of us. As McGuinn said, “After death you do not get a second chance to repent.” 

But like the Shrewd Steward, David Crosby needs to take advantage of the time he has left and turn to Jesus and be saved. We all do. Maybe you do. That’s Point Number One.

And this brings us to Point Number Two, which is very much related: I would argue that our brother in Christ, Roger McGuinn, in sending that impassioned tweet to this spiritually lost friend who is in need of Jesus, was also being a “shrew steward.” And we Christians need to be shrewd stewards, too. And please bear with me: I’m not even mostly talking about the “stewardship of money”—or giving a tithe to church—the way we typically think of stewardship. Like, you know, “Our church will have a stewardship campaign toward the end of year and try to plan our budget based on money you pledge to give to the church.” We call those “stewardship campaigns”—which is perfectly fine—but stewardship, the way Jesus defines it, goes way beyond money.

For instance, now that it’s football season, think of… I want to say Tim Tebow, but of course he’s been out of the game for a while. I’m sure there’s a better, more recent example. But most of us remember what Tebow was famous for? For “Tebowing”… That is, after he scored one of his many touchdowns, this Heisman winner would take a knee in the end zone as a way of expressing gratitude to God. What was he thankful for? He was thankful for the fact that God gave him everything he needed to be this highly gifted football player and to score this touchdown. This was Tebow’s way of saying, “This is not about me. I am nothing. God is everything. I owe everything to him. I must become less, Jesus must become greater.” 

And of course I recognize the risks associated with this kind of public piety. It can be insincere and hypocritical; it can be a way of saying, “Look how holy and righteous I am”… But it doesn’t have to be that way. I don’t think it was for Tebow at all. At its best, it simply acknowledges that the crowd who’s cheering for the winner on the field should direct that praise to the One who makes it all possible. It’s a way of acknowledging that everything we have comes from God, everything we have belongs to God, and everything we have is for the purpose of glorifying God and accomplishing God’s mission.

That is the heart of what it means to be a steward. Sincere Christian athletes like Tim Tebow are stewards of the athletic gifts and opportunities that God has given them.

I realized at an early age—around age 11 or 12—that I had a gift for public speaking. I didn’t imagine back then that God would use it in this vocation. But I am a steward of this gift for God’s glory and God’s purposes. Between you and me, I would have preferred that God had given me a gift for playing lead guitar in a world-famous rock band, which was my childhood dream, but we don’t get to choose the gifts God gives us! God does…

But we’ve all got our various gifts! We must be stewards of them… We must use them to glorify God and fulfill his purpose and mission.

And yes, our gifts include money—and some of you are like, “Darn! I thought we were going to avoid that topic.” But, no, I can’t avoid it. Because nothing tells other people what we treasure most in the world like our money… and our willingness and our eagerness to give it away, and use it to bless other people, and use it to gain treasure in heaven rather than merely enjoy treasure here on earth, which is passing away, after all. Money is surely the most practical way that we show our Lord what he’s worth to us. 

When we refuse to be generous with our money, what are we saying about our Lord Jesus—and our trust in him? We’re saying something like this: “While it’s true, Lord, that your Word promises that you ‘will supply every need of ours according to your riches in glory,’ 2 I simply can’t trust you to do so. So I need to hold on to this for myself… just in case you won’t take care of me.”

So Jesus is telling us through this parable, “Be generous with your money… just like the Shrewd Steward was generous with his money.” Be like him!

And maybe you’ll object: “Hold on a second, Pastor Brent! The Shrewd Steward wasn’t generous with his own money! He was generous with someone else’s money!”

And I want to say, “Yes! Exactly right! Be like him! Be generous with Someone else’s money…Because, as it stands, the money that you’re failing to be generous with… also doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to God.” That’s one important point of this parable!

But it’s a point that the prophet Malachi, for example, also makes in chapter three of his book. He invites the people of Israel to give generously to God through their tithing. Because they weren’t being generous up to this point with the money God gave them. And God tells the people, “In failing to be generous the way I command, you are robbing from me. 3 You’re taking property that belongs to me, and using it for your own selfish purposes instead of my purposes.” And this is one difference, by the way, between ourselves and the Shrewd Steward: He was robbing from his master by giving money away; we rob from our Master by keeping so much of it for ourselves!

But as I said earlier, this goes way beyond money… It includes our time, for instance. Like the Shrewd Steward, we understand we have only a limited amount of time to invest our lives and our resources in things that last… for eternity—versus things that are passing away.

Jesus says in verse 9 some very puzzling words: “Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” He’s not saying that we’re “unrighteous” because we have wealth, much less that we can somehow buy our way into heaven. Not! He’s saying that even this worldly stuff that we call money, which can corrupt people so easily and lead to all kinds of sin, can also be used in powerful ways to glorify God, to fulfill his mission on earth, and to save people for eternity.

Consider this: who is the “they” in verse 9? Who are “they” who will welcome us into the eternal dwellings. I believe they are those people whose lives we have touched and changed and helped to save for eternity!

Imagine that there are people who will welcome you into heaven some day because you took the gifts that God gave you and used them to change their eternal destiny!

Speaking of which, after Billy Graham died a few years ago, I saw this great cartoon in a newspaper. You see Billy Graham, in his suit and tie and holding a Bible, standing at the pearly gates—I know, I know… that’s a cliché.  But some angelic-looking figure… I suppose it’s St. Peter in keeping with the cliché… says, “Millions of people here want to thank you.” And you see inside the gates this huge crowd of smiling people, of every race and nationality, welcoming their friend Billy Graham to heaven.

I think that’s at least a little like what Jesus is describing in today’s scripture! We make friends using the gifts that God gives us to save people for eternity.

We’re not Billy Graham, of course. But that’s not the point. What we do here matters for eternity. What we do here at Toccoa First matters for eternity. How we use the gifts and resources and money that God gives us matters for eternity.

Listen: Last Thursday evening, did you know that we had 150 middle-schoolers at the youth building. They were fed by us. They were playing basketball and ping pong and ga-ga ball. Matt Miller, who teaches at the middle school, his wife, Allie, and Josh Villars were instrumental in organizing this event and making it happen—but there were tons of other volunteers. So praise God! And even if you weren’t there on Thursday, your financial support and your prayers made that possible. So praise God!

We’ve never had that many kids in our youth building before!

But what were we doing Thursday night… We were stewards of the resources that God has given us, and we were trying our best to make a difference in the lives of these young people for eternity

Brothers and sisters, you tell me if I’m wrong… But I believe our Lord is telling in today’s scripture that there is no more important work that we can be doing than that!

So let’s be shrewd, let’s be wise, let’s be clever, let’s be bold, let’s act with urgency while we still have time and figure out how we can do more of that kind of work!

Just like Roger McGuinn sending that urgent plea to David Crosby, while he still has time to do so, we let us use the resources at our disposal to try to save our friends! That’s what a shrewd steward does. And that’s what we should be doing.

So that’s Point Number Two.

And this brings us, finally, to Point Number Three: Today’s scripture is also—thank God—about our Savior, Jesus Christ.

See, I suspect that one reason we have so much trouble with this parable is because we can’t quite believe that our Lord would tell a story about some lowdown scoundrel getting away with his crimes—and then, all these debtors conspiring with him to get away with having their own personal debts forgiven! These people did nothing to deserve to have their debts forgiven! They owed this landowner this money! And now they didn’t have to pay!

And that’s not right! And that’s not fair! And it’s not fair that the shrewd steward gets off scot-free!

But… Who do we think we are?

We all owed a debt to God, because of our sins, that we would only be able to pay by spending an eternity in hell. But here’s the good news: Christ our Shrewd Steward used the time and the resources that his Father gave him—including his very life and his blood and his righteousness—to forgive the debts that you and I owed.

There are likely people I’m speaking to right now who are afraid of where you stand with God. You’re afraid because you know your sins—you know the ways you’ve hurt others; you know the way you’ve cheated others; you know the ways you’ve disobeyed God over and over… You know that despite your best efforts to change, your many resolutions to change and be a better person, you continue to sin.

“How can God still love me, and accept me, and forgive me, and give me eternal life?” 

If you feel that way, consider the Shrewd Steward or Dishonest Manager,in this parable… You’re not any worse than him, are you?

Christ our Shrewd Steward, who is God himself, suffered and died and experienced hell on the cross in order to make friends with you, so that one day your best friend, Jesus, will welcome you into his eternal dwelling. Amen?

Will you say “yes” to Jesus today? Will receive the forgiveness that he’s offering you today?

  1.  Rachel Treisman and Dustin Jones, “Nichelle Nichols’ Remains Will Go Explore Strange New Worlds,”, 29 August 2022. Accessed 15 September 2022.
  2. Phil. 4:19
  3.  Paraphrase of Malachi 3:8

3 thoughts on “Sermon 09-18-2022: “God Loves Shrewd Stewards””

  1. Good sermon on a puzzling parable, Brent! You helped make more sense of it than what I have heard before. Also, I agree with you that God gave you a gift of being able to communicate well, including particularly as a preacher! I’m not quite sure what gift God gave me, but just judging from what I most like to do and how many times I have done it, it seems he gave me a gift of writing letters to the editor of various periodicals arguing for the Christian position on one issue or another. Unlike Billy Graham, though, I don’t know that my letters have had the effect of bringing someone into the Kingdom. At least, no one has ever advised me that this was the case, though I have received a few favorable responses from people who already believe. And maybe there is something to be said for this limited type of “good” being accomplished.

    In that respect, I note that Billy Graham was a great man of God and greatly blessed as a result and will (and already has), as you note, see many people who are in Heaven because of some sermon he preached. One time, though, I had occasion to read the following account which caused me to ponder something in that regard. It was about a teenage orphan girl in India about whom the writer said that after she got out of school she would head to a sewage plant where she would stick her arms into raw sewage to break it up so it could go down the pipes, and then head to her invalid grandmother’s house to take care of her. I don’t know if the girl was a Christian or not, but if she was, I just wondered how her reception in Heaven would compare to that of Billy Graham. After all, Billy Graham was doing something “fun” for him to do, whereas, this girl was doing the “grungy” type of stuff. And Jesus said there would be those who were last who would be first, and first who would be last. Obviously Billy Graham will not be one of those who will be last, but the point, I guess, is that God will be looking at what each did with his or her own gifts wherever it was that God placed them in deciding what type of eternal rewards they receive. So I think this can give those of us who see “little results” from our efforts as far as seeing people who are brought into the Kingdom a bit of consolation. We are all just supposed to exercise whatever gifts we have to the greatest extent we can, and God will decide “who deserves what” as a consequence on that “Great Day.”

    1. Food for thought. You’ve blessed me immensely, Tom, because of your commitment to scripture above all else. Years ago, in relation to some theologian I was blogging about, you said something like, “This is wrong because it contradicts scripture in this, that, and the other way.” And what you were saying was so obviously true, but I missed it, as did many others.

      I learned from you that theology, no matter how impressive it seems, must conform to scripture first.

      So thanks! 😊

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