Smart Money

Luke 16:8 - The master commended the unrighteous steward because he had acted shrewdly; for the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the sons of light.

Read Luke 16:1-13.

Smart money refers to money that is used and invested in wise ways. The world calls money "smart money" if it results in greater material wealth. The Bible opposes such a materialistic value system, but the Bible is not opposed to the concept of "smart money". In fact, the wise or smart use of money is one measure of a growing Christian's spiritual maturity. Many Christians are good stewards of their time and talent but not of their treasure. The account of the unrighteous steward (or shrewd manager) in Luke 16 was told by the Lord Jesus to teach His disciples the importance of the wise use of money. How do we measure up to the standards set by our Lord in His application of this unusual story?

The "Parable of the Unjust Steward" has been disconcerting to many Christians because of its apparent approval of dishonesty. Before we look at the Lord's application in verses 9-13, let's try to clear up some of the misunderstandings of verses 1-8 that have surrounded the story itself. First of all, it is important to notice that in verse 8 it was the master in the story, not the Lord Jesus Himself, who praised the unrighteous manager. (The King James Version uses the word "lord", which can be confusing, but notice that the "l" is not capitalized.) Furthermore, the unrighteous manager was not praised for his shady accounting procedures or squandering his boss's money. He was commended only for his prudent foresight in looking out for his own future.

Further possible misunderstanding is eliminated when we realize that this account is not necessarily a parable, but only a contemporary story which Jesus related to His disciples to illustrate His teaching on money. If we view the account as a parable, we might see the rich master as representing God or Jesus Christ. Obviously, such a view tends to raise questions about God's righteous standards. Even when we realize that the unrighteous manager was only commended for his foresight, the unbiblical idea that "the ends justify the means" seems to be implied if the rich man represents God. The fact that the rich men do not appear in a favorable light in the rest of our Lord's dialogue in Luke 16 (see verses 14 and 19-31) may be a contextual indication that the rich man here does not represent God. Specifically, verse 8 seems to indicate that Jesus is not drawing a parallel between the rich man and God because he concludes that the people of this world (bothmaster and manager) are very shrewd in their dealings and maneuverings with one another--especially when it comes to money.

A preacher today might use a contemporary story about the shrewd dealings between a used car lot owner and his manager and their customers to illustrate how the people of this world deal with one another when it comes to money. So the Lord used a true story of a rich man and his steward to illustrate how the people of this world are very sharp and calculating in financial matters. As today's preacher would press home the point that as believers we need to be more shrewd (in a good sense) in the use of our money, so the Lord said that the sons of light need to be more wise in their investments.

Historically speaking, all kinds of shrewd dealings may have been going on here between the master, the manager and even the debtors. The master may have been involved in over-charging or in charging interest, which was illegal (Deuteronomy 23:19-20). The squandering manager, who was probably in charge of running the master's entire estate, could have been carrying out the master's unscrupulous policies, or over-charging the debtor's himself in order to line his own pockets. The steward may have manipulated the books to reduce the debts of the debtors (who were probably sharecropper-type tenants on the estate) to a fair price, free of interest. By doing this, the steward insured himself future friends, if he should ever need their help. The debtors, of course, were more than willing to be involved in the "justified" cover-up, but by doing so they put themselves in the vulnerable position of being blackmailed in the future by the unscrupulous manager. The rich master, probably to save face and reputation, reluctantly commended the unrighteous manager for his clever forethought, in spite of his wheeling and dealing.

It is not possible to know the exact historical scenario, but the overall application that the Lord makes about money in verses 9-13 cannot be missed. In these verses Christ teaches us what constitutes a truly smart and wise view of money. If we learn and practice these basic financial principles, we are well on the road to spiritual maturity. In verse 9 we are told to exchange our money for converts. We cannot buy salvation for ourselves or anyone else, but we can use the "mammon of unrighteousness" (money) to help pave the way for people to meet Christ. Money can buy Bibles and radio time in order to reach the lost in faraway places. Money can send food and medicine to people who need to see Christ's love in action. Money can support local churches and ministries which faithfully proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. "You can't take it with you," but you can exchange your money for souls who will greet you when you reach heaven! "When it (money) fails, they (converts) will receive you into the eternal dwellings (heaven)." How would you like to experience the eternal joy of having people from all over the world thank you in heaven for helping them come to Christ? Then stop hoarding your money and exchange it for souls!

In verses 10-12 we learn that we are to evaluate our money as a criterion. That is, we should realize that God uses the ways we handle money as His criterion for testing our faithfulness! If, for example, we view our money as security or power for ourselves, we have an unbiblical view of money. God has chosen to prove our ability to handle spiritual responsibilities by the way we evaluate and use our money. But why would God use such a mundane thing as money for such an important test? Because God knows that if we are not able to use money with spiritual discernment, or if we are not trustworthy in money matters, we will not be discerning or upright in larger matters (v10)!

If we neglect to give back to the Lord a portion of the money He has given us, or if we give His money away carelessly or foolishly, without discerning where it will be put to the best use in promoting God's kingdom, then God cannot entrust us with responsibility in areas that require greater spiritual discernment. If we fail to pay back our college loans or other debts, God cannot, and will not, entrust much spiritual responsibility to us (v11). If we are using the money God has entrusted to us for self-indulgence, then we should not expect Him to give us the privileges and blessings of spiritual responsibility now--or rewards later in heaven (v12). Are you wondering why you seem to be shelved when it comes to responsibility in your local church or fellowship, or why you don't sense the Lord's blessing in your life? Maybe it's time to reevaluate where you really stand in relation to the standard criterion which God has chosen to test your degree of faithfulness--your use of money.

In verse 13 we see that we must eliminate our money from competition. Becoming rich must not be an objective in our lives! Let's not even think about trying to become rich. (See 1 Timothy 6:9.) This is more than just a matter of setting priorities. Making money must not even be on our priority list. Our objective must always be to use our money for God. Think souls, not stocks! Obviously we need money to function in this world, and certainly we can be thankful when we have a good job and get raises, or if we have a "rich uncle", etc. However, money must be viewed only as God's means of meeting our material needs (not all our wants), and providing us with material resources to be transposed into spiritual products. This is a shocking concept to many growing Christians--but true! Remember this truth, if God decides to test you with a windfall!

Growing Christians must never consider accumulating money as an end in itself. If money becomes a secondary goal, or even a low priority goal, invariably that goal will work its way up to a place of authority, with ourselves as its servants in some way. If we try to serve two masters, it will not work! Let's not disagree with our Lord Jesus. He indicated that if money is not eliminated from competition entirely, we will fight a losing battle. Eventually our hearts will go more towards the money. If you are trying right now to serve God, but are also trying (even just a little bit!) to accumulate money, you can be sure, on the basis of verse 13, that it won't be long before your love for the Lord and His kingdom will begin to diminish. Jesus was emphatic when He said, "You cannot serve God and money." Let's wise up, as sons of light, and let our money serve God! That's true riches, and that's smart money!
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