Parable of the Shrewd Manager – Luke 16:1-18

The parable of the shrewd manager is unique to Luke’s gospel. It’s quite an odd parable when you look at it in isolation. But for people worried about the future, it can point you to find hope. When you read the Bible well, there’s always hope.

Jesus told the parable of the shrewd manager to make you think. And to make you ask yourself some important questions about your future.

As ever, you need to know that to come to God in Christ is the best thing you will ever do, and probably the costliest thing too. Because Jesus goes on to show you how your life now is connected to your life in eternity. Because you do have one!

These notes accompany a sermon on YouTube delivered in June 2023 at Bromborough Evangelical Church. You can find more in the series in our Sermon Index.

Be ready for eternity (1-8)

Right at the start of Luke’s gospel he promised you an orderly account. It’s not just thrown together, there’s a flow.

  • In chapter 13, Jesus taught about how few people will enter the kingdom of God, eternal life with God, heaven
    • Your sin and offence will keep you out, rightly.
    • Your only hope is to enter through the narrow door – repent of the sin that kept you out, and turn to Jesus himself for forgiveness.
  • In chapter 14, Jesus described the kingdom of God as being like a big banquet, or a feast.
    • God is the generous, welcoming host!
    • But people are too attached to this world and make rubbish excuses not to come.
    • Sin keeps you out; attachment to the world keeps you out. Yet God still stands ready to welcome all who come to him through Christ, the narrow door.
  • In chapter 15 we saw a repentant sinner coming home, while unrepentant, joyless religious types were left outside
    • And we were give a picture of the joy of God himself as he calls sinners and they actually come to him!

So here, Jesus gives you this parable: You’ve heard the warnings and welcomes, so now plan shrewdly for your future.

The shrewd (and dishonest) manager

Read Luke 16:1-2. He’s either a thief or he’s incompetent. Either way, he’s about to be fired when the master sees the accounts.

So he does a bit of scheming: Read Luke 16:3-4.

There’s no escaping the fact that his plan is basically dishonest: Read Luke 16:5-7.

  • He drops the first by 50% and the second by 20%, but apparently the actual value would be about the same.
  • And these aren’t small amounts. This is wholesale volume we’re working with – a lot of money is being wiped off his master’s books.

Two bits of business from the ancient world help our understanding a bit more:

  1. Business was very much about returning favour. The two debtors were quids in, but also now owed the manager a favour. He was setting himself up brilliantly.
  2. It was normal for debtors to write their own invoices. It meant that there was less fraud because it’s in your own handwriting.

Still, v8 is a surprise. Read Luke 16:8.

  • Yes, the man acted illegally and immorally.
  • Jesus didn’t commend him, the rich man in the story did.
  • He wasn’t commended for dishonesty, but shrewdness.


People have all sorts of investments. You might well have some. Shares, pensions, houses, stamps, collectors’ items, etc.

Many of them ‘do well’.

  • You weigh up the pros and cons of the investment and you put your money down.
  • Some are short-term investments, others long-term.

But by eternity’s standards, they’re all really very short term.

And that is the shrewd observation you need to make and take action on. Eternity is coming; have you planned for it? Jesus has laid out all the pros and cons.

  • God invites you to a feast beyond your imagination.
  • Most won’t come, because they prefer their sin and the short-term things of this world.
  • Most will spend their eternity in hell, excluded from God’s feast – in perfect knowledge of what they missed out on.
  • Jesus calls you to repent of your sin, to forsake all ownership of things you think you own, and follow him.
  • To follow him is to take up your cross daily and live for him.
  • All you are, all you own, is his to do with as he pleases for his glory.
  • But as you are then in union with him all you want to do is live for him anyway! He is the feast, the joy, the banquet!

Luke 9:25 For what does it benefit someone if he gains the whole world, and yet loses or forfeits himself?

Luke 12:16 One’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions.

It’s just you and God in the end

You can have it all in this life. But you’re neither rich nor poor when you stand before God. You’re just you.

Be ready for eternity. Be shrewd. Plan ahead.

Come to Jesus for forgiveness of sin; join the feast. Pray to him.

But then we must also remember that the parable of the shrewd manager was spoken to Jesus’ disciples.

Many of them had already made the commitment to follow him. So now:

Invest in eternity (9-13)

We need to be careful here. 

What comes next only applies to you if you have repented of your sin and come to Jesus for forgiveness of sin. There is nothing you can do to affect your eternity for the better unless your sins are forgiven.

But Christians can use your time and money and gifts and resources now towards eternal benefit.

  • Read Luke 16:9.
  • You might have an English translation that says “unrighteous money” (e.g. ESV). That’s literally what the Greek says, as Jesus is contrasting worldly wealth with heavenly wealth – hence the more helpful translation “worldly money”.
  • Jesus isn’t suggesting you make “unrighteous money” (all in £50 notes, presumably!).

But who are these friends we’re supposed to make?

And how could they possibly welcome us into eternal dwellings?

  • Lavish gifts won’t put anyone in heaven.
  • Even a great education or a “good start in life” won’t.
  • But if you give time and money to evangelism, or mission, or your own witnessing, you’re investing in someone else’s eternity.
  • Someone who might well one day welcome you when you leave all your earthly possessions behind, and enter into eternal dwellings.
  • That’s got to be better than your own self-indulgence and waste now.

Money’s grip

Part of the problem with that kind of thinking is that we’re often unaware of the grip money has on us.

Let me give you an example. I’ve seen senior managers and directors grow to hate their jobs. They go to work day after day in grumbling misery. But they can’t walk away. The big pay meant a bit mortgage, and they became trapped. Who’s in charge?

Any of us can get that way. Is there something you could just give up so that you can give that money to mission? Your hesitancy to do that shows the grip money and possessions and things have over us.

But for Christians, Christ’s own people, the Bible does speak of rewards in heaven. 

You can use your time and money and gifts and resources now for eternal benefit after death. It’s a kind of foreign exchange. You give up ‘wealth’ here for ‘riches’ there. We’re not given much of an idea about what those things might be. In truth, it will be more joyful than you can imagine just to hear Jesus say, “Well done. Come home.”

But we want to do well for him.

True wealth

So read Luke 16:10-12.

  • By “what is genuine” he is speaking of things that will last, things true and lovely and permanent with him.
  • Your wise use of worldly wealth and possessions for the cause of the kingdom of God, is investing in genuine, true, permanent ‘wealth’ with him.

And that’s far easier to do as you wholly embrace his rule for your life now: Read Luke 16:13.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had two bosses; it’s a nightmare. Two project managers, or some kind of matrix management. Very efficient in theory. Awful in practice.

There’s nothing wrong or sinful about being wealthy. But you are to be a wise and godly steward of God’s money. Make sure your money serves you (not the other way round), while you serve God. Then:

Dress for eternity (14-18)

There’s a saying in business that you’re to dress for where you want to be, not for where you are. The idea is that if you want to be a manager, you dress like one so that people see you in that way.

Christians are clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

There were some Pharisees listening to Jesus who thought that they’d earned their own righteousness, by their religious lives. Read Luke 16:14.

Why were they scoffing at Jesus?

  • Because of “all these things” that Jesus had been saying.
  • They thought they had their perfect religion, so they had no need to repent of sin.
  • And if they had a perfect religion, giving a tenth of everything as the law demanded, then the rest of their money was… theirs!
  • They loved money, and status, and respect from people.

But their problem was to think that religion is an entirely external affair – that you do this and this and this, and God is ok with you.

Jesus would quote Isaiah at them: These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. (Matt 15:8, Isaiah 29:13)

So here again Jesus rebukes them by exposing their sinful heart: Read Luke 16:15.

What is highly admired by people?

  • Accumulated personal wealth.
  • Putting people on pedestals and idolising them.
  • Religion for show – lots of pomp, but no spiritual depth.

No, a heart after God will love what he loves and do good as he does – with compassion for the poor, the weak, the vulnerable. A heart after God will be extravagantly generous and kind.

The Pharisees were probably scoffing the idea of repentant sinners being forgiven and accepted by God. “That’s it? Just ‘forgiven’ as if holiness doesn’t matter?”

The law matters

Read Luke 16:16-17.

  • Of course God’s law matters.
  • The Old Covenant has passed away but that’s only part of it. The Old Covenant pointed to eternal moral realities about God that do not change.
  • The law and prophets consistently challenge us to holy living – but not as just external religious rules to follow.
  • You’re to love the Lord and love your neighbour.
  • External observance comes from an internal love, a decisive act of love towards others.

The good news of the kingdom is proclaimed and demands urgent – almost violent – response!

  • There’s an urgent call to enter the kingdom, to repent of your sin and come to Christ for forgiveness of sin.
  • There’s an urgent call to holiness of life – demanding a radical, eternal perspective that you didn’t have before.
  • This urgent call to holiness surpasses what went before, even. Jesus calls you to live for him in every aspect of your thought and action.

To really jolt the Pharisees, he gives them an example close to their heart: Read Luke 16:18.

  • Divorce and remarriage is a big topic for another day!
  • But the point here is how the Pharisees themselves wanted easy divorce and slack rules.
  • But Jesus ties things up in strong terms that exposes the Pharisees’ motives. Those motives were not based on God’s standards of marriage, fidelity, honour, permanence.

So no: Repentance and forgiveness is not cheap grace. Jesus ensures you count the cost: He is calling you to radical, whole-of-life discipleship that may well cost you.

But he’s calling you to the eternal feast, joy and banquet, bliss beyond measure.

So now: God has given you clarity over what will happen in the future: A hell you deserve, or a glorious bliss you don’t. He invites you to bliss!

So be shrewd: make preparations now. Come to the narrow door to the kingdom, to Jesus, to God the generous host. Then use your worldly assets to do good, storing up treasure in heaven.

And dress for eternity, clothed in Christ’s righteousness now, living a holy life in sweet anticipation of a holy eternity with him.