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Spiritual Accounting 101
Romans 13:8Luke 16:1-16

"I found an old account ledger," writes Godfrey Davis, in his biography about the Duke of Wellington, "that showed how the Duke spent his money. It was a far better clue to what he thought was really important than the reading of his letters or speeches."

That's why Jesus talked so much about money. Someone has estimated that "one-sixth of the gospels, including one out of every three parables, touches on stewardship." Jesus knew that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also (Matthew 6:21). So let's look at one of His parables about the proper handling of finances.

Hear the Word of the Lord from the Gospel according to Luke 16:1-16:

Luke 1:1Jesus told his disciples: "There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions.
Luke 16:2So he called him in and asked him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.'
Luke 16:3"The manager said to himself, 'What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I'm not strong enough to dig, and I'm ashamed to beg —
Luke 16:4I know what I'll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.'
Luke 16:5 "So he called in each one of his master's debtors. He asked the first, 'How much do you owe my master?'
Luke 16:6 " 'Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,' he replied.
"The manager told him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.'
Matthew 16:7 "Then he asked the second, 'And how much do you owe?'
" 'A thousand bushels of wheat,' he replied.
"He told him, 'Take your bill and make it eight hundred.'
Matthew 16:8"The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.
Matthew 16:9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
Matthew 16:10 "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.
Matthew 16:11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?
Matthew 16:12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own?
Matthew 16:13 "No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."
Matthew 16:14 The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus.
Matthew 16:15 He said to them, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight.
Matthew 16:16"The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it.

Jesus told this Parable of the Shrewd Manager to His disciples, while the Pharisees eavesdropped (Matthew 16:1, Matthew 16:14). Most scholars agree that this is one of the most difficult parables in the Bible to interpret, because Jesus seems to condone the manager's unethical behavior. At the very least, this parable teaches us that by leveraging our resources on earth we'll improve our futures in heaven (Matthew 16:9). After spending several weeks studying this Parable of the Shrewd Manager, I want to analyze it with you today and then look at some applications.

I. THE ANALYSIS OF THE PARABLE PROMOTES SPIRITUAL FORESIGHT IN MANAGEMENT (Matthew 16:7).

Jesus begins the parable with, " 'There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions.' " The Greek term for manager is oi-ko-no-mos, which according to the lexicon means, "(house) steward, manager."

The problem results from serious accusations (Matthew 16:1-2). " 'So he [i.e., the owner] called him in and asked him, "What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer." ' " One way or the other, the accusations appeared to be serious enough to demand an accounting. Apparently there were enough discrepancies in the record books that whether or not money was missing intentionally, the owner demanded the manager's resignation. However in his defense, at least one Greek scholar of yesteryear, A.T. Robertson, suggests that the accusation against the manager was slanderous and unfounded.

Whatever the case then, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce today, American business suffers the loss of over $50 billion per year due to employee theft today. And the U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that 75 percent of all employees steal once, and half of these become repeat offenders. Furthermore, the chamber reports that one out of every three businesses that fail does so as a result of employee theft.

Well-known business writer Jim Collins talks about the lack of ethics in the workplace after the bankruptcies at Enron and Worldcom. He explains how otherwise good business people gradually condition themselves to the point they'll do something that they would have sworn never to do before it happened. They rationalize that everyone else is doing it. It happens so imperceptibly one small step at a time until they have gone from point A to point Z. They never even realize when they cross that proverbial line in the sand between what's right and what's wrong.

Next, the solution results from shrewd administration (Matthew 16:3-7). The manager comes up with a plan. " 'I know what I'll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.' " The manager quickly sized up his employment possibilities and found himself desperately lacking marketable skills. He was physically unable and emotionally unwilling to dig for a living. And he was too proud to beg for alms on the corner. So, this "bright" idea occurred to him; he could win some important friends and influence his insecure future. In a somewhat similar vein, God gives wisdom to those who ask Him (James 1:5). And He provides a specific gift of wisdom in cases of emergencies (1 Corinthians 12:8).

The scenario described in this difficult parable has been best explained in this way. Sometimes wealthy businessmen would, during difficult economic times, write off portions of their clients' debts in order to be considered generous. The benefit for taking this initiative for the manager would be some newfound influential friends and probable job offers. The manager knew if the owner reneged on the new arrangements, he would appear to be less than generous. His honor would be at stake. Several scholars think that the manager simply reduced the interest rate that was already added to the clients' accounts. In any event, the manager did act criminally, but he also assumed correctly that his master would rather let him go free than lose face in the community. This seems to provide the best historical setting for a proper interpretation of the parable. The Lord doesn't condone our attempts to manipulate His generosity, but He does approve of our leveraging personal resources to improve our heavenly futures.

Now that we have analyzed the parable, let's consider its applications.

II. THE APPLICATIONS OF THE PARABLE PRODUCE SPIRITUAL FORESIGHT IN MANAGEMENT (Matthew 16:8-16).

Jesus tells us that " 'the master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.' " But does Jesus condone the dishonest manager's actions in this parable? No, the manager's master, not our Lord, commended the dishonesty. What Christ commends is the manager's foresight. So what applications does Luke make of this parable?

First, believers must exercise wisdom in their dealings with each other (Matthew 16:8-9). Jesus points out that " 'the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.' " Too often believers are either directly confrontational with each other or else they avoid conflict altogether. Instead of waiting to react, believers should take the initiative and be proactive. In the words of Stephen Covey, we must learn to think in terms of win/win. We should ask, how could this situation be turned around to the advantage of each party involved? For example, should we turn the other cheek? Or, as Dale Carnegie emphasizes, should we "let the other person save face"? By so doing, we earn the right eventually to share our faith with our co-workers.

Right before leading the charge against one of many German tribes, Maximus, the Roman general in the movie Gladiator, addresses the troops. Sitting upon his stallion, he shouts to the cavalry, "What we do in life echoes in eternity." How we use our resources now determines our rewards in the future.

Capitalism can become an economic system that simply indulges greed, and does without belief in accountability in the world to come. Spiritual foresight keeps it in proper perspective.

Second, believers who are faithful in smaller assignments will be given bigger ones (Matthew 16:10-12). The Lord states the maxim, " 'Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much.' " The issue at stake is accountability to those in authority over us. If we won't take care of something that belongs to someone else, who can hold us accountable, how can anyone ever trust us with our own property? Who would hold us accountable in that instance? And isn't this even more true when it comes to spiritual accounts? While Jesus paid for our transgressions, we must still give an account for our actions to receive any rewards in heaven.

Mark Galli writes of St. Francis of Assisi that "he became the key figure in the 13th-century revival of the church, a church that was racked with moral corruption from the pope to the local priest. . . . But it is interesting to note how he began repairing the medieval church as a whole: he started with the little chapel in front of him." Galli goes on to say, "A lot of times we wish we could change the world, and who knows, maybe we are called to that eventually. But we are wiser to follow the example of Francis of Assisi: to do the little thing, the simple thing right in front of us, and let God take care of the world."

One small thing we need to be faithful about is paying our employees a fair wage. All of us find envy and jealousy in our hearts once we begin to examine ourselves (Jeremiah 17:9; Matthew 15:19). Thus, we must beware lest we pay our employees the least amount possible, so that we can insure ourselves the most potential profit. We ought not to neglect our moral obligations as employers to take care of our employees and their families.

Third, believers can't divide their loyalty between two bosses (Matthew 16:13). " 'No servant can serve two masters,' " Jesus reminds us (Matthew 6:24). While we must please our bosses on the job as much as possible, our ultimate loyalty lies with the King of kings. If our boss asks us to do something immoral or illegal, our obligation is to please God rather than people (Acts 4:19). In these rare cases, God assumes responsibility for providing for the needs of our families. Otherwise as a West African proverb goes, "The man who tries to walk two roads will split his pants." We must choose whom we'll serve. Indecision by itself courts disaster just like making the wrong decision.

For instance, accountants are often encouraged to extend accounts payable to provide their employers with extra cash to work with. But the Bible says to pay bills when they come due (Romans 13:8).

Fourth, believers need to realize that God's value system differs from that of people (Matthew 16:14-15). Jesus boldly declares, " 'What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight.' " God simply has a different standard for measuring what is important in life. He's more concerned about who we are than what we do. Things are important to people, while people are important to God.

On another occasion, Luke tells us that a man asked Jesus to instruct his brother to share the family inheritance with him (Luke 12:13-15). Christ refused and then warned those listening, " 'Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.' "

According to James, true religion looks after the poor and widows (James 1:27). And Jesus promises rewards to those who care for "one of the least of these" (Matthew 25:31-40).

And finally, believers must press their way into the kingdom of God (Matthew 16:16). They press their way in. Jesus portrays those entering the kingdom as " 'forcing his [or her] way into it.' " (Matthew 11:12-13). No one enters the kingdom of God by accident. It requires a supernatural enablement of grace to maintain a constant commitment and an enduring effort. For instance, Luke later records in his gospel the Parable of the Persistent Widow (Luke 18:1-8). If that godly woman hadn't persevered in prayer, she would have never received justice.

There is plenty of corruption in the business world, as in any profession. Our responsibility as Christians is to let our lights shine in the darkness (Matthew 5:16). It'll require character to stand up for righteousness in the marketplaces of our country. Don't "be misled, 'Bad company corrupts good character' " (1 Corinthians 15:33).

For a moment, think about how you could integrate your business and spiritual priorities.

Take for example, a former pastor of a large church who owned thousands of books. They were his prized possessions. Occasionally he would loan one out, but he always felt distraught when they came back damaged, however slightly.

Then God laid it on this pastor's heart to start a church library with his own books. After a few months, he noticed that many of the volumes had been checked out several times. Finally, it dawned on him. He was making an investment in other people's lives. From that time on, that pastor felt a sense of satisfaction whenever he noticed a book showing some frazzled edges. His perspective changed. That pastor learned a valuable lesson. God is the real owner of everything. We're just His managers.

Do you own or control something that you could honestly share with others? If so, start right away. The benefit will be you might just add another asset to your personal portfolio in heaven.

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