Bible Study: Parable of Dishonest Manager

Section to Read

Luke 16:1-15

Study Method

Read the story. Keep a Bible or tab open to follow along. Then, we look at what each verse says to see what's going on. We'll do that in a slightly-general way that helps interpretation later. Then, we'll attempt interpretation. We'll consider both the audience and key points of the message.

What Happened in the Parable

v1 He got caught wasting rulers possessions. He would face judgement. He had time to respond to that.

v3 Manager first looks at himself. He sees where he's going: laborer or beggar. He feels he's not capable of one, hates the other. His own qualities will take him to a bad place that he will be in for a long time.

v4 Manager believes he can, with his talent (craftiness), do things right now that will let him escape those destinations. He even has a specific alternative in mind: a better reputation, or standing before others,, that gets him accepted into houses of respectable people.

v5 Manager stops thinking of himself to focus on what the ruler wants. People owe large debts. The ruler took large losses, wasn't repaid, and hasn't collected. Unclear if manager was the reason for debts specifically. The ruler wants to collect fully on the debts. Those who owe them are unwilling or unable to pay. The manager can intervene on the ruler's behalf to collect the debts.

Knowing the ruler's will, the manager will use his talents to please him. In debt collection, lenders often have to entirely write off or barely collect debts. Today, lenders often agree to 30-80% of original amount. To get all accounts in good-standing, the ruler would have to take a massive loss. It might be worth it if they gain assets of high immediate and/or long-term value.

v6-7 This manager uses his people and business skills to estimate how much each is probably willing to repay. The manager starts doing collection calls making those offers. They take them. A massive pile of debts the ruler couldn't collection turns into a smaller, but large, pile of assets the ruler can use for his benefit.

v8a The ruler was pleased. They even commended the manager.

v8b-9 are really ambiguous compared to the others. That means we'll try to interpret the easier ones first. Then, use those to do a more accurate interpretation of these.

v10-13. These are his conclusions directed at his audience. That both tells the key lessons and helps with interpretation. Pharisees and rich people (esp Jews) were among his audience. They already knew that God should be their focus, they should steward what they have for His glory, their riches were gifts from God, and therefore those riches should be tools they use as they maximize what matters to God (not riches).

Instead, they've put themselves and the riches before God, are maximizing that, and often robbed people to do it. Their hearts are wicked. Their wicked hearts led them to be unfaithful stewards of their earthly gifts. The same wickedness would lead them to abuse anything heavenly. He who owns such things, wanting a righteous return, would be wasting them on these people. I'm not sure if He even needs to tell them this lesson given other lessons show they need a humble, God-focused heart to even begin to walk with God. In v15, we see Jesus confirm that by saying how far from God they are. All they care about is status before men.

Back to v8.

I'll do this one immediately since it's more direct in meaning than interpretation. Jesus' audience are mostly practicing Jews who haven't responded to His call. The Bible sometimes says sons of God to describe people in a relationship with Him. Sons of the light is probably a synonym. He's directly saying they are in a similar situation but responding foolishly. That even worldly people are making better decisions with their given positions and talents. The sons of the light need to wisen up.

Can we draw any lessons?

Interpreting the Parable

This interpretation, or lessons, are for the Jews of that time and people in general.

v1 We're given our bodies, minds, and possessions primarily to serve God and others. He wants a return on His investment. Our sin makes us waste them on worldly things. God has charged us as sinners who will be punished in the future.

v2 Our Lord Jesus will hold us all to accountable for everything we did. That He even tells us this is an act of mercy. (Learned at Mercy Hill.)

v3 We need to recognize the eternal consequences for our bad choices. We're headed to a place we don't want to be. We need to ask ourselves what we should do.

v4-7 It diverges a bit now. There's large debts for our sins owed to the ruler.  As a gift, a mediator offers to convert every willing debtor into an asset by taking a massive loss on the way to greater gains. The mediator is Jesus, the debtors are sinners, the massive loss is Jesus' life perishing on the cross, the immediate gains are saints precious to our ruler for His own sake, and long-term gains are His plan enacted through all if them via His church.

v8. God commends us when we choose to prioritize Him and what He wants over ourselves and what we want. We see this also in parables of Lost Sheep and Prodigal Son. In one, all of heaven celebrates. In another, He individually hugs us. Now, He commends us on using our talent to gain what matters most. In all cases, He's graciously forgotten the prior sins while loving and rewarding us for doing the right thing. That is, choosing, following, and using talents for God our Father via the relationship Jesus Christ earned for us.

v9. Them. I'm still unclear on this one. I feel He's again saying our works follow from the priorities of our hearts. In v8, He told them to have the right priorities. In v9, He may be saying they should therefore use their time, words, and wealth towards those goals. Friends naturally show up if they use those resources to minister to the needs of their community. Especially giving to the poor. Loving God, they'd read the Law and Prophets to understand what the Messiah would look like. Following Proverbs, they'd be humbly listening to those people instead of looking down on and ignoring them. The combination of these things would've led them to receive and act on the Gospel. They'd then be welcomed into their Father's house where Jesus is already preparing a room for them.

v9 us. In v8, we already had to choose to accept and please God our Ruler. Jesus wiped out our sin debt, brought us in good standing, and we'll be accepted in His house.

In v9-12, He also establishes an aspect of God's character: what He will entrust us with later depends partly on how wisely we use what He's already given us. In the church, we serve the same God. We should use our individual and group assets to please our ruler by bringing others into good standing with Him by sharing the Gospel. Loving others as ourselves, we'll make friends as we use our assets to help them out. It's easier to share the Gospel with friends who see by our actions that we're truly "sons of the light."


That's it for the general lesson! These parables often have both a general point and things specific to audience. Next part is audience-specific but also timeless in application.

Bonus Lesson: Love of Money

Now, v10-13 are just saying our hearts need to be on God, we must pursue Him with what He's given us, and they were pursuing idolatry instead. Centering on money in this case. He'll call them out more later. This bonus lesson is on his warning. God was doing more here than telling us about Pharisees, etc of the day. He was giving us ammunition for later battles.

People centering their lives on money is still a huge problem. Many evils, from individuals to groups to society, stem from gaining or misusing money. People, including believers, miss opportunities to love God and others prioritizing money. Companies often follow capitalism that says put personal profit above everything, pushing all negatives off on others. Politicians claiming to be Christian often support capitalism and themselves focus on selfish gain. False Gospels, aka Prosperity Theology, sprang up telling us God Himself is about money, wants us to be rich, etc. All these things united by a focus on selfish gain, esp money.

Jesus is telling us to do the opposite. He teaches us to center our activities on God, not money. Paul says be content with what we have. Jesus tells us to pursue treasures in heaven, not material things. We gain these by loving God and others in all that we do. We'll be judged for every deed with only those counting in our favor.

We should therefore center our hearts, words, and deeds on Him. Then, He'll bless every step we take on that path. Others will see Him in us, hear who He is, and maybe join us in His mission. The more we do this, the sooner He returns. Let's stay at it focusing on the hope He's promised us.

If it ever seems to be, just remember He only asks us to share His Word. What people do with it isn't on us. We just plant seeds, water them, and (if they accept Christ) harvest. It's God that gives the growth with His Spirit. His living Word uses His power to get results. He just requires we make an effort. You can quickly learn how here using Gospel and evidence like these.

(Read the Gospel, learn to share it, read other essays, or back to home.)