The Parable of the Shrewd Manager (Luke 16:1–8)

The strangest parable Jesus ever told was about a man who cheats on his boss and is then praised for doing so (see Luke 16:1–8).

The parable of the shrewd manager (or the unjust steward) is puzzling. What is Jesus trying to tell us? That it’s okay to cook the books, diddle the figures, and engage in white-collar crime?

No, Jesus is not encouraging dishonesty. He’s telling us how to plan for the future:

And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home. (Luke 16:9, NKJV)

The punchline of the parable is “make friends”—real friends you can enjoy into eternity. “When you fail” is a reference to kicking the bucket. We have an opportunity in this lifetime to make friends who will receive us in the next.

How do we do that? By investing ourselves into people, showing love, and giving grace.

The problem is we’re often too busy for others. Our lives are so filled with errands, exams, bills, deadlines, and meetings that we have no time for people. Relationships have been reduced to text messages and “likes” on Facebook.

In these busy days, we need to hear the words of Jesus more than ever. “Be shrewd like the manager and use the resources of this world to get a return that lasts into the next.”

Cancelling all debts

In the story, the shrewd manager goes around writing down the debts of others. That’s what we do when we tell people the good news. We’re announcing the year of Jubilee and the cancellation of all debts. “God holds nothing against you. He is for you and wants you to be free from guilt and shame.” We have the happy job of providing freedom to a debt-conscious world.

Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much … (Luke 16:10a)

The “very little” is the unrighteous mammon; the friends we make are the “much.” The wealth of this age doesn’t last. Moth, rust, and thieves diminish it. But friends in Christ last forever. Friends are the only thing you can take with you.

We tend to pick friends who look like us, act like us, and think like us. But Jesus made friends with people who were nothing like him and then empowered them to become like him. He showed grace to a crooked little thief called Zacchaeus, and the man turned into a giver. He shone a light on a dark soul called Saul, and the man became a firebrand. Jesus lived and died for his friends. He even made friends out of his enemies.

Making eternal friends

Making friends is not always easy, but Jesus shows how to do it. He made time for people. He went to their parties and weddings, and generally got involved in their lives. Jesus said one good way to make friends is to have a feast:

When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. (Luke 14:13–14)

In this world, people throw parties to socialize and network. They invite others in the hope of getting something in return. But Jesus said we can also throw parties to make eternal friends by inviting those who cannot pay us back.

How are we repaid at the resurrection of the righteous? Through friends. Do you see? Needy folk aren’t going to be needy forever. One day they will shine with glory and they will thank you for sharing your life with them.

You don’t need a pulpit to proclaim the gospel of grace. You just need a table, preferably with food on it, and a little wine, or juice if you prefer. Think how often Jesus ate with people. He probably sat down and ate more often than he stood and preached. That’s how Jesus made friends.

Extracted from The Gospel in Twenty Questions.


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40 Comments on The Parable of the Shrewd Manager (Luke 16:1–8)

  1. another good one Paul,never really took the time to think about that

  2. Paul, some good insight! thank you for you ministry!

  3. I NEVER SAW IT LIKE THAT. VERY INTERESTING. Definitely gave food for thought. Wonderful that we can still be close to those we were close too on earth. I also believe that for Christians who were lonely on earth because they smiled a lot, will probably make more in heaven and those who lost many friends due to departing from religion and entered in to grace, they too shall be rewarded with better friends. Heaven is a place of bliss and no one shall be lonely up there praise God. Interesting post.

    • i think the same Fifi we all enjoy some food and drinks the bvest way to get together 🙂 awesome thought thank u learnt a lot:)

  4. Thank you some much for this revelation. I used to think it was all about money.. glad to know its people focused just like Jesus was people focused.

  5. Terry Benischek // March 19, 2015 at 3:36 am // Reply

    Paul, I was very blessed by your spirit filled commentary. Thank you for your faithfulness. We recently, (after being saved for over 45 years), were enlightened by hearing the true Gospel. Although we don’t have a “pulpit” (or a church home) most of our sharing of the good news is around our dining room table. I often experienced condemnation from other believers about eating with sinners and non-believers because most of the churches we attended focused on fellow shipping with other believers. In our defense, we always believed that when we entertained sinners and non-believers we were not fellow shipping but on a the mission field. Your explanation of Luke 16 made it as clear as a bell. The freedom we have experienced through hearing the real Gospel has truly made us free as the Word says.

    • You’re in good company. Religious people got upset because Jesus dined with sinners too. In fact they said he was a friend of sinners. Shocking! Yet Jesus said “wisdom is proved right by her actions.” What you’re doing sounds good to me.

      • Terry Benischek // March 19, 2015 at 2:50 pm //

        Paul, We don’t purposely stay away from organized church, we cannot find a place where we can hear the Gospel of Grace. Here in the US preachers and teachers of the Gospel of Grace are few and far between. No matter what church we visit or try to attend we are stunned at the condemnation and false teachings being preached. The mixture of Law and Grace does not work, one negates the other. Rather than be a dissenter, we simply worship with our close family and sometimes a few friends who want to be in the company of Jesus, in our home. I miss the church “habit” but loving Jesus freely and in truth surely makes up for it. Letting Peace rule and reign is preferable over strife any day. Bless you for your bold preaching of the true Gospel in obedience to the Holy Spirit.

    • To Terry: We also have found ourselves in a situation very similar to yours. All the churches in our nys locale mix law with grace. So we have started worshipping in our home with 5 others. Don’t know what Our Lord Jesus has planned, but we are glad for all He is doing.

      To Paul Ellis: loved this post! perhaps you know of someone who may have a heart for church planting in Albany NY, a city Barna has described as one of the least Christian in all the US.

      • Terry Benischek // March 20, 2015 at 5:05 pm //

        Joan, I was happy to hear from you. I am a former New Yorker who has been transplanted over the years and my home is now in Georgia. I was encouraged by your comment that you are waiting to see what Our Lord Jesus has in mind. We take Holy Communion often and it is very refreshing. Jesus’ Love is so real to us now and we wouldn’t risk that for anything, including going to the wrong church. Bless you and the beloved that worship at your home.

      • Terry & Joan, Thanks for opening up about your situations. After reading the post I felt validated in reaching out and that is good. However, the flipside is the constant craving for like-minded grace based fellowship. I would love to partner with others. I have truly considered home fellowship but we don’t know others in our locale and our kids are all teens surrounded by mega negative influences- They need to know people exist who have a tinge of moral restraint. So part of me really wants to break free from the mixture atmosphere but maybe the timing isn’t now. God still works in the midst of dysfunction but it really does help to know you are not alone! I keep thinking there must be a better way for grace based people to connect/find each other. This blog community has been a reassurance.

  6. Very very good

  7. I’ve cheated on him in numerous ways, his grace reveals his word and how awesome our father is.

  8. An interesting point of view. It’s wonderful how reading the words of Jesus through the lens of grace opens up new meanings. I don’t know if you’re ever written on John 20 “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But I’d like to hear your take someday. Always a blessing, Paul.

    • Bob, I’d love to hear Paul’s take also. Here’s what I got. This vs also made me do a double take when I came across it not too long ago while reading the bible. Just casual reading, not intense studying – and that may be what helped me to interpret the vs. I think sometimes in our studying we try too hard to make since out of stuff that is actually quite simple. For example if I said “I’m so starving, I could eat a horse” and you weren’t familiar with that type of phrase and took it literally, you would really struggle to make since out of it – how can a person eat a whole horse? In reality, I would just be using extreme language to make a simple point – I’m really hungry. I think John 20:23 is about unity, not forgiveness. I did a quick look at commentaries for the vs and saw a bunch of crazy stuff, mostly just long round about ways of saying they don’t know what it means. Made for comical reading actually. In 20:17 Jesus told Mary to go tell “His brothers” He’s going to “His Father and her Father, to His God and her God”. Phrasing He didn’t really use before. He’s been resurrected and things are different for them now and He’s pointing that out. The union He has had with the Father all this time is now theirs also. Next, when He shows up at the disciple’s hide out He says “Just as the Father has sent me, so now I am going to send you.” Again, pointing out that His relationship with God that He had been displaying is now theirs too. This was surely hard for them to process and believe so he hit them with some extreme language to drive the point home – forgive someone and they are forgiven, hold back forgiveness and they are not forgiven. Remember the religious leaders flipping out saying no one can forgive sins but God. The disciples knew that viewpoint and knew what Jesus was really saying to them. Jesus had just accomplished the world’s forgiveness and He didn’t expect them to go out and sort people into forgiven and unforgiven groups any more than you would expect me to go and chow down on a real horse. Jesus’ perfect union with Father God gave Him every right to forgive sin and He wanted them to know that His work was completed and now that intimate, blessed union with Father God is also theirs/ours. They/we needed to hear that from Him to help them believe and begin to walk in that union.

  9. Sorry to splurge but this kind of stuff always makes me feel so inadequate. Friendships have always been a weak spot for me (I have mild autistic tendencies, love my own company and feel easily overwhelmed in the company of people) and I’ve inexplicably lost a range of very close friends over the years. While I’ve never been really ill and have never had any financial worries, this is by far the biggest area of satanic attack in my life.

    My closest friends now are not Christians, just people I’ve known for years and years. Being a hypergrace believer in the UK doesn’t yield you many friends in the church. I find a lot of churchy people totally involved with the world or hanging out with their clique of other happy-go-lucky Christians – mostly couples.

    It’s not so easy to ‘just be like Jesus’ and ‘make time for people’. So I do hope this really is about Jesus’s refreshing attitude to accountancy.

    • Terry Benischek // March 20, 2015 at 5:13 pm // Reply

      God sees you as His beloved because He has made us accepted in the Beloved. He wants us knowing that we are His beloved, unconditionally loved and wholly approved.
      Ephesians 1:6
      …He [God] made us accepted in the Beloved.

      The more we know how much we are loved and valued by God, the more we can expect to be healthy and whole. When we realize that we are the objects of God’s love, instead of becoming easily frightened or threatened by anything or anyone, we become confident that we will win every fight of life.

      That, dear Nele, is how our heavenly Father wants you to live. So live life today confident that you are God’s beloved!

      Like Jesus, you are God’s beloved, unconditionally loved and wholly approved.

  10. Very interesting. I had never understood it like that.

  11. Yes Paul never heard this viewed this way and is great perplexity to this as many as you think Jesus said this to the man that was unrighteous to his Boss as his boos was as well unrighteous. Both, employee and owner of the business here were unrighteous.

    The Owner of the Business is who was complimenting the employee, not Jesus

    Just for everyone’s knowledge, as this is what has been shown to me. Struggled over this as well and thought for many years it was Jesus speaking to this man that was about to lose his Job, when in truth it was this man’s boss,
    Thank you

  12. I really love this post! I would have to say this is where Jesus is leading me these days. Just live and keep my eyes, or His eyes should I say, open for opportunity to be the gospel rather than a bunch of car selling 😉 Keep on keepin on brother!

  13. Dude! I just decided today to preach on this parable at Bayside this Sunday! Great timing… and, as they say; “Great minds…”

  14. Incredible! and Paul, you never fail to make me chuckle and laugh when I read your posts! Praise God for your humour!

  15. Randy Castle // March 21, 2015 at 5:26 am // Reply

    I wonder if Jesus was a little chubby? You know, all that eating and making friends. ; )

  16. Teko Maki (NW - South Africa) // March 25, 2015 at 6:56 am // Reply

    House Church they call it. I hope nothing ever happens that will make me part ways with my local church. But the idea of House Church sounds exciting. I believe this bit will eventually also develop into something big.

  17. Bayila Samuel Dalaky // March 25, 2015 at 8:40 am // Reply

    Hi,Paul,I am really blessed by your gift…I am from Gombe,Nigeria.and I HV been following your posts for a year now,its so amazing to receive the true gospel of Christ…Thanks and God bless You.BAYILA.

  18. Great post. There are many stories of Christ visiting homes, sharing meals etc. sure he preached publicly but he also, and more so preached through intimacy, that being social get togethers and being available. We also need to have a close, intimate friendship with him. Live by his example and create heavenly friendships.

  19. Another refreshing and a good post bro paul. It has been almost 3 years since i first saw your blog and haven’t been disappointed yet to have a continuous dose of the good news every time i visit. May we all continue to come to the unity of the faith. God bless.

  20. saby verghese // May 28, 2015 at 12:44 pm // Reply

    Paul,beautiful thoughts

  21. Luke 16:8Authorized (King James) Version (AKJV)

    8 And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.

    I do not see this is as Jesus Speaking this. This as I see this is The unjust Steward, worried over his livelihood here on earth to survive
    And so goes and makes friends, in continuing in his thieving.

    This unjust Steward’s Lord, was his Boss that said this to him in that verse 8

    To me that is where it is misinterpreted.

    Yet I like the view you brought it into about being forgiven.

    Yey I do not see this luke 16:1-8 as that. I think this be about Faith to be able to make it and repent from thieving in response of thanksgiving kin praise to being forgiven from doing harm to others, as is complete din Son’s resurrection as sanctified today

    Thanks, in truth Father knows best in risen Son to lead us

    As I thank you for the view you got in not desiring not to take this for granted at all and use it to get desires of the flesh nature of mankind as this unjust steward was doning

  22. Leon Esterhuizen // September 16, 2020 at 12:32 am // Reply

    Paul, LOVE YOU, love your explanation!
    Could it be that this parable is also more about the Master than the Manager? Manager (us) accused (by Satan or the Law) about wasting Master’s possessions (wasting His provision…wasting Grace, the oil and wheat speaks of blessing= LIFE). Manager can’t dig or beg – Under Master’s provision he never needed to. He was fully provided for even though he (apparently) did nothing to earn this (seems to deserve death based on accusation, but seems to rather have been given life in abundance). He then gives to others what they also certainly did not deserve (he spreads Grace, cuts debt, tells people of the Gospel?) and with this, the Master is pleased! Finally, the manager is commended….that does not sound like he was fired or lost his position….. The accuser LOST! Law lost and Grace won! Our Master is amazing!!! Use worldly wealth (God’s provision/blessing) to gain friends (save lives for eternity).
    Thanks again. God bless.

  23. George Armand Portier // November 2, 2021 at 6:51 am // Reply

    Hi Paul, Just last week I explained this parable to my connect group. It’s a great message to hear. As believers of Grace we tell people they have no more debts when they accept Jesus.

    Afterwards I was thinking: why didn’t Jesus say the shrewd manager cancelled all debts? Jesus’ finished work at the cross cancelled all our debts so why didn’t the shrewd manager? I love to hear your response. With regards, George

    • Hi George. If the shrewd manager was meant to be a type of Jesus, he probably would have cancelled the debts in full. But the manager is us, not Jesus, and the message is not really cancellation but “use money to make eternal friends.”

      The manager in the story is a bit of a rascal. The debts he writes down are not debts to him but to his master. He’s basically stealing, and Jesus is no thief. His deeds are outrageous, yet smart in terms of making friends. Looking back over the article, I can see how I conflated the message of the parable with the message of the gospel a little bit, but they are different messages.

      • George Armand Portier // November 2, 2021 at 11:37 am //

        Yes, I understand the point your making. I was discussing this matter with two of my grace buddies and we only took the gospel approach. We were thinking that when we tell the grace gospel to unbelievers, they will be attracted to this gospel and especially attracted to the part where their sins are forgiven and that they will have no more debts.

        We imagine they will be attracted to this message to the point they want to know more (i.e. they feel as if their life debts are being cancelled for 20%) and when they fully accept Jesus in their lives then they will realize that their life debts are cancelled for 100%.

        Well thank you very much for your time to respond to me. It means much to me and my friends.

  24. Ive read and re-read this repeatedly and i still don’t get it! 😦
    Luke 14 presents 3 parables of the Law, Chapter 15 3 Parables of Grace, but Chapter 16 is about ‘How are we repaid at the resurrection of the righteous’? I am missing something… I’ll keep trying!

    • Use mammon (worldly wealth) to make eternal friends. That’s it. We are repaid with the only treasure that lasts and does not rust – people, friends in eternity and spiritual offspring.

      • Thank you so much Paul for entertaining me on this blind spot, but I’m mystified by Jesus giving advice to use money to make eternal fiends when vs 13 and 15 appear to describe the worthlessness of money (mammon) which he preaches to the Pharisees who love money. Then curiously, Jesus appears from vs16 to conjoin all this to the difference between the Law and Grace. I know I must be the blind man on this subject… as I say I’ll see my sight! Thank you again for your patience! 🙂

      • Money is not the problem; loving money is the problem (Luke 16:13). The love of money is the root of all sorts of evil. Money is merely a tool that can be used for good or bad purposes, and a good purpose is to use it to make eternal friends. So give to the poor, throw parties for outcasts and rejects, and bear one another’s burdens.

      • I’ve just never seen this previously Paul. Probably because I am still working thru some old religious mindsets. But your explanation has definitely opened the door wider and given me some substance to chew on in my next meditation! Thank you for your patience!

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