In Luke 16 Jesus tells the parable of the shrewd manager. It seems like Jesus is excusing away the manager’s theft of the owner. Is it okay to steal if the ends justify the means?
Stealing is sinful and will keep one out of heaven without repentance (1 Cor. 6:9-11). So Jesus is not excusing or commending the manager’s dishonest theft of what was owed to the rich man in the parable (Lk. 16:1-13), and from this we know that he is not teaching that “the ends justify the means.” If God considered it right that “the ends justify the means,” he would not have inspired Paul to express outrage over people slanderously claiming that he had taught them to “do evil that good may come” (Rom. 3:8).
In actuality, Jesus is commending the “shrewdness” of the dishonest manager (Lk. 16:8). To be shrewd means to have or show “sharp powers of judgment” (Oxford Languages). Upon being told that he would soon be unemployed and recognizing the limitations facing him of finding other work, the manager was practical enough to understand that he could still survive off of the hospitality of the ones who owed his master money, but only if he got in their good graces by dishonestly reducing their debts while he still had the power to do so (vs. 3-7).
Making application, Jesus said, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (Lk. 16:8). Generally speaking, the ungodly tend to have better judgment in how they interact with their fellow man than do most Christians. Jesus is teaching his followers to have “sharper powers of judgment” in their interactions with their fellow man, to be more shrewd, alert, astute, and intelligent in how we deal with other people. He doesn’t want us to do this to the point of being dishonest, of course. Rather, he wants us to have enough foresight to see how working in the present to influence others to view us favorably can work to our advantage with them in the future.
This applies in so many areas of life. As seen with the manager, it caused him to have others willing to help him in his time of need. Additionally, doing good to others and being kind to them can help them to be more open-minded in the future when we share the gospel with them (Matt. 5:16). Jesus wants us to have this astute, shrewd foresight. This is the meaning behind Jesus’ statement, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings” (Lk. 16:9). Wealth, while not inherently evil, is called “unrighteous” here because it is often used for evil purposes (such as was done by the manager in the parable). By telling us to use the wealth we have to “make friends for ourselves,” Jesus is basically telling us to have the foresight necessary to conclude that using our money to help others who are in need (cf. Gal. 6:10; Matt. 25:31-46) makes it more likely that when we are in need (“when it fails”), they will help us and, from an eternal perspective, “receive you into the eternal dwellings” because our kindness helped influence and motivate them to become a Christian and thus be saved.
This is further seen in Jesus’ following statements: “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for 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 God and money” (Lk. 16:10-13). Our wealth is the “very little” spoken of verse 10. Compared to the “treasures in heaven” (Matt. 6:19-20) waiting for us in eternity, our wealth here on earth is indeed “very little” (Lk. 16:10). It also does not ultimately belong to us in the first place, but rather belongs to God, the One referred to when Jesus says “that which is another’s” (Lk. 16:12; cf. Mal. 3:8). If we haven’t been faithful and shrewd (acting with foresight, making spiritually astute judgments) enough with our wealth here on earth to use it to further the cause of the One to whom it actually belongs, why should we expect God to “entrust to you the true riches” and “give you that which is your own” (Lk. 16:11-12), i.e., your eternal reward in heaven? Indeed, we must choose God over money (Lk. 16:13) by having the wisdom and foresight to use what he has given us in this life to do good to others and thus curry their favor so they will be more open to the gospel he wishes us to share with them.