SERMON SUBJECT: WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM THE ‘CHILDREN OF THIS AGE’
Full Text: Gospel of Luke, chapter 16, verses 1-9.
Focus Text: Gospel of Luke, chapter 16, verse 8. “And the master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the sons of this age are more shrewd than are the sons of light in their own generation”.
We are looking at this parable of the dishonest manager (aka household administrator). I hope you will read it before looking at my words here. You will find it in Luke’s Gospel, chapter 16, verses 1-9, with a particular focus on verse 8. I think that this is one of the most interesting of all the parables. In fact, our focus text is one of my favourite verses in all the Bible. This is wisdom literature right here, my friends. This parable, if you are willing to learn its lessons, will bring you much wisdom and deep understanding. To unwrap this, I want to ask just two questions. The first question, with a shorter answer, is this:
1. WHAT ON EARTH IS GOING ON IN THIS PARABLE?
What is the basic storyline? I know many people who have been confused by this parable. But I love to crack things open which tend to confuse — especially when they are in the Bible!
So, a rich guy discovers that his manager or household administrator has been squandering his assets and then fires him. The sacked manager, on realising his lack of qualifications to do anything else and thinking he is not equipped to do manual labour, then sets out on some damage limitation in his life by approaching each of his former boss’s debtors and reducing their bills so that they will then be favourably disposed to him and will even offer him accommodation, as he will be without a home.
Now, the extraordinary thing in this parable is that the guy’s former employer actually commended him for what he had done. Does that mean that this parable is endorsing dishonesty? No, not at all. For he was not commending his dishonest manager for his actual dishonesty but for his acumen in ensuring his future by the dishonest strategy which he had adopted. It is this which is the key to the entire parable and from which its wisdom flows, as i will show below.
A second question then arises. For after the parable states, “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly”, Jesus then says, “For the sons of this age are more shrewd than the sons of light in their own generation”. So, our next question is this:
2. HOW CAN THE ‘CHILDREN OF THIS AGE’ BE WISER THAN THE ‘CHILDREN OF THE LIGHT’?
Now you might say, “Surely, those who have the Holy Spirit (the ‘children of light’, the genuinely enlightened ones rather than the pseudo-‘enlightened’ types in Eastern mysticism) would be wiser than the children of this age, would they not?” No, not necessarily, when we fully consider the sense in which Jesus is speaking. We should go more deeply into this.
The Genitive of Characteristic Attribute
Firstly, the original Greek says, literally, “For the sons of this age are more shrewd than the sons of the light in their own generation”. Let’s take this in sections. The words “sons of” are often rendered as “children of” in translation to make it clear that this doesn’t only apply to males. Fair enough. But the expression “sons of…” is a Hebraism known as “the genitive of characteristic attribute”. So, if you are described as sons or children of light, then your leading characteristic attribute is that of light. Similarly, the phrase, “sons of belial” elsewhere in the Bible refers to those whose leading characteristic is worthless scoundrelism, which is the true meaning of the Hebrew word בְּלִיַּעַל, beliyyaal. Some such “sons of belial” appear in the Book of Judges, when a Levite had taken in a stranger out of hospitality in Gibeah, only to have a bunch of wicked Benjamites start hammering on the door to bring him out so they could gang-rape him (Book of Judges, chapter 19, verses 22-24). It was like a repeat of the incident at Sodom. The licentious Benjamites are referred to there as “sons of belial”, בְנֵֽי־בְלִיַּ֗עַל, bené-beliyyaal — utterly worthless scoundrels. Their “characteristic attribute” was ‘belialism’, which generally amounts to perverted behaviour in one way or another (not merely sexually deviant) because it is always out of sync with Divine law. Hence, Paul says “what harmony is there between Christ and Belial?” — a rhetorical question (in which Belial is presented as the equivalent of an unbeliever) to which the unspoken answer is plainly “None whatsoever!” (Second Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 6, verse 15).
So, here in our focus text, we have υἱοὶ τοῦ αἰῶνος, huioi tou aionos, the sons of this age. In the rule of “the genitive of characteristic attribute”, the sons of this age are those whose leading characteristic is that they are steeped in the godless morality and situation ethics of the satanic world-system which lie behind the apostate developments of this age (but not of the age to come). Because they are contrasted here with “the sons of the light”, we can deduce that being sons of this age is the equivalent of being “sons of darkness”, as we who now believe once were: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Letter to the Ephesians, chapter 5, verse 8). As Paul tells the disciples at Thessalonica, “For you are all sons of the light and sons of the day; we do not belong to the night or to the darkness” (First Letter to the Thessalonians, chapter 5, verse 5).
The Meaning of “in Their Own Generation”
So Jesus says that the ‘sons of this age’ — those steeped in the morality and ethics of the satanic world-system, the unfaithful who live in darkness and who are putty in Satan’s hands — are more shrewd than the children of the light, the disciples and followers of Jesus Christ. How can this possibly be? It is possible because of the qualifying phrase in the sentence, “in their own generation”. This phrase means “in their dealings with their own kind”. The word “generation” here is the equivalent of “type”. Thus, the fullness of the meaning of Jesus’ words in our focus text are: “For the sons of this age, in terms of their dealings with their own kind and within their own ambitions, are more shrewd than the sons of light”.
This is such an astute observation. I am going to go deeply into its implications for us because the nuts and bolts of one’s spiritual walk can actually hinge on this text in ways that we may not be able to imagine. For we are being given an object lesson in how we grow in our faith and comportment by taking lessons from the way that non-believers, unregenerated folks, deal with each other and the way that they handle their corrupt circumstances. Intriguing, yes?
“Well, you’ve Got to Hand it to Them…”
Consider this: When I was a kid, there was a renowned “great train robbery” took place involving millions of pounds worth of cash, in which a train driver was seriously injured. Yet, in spite of the injury, most people somehow admired the villains for the skilful way that they pulled it off. I even remember my father saying, in response to the newspaper reports, “Well, you’ve got to hand it to them…”, meaning that one has to somehow admire the skills by which this crime was carried out. Despite the evil and dishonesty, he respected the planning which had gone into the complex operation of the robbery. It is in this sense in which the rich man in our parable “commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly”. It is not the evil or dishonesty in the operation which is being commended but the sharp acumen and resourcefulness involved in the planning.
So, what did Jesus mean when He followed that up by saying, “For the sons of this age are more shrewd than the sons of the light in their own generation”? What is the application for us, which He was clearly intending? He was plainly saying that, generally speaking, spiritually unregenerated people put more preparation, organisation, planning and strategy into their humdrum affairs — even utterly corrupt ones — than God’s people generally do into their spiritual activities. Here we have the kernel of this parable; and it is a damning indictment indeed.
When a ‘child of this age’ wants to achieve something, they go out of their way to achieve it. Even if it is an illegal operation, the planning which they put into it is off the map. Even a basic housebreaking needs effective planning if one is to obtain the goods and avoid being caught. One needs to carefully ‘case the joint’, obtain the right tools, and gather together the right accomplices, Even considerably more innocuous worldly events, such as concerts, education courses, conferences, or even election campaigns, the making of an item in a factory, the assemblage of the parts needed for it, all the research and development, need a tremendous amount of planning and organization; and the ‘children of this age’ are expert in this, as in many other affairs. If they want to obtain a skill or qualification, they study like crazy to get it. They revise even through the night if necessary. All their funds and resources are used to reach their goal. But what about the ‘children of the light’? What do they do to obtain their spiritual goals, for those are the most important? How much effort do they put into their growth in grace and truth? When did they last truly pray in a proper language to God to meet their needs or for the welfare of others? What great lengths will they go to in order to push ahead spiritually in this world which is so hostile to truth? How deeply will they study the great matters of truth in the Sacred Texts? Will they work their way through a book which isn’t merely the latest superficial Christianized “self-Help” screed put out by some motivational “preacher”? Most folk can’t even be bothered to read a spiritual article of modest wording. I regularly receive messages from people asking me to summarize my articles in a couple of paragraphs as they don’t have the time to read the whole thing. I usually reply by saying, “Then just read a few paragraphs at a time until you have finished it”. But what they really mean is that they don’t want to make the time to read it. They just can’t be bothered. They do not want to engage in deep study. They do not even want to do any light study. They think that it is good enough to trot along to some checklist church for a couple of hours every Sunday to wave their arms about while singing a few trite choruses accompanied by a band, then listen to a motivational pep talk from the pulpit and then expect the Holy Spirit to ‘inject’ some knowledge and holiness into them because they have learned to speak gibberish. The mind boggles! The essential reason they get waylaid by all that stuff is precisely because they haven’t studied in the first place!
Disciples are so Often Downright Lazy in Their Willingness to Learn the Good and Right Things
when Compared with Worldlings in their Own Dealings and Affairs
Really, Jesus hit the nail on the head with this parable and I do believe that it is one of the most important among them all in terms of spiritual application. What He is really saying here is that the ‘children of the light’ in general — when compared to the ‘children of this age’ in general and the way that they set out to achieve their worldly goals — are downright lazy and do not use their discernment to better their situations in spiritual terms. “For the sons of this age, in terms of their dealings with their own kind and within their own limited ambitions, are more shrewd than the sons of light”. This is a shocking thing which the Lord Jesus is exposing, but it is 100% true. Many will baulk at this because, unfortunately, they imagine that all the Las Vegas style razzmatazz which goes on at their church represents spiritual activity. But an awful lot of that is just hot air and outward show involving the practice of counterfeit spiritual gifts, overblown music presentation, the manipulation of altered states of consciousness (mistaken for spiritual progression) and a misapplication of the idea of ‘deliverance’, utilizing techniques which merely promote psychological catharsis masquerading as ‘deliverance’.
Similarly, so much work has been put into inventing and maintaining so many crazy off-kilter schemas in complex diagrams and charts about the Endtimes. The great degree of effort which so many will put into concocting and propagating false interpretations of Scripture to suit their own shibboleths far outweighs the simple acceptance of self-evident truths. Sensationalism and subjective experience have become the central planks of so much religious activity to such an extent in churches today that objective truth has been shoved under a remote corner of their luxury plush-pile carpets.
For all these reasons, I believe that this parable and its summation in verse 8 is of immeasurable importance at this time in history. Truly, “the sons of this age are more shrewd than the sons of the light in their own generation” — in terms of their dealings with their own kind and within their own sphere of ambition.
Make Your Abilities & Achievements into Spiritual Investments
Jesus subsequently makes an additional application in this parable with these words: “I tell you, use worldly wealth to make friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, they will welcome you into eternal dwellings”. He is simply using the central plank of the parable — that the sacked manager made friends of his former employer’s debtors in order to secure his future — as a metaphor for how His disciples should use their God-given talents, abilities and material benefits in accordance with what is to be their spiritual destiny in the life and age to come. Thus, our worldly achievements should be utilised primarily for our spiritual ends, thereby standing us in good stead for when “God will ‘repay each one according to his deeds’” (Letter to the Romans, chapter 2, verse 6). For there is much that we can do with those gifts, talents, abilities and material benefits that will be of great spiritual benefit in this world rather than merely using them to boost our own personal situations.
If we need some outside inspiration in order to achieve our spiritual goals, we only need to look at the way that the ‘children of this age’ — those unregenerated folks who are still in service of self rather than in service to God — manage their affairs for their own benefit. If we, as ‘children of the light’, could begin to apply to our spiritual affairs even one tenth of the gumption, resourcefulness, and acumen which the ‘children of this age’ display in relation to their worldly undertakings, then we would grow in leaps and bounds to God’s glory, rather than bottoming along as spiritual ‘also-rans’ who have no spiritual ambition and a very weak desire of heavenly destiny.
© 2021, Alan Morrison / The Diakrisis Project. All Rights Reserved. [The copyright on my works is merely to protect them from any wanton plagiarism which could result in undesirable changes (as has actually happened!). Readers are free to reproduce my work, so long as it is in the same format and with the exact same content and its origin is acknowledged]