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Q234 : The Parable of the Unjust Steward

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Q234 : The Parable of the Unjust Steward

In Luke 16:8-9 we come across a difficult saying

So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home.1

What could be the practical application of this saying in our daily lives?

Is it simply that we should spend all our “mammon of unrighteousness” (possessions) for the sake of the poor and the oppressed, thus storing up our rewards in heaven? In that case what is meant by “when you fail”?

Is it that when we have spent all our resources for heaven's sake, we will be received in heaven?

Somehow I do not digest it. Are we taught that we should learn from the unbelieving world many practical aspects of life? Jesus seems to commend the “unjust steward” rather than “the children of light”.

Please help me.


Endnotes:

1.NKJV, Luke 16:8-9


Sources:

NKJVUnless indicated otherwise, all Scripture references are from the New King James Version, copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A234 : by Tony Garland

With parables, it is particularly important to consider the entire parable before attempting to interpret individual verses within the parable. Let's look at the entire parable in detail (Luke 16:1-13):

  • v. 1, A rich man has a steward who is mismanaging his wealth. (We'll see later that the rich man represents God, the steward represents an individual Christian, and the worldly wealth represents heavenly riches.)
  • vv. 2-7, The steward, about to lose his job, comes up with an unrighteous scheme to gain favor involving misuse of the rich man's accounts.
  • v. 8, Although the steward's scheme was unrighteous and detrimental to the rich man's wealth, the rich man recognized the cleverness in it and commended the unjust steward. Evidently, the steward had not shown much cleverness or wisdom in his prior service and the rich man recognized the unjust scheme as evidence of intelligence, even if an unrighteous application of intelligence.
  • v. 8, Jesus indicates that the unrighteous scheme of the unjust steward was shrewd (savvy, astute, calculating) and that it exceeded the savvy and astuteness of some Christians. (It is important here to separate the ability, which is being commended, from the means by which it is carried out, which is unrighteous. Jesus is simply saying that the unrighteous know how to make use of money to gain favor for the future when they may be in financial need.)
  • v. 9, Jesus advises Christians to exercise similar shrewdness, but not by adopting similar unrighteous means, in their use of the financial resources of the world. But rather than gaining worldly favor, the Christian is to consider how to use his financial resources for spiritual benefit resulting in being received into an “everlasting home.” The everlasting home contrasts with the earthly houses of the steward's friends (v. 4), but seems to envision our heavenly abode. “By investing in the kingdom gospel that brings sinners to salvation, so that when they arrive in heaven (‘an everlasting home’), those sinners will be there to welcome them.”1 The phrase, “when you fail” (“when it [the money] fails” in some manuscripts), seems to refer to the end of the Christian's life, when he no longer has access to earthly funds or he himself fails physically.
  • v. 10, The way in which a steward handles things of lesser value (earthly things such as money) indicates how he will handle things of great value (heavenly things such as the gospel, John 3:12).
  • v. 11, If an individual Christian isn't stewarding their earthly funds according to God's priorities, why should they be given stewardship over true riches (greater insight and responsibility to manage spiritual matters)?
  • v. 12, If a steward is found unfaithful while managing his master's resources, why should the master decide to give riches directly over to the steward as an owner?
Like the rich man in the parable, God has great wealth. Like the steward, the individual Christian is responsible for managing that which God has entrusted to him (Mat. 25:14-30). Unlike the rich man who has an abundance of “unrighteous mammon,” God has an abundance of spiritual riches. Unlike the unjust steward, who uses unrighteous mammon and even unjust methods to obtain favor in this life, the Christian uses that same unrighteous mammon righteously to obtain favor in the life to come (“reception into an everlasting home,” v. 9). Jesus is teaching that believers should steward God's true riches with as much wisdom and astuteness as the unrighteous are motivated when managing worldly wealth, but without sharing their sinful techniques. Just as the wasteful and unwise steward fell short of being qualified to manage the wealth of the rich man, believers who are wasteful or fail to apply wisdom and astuteness when managing God's true spiritual riches can likewise fall short. The way in which a believer manages financial resources in this world is a reliable indication of how he would behave if trusted with true spiritual riches. God won't give him spiritual riches to manage and invest if he has a pattern of mismanaging earthly resources.

The practical applications of this parable in our daily lives would include:

  1. The wisdom and motivation we employ when investing “unrighteous mammon” in the service of God for eternal rewards should be no less than sinful unbelievers have when investing their finances for the meager rewards this life has to offer.
  2. If we are unreliable stewards of “unrighteous mammon” in the service of God, then God will not give “true riches” into our care. Having met basic needs, the Christian should steward earthly funds for the benefit of the advancement of the gospel and the knowledge of God (Luke 6:19-21).
  3. The character and quality of our Christian walk is reflected by the way we handle minor details in our daily living. We are deluded in thinking God will entrust us with significant spiritual influence or greater ministry when we lack the fruit of the Spirit in mundane activities such as financially supporting the work of God, paying personal bills, showing up to meetings on time, and responsibly dealing with people and commitments.
  4. Although Christians are separate from the world as “sons of light,” they should neither be slack nor na├»ve when applying principles which can yield an increase in productivity and effectiveness. Although our motivation and righteous behavior differ from that of the sons of darkness (1Th. 5:5), this doesn't mean we ignore basic wisdom principles which apply universally.

Endnotes:

1.Ref-0442, Luke 16:9


Sources:

Ref-0442MacArthur, J. J. (1997, c1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed.). Nashville: Word Pub.

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