Sound Teaching

This is the teaching site of the West Side church of Christ in Fort Worth, TX. Unless otherwise indicated, all materials were written and prepared by Stan Cox

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Parable of the Unjust Steward

(Luke 16:1-15)

The parable Jesus spoke to his disciples in Luke 16:1-13 has elements in it that trouble some readers. Perhaps most bothersome is the notion some have that Jesus here commends dishonesty. This arises from a misunderstanding of the statement of the master found in verse 8, “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.” Such an observation obviously is mistaken, as our Lord is the antithesis of evil, and would not ever commend the unjust actions of others (cf. Eph. 5:8-14; James 1:13). The bafflement, therefore, is easily alleviated by a careful consideration of the context. An understanding of the purpose of Jesus’ teaching clears up any mistaken notions.

Context shows that Jesus’ purpose was to cultivate preparedness in his disciples. He taught of the value of the soul in the parable of the lost sheep (Lk. 15:1-7); the lost coin (15:8-10), and the lost or prodigal son (15:11-32). Rather than temporal considerations, Jesus is instructing his disciples in matters of eternal import. If the soul is eternal, and of great value, it stands to reason our Lord would instruct his disciples in how to prepare, that the soul might prosper in eternity. Later, Jesus’ recounting of the eternal destinies of a rich man, and a beggar named Lazarus (16:19-31) serves to illustrate the importance of preparedness. If we take the context into account the same lesson can be easily seen in the parable we now consider.

First, note the setting. A master was presented with an accusation regarding his steward. A steward in these times had much authority. He managed the financial affairs of the house, and had the authority to make loans, settle debts, and generally oversee the affairs of the master. One well known example of such a servant would be Joseph, who successfully managed the house of Potiphar in Egypt (Gen. 39). Obviously, a steward who was wasteful, when found out, would be required to give account of his actions. When such reckoning was required, we find the steward of our parable had no excuse. When he recognized he was going to lose his stewardship, he said, “What shall I do? For my master is taking the stewardship away from me. I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg” (vs. 3).

Certain observations can here be made. The steward was wasteful; either handicapped or more probably lazy (“I cannot dig”); and overly proud (“I am ashamed to beg”). It can also be shown that he was dishonest, or unjust (vs. 8 ). To prepare for the time when he would be unemployed, he cut deals with his master’s debtors, so that, “when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses” (vs. 4). The first debt he forgave upon payment of only 50% of what was owed, the next with only 80%. No doubt other debts were resolved in much the same way. The picture we have here is of a despicable, disloyal man, who fleeced his master. Why then the statement of verse 8, “So the master commended the unjust steward”?

The one commendable thing the steward did was prepare himself for the inevitable. He acted shrewdly, or prudently. When this is recognized and put in the context of our Lord’s intended lesson to his disciples, we find the commendation deserved. It also serves to explain certain other statements of our Lord in explaining the parable to his disciples. For example:

“For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light” (vs. 8 ). To illustrate, consider the values found in the world. A man determines that the most valuable thing in his life is his family. Therefore he makes every effort to protect and provide for his family. He educates himself, gets a steady job, buys life and health insurance, and saves for retirement. He acts prudently or shrewdly. Why is it that we who know what is truly important, the eternal soul, so often are lackadaisical or derelict in our protection and provision of it? Day by day we pass up, neglect, overlook, or avoid opportunities to secure our soul through study, prayer, edification, and work. We know preparation for eternity is most important, and yet let ourselves get caught up in the day to day, petty activities of our temporal lives. Truly, “the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.”

Notice the next point made in verses 9-12. What does Jesus mean when he says, “…make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail they may receive you into an everlasting home”? Simply put, there is a right and wrong way use your money. Notice that Jesus refers to these material possessions as “unrighteous mammon.” Paul revealed that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness” (1 Tim. 6:10). Examples abound. Achan brought hardship on Israel because of greed (Josh. 7). Judas went so far as to betray the Lord for a paltry sum (Matt. 26:15). Annanias and Sapphira lied to the Spirit and lost their lives for the same reason (Acts 5). Demas forsook Paul because of his love for worldly things (2 Tim. 4:10). Jesus obviously wanted his disciples to so use the material things they obtained to help prepare for eternity. There are right and spiritually beneficial ways to use our temporal possessions. Some that come to mind are expressions of benevolence, provision for family, charitable works, hospitality and the first day of the week contribution. The need to be a good steward in temporal matters is born out by our Lord’s statement in verses 11 and 12. Verse 11 states, “Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?” That is, the eternal riches that are spiritual in nature.

Our faithful stewardship of the physical blessings bestowed by the Almighty is a very good indication of our trustworthiness in regard to spiritual things.

The Pharisees “derided” Jesus because of his teaching. They missed the point. They could not see the point because they were blinded by their greediness. They loved money, and did not realize that love was “an abomination in the sight of God” (vs. 15).

As the disciples of old, we must recognize the importance of putting first things first. Material possessions, “unrighteous mammon”, can so skew our priorities as to jeopardize our eternal standing. We ought always remember Christ’s warning, “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (vs. 13). May we serve God alone and acceptably, and in so doing insure ourselves an eternal abode with Him.